Category Archives: Places

Drumlin Does It The Old-Fashioned Way

Fred Cantor graduated from Staples High School in 1971. After Yale University he got a law degree, married, and worked and lived in New York.

But his heart was always in Westport. He and his wife, Debbie Silberstein, bought a place here for weekends and summers. Then they moved in fulltime.

It’s a decision Fred never regretted — in part because of his close-knit neighborhood.

That friendly spirit remains. Fred reports:

Fred Cantor (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

My family moved to Westport in 1963, when I was in 4th grade, and I have many fond memories of my childhood here. Our home was on Easton Road. I spent many afternoons and weekends playing and/or hanging out with friends on nearby Silverbrook. It was a true neighborhood — at least for kids.

I know a number of “06880” readers lament some of the changes in town in the decades since that time. But I can attest that the small-town, neighborhood feeling is alive and well on the street my wife and I have lived on for the past 20+ years: Drumlin Road.

One prime example: This past weekend we had our annual road barbecue. Close to 50 residents turned out.

The ages ranged from 91 to just under 2 years old. Homeowners who lived on Drumlin since the mid-1950s chatted with a family with young daughters, who moved here just a few months ago.

Every household brought a dish (many were homemade).

Generations mixed (and ate) together at the Drumlin Road party. (Photo/James Delorey)

The friendly interactions during the party reflect the year-round atmosphere.  It’s not unusual to see residents helping out each other out. One man put his new snowblower to use in a winter storm, clearing the sidewalks of his elderly neighbors.

One of my favorite sights is seeing kids come off the school bus and — believe it or not — not stare down at their iPhones but instead talk and mess around with their friends or siblings as they head up the street to their homes. Later in the afternoon, they kick a soccer ball in the front yard, or shoot a basketball in the driveway.

Kids had a great time too at the neighborhood event. (Photo/James Delorey)

Perhaps the size of the lots — 1/4 acre — and the horseshoe shape of the road contribute to the neighborly character of the street. Whatever the reason, my wife and I feel fortunate to have lived more than 2 decades in a place that — to borrow from the slogan of the old Westport Bank & Trust — is truly a small-town neighborhood in a town of homes.

All ages posed for this Drumlin Road party photo, by James Delorey.

If You’re Thinking Of Weston…

06883: Get ready!

Today’s New York Times real estate section profiles Westport’s neighbor to the north.

It’s a fair, balanced account of the pros and cons of buying in the “quiet and wooded” town.

The 2 places will always be linked — after all, we were once part of Weston. And today’s story mentions Westport a few times.

There are references to a couple who looked at our “popular town on the Metro-North Railroad line with beaches and a vibrant downtown. But prices were daunting,” and a real estate agent suggested “they might get more for their money in Weston, a town they hadn’t considered.”

Referring to Weston’s “single plaza in the town center, where the market, pharmacy, hardware store and sole restaurant are housed behind identical brick storefronts,” the Times says “Weston is nothing like Westport. But the more the (couple) looked around, the more it felt like home.”

If you can’t find what you need in Weston Center, you have to head to Westport.

The article notes that Westonites commute from our train station, shop in our stores, and enjoy our restaurants.

Of course, Weston’s school system is excellent. The 2-acre zoning is very appealing. And it’s got Devil’s Den, 3 private clubs and Lachat Town Farm.

Negatives include the “rather sluggish” real estate market, and a property tax rate “higher than that of most surrounding towns.”

That won’t change, says 1st Selectman Nina Daniel.

“When you come into Weston, you breathe a sigh of relief. You are not in traffic. You have a sense of being away from the hurly-burly of the world.”

For years, Cobb’s Mill Inn defined Weston. The New York Times story never mentioned the fabled restaurant.

The Times concludes:

The resistance to change that has long defined Weston has lessened of late, as newcomers push for various amenities. As first selectman, Ms. Daniel is trying to straddle the divide, agreeing with those who want, for example, sidewalks connecting the school campus with the town center, while reassuring others that the town is not headed for mass commercialization. Also up for discussion: a town green, a community center and cluster-style housing for retirees.

(To read the entire story, click here. Hat tip: John Karrel)

Now On Sale: JD Salinger’s “Catcher In The Rye” Westport Connection

Everyone knows F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the summer of 1920 in Westport.

Much less known is that another author — equally important — came here 30 years later.

And finished one of the most famous books in American literature right here in town.

JD Salinger

The man was J.D. Salinger. The book was Catcher in the Rye.

Now a small piece of that big event is up for sale.

Amazingly alert “06880” reader Seth Schachter spotted a letter and envelope for sale on eBay.

Neatly typed by Salinger in his rented home — postmarked May 30, 1950, “Conn.,” with the return address “Box 365, Westport, CT” — it’s sent to Joyce Miller, a staffer on the New Yorker.

It’s described this way on eBay:

A phenomenal letter in which Salinger alludes repeatedly to the piece he is working on and his deadline. Little did he know at the time he was completing what was to become his landmark title, “Catcher In The Rye”, which he finished in 1950 while living in Westport and was published in mid-1951. From referencing his typewriter ribbon, to his self-inflicted deadlines he elates in a Holden Caulfieldesque persona: “Sharing my brand-new silk typewriter ribbon with you. The Supreme sacrifice. Some men covet Cadillacs, home in the country, etc. With me, its typewriter ribbons” “Another forty hours and I’ll probably be done. I doubt if I have the whole things ready by Saturday, though. There’s no special hurry, actually, but I’m forever imposing mysterious little deadlines on myself” “My mind’s hopelessly single tracked, and I’m quite a little bore when I’m working on a script” “… I can finish typing up the book at my parents’ apartment gracefully enough” JD continues to write a jubilant, playful and suggestive letter to Joyce Miller who was on the staff of “The New Yorker” in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when J. D. Salinger was publishing stories in the magazine and working on his novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”.

In the spring of 1950, when Salinger was living in Westport, Connecticut, and Miller in White Plains, the two developed a close relationship whose clarity is not completely understood. These were complex years for Salinger, post the trauma of World War II, in the throes of writing his infamous novel “Catcher In The Rye”, while serial dating extremely young women. Salinger’s MO would often find him platonically romancing woman for years but upon the introduction of physical intimacy, would become disinterested and end the relationship. It was during this period, circa 1949, that at least one of this known relationships later came to light, that of Jean Miller, age 14 in 1949 whom he had a 5 year platonic relationship up until the very end which resulted both in intimacy and the end of the relationship. We know through a recent series of letters that this may have been the case with yet another, including that of Joyce Miller.

His letter to Miller dated within a year of the publication of “Catcher In The Rye”: “I finished your book before I went to bed last night. I’ve been training Benny to tear people apart ever since. I keep giving him a secret word, but it doesn’t sink in. The word’s “forsythia”, if you are interested … Don’t forget our 11:30 lunch date at the Biltmore Thursday. I’ll be sitting in the lobby. I’ll flirt with you, over my fan” Whether it was Jean Miller in 1949, Joyce Miller in the 1940s and early 50s or later in Salinger’s life, Maynard in 1972, it is believed that Salinger “was having these women replicate a pre-war innocence for him, and used very young girls as time travel machines back to before various wounds. So there’s something immensely heartbreaking about this rather problematic pursuit.” That pursuit, admitted Miller, “raises havoc in the muse’s life … That short story ‘The Girl With No Waist at All’ really represents [Salinger’s interest in] the moment before a girl becomes a woman.”


The mystery of where J. D. Salinger lived in Westport while he put his finishing touches on “The Catcher in the Rye” in 1949 is now closer to being solved, thanks to the release of the first new biography of the celebrated writer in a decade. We now know that Salinger rented a home on Old Road, off the Post Road. “Westport, CT is the birthplace of The Catcher in the Rye”. And the paper and ink, but more important the sentiment, return to Westport until it finds a new home. An incredibly important letter from 1950 pulling together a confluence of relevant points. On this one single page, written just months before “Catcher In The Rye” was published, Salinger’s TLS pulls together life themes from the birthplace of his famed novel. Those of his pursuit of innocence, complexities of his relationships with the opposite sex, while in the background woven through the body of the letter (which interestingly mirrors the writing style of “Catcher”), Salinger demonstrates the dry humor and sense of distaste and boredom of the norm as his protagonist “Holden Caulfield”.

Salinger writes: “Dinner with the Devries last night, over at some Japanese restaurant near the beach. A very nice dinner, but too much shop talk afterwards. Writers, writers, writers. If only we could do our work and then shut up when we’re finished. We talk so goddam much, and we’re such hopeless megalomaniacs. The wives aren’t much help. In fact, they’re worse than the writers. More dogmatic in their opinions. We should all just stay away from each other.” While reading the TLS, one cannot be sure whether “Catcher’s” protagonist Holden Caulfield, or J.D. Salinger himself, wrote this letter.

Bidding begins at $3,500. To join the action — or just see the listing — click here.

See The Solar Eclipse With Westport “Stars”

Though the full total solar eclipse next Monday (August 21) is visible along a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina, Westporters can enjoy 70% of the event.

The Westport Astronomical Society is opening the Rolnick Observatory (182 Bayberry Lane) to anyone who wants to watch. They’ll provide solar telescopes and safety glasses. Experts will be on hand to provide commentary and insights.

The eclipse runs from 1:24 p.m. to 4 p.m. The maximum eclipse is at 2:45 p.m.

The Astronomical Society is not responsible for clouds.

 

 

Heather Hightower: The Charlottesville I Know

Heather Hightower graduated from Staples High School in 1999, and the University of Virginia 4 years later. She’s still in Charlottesville, where she’s the founder and owner of The Center for Vocal Study (and choir director at Field School).

In the aftermath of that city’s domestic terrorism incident — as the world tries to figure out what to make of her adopted hometown — she emailed “06880.” Heather says:

The Charlottesville I know is full of caring, good, hardworking people who actively seek to improve the lives of others.

The Charlottesville I know cares about its children, its small business owners, its food sources, its historical mark on this nation.

The Charlottesville I know is full of people who take the time to read about the issues and who then give careful consideration to how to best support the highest good.

The Charlottesville I know had people attending lectures on historical roots of racism, prayer vigils and other peaceful forms of activism the nights and weeks leading into this past weekend’s events.

Heather Hightower

The Charlottesville I know is committed to the values our nation holds dear, including diversity and freedom of speech.

The Charlottesville I know has the strength and presence of mind in its residents and leaders to tackle major issues and work towards resolution. We have faced some difficult issues in the past few years that have sparked national conversation. The events of this weekend, amplified by participants from out of town, do not represent the heart of Charlottesville. This city is strong, thoughtful, kind and cares about its neighbors and where we are going as a community.

The Charlottesville that will prevail is one powered by good. We have a marvelous opportunity to demonstrate how to lead in a time of crisis. It begins with how we conduct these conversations and how we rise to keep working towards change that builds community. Our community is listening, it is acting, and our artists are shining brightly.

 

Westport’s Quiet Role: Addiction Recovery Hub

It was a simple dental procedure..

Back in 2005, Al Samaras was a healthcare sales executive. He owned a large home in Madison, where he and his wife were raising 2 kids.

He loved the opiates that lessened the post-operative pain. Within 8 months, Samaras lost his career. His wife. And his kids.

It took a while to recover. But while still living in a sober house in North Haven, he was asked to manage it.

“I was in my late 30s. I had life skills to fall back on,” Samaras says.

Al Samaras

Yet the model he used for recovery almost never worked for 18-22-year-olds. Most of them start abusing substances — drugs or alcohol — around age 13. Their emotional development stalls.

The financial model most recovery centers use does not support the level of staffing and services — with constant support and oversight — young men need to succeed.

So Samaras helped develop a 2-pronged system aimed at young male addicts.

Very quietly, both are succeeding.

And both are right here in Westport.

With a felony cocaine conviction, Samaras could not go back to his old life. Gradually — as he remarried his wife, put his family back together and built a new house — he developed an extended care sober-living model.

He knew Westport has a strong recovery community. Though he understood possible resistance to establishing a sober house here — not in my backyard! — he searched for property.

The 2nd homeowner he contacted — “We want to rent your house, and put young addicts there” — was willing to talk. “That’s all I ask,” Samaras says.

The 1st “Westport House” opened in 2014, on Fragrant Pines Court (opposite Coffee An’). A 2nd house followed on the same street. A 3rd is around the corner, on Cross Highway.

One of the Westport Houses, not far from downtown.

The homes are large, with plenty of privacy. Several residents live in each, 1 to 2 per room, plus support staff. There are 35 beds in all.

They are life-changing places.

“These are not just ‘sober houses,'” Samaras explains. “They are programs for young men in their teens and 20s who lack life and coping skills. They come in overwhelmed and anxious. They can’t navigate the world without drugs in their system.”

Westport House’s 2-phase system helps reintegrate them into society.

Phase I lasts about 90 days (with various goal-oriented levels for residents to attain). The homes are staffed 24/7, with 3 case management managers, and program aides. There are 17 employees in all.

Though half of the young men come from the tri-state area, nearly every state has been represented.

The interior of the Cross Highway house.

Residents take classes at Fairfield and Sacred Heart Universities, and Norwalk Community College.

They also work. Jim Gabal places each young man at a site. Some volunteer at the Gillespie Center. Others are at non-profits; Christ and Holy Trinity Church; businesses like Sperry Top-Sider and Vineyard Vines, and in law firms.

Given the chance, they can handle it. Some residents attend schools like Cornell and Vanderbilt. One recent “grad” is headed to Yale.

In Phase II, the staff is on site from 9 a.m. to midnight.

“We’re super-fortunate that Westport has been so great to us,” Samaras says. “From the zoning department to neighbors, we’ve been welcomed warmly.”

The program is very conscious that they’re in a residential neighborhood. Cars are not parked on the street. “Hanging out” is prohibited.

“We want to be enmeshed in the community,” Samaras says. “We like manning booths at civic events, and participating in life here however we can.”

Westport House is not cheap. Costs starts at $12,000 a month in Phase I. Insurance may cover some or all of the expense.

The 2nd component of Samaras’ work is Clearpoint Recovery Center. Dual-licensed to treat substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, and located nearby on Kings Highway North — in the former Internal Medicine Associates suite — this is where Westport House residents meet 3-4 hours a day, 3-4 days a week for intensive outpatient groups.

“In recovery, environments matter,” Samaras says. “That’s why we chose large, professionally decorated homes. It’s the same with Clearpoint.”

Treatment centers are typically sterile, he notes. Clearpoint features reclaimed barn lumber, and comfortable furniture.

A Clearpoint meeting room.

Clearpoint’s 20 employees include experienced therapists, and — in administrative roles — several program graduates. “They come in here, and can’t look anyone in the eye. Now they work here,” Samaras says proudly.

But Clearpoint has another component. While it’s used mornings for Westport House residents, the rest of the time it offers services for the rest of Fairfield County.

For example, there are female-only groups. “Women in recovery have different issues than men — there’s often trauma and psychological disorders,” Samaras explains.

One women’s group meets 3 times a week, for 3 hours per session.

There are professionals groups, for those struggling with alcohol. (In most AA groups, Samaras notes, alcoholics of all ages and backgrounds mix together. Westport House residents may also be involved in AA.)

There are also young adult groups, and one centered on medication management.

A small Clearpoint meeting.

“I love Westport for many reasons — including its recovery community,” Samaras says.

“There are a lot of people here recovering from drugs and alcohol. They are amazing human beings. And they’ve been very supportive of us.”

Before today, you may not have heard of Westport House, or Clearpoint.

That’s okay. For hundreds of people who need them, they’re there for them.

And how wonderful it is that “there” means “right here.”

Neighbors Oppose Aquarion’s Proposed North Avenue Water Tank

For nearly 2 years, on-again, off-again construction of a new water pump directly across from Staples High School slowed traffic and disrupted neighbors.

Now a group of North Avenue residents is alarmed at the next project. Aquarion wants to build 2 storage tanks — each holding 2.5 million gallons of water. They would replace the one current 1.5 million gallon tank, built in 1956.

Aquarion says the tanks are necessary to address future town growth. Fire chief Robert Yost supports the proposal.

Opponents disagree. Their petition to the Planning & Zoning Commission says:

We, concerned neighbors surrounding and adjacent to the area of the proposed water tank construction project on North Avenue, hereby urge you reject Aquarion Water Company’s Special Permit Application #17-043 to allow the installation of two 2.5 million above ground concrete water storage tanks at 63-67 North Avenue, Westport.

We believe that Aquarion’s construction of the tanks, along with their permanent siting on this property, will have a deleterious effect upon our quality of life, neighborhood safety, North Avenue traffic, visual landscape, and home values.

Our objections are as follows:

1)  The proposed 39 foot above-ground height of the two tanks far exceed the 24 foot height of the one existing tank, as well as the heights of all homes in the surrounding area. This will have a significantly negative impact on the character and quality of the residential neighborhood surrounding it, effectively changing its appearance from residential to commercial.

2)  As proposed, construction of these tanks will take 2 years but is very likely to take longer, based on Aquarion’s previous record of construction of its pump station, which was projected to take 6 months but actually took 18 months. During that time the ensuing noise of construction activity, all-night presence of high intensity construction lights, debris and operation of construction equipment had a severely negative impact on the peaceful enjoyment and quality of life of our neighborhood. Additionally, landscaping besides 6-foot trees, has never been restored since then. With the proposed project we expect this impact to be magnified due to its much larger scale, and Aquarion’s lack of concern for the neighborhood be repeated.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

3)  Construction activity will severely exacerbate traffic conditions on North Avenue which already suffers from chronic traffic backups and congestion due to the daily volume of cars and school buses traveling to and from Bedford Middle School and Staples High School. This will make travel to and from the schools virtually impossible for both staff and students, and guaranteed to result in school delays.

4)  We are very concerned about the impact on the safety of this residential neighborhood, where so many children live and commute to school, due to the siting of two huge water tanks at this location. When at the June 28 informational meeting Aquarian was asked precautions have been taken regarding the storage of five million gallons of water in a residential neighborhood, Aquarion’s response was “nothing will ever happen.” We find this response irresponsible and unacceptable.

5)  It is highly objectionable that Aquarion did not adhere to the Site Plan and Special Permit requirements, as follows:

a) Aquarion informed and invited only 13 neighbors to the June 26 informational neighborhood meeting, instead of all 27 neighbors in the 250 feet radius from their property.

b) The neighbor list was not distributed to the neighbors in that invitation, as required.

c) Important details were not communicated during the meetings, such as the fact the application had already been filed.

6)  Siting of these highly visible, unsightly structures in our neighborhood will be unpleasant and will adversely affect our property values to a significant extent.\

7)  Given that Aquarion filed the Special Permit Application only on June 21, the last week of school when many families are involved in graduations or traveling, insufficient time has been given to neighbors to review and weigh in on the proposed project. Aquarion has thus far failed to provide answers to our questions including:

What is the basis for the project?
Capacity: Why is there a need to increase the current tank capacity by almost 400%, from 1.5 million gallons to 5.75 million? Population in Westport has been relatively stable since 1970, during which time we have not been made aware of any serious water shortages in our area.

Why situate two huge tanks next to each other in a residential area?
a) Alternative sites: What other options have been considered?

b) Can the second tank (if need has been proven) be situated on a different piece of land?

c) Why is such a large (62.5%) increase in tank height necessary?

A photo in the position shows the height of the proposed new water tanks.

Finally, we are dismayed and concerned that the Planning & Zoning Commission has agreed to review and presumably rule on this Special Permit Application along such a rushed time frame, with so little consideration given by Aquarion to neighbors who wish to review and weigh in on the application. Thus far, few of our questions have been answered to our satisfaction, and few of our concerns addressed. We would expect that in your roles as advocates for us, the Town’s residents, Planning and Zoning Commissioners will not allow this process to be rushed. We are counting on you to insure that our concerns are addressed and alternatives proposed.

In conclusion, we once again respectfully urge the Planning & Zoning Commission to reject Aquarion’s Special Permit application pending further review, consideration of alternatives, and input by Westport citizenry and other public officials.

Thank you for consideration of this very important matter. Yours truly,

North Avenue Neighbors including: Dr. Stefanie and Marc Lemcke; Michael and Kusumarn Fleming; Jennifer and Andrew Kobettisch; Claudia Steinman, Alfred and Mirian Popkin; David and Dawn Chaskin; Jodi and Russel Hardin; Jennifer and Jeffrey Watzman; Jennifer Stein, 12 Terhune Drive, and many concerned neighbors of Westport.

3.454 M: The Sequel

On Monday, I posted a photo of a mysterious sign.

It read “3.454 M,” underneath another one warning of an 11’8″ railroad underpass on South Compo Road.

Alert reader Peter Flatow got the answer — and a promise — from Public Works director Steve Edwards:

Actually we have 4 such signs on our low underpasses. They were installed under the Diane Farrell administration. The signs were given to us by the Department of Transportation under a metric conversion initiative. We never bothered to check the conversion. [“06880″ NOTE: 3.454 meters is less than 11’4″ — a far cry from 11’8”, though at least it’s an error in the “right” direction for a truck driver carrying a high load.]

Good catch by an astute resident. Since the initiative failed miserably, all the metric signs will be removed.

That’s why we love Steve Edwards. But his response got me thinking: There are other signs in town that can be removed too.

Here are a few:

“School Bus Stop Ahead.” There’s one on Wilton Road, and others all around town. Come on — wherever you drive in Westport, there’s always a school bus stop ahead. And if you fail to see a big yellow vehicle with flashing red lights, you probably shouldn’t be driving anyway.

Oh my God! What is that? What should I do?!

“Blind Child At Play.” I’m paraphrasing here, but there’s something like this on South Compo, between Greens Farms and the Post Road. Perhaps it was useful once, but it’s been there for several decades. That “child” is probably now a grandparent. And no disrespect meant, but I’m sure that back in the day, the blind child didn’t play in the road.

I’m sure every “06880” reader has his or her “favorite” signs that they’d like Steve Edwards’ crew to remove.

What’s yours? Click “Comments” below.

Baron’s South “Arts Campus” Returns To P&Z

In May, the Westport Arts Center and a group of arts advocates presented a pre-application to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The goal was to create an “arts campus” at the Baron’s South property. The 3-prong proposal included these ideas:

  1. The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows — the main building that served as the home for Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff (“The Baron”) — retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
  2. The WAC would lease and restore the  Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
  3. They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.

The P&Z was not thrilled with the plan. They called the plan too intense for the “light use” for which the 32-acre property is zoned.

Many Westporters, on the other hand, thought it was great. “06880” was flooded with positive comments.

Golden Shadows: the centerpiece of the Westport Arts Center Baron’s South plan.
(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The whole idea of a pre-app meeting is to get a sense of the P&Z’s mood. The WAC and arts advocates listened to the commissioners.

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 6, 7 p.m., Town Hall) they’ll present a formal proposal. They’ve reworked the use of the artists’ residences, and other concepts.

They also hope to show that the work they’ll do on-site will help the public enjoy all the open space surrounding the arts campus.

The meeting is open to the public.

Hooray For The Red, White, Blue And Green

The view from the road in front of 15 Guyer Road is nice.

But Dale Wehmhoff’s aerial photo makes it look even more impressive:

How cool are your 4th of July decorations? Send photos to dwoog@optonline.net. We’ll post a few tomorrow!