Category Archives: Places

Christ Church, Revisited

Earlier today, I posted a 1914 view toward the Saugatuck River, from what is now Birchwood Country Club.

I pointed out various Riverside Avenue sites, like the old Staples High School and Assumption Church. But I had no clue about the church on the far left of the photo:

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Thanks to alert “06880” readers Bob Grant, Ann Romsky, Tom Leyden and Peter Barlow, the mystery has been solved.

The spire at the far left belongs to Christ Church, consecrated first in 1835 on the northeast corner of Ludlow Street and the Post Road. In 1885 the congregation moved a short way to a new building Burr Street, on land owned by the Nash brothers.

In 1944, Christ Church merged with another Episcopal church — Holy Trinity — which had been on Myrtle Avenue since 1863. That downtown church was — and still is — called Christ and Holy Trinity.

The abandoned Burr Street church was demolished in the late 1940s or early ’50s. Peter Barlow was there — and took a photograph. This afternoon, he sent the image to “06880”:

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

Christ Church no longer stands — but God is still there.

After demolition, Assumption Church built a parochial school on the site. It has since closed, but Assumption continues to use the building for various functions.

Friday Flashback #8

Back in the day — 1914, to be exact — Birchwood Country Club looked a bit different than today.

So, in fact, does the view from there — off South Sylvan — of Riverside Avenue.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

(Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

This photo — labeled simply “Bird’s Eye View From Country Club” — is best viewed much bigger. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the center, we see the back of what was then Staples High School. (Today, it’s the site of Saugatuck Elementary School). To its left is Assumption Church, built in 1900. In the far, far distance we see the white spire of Saugatuck Congregational Church (in its original location, further east on the Post Road).

But what’s that church on the far left?

Enjoy the view. And think about what passed for a “country club” 102 years ago.

GiGi New’s Caboose Muse

Every writer needs a favorite place.

For some it’s a home office — a converted bedroom perhaps, or the attic. For others it’s Starbucks.

For GiGi New, it’s a caboose.

Since the early 1970s, the red, real train car has sat in the woods off Newtown Turnpike, between the Country Store and Bette Davis’ old house. For anyone driving, biking or walking by, it’s an object of wonder and awe.

GiGi New's caboose.

GiGi New’s caboose.

For GiGi, it’s a special, creative sanctuary.

She and her husband — actor/director Nicholas Sadler (“Scent of a Woman,” “Disclosure,” “Twister”) — moved to Westport in April, with their young son Cooper. They fell in love with the house and caboose, and sent a heartfelt letter to the owner promising to honor and take care of both.

GiGi New

GiGi New

GiGi was already a well-established TV and film writer. In Minneapolis, where she lived during the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, she began teaching her craft. Garrison Keillor became an avid pupil.

She continued to teach after arriving here — first with the Westport Writers’ Workshop and through area libraries, now on her own.

Which  brings us to the funky, not-quite-level caboose, where Gigi works with individuals and groups, and continues writing for TV and movies. (Her current project is in development with Killer Films.)

The caboose is said to have been some sort of “payment” to Alan Abel, a well-known prankster who 40 years ago owned GiGi’s 1847 house. (One hoax: Following the Watergate scandal, he hired an actor to pose as Deep Throat. The press conference drew 150 reporters.)

The caboose was delivered via 3 flatbed trucks, and a crane. It sits on actual tracks, though those were brought in too. Someone had a permit for it — and it’s been grandfathered in ever since.

The interior, from the back of the caboose.

The interior, from the back of the caboose.

GiGi says the caboose belonged to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. One wall is filled with actual P&LE tickets. (They were placed there by HGTV, which gutted the interior, and re-decorated it for one of their shows — click here for the fascinating video.)

However, “DWP” is emblazoned on the side. The letters stand for the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railway.

That’s just one of the many mysteries surrounding the caboose.

What’s not in dispute is what GiGi has done with it, and what it means to her.

She’s brought in a conference table and desks — including the one she writes at. It faces woods, and a pond. She watches her son at play, along with ducks and deer.

GiGi's view, out the caboose window.

GiGi’s view, out the caboose window.

“If I can’t create here, I can’t do it anywhere,” she says. “This my safe, nurturing little haven. When I sit here, I tap into a quiet place. That’s essential for my writing.”

Like a child’s treehouse, the caboose allows her imagination to run wild.

Her students find the caboose to be a “healing, inspiring, creative” place too.

GiGi New’s writing and teaching careers are going place.

Fortunately, her little red caboose is not.

GiGii New, peacefully at work.

GiGii New, peacefully at work. Railroad memorabilia are on the rear walls.


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Most Confusing Intersection In Westport Just Got Worse

As if the Main Street/Weston Road/Easton Road clusterf–k is not bad enough, consider this:

Earlier today, state Department of Transportation workers replaced stop signs noting “4-way” with different ones.

4-way-stop

(Photo/Larry Perlstein)

Let’s hope that drivers — after reading ads for the Emmanuel Country Fair and St. Paul Christian School, among others — won’t spend too much time figuring out that “All Way” is simply DOT-speak for the much simpler (and more commonly used) “4-way.”

On the upside, the new signs are larger. With reflectors up and down the posts.

Sherwood Island Shines Today

You could say that Sherwood Island made lemons lemonade out of lemonade lemons.

A better analogy would be: The state park’s admirers and friends made foie gras out of goose poop.

Less than 2 weeks ago, “06880” published alert reader Ellen Bowen’s complaint that the 9/11 Living Memorial there — Connecticut’s tribute to state residents lost on that tragic day 15 years ago — was an unkempt disgrace.

Very quickly, several things happened.

Tony Palmer — owner of T. Palmer Landscaping and Anthony’s Nursery and Garden Center, both in Westport — donated a 3-man crew. Working gratis for 2 days, they weeded, pruned rose bushes, cleaned and helped the overworked, under-budgeted park staff get the memorial in tip-top shape.

Tony returned this week, with a mission. He made sure that everything was perfect for today’s 5:30 p.m. ceremony.

Other volunteers turned out yesterday, to weed, clear and prune a large garden bed that visitors pass on their way to the memorial.

The garden bed on the way to the Sherwood Island 9/11 memorial.

The garden bed on the way to the Sherwood Island 9/11 memorial.

Bowen’s story also brought attention to Friends of Sherwood Island. The non-profit does important, seldom-noticed work everywhere in the park. Its annual fundraiser — ShoreFest — is set for 6 p.m. tomorrow.

Local businesses and individuals rushed to offer goods and services for the silent auction.

In addition, a major donation — for ongoing plantings — was made to the Friends’ tree committee.

It’s easy for Westporters to overlook Sherwood Island. Residents may not realize Connecticut’s oldest state park is also home to our 9/11 memorial — and a robust organization that serves the entire 220-acre property.

Thanks to Ellen Bowen’s alert, more Westporters now do.

And many are doing whatever they can to help make Sherwood Island sparkle.

Robinson Strong: “63 Turkey Hill South Enriched Me”

Last month, “06880” examined the fate of 63 Turkey Hill Road South. The Mediterranean-style home — said to be one of only 4 in town — may soon fall to the wrecking ball.

Alert “06880” reader Robinson Strong feels a special attachment to the house. From 1916 to 1978, it belonged to her family. She writes:

The new owners want a new home, and to redesign the landscaping. Despite the unique and beautiful Italian design, they have applied for a demolition permit.

63 Turkey Hill Road South today...

63 Turkey Hill Road South.

Many neighbors are up in arms. I’m feeling a range of emotions. It was given a 180-day “stay of execution” by the Westport Historic District Commission, hoping that would allow a change of heart by the new owners.

Many who read this will wonder why, with so much going on in the world, I am expending so much energy and emotion on a house.

It is because it is important on many levels. It’s important to the town of Westport, the neighborhood of Greens Farms and to Turkey Hill neighbors.

The original 9 acres was subdivided and sold in 1978, after my grandmother died. The most recent owner lived in the house, on 3 acres, for over 30 years, but found it overwhelming as a senior citizen.

Part of the Turkey Hill garden.

Part of the Turkey Hill garden.

It was recently sold privately to a Westport couple. The house never went on the open market to find a potential buyer who was not intent on knocking it down, bulldozing the property and building a large new home. What a lost opportunity for a family!

My great-grandfather purchased the property in 1916. It had been an onion farm at the turn of the century.

Taking structural elements from the barn and keeping the original farmhouse, he built the elegant Italianate Tuscan-style house with the red clay roof. It’s nestled behind a stone wall and large wrought iron gate (which has been removed and sold).

The front yard is a courtyard with a fountain and landscaped terrace. Originally there were formal Japanese gardens with man-made streams and waterfalls, an English garden set in the barn’s foundation, a formal rose garden with a large arbor, an apple orchard, a grape “vineyard,” horse barn and open fields.

I was so blessed to live on this property, at 61 Clapboard Hill — the sister house — with my mother and brother. Our family treasured the Turkey Hill house. Everything surrounding it enriched my education.

My grandmother regaled me with stories about how the gardens were created by a master Japanese gardener, and why the Japanese so revere their serene space. My mother told me how during the Depression, she would have to kill a chicken on Sunday for dinner. One of the rooms in the basement held canned vegetables from the garden. My grandfather insisted on feeding any needy person who came to the door.

I learned how the property’s original status as an onion farm played a significant role in the Greens Farms and Southport economies.

My grandmother entertained often. I was expected to help. I learned manners, how to set a table and how to interact with adults. I also learned about flowers and landscaping.

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photo/Robinson Strong)

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photos/Robinson Strong)

I was proud of the uniqueness of my family’s home and property. Despite the grandeur of the exterior, the interior was painted as infrequently as possible. Re-decorating was considered frivolous. But my friends loved it, not because it was large (just under 4800 square feet) with 5 bedrooms and 4 full baths, but because it was different.

There does not seem to be any appreciation for historical architecture or history in general in Westport anymore. More and more houses are being demolished for large-scale popular designs. Such a shame.

It’s too late now for the Japanese gardens. They are “6 feet under.” But the house still has a chance to remain standing, and enrich a family and its children just like it did for me.

Over 100 Greens Farms residents who love the house and its architecture are wrestling with this impending loss, and the irreparable changes that will accompany it.

They do not want Turkey Hill to lose this house. They are avidly watching as its status moves through the various town bodies, hoping for clemency for 63 Turkey Hill South.

School’s Open. Be Careful Out There!

It took exactly one day from the opening of school for the first drivers to race by, totally ignoring a stopped bus and causing an accident.

A Greens Farms Elementary school bus pulled up to the Regents Park curb around 3:40 p.m. this afternoon. The stop sign was extended, yet cars in the opposite (westbound) direction roared past.

The driver honked. One car hit its brakes. But the 2 cars behind were going so fast, they could not stop. The result: a 3-car rear-end collision that sent one person to the hospital.

Police and fire trucks responded quickly. Still, it was quite an experience for at least one kindergartner, whose parents described the scene.

Two of the vehicles in this afternoon's Post Road East crash.

Two of the vehicles in this afternoon’s Post Road East crash.

There are 2 issues here. One is the law: When a school bus is stopped, all drivers must stop too. That’s a no-brainer. The safety of our kids trumps your need to get wherever you are late going.

The second issue is that this section of the Post Road — Regents Park, Balducci’s, and nearby areas — has become increasingly hazardous. Condo residents believe it’s just a matter of time before a tragedy occurs.

There are no stop signs, lights or crosswalks. But there are 2 active driveways and parking lots on opposite sides of the highly trafficked 4-lane street, with cars often exceeding 40 miles an hour.

Interestingly, a police car was parked this morning in the Zaniac parking lot, monitoring this situation during the school bus pickup.

Residents of Regents Park (right) worry constantly about this dangerous stretch of the Post Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Residents of Regents Park (right) worry constantly about this dangerous stretch of the Post Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Traffic will not get better. Last night, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans for a 4-story, 94-unit rental property not far away: on Post Road East, opposite Crate & Barrel.

On the other hand, the proposal includes affordable housing units that will help the town earn a 4-year moratorium on complying with the state’s 8-30g statute.

Cross At Your Own Risk

As construction on the North Compo/Main Street culvert continues, drivers are forced to use alternate routes.

A short stretch of Cross Highway has long been closed at Main Street. But that doesn’t stop impatient folks from using it.

Alert “06880” reader Susan Isenman was startled to see a car speed past her — and roar onto Main Street without stopping.

A while later she spotted a “friendly policeman” on Main, writing a ticket to a similar offender. He told Isenman he’d written 4 the previous day.

Cops hear all kinds of excuses. But — as the photo below shows — “I didn’t see the signs” won’t fly here.

(Photo/Susan Isenman)

(Photo/Susan Isenman)

9/11 Memorial: Friends Of Sherwood Island Respond

The other day, “06880” reader Ellen Bowen complained about the unkempt, goose-drop-filled state of the 9/11 Living Memorial at Sherwood Island State Park.

Yesterday, Friends of Sherwood Island State Park co-president Liz-Ann Koos said:

First, it is  very important that you understand  some facts about birds nests. If house sparrows are making nests in the indoor memorial, they can be removed, even while they are building their nests. They are one of the few bird species not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

A volunteer Friends member (and dedicated birder) will check and remove whatever  nests are in the 9/11 Memorial area now. However, if a protected bird such as a swallow built a nest, nothing can be done until after the birds leave the nests. Most migratory birds have left their nests by now.

Second, please understand that controlling the Canadian geese is impossible. No one, including the Town of Westport, can remove every goose dropping..

The 9/11 Living Memorial at Sherwood Island State Park. (Photos/Ellen Bowen)

The 9/11 Living Memorial at Sherwood Island State Park. (Photos/Ellen Bowen)

Third, the Sherwood Island supervisor and his staff work  hard to keep the Park looking its best, in spite of the many visitors leaving garbage all over the grounds and not using dumpsters. You are correct that the  responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the 9/11 Memorial  is indeed part of the staff’s responsibilities. Rest assured it will be in order for the September 8 (5:30 p.m.) service.

However, I am sure that you have been reading about the huge budget cuts impacting the size of the staff and other matters relevant to your concerns, which brings me to my last point.

One of the reasons for the founding of Friends of Sherwood Island State Park was to supply assistance to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in the form of advocacy, volunteers, and funds (through memberships, donations, fundraising projects and events). We need concerned people like yourself to join our ranks to produce positive changes and support for our beautiful Sherwood Island  State Park, where state budget dollars fall short.

Friends of Sherwood Island logoPlease consider buying a ticket or two for our upcoming ShoreFest in the Pavilion (strikingly reconstructed including solar-heated year-round restrooms, with your tax dollars) on Friday September 9 (6 to 9 p.m.). Proceeds from the silent auction will be specifically targeted for our 100 Trees for 100 Years Project, aimed at replacing and maintaining trees and shrubs that were devastated in major storms.

Please go to our website (www.friendsofsherwoodisland.org) to learn about joining Friends, or purchasing tickets for ShoreFest (where you will have an opportunity to discuss your concerns with the park supervisor, State legislators who have adopted the park, and our board and other Friends).

Please contact me directly at  lizannlwv@gmail.com if you would like to know more.

Ellen Bowen: Sherwood Island 9/11 Memorial Now An “Embarrassment”

“06880” reader Ellen Bowen recently visited  Sherwood Island State Park. She was stunned at the condition of the state’s official 9/11 memorial. Among the Connecticut residents honored there are several Westporters. 

With the 15th anniversary of that tragic day near, Ellen writes:

Imagine my surprise and disgust to find the plaques covered with goose poop,  and the walkways and grassy areas (including near the water fountain and picnic area) overrun and filled with weeds. The condition was disgusting. And I paid $9 to park.

(Photos/Ellen Bowen)

(Photos/Ellen Bowen)

I am appalled and saddened that a beautiful and contemplative place remembering the victims and heroes who lost their lives that day has become an embarrassment to our town and the state of Connecticut. I will share some of the pictures I took with the Friends of Sherwood Island, local and state government officials, and anyone else I can think of.

I hope they clean it up in time for the governor and 9/11 families’ visit, and the memorial service, on September 8. But I sincerely hope they consider maintaining the memorial on a year-round basis, and not just “for show.”