Tag Archives: Birchwood Country Club

Birchwood Country Club: Local Jewel, Hidden In Plain Sight

I’ve spent most of my life in Westport. Yet until a few years ago — when I went to an awards dinner there — I had never set foot in Birchwood Country Club.

Nor had I even thought about it.

I’ve been inside 3 times since then: for 2 A Better Chance “Dream Events,” and last November’s Catch a Lift fundraiser.

For me — as with many Westporters — the 80-acre club that lies, barely noticed, on prime land between Riverside Avenue and the Post Road — might have been in another galaxy. It was out of sight, out of mind.

Birchwood’s current board of directors want to change that. They’d like everyone  to know about the only private country club in Westport.

And they want everyone to feel welcome there.

The Birchwood Country Club main building.

Before World War II, the “Westport Country Club” boasted an 18-hole golf course. It was private or semi-private — details are hazy.

During the war, it lay fallow. Weeds replaced well-trimmed grass.

In 1946, returning veterans bought the land, and opened their own club — renamed Birchwood. The reason they didn’t join any existing club in the area: They couldn’t.

They were Jewish.

A redesigned 9-hole golf course became the #6 of its kind in the US, according to Golf Digest. The club added tennis and paddle courts, and a pool.

The Birchwood golf course.

But — beyond the fact that it was located in Westport, and many members lived here — it had nothing to do with the community.

Over the past decade, directors say, Birchwood has grown much more inclusive. Club members still gather to break the fast on Yom Kippur — but there’s a gingerbread house at Christmas.

Children — once supposed to be neither heard nor seen — are now welcome in the restaurant.

Marco Spadacenta — the first non-Jewish president in the club’s 72 years — exemplifies those changes.

He moved to Westport 20 years ago. For 14 years, he played golf at Longshore. He’d never heard of Birchwood. But he wanted more flexibility in tee times, and found the club.

Since joining, he says, “I’ve met the most wonderful people. This is such a great place.”

Birchwood Country Club president Marco Spadacenta and board member Thomas Freydl, in the dining room.

Board member Thomas Freydl echoes Spadacenta. “I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Country clubs there were” — he searches for the right words — “less approachable.”

At  Birchwood, Freydl says, “kids can run around. Everyone is relaxed, and has fun.”

As part of their community outreach, Birchwood is figuring out how to serve Westport’s police officers and firefighters. The club welcomes local businesses for corporate meetings and golf outings.

They also plan Memorial Day fireworks. They’ll be shot off on club grounds — yet visible all over town.

Which is exactly the point. “We’re 10 minutes from any place in Westport,” Freydl says. “But when I get here, I feel like I’m out of town. There’s great views off the balcony — green grass, nature and beauty. I spend every summer weekend here.”

New chef Quint Smith has re-energized the restaurant. He’s introduced cooking lessons for kids and adults, and organized tasting sessions. The dining room is a warm, welcoming place.

Birchwood is a hidden wonder. Now, the club hopes more Westporters will find it.

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.

This Old House: Identified!

The whole point of “06880”‘s “This Old House” series is to help the Westport Historical Society in advance of an upcoming exhibit. They’ll be showing great photos of old homes, to illustrate changes in Westport. 

But some images — taken as part of a 1930s WPA project — are hard to identify.

House #4 — posted 10 days ago — has been confirmed. It’s the handsome home of Birchwood Country Club, visible from Kings Highway South. The back of the photo said “Allen (Bailin). Riverside Avenue.”

This Old House - March 25, 2015

WHS house historian Bob Weingarten explains the delay in confirmation:

I need to apologize to your readers, especially Marc Isaacs; Jill Turner Odice, who agreed with Marc, and Neil Brickley, who wrote that Marc was correct and  I should re-consider this location.

When I first read Marc’s comments [he said it was originally the Josiah Raymond Inn. and was moved to its present location prior to the 1930’s], I reviewed the Connecticut Historic Resources Inventory. It said the house was built in 1835 by Josiah Raymond. The form identified the location as 25 Kings Highway South, also known as The Birchwood Country Club “Clubhouse.”

The Birchwood Country Club House today.

The Birchwood Country Club House today.

I discounted this as the house for 2 reasons. First, on the back of the WPA 1930s photo the words “Riverside Avenue” appeared and there was no indication from the history that the house was moved.

Second, the photo I had on file was of the front of the house. Although the WPA 1930s photo does show the front, this architectural design was prevalent in houses of the Federal period in Westport.  My mistake was not having a visual view of the side of the building.

After hearing from Neil, I visited the site. With an appropriate photo angle I can visually confirm that the Unknown House #4 is the Birchwood Country Club “Clubhouse.”

Looking at the photo you can see that the front porch does have sidelight windows, the side portion of the building has the same structural elements and windows as identified on the WPA 1930s photo. Too many  elements to be a duplicate built house.

Thanks again to Marc Isaacs, Jill Turner Odice and Neil Brickley.

Terrorizing Turkey

Today is Animal Day on “06880.”

Hot on the heels of an albino squirrel, we’ve got a wild turkey terrorizing Westport drivers.

Alert “06880” reader Mark Jacobs took this photo this morning, near Birchwood Country Club:

Turkey

Mark says he (the turkey) attacked half a dozen vehicles, pecking at tires.

It’s the same animal Mark saw (and photographed) earlier this month:

Turkey 2

Mark writes:

I contacted Westport Animal Control. They said the state has been informed, and will (eventually) relocate the bird. Unless someone runs him over first.

Apparently he is a regular highwayman. I’m curious what set him off.

Maybe a discourteous, entitled Westport driver flipped him the bird.