Yesterday’s post about LandTech’s plan to save the Eno Foundation building generated plenty of comments.
Some referenced the handsome waterfront estate directly across Saugatuck Avenue. Owned by Foundation founder William Phelps Eno — the father of modern-day traffic devices like stop signs, pedestrian crosswalks and 1-way streets — it was one of the most majestic mansions in Westport.
Yet as several commenters noted, it met an inglorious end.
Here — with research help from alert “06880” reader/amateur historian/ace realtor Mary Palmieri Gai — is the back story.
According to a January 7, 1996 New York Times story, Eno’s estate commanded a sweeping view of the mouth of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound. However, the 119-year-old, 15,000-square foot, 32-room 1877 Colonial Revival — featuring an inside hall with 8 fluted columns, a ballroom with an octagonal entryway, built-in organ, and bathrooms tiled in marble — had been unoccupied for 9 years. In wretched condition, it was being offered for a bargain price.
The only caveat: “Cash and carry. You buy it, you move it.”
Oh, yeah: It could not fit under the nearby railroad bridge. So it would have to be put on a barge — all 200 feet of it — and floated down the Sound.
Over the following months the Maritime Center, Anthony Quinn and Diana Ross all expressed interest. But the $500,000 moving cost — and $1.7 million price tag for restoration — scared them off.
The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation tried to shop the mansion for use as a museum, B&B or inn.
Sherwood Island State Park was interested too. On November 19, 1996, the Times noted that thanks to loans, gifts and pledges, the Eno mansion would be floated 2 miles away, to Sherwood Island State Park.
Sitting on land donated by the state, it would be open to the public for exhibits about Connecticut’s historic homes, as well as conferences and celebrations. The top floors would be used as offices by non-profit preservation and environmental groups.
A house mover was hired. He planned a system of pulleys to tug the house to the barge. At Sherwood Island, huge dollies would pull it a mile inland. The process would take 3 months.
But, the Times reported 2 months later, the State Department of Environmental Protection reversed its initial approval. After 200 people signed a petition opposing the move, the DEP acknowledged there were too many questions about the impact on wetlands and wildlife.
And that was that. Eventually, the house was demolished. The land was subdivided into five 1-acre lots.
Today there is nothing left of William Phelps Eno’s estate. Fortunately — thanks to LandTech — his Foundation across the street will not meet the same fate.
Oh yeah: According to Westport architectural historian Morley Boyd, some of the house’s elaborate interior was salvaged by volunteers.
“Those materials did hard time in a trailer upstate,” he says. “But the last I knew, they were being woven into the restoration of another structure by the same architect.”