Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. (Happy 215th, Abe!)
Once upon a time, that was a legit holiday. Now it’s been folded into the generic “Presidents Day,” lowering Lincoln to the likes of John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson’s wife.
But The Great Emancipator deserves an “06880” shout-out. With, of course, a Westport twist.
Lincoln supposedly stayed at Hockanum, Morris Ketchum’s 69 Cross Highway estate near Roseville Road, during his presidency. (Woody Klein‘s history of Westport says only that Salmon P. Chase — Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury — was a frequent guest.) Hockanum still stands; there is a “Lincoln bedroom” upstairs, and the deed states that no changes can be made to that room.
Like the great realtor she is, alert “06880” reader Mary Palmieri Gai has unearthed some fascinating new information about Hockanum. It doesn’t involve Lincoln directly, but it does provide a chance for me to use his name and the word “golf” in the same sentence — something that has perhaps never been done before, even though 15,000 books have been written about him. (True fact.)
Mary discovered a May 21, 1900 Norwalk Hour story that says:
Westport golfists are getting ready their clubhouse on the Morris Ketchum estate to repeat the splendid experience there of last summer.
Players from Westport, Saugatuck, the Norwalks, Greens Farms, Southport, Fairfield, Greenfield and even Bridgeport think highly of the quarters like that former old house as a place to see and to wait while others are playing. The club has completed an addition to the building. Play is indulged in every day.
Mary explains that Ketchum’s Hockanum property extended far north, long past where the Merritt Parkway is now — all the way to Lyons Plains Road. (It included homes that still stand, like the 1856 house at 499 Main Street.)
Recently, Mary says, the owners of a house that backs up to the Unitarian Church found golf balls on their property. No one could figure out where they came from.
The answer: the Hockanum golf course.
It wasn’t there when President Lincoln (supposedly) visited. It isn’t there now.
But it sure provides a great way to look at Westport’s recreational — and presidential — past.