Tag Archives: Old Hill

Pics Of The Day #2104

Top row, from left: Old Hill, Old Hill, Old Mill Beach. Middle row: Old Hill; behind Westport Library (center and right). Bottom row: Old Hill, Hillspoint Road; Old Mill Beach. (Photos/Rowene Weems Photography)

Pics Of The Day #2019

Old Hill pumpkins (Photos/Rowene Weems)

There Goes The Neighborhood

Sure, you live in Westport.

But you also live in Greens Farms. Maybe Coleytown. Or Saugatuck.

Those are a few of the neighborhoods that make up our town. Some are long established, predating our founding in 1835. Some are newer, the result of growth or realtors’ whims.

All are part of ‘06880.”

Karen Scott knows Westport neighborhoods as well as anyone. A co-founder of KMS Partners @ Compass, the other day she took me on a (phone) tour of town.

The Mid-Fairfield County Board of Realtors defines 13 distinct Westport neighborhoods. Besides the 3 mentioned above, there are a few everyone recognizes: Old Hill and Compo Beach, for example. Some are less well known, like Red Coat in the far northwest, Long Lots, Roseville/North Avenue and Compo South (see map below).

(Map courtesy of Mid-Fairfield County Board of Realtors)

A couple are new. Hunt Club (from the Fairfield border and Cross Highway west to Bayberry and south to the Post Road) and Compo Commons (the smallest of all, more commonly known as Gault).

But 2 caught my eye. One is In-Town. The area between the Merritt Parkway, Saugatuck River, Post Road and Roseville Road — with, among others, North Compo and all its side streets — has, with the influx of families from Manhattan and Brooklyn, suddenly become very desirable.

They like the proximity to downtown — they can walk there in theory, if not practice. Until recently though, no one lived “In-Town.” They just lived “close to town.”

Washington Avenue, an “In-Town” neighborhood. (Photo/Google Street View)

The other relatively new name is “Saugatuck Island.” When I was a kid, there was just “Saugatuck Shores.” (And houses there were among the cheapest in Westport. Some were not winterized. Who wanted to live way out there, anyway?!)

But a while ago — no one is sure when — some residents living beyond the wooden bridge decided to become even more exclusive than what had then become the already prestigious Saugatuck Shores.

Hence “Saugatuck Island.” One long-time and embarrassed resident cringes every time she hears it. But there it is, complete with a large sign at the entrance. (Fun fact: No other Westport neighborhood has an actual “entrance.”)

(Photo/Gene Borio)

Karen Scott says that neighborhoods are a good way to describe Westport. “Everyone has preferences,” she notes. “Some people want land, not neighbors. Others don’t want a lot of land. Some prefer near the beach, or close to town. Some want to be close to amenities. Some want to be close to the train station, I-95 or the Merritt” — though with COVID, commuting convenience is less of a concern these days.

The hot real estate market has cooled the “neighborhood” concept a bit, she says. “When there aren’t a lot of homes for sale, some people say, ‘I don’t care. I just want to be in Westport.'”

The neighborhood concept itself has evolved (and become more formalized). At one time, Karen says, areas of town were designated by school districts. (That was probably easier when there were 3 junior highs — Bedford [now Saugatuck Elementary School], Coleytown and Long Lots — rather than just 2 middle schools, located a mile from each other.)

The Long Lots neighborhood has been “sub-divided.” It now includes the Hunt Club area.

As a realtor, Karen Scott is used to describing Westport’s 13 “official” neighborhoods, then squiring clients around to those that sound interesting.

Some buy in neighborhoods they took a quick liking to. Others end up in ones they did not originally consider.

But for all its different neighborhoods, Westport is really one big small town. And most people, Karen says, find “joy and happiness” all over, once they’re here.

Wherever that is.

Metal Detectorists: The Thrill Is In The Discovery

Just when I think I’ve heard everything about Westport history, I learn something new. The other day, it was about a Confederate presence here in the Civil War.

“06880” reader David Ader is an avid metal detectorist. We’ve all seen them around. Who are they, and what do they do? David writes:

You may have seen us around old foundations, in fields or on the beach. We swing contraptions that look like small vacuum cleaners and scrape the ground with small trowels, then diligently replace the digging to hide our work.

David Ader, hard at work.

We’re the handful of metal detectorists looking for history, mystery and very occasional bits of treasure. We also help people hunt for lost jewelry.

The other day, my friend Michael Yormark and I had an interesting find in the Old Hill area. We were detecting around a house from the 1730s, digging the usual sort of rust and debris that cause frustration and back pains, when we came across a Confederate States of America button.

The Confederate button.

At first we assumed it was a fake, something bought at a gift shop near a Civil War battlefield. But we did a bit more digging (so to speak). The back says it was made by S. Buckely & Co., Birmingham, which makes it the real deal. Fake ones were made in Waterbury, Connecticut, and bear that mark.

How did this get to Westport? Our fantasy is that a veteran took it off a Confederate soldier’s uniform for a souvenir — a not uncommon practice — and brought it home.

Perhaps he gave it to his kids, who lost it on the lawn 150 years ago.  We’ll never know, but it’s finds like this that make metal detecting a fascinating hobby.

I got started in this more than 50 years ago, with a cheap detector from an ad in the back of a Boy’s Life magazine. Rules on detecting were lax to non-existent then, which is why I could find bullets, belt buckles, and the remains of a Union soldier’s cartridge box on a Civil War battlefield.

I also found an iron tomahawk that was likely a relic from the Revolution or French & Indian War near our home in Westchester.

Or it may have simply been a farmer’s tool. Finding relics teases your imagination: How did it get there? Who touched it? Did the owner look for the lost goods? Did he or she miss them? History as viewed through these lost objects brings people to life.

Another Westport detectorist found a tooth with a massive gold filling in it. The gold alone is worth several hundred dollars, but the pondering of how anyone lost such a thing is invaluable. 

Hessian soldier’s button.

He also found a Hessian soldier’s button. Hessians accompanied British General William Tryon on his 1779 raid on Fairfield and Norwalk.

Those old artifacts are still with me, as is the urge to uncover more bits of the past. To be sure, it’s illegal to hunt in many spots — especially historic sites — and permission is needed to hunt most anywhere else.

The property that held that Confederate button belongs to a friend of mine.  We assured him we would carefully fill any holes we dig, and offered to share anything we found. Most people are as excited as we are over the finds. We’re often called back when they buy detectors for themselves, or ask us to teach their kids about the hobby.

Finding a place to hunt isn’t difficult. Finding a good spot, however, is. Open parks, the beach, fields and old schools are obvious, as people drop all sorts of things, from coins and rings to a Rolex Daytona (not found by me!).

I had the chance to take my son on a “Back to the Front” trip to visit battlefields in Europe. In a foxhole near Bastogne, we found the dog tag of a US paratrooper. After some research we returned it to his family.

The areas around old homes or foundations are prime. People drop things, lose buttons and have holes in their pockets.

My little entourage has found coins going back to the 1600s. It takes some old-fashioned chutzpah, but if you see the homeowner just ask, and promise you won’t leave a mess and will share finds.

We sometimes leave a letter in mailboxes asking permission. We emphasize our goal; I add a long list of archaeology courses to indicate intellectual interest.

Old maps show foundations of lost homes deep in the woods. LiDAR is a remote sensing method that shows different contours in the landscape. A rectangle is manmade (like a foundation).

Finds are random. We’ve been out for hours and collected little more than ticks and poison ivy. The CSA button was found in the first few minutes of hunting. I’ve found arrowheads on the surface (not with the detector) and 1990 pennies down 12 inches.

The surprise is part of the allure. In fact, that discovery might be the whole thing.

Michael Yormark. The hole will be filled in after he’s finished digging.

We’ll do more research on the house in question to find out who lived there and might have served in the Civil War. Note that about 100 Westporters made up Company E of the 17th Connecticut Regiment and fought at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

We find a lot of children’s things: toy cars, Boy and Girl Scout buckles, medals and odd tokens. Kids will be kids.

We appreciate people letting us hunt their property. We take care to fill any holes so the landscape remains as it was. We offered the owners of the Old Hill property the Confederate button. Our joy comes from the find, not the keep.

The property owners said no — but did keep the four quarters we dug up.

Every step we take in Westport is a step in and on history. What lies below are so many links to people who went before.

Julie And Chris Trade Old Hill For New Adventure

Seven years ago, Julie Tran and her husband Chris Ziccardi built a home in Old Hill.

She loves her “Mr. Rogers neighborhood,” and the rest of town. When their 2 foster sons were ready to be reunified with their biological parents in November, Julie and Chris were overwhelmed by support from friends, the YMCA youth program, and Kings Highway Elementary School teachers like Roseann Caruso.

But in a couple of weeks — the day their house sale closes — the couple will leave Westport.

With a 27-foot Airstream Globetrotter hitched to their Ford F-350, they’ll head to … well, they’re not exactly sure.

But Julie and Chris are ready for the next chapter in their lives.

Julie Tran and Chris Ziccardi.

The seeds for their decision took root in the pandemic. Julie is a life coach. Chris is a property technology executive.

As they realized the ease of working remotely, they reassessed their values.

“We thought about our lifestyle, our environment — everything,” Julie recalls.

“We had no idea how long COVID would last. But we knew we wanted sun, warmth, and a lot of land. We want to adopt or foster again in a place conducive to that. We envision a ranch with lots of room, sustainable, a place with solar or geothermal, where we can grow our own food.”

Those places exist. But the only way to find them is to hit the road.

“We’ve been cooped up for a year. We’ve got the travel bug,” Julie says.

Julie and Chris started by examining the “why.” They talked about their core values, and came up with 4: freedom, courage, adventure and love.

Julie and Chris are leaving the Old Hill home they built …

Then came the “what.” What does that look like? How would they do it? The safest way to travel now, they realized, is by RV.

There were a few snags. The couple did not own an RV. Julie had not been camping since she was 10. They’d never camped together.

“It’s a crazy idea,” she admits.

Then again, these are crazy times.

“We don’t know how to do what we’re doing,” admits Julie. “But we know we can figure it out.”

… for the RV they bought.

They spent months watching YouTube videos and joining Facebook groups. They researched and crowdsourced things like what kind of trailer they’d need — and how to back it up.

They learned the difference between campgrounds with electric and water hookups, and “boondocking” in more remote areas.

They’ll “start out strong,” with a bit of luxury and sense of community, Julie says. But they look forward to being alone, under the stars, too.

The adventure starts in earnest this week. They’re driving to Georgia in their truck. They’ll hitch the Airstream to it, and head north again for a couple of weeks.

When they leave Westport for good, it’s on a route with few anchors. Julie and Chris will stop in New Jersey, Florida and Texas to see family. Their only set time and destination is April 1: They must be in California then, for her sister’s wedding.

After that? They have no idea.

They hope to find a place to call home. It may be in Austin. Or Tennessee, Florida or Arizona.

Julie and Chris’ Airstream.

As Julie prepares to leave the town she loves — where their foster children thrived, and she found friends and activities — she has one message for those she’s leaving.

“So many people say they’ll live vicariously through us. But I hope it won’t be just vicarious.

“If you’re inspired by our story but think you can’t do it, imagine yourself on your deathbed. Ask yourself, if you had a do-over for your life, would you do anything differently?”

Brazen Break-In Puts Homeowners On Alert

The homeowners were away for the weekend.At 12:30 p.m. last Sunday — in broad daylight, and in view of the road — a security camera caught a man walking up to their Old Hill neighborhood house.

For half an hour, he casually cased out the place. He walked around the property and climbed on the roof, checking for unlocked windows. He banged on the side of the house, making sure no one was home.

Footage from a Nest camera shows the burglar — casually carrying a Gatorade bottle — casing out an Old Hill neighborhood home.

He finally found a vulnerable basement window, underneath the deck. He removed the glass — avoiding setting off the alarm — and entered the home. Then he used the owner’s own tools to cut the alarm wire.

That set off the alarm, and the burglar ran away.

The intruder removed the glass window, then used the owner’s own tools to cut the security alarm line.

“This guy was brazen, unconcerned about being seen or caught, experienced,” the homeowner says. “He knew where the main line of the security system was, and went right to it.”

Police found a Gatorade bottle he had left behind, and got a DNA sample. He did not wear gloves, so they obtained fingerprints and boot prints from the basement too. However, odds are against him getting caught.

The homeowner shows the cut security alarm line.

This is not the first time this has happened in Old Hill. A neighbor’s home was broken into in mid-March.

Residents have noticed men walking around the area recently. They did not give it a second thought; they figured they were handymen, landscapers or other workers. They’ll be more vigilant now, watching their own property and others’.

Since they learned of the break-in, neighbors have posted Nest photos of men casing other houses.

Another intruder, at another Old Hill area home.

The owners are adding extra features to their system, and more cameras. They’re filling in the basement window, and alarming all their glass.

“He would have set off the motion detector if he tried to get upstairs,” the owner says. “But it’s still really creepy.”

Besides heightened awareness by all, there’s only one good thing to come of this incident: At least one intruder was masked.