Tag Archives: oysters

Oyster Gallery Pops Up In Mill Pond

Like many people, Patrick Sikes loves the beauty of Sherwood Mill Pond.

Like many too, he’s fascinated by Hummock Island: the oyster house that sits in the middle of that vast body of water.

The Mill Pond is one of Westport’s most photographed locations. Sikes’ images are particularly good. They should be: He’s a professional photographer.

Recently, he turned some of his Hummock Island shots into unique greeting cards. He posted them on Instagram, where they caught the eye of Jeff Northrop Jr., an owner of Hummock Island Oysters.

He invited the photographer out. Sikes captured the feel of the oyster house: the equipment, the machines, the oysters themselves.

Oystering equipment … (Photo/Patrick Sikes)

His images — black-and-white and color, framed and printed on metal — now hang on the oyster house wall. (Jeff Northrop Sr. made sure  that, as a historic building, no new nails were driven into the wood.)

… and oysters. (Photo/Patrick Sikes)

It’s a unique “gallery.” There’s no electricity, so the photos are seen in natural light.

The other evening, 60 or so oyster-and-art-lovers took the quick boat ride from Compo Cove to Hummock island.

Heading to Hummock Island. (Photo/Patrick Sikes)

They admired the photos. They ate the Northrops’ oysters. And they browsed what is now — thanks to Sikes — a unique gift shop. In addition to greeting cards, he’s created coasters and cutting boards, with his photos and the Hummock Island logo.

Eating oysters outside the Hummock Island house and “gallery.” (Drone photo/Patrick Sikes)

Hummock Island is a special Westport story.

Thanks to Patrick Sikes, it’s now told in striking photos too.

Mill Pond Oyster Tours R In Season

You’ve eaten them at local restaurants (and all across the country).

You’ve stood by the Sherwood Mill Pond, gazing at the island house and wondering about the long, black contraptions running out to it.

Next month, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about Hummock Island oysters, and the beds where they’re grown.

The Northrop family — who revived and revitalized the industry here in Westport — are offering tours of their Hummock Island oyster farm.

You’ll travel by boat across the Mill Pond. The Northrops will describe the history of oystering in Connecticut, show how oysters are grown, and end with oyster tasting on the front porch of the private island house.

It’s fun, educational and exciting for oyster lovers of all ages — including kids, and those who have never even tasted one (an oyster that is, not a kid).

Tours run June 8 through August. Start times are tide-dependent.

Click here for information and reservations.

A view of Westport you’d never see, available on the Hummock Island oyster tour.

Oysters R In Westport’s Season

For months, Westporters have seen — and wondered about — the wooden structures visible at low tide in Sherwood Mill Pond.

They’re used to grow oysters. And though only those folks living on the Mill Pond — or enjoying the view there — have noticed them, they won’t be “secret” for long.

Westport oysters are coming back. In fact, they may be our town’s fastest-growing industry.

And one of our most important.

Last month, near low tide, JP Vellotti snapped this photo at Sherwood Mill Pond. The tops of oyster cages peek above the water.

Last month, near low tide, JP Vellotti snapped this photo at Sherwood Mill Pond. The tops of oyster cages (center) peek above the water.

Oysters are not new. In the mid-1800s 2 men — a Mr. Nash, and a Dr. Deifendorf — grew oysters in the Mill Pond.

The Nash family may be best known for their own pond — off Kings Highway and Woodside — but they have a long oystering history here. In 1908 — several years after Captain Walter Dewitt (“Cap”) Allen married Lida Nash, he bought a small oyster house (the first part of Allen’s Clam House), and 30 acres on the pond.

Accessible only by boat, the house had been built in 1747 with remnants from the cooper shop. It was moved to the middle of the pond at the turn of the 20th century, as the home of a guard who watched the beds for poachers.

The house had been cut into 3 pieces, then dragged out at low tide by a team of oxen. It was built into the island house by Cap’s father Samuel, a carpenter.

When Cap died, his daughter, Beulah Northrop, inherited the island house. She later gave it to her nephew, Sandy Allen, who then sold it to Jeff Northrop Sr.

I learned all this from Jeff Northrop Jr.. His father (Jeff Sr.’s) great-aunt was Lida Nash Allen. For generations, those 3 families have been intertwined.

Some of the oysters harvested last summer from Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Some of the oysters harvested last summer from Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Captain Allen grew clams and oysters. He ran Allen’s Clam House for several decades. He died in 1954.

The Uccellini family had been involved in the restaurant since World War II. They took over Allen’s Clam House after Cap’s death — but the clamming business ended.

During the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19, the only cure was said to be clam broth. Believing there were only enough clams to feed the locals, men with guns defended the Mill Pond from New York marauders.

Jeff Sr. was born in 1952. At age 4 he sat on Captain Allen’s lap, eating his first oyster. He lived on Grove Point, and spent summers playing at the tidal gates.

From 1957 on, the pond lay dormant. Jeff grew up, and worked in the boat business.

In 1971 — after graduating from Staples — he began growing oysters with Rand McNeill. They took their crop to Fulton Fish Market. Older buyers there immediately recognized the distinctive Mill Pond taste, from decades earlier. Eventually though, the business died.

In 2008, Jeff Sr. sold his boat company. He wanted to revive the family’s oyster business.

Automated tidal gates help drain Sherwood Mill Pond -- a boon to oyster production. Last summer, a Weston boy played near the gates -- just as Jeff Northrop did when he was a kid.

Automated tidal gates help drain Sherwood Mill Pond — a boon to oyster production. Last summer, a Weston boy played near the gates — just as Jeff Northrop did when he was a kid. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Just before his 2 million oysters were ready for their first harvest, Hurricane Sandy roared in. Sand sucked from the Saugatuck River was deposited in the Mill Pond. The oysters — planted on the bottom — suffocated.

But Jeff and his son are determined to bring oystering back. They re-examined growing techniques, and raised enough capital to do it all again. They call their venture Hummock Island.

A company studying the water called Sherwood Mill Pond one of the best oyster-growing mediums they’d seen. It usually takes 3 years to grow mature oysters. Because this pond is so nutrient-rich, oysters need just 18 months.

The Northrops now grow their oysters in bags. Placed in cages off the pond floor, they’re away from sand and crabs. Those 500 cages — in 2 rows, each 600 feet long — are visible only at low tide. They hold another 2 million oysters.

When the Mill Pond was drained last summer, the Northrops got a chance to inspect their oysters. They're grown in bags, hung from cages that are usually submerged. (Photo/Dan Woog)

When the Mill Pond was drained last summer, the Northrops got a chance to inspect their oysters. They’re grown in bags, hung from cages that are usually submerged. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Because the Mill Pond can be drained, the Northrops have a unique opportunity to work on their oysters. Every day, tidal gates allow over 2.5 million cubic meters of fresh, nutrient-rich water to enter the pond. All the conditions align for bountiful harvests, with firm white meats, beautiful shells and an intimate meroir.

Oysters are very efficient sources of protein. They’re non-polluting. They produce no waste.

Plus, they’re feeder filters. Since they started growing, the water quality of the Mill Pond has increased dramatically.

A rare view of Sherwood Mill Pond, while it's drained. The view is from mid-pond, toward Hillspoint Road and Compo Hill beyond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

A rare view of Sherwood Mill Pond while it’s drained, with the Northrops’ oyster cages visible. The view is from mid-pond, toward Hillspoint Road and Compo Hill beyond. (Photo/Dan Woog)

A special boat comes into the channel. (The Northrops own the land used to get in and out of the channel.)

Hummock Island oysters are on the menu at restaurants like Pearl at Longshore. They’re available in local stores.

You can’t see the oyster beds, except at extreme low tide. Most Westporters don’t know they’re there. (Many don’t even know about the magical Mill Pond.)

But — just like years ago — the oyster world knows Westport.

(More exciting news: Tours of the oyster farm are in the works!)

Salt Of The Earth

Some local blogs and newspapers print real estate transactions.

“06880” covers shellfish bed sales.

In January we reported that leases on oysterman Alan Sterling’s 78.6-acre private shellfish farm — just off Compo Beach’s Cedar Point — were available.

The sale has been finalized.  Going forward the leases will be worked by Lively Lobsters, owned and operated by Bridgeport’s Enrique brothers.

Oysters “r” once again in season.

Alan Sterling culls his oyster haul. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Want To Buy An Oyster Bed?

It’s never too early to start shopping for next year’s holiday gifts.

Maybe you want to splurge on something for yourself.

Or perhaps you’re looking for that ultimate “I’ve-got-it-and-you-don’t” Westport status symbol.

Whatever the reason, here’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance:  Leases on Alan Sterling’s 78.6-acre shellfish beds are up for sale.

Alan Sterling hauls up a basket of oysters. (AP photo/Kathy Willens)

The private shellfish farm — just off Compo Beach’s Cedar Point — is at least as attractive as owning your own vegetable garden, putting green or tennis court.  Due to local legislation, of course, owning a shellfish bed is much rarer.

The possibilities are endless:  Invite your friends to an oyster and clam dinner, featuring your very own bivalves.

If eating local food is important, here’s a way to do so — while controlling the quality of your family’s food supply.

Sure, it’s a vanity asset — but it’s quite possibly a tax writeoff.

The beds are listed for $225,000.  Negotiations are possible, depending on the terms of sale.

(Interested? contact Skip Lane:  203-326-5892; skip.lane@cushwake.com.)

Alan Sterling culls through his oyster haul. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Alan Sterling’s Vanishing Oysters

oystersAlan Sterling first noticed his oysters disappearing in 2004.  The oysterman – a former Staples student working here since 1964 — leases 150 acres of fertile grounds, between Compo Beach and Cockenoe Island, from the state.

He had a particularly concentrated bottom set that year.  Suddenly nothing was left.  Millions of oysters were gone, just like that.

“I may have mentioned it to the Shellfish Commission.  Or maybe I just let it go,” Alan recalls.  “The problem is, you need absolute proof – video or still shots – and they have to be triangulated.  I can’t be in three places at once.  I didn’t always have a boat to keep an eye on it.”

Alan says that in the past three years he has lost $3 million worth of oysters.  And that’s a conservative estimate.

The poachers are watching Alan.  By the time he leaves shore, they leave his grounds.  Though he knows who they are, catching them in the act is nearly impossible.

“When they see me coming they move off the reef, back to Norwalk,” he says.  “I don’t have a boat fast enough to catch them.  When they want something, they just take it.”

Finally, he got the Department of Environmental Protection involved.  It hasn’t done much good.

Alan is now working with an attorney, hoping for a settlement or reparations.  Meanwhile, his oysters continue to vanish.