Tag Archives: Saugatuck Island

Friday Flashback #193

Jeff Manchester knows his onions.

The former Staples High School wrestling star — now a resident of Saugatuck Shores — writes:

When I was at the original Saugatuck Elementary School in the mid-1970s on Bridge Street, one of the field trips took us on a tour of the town.

The teachers pointed out an onion barge buried in the mud by the Cribari Bridge not far from the school. Today it is still visible. I point it out to my kids at low tide. Do your readers know anything more about this barge?

The barely visible sunken vessel.

But Jeff is not through with onions. He adds:

Interestingly enough, my back yard is on a canal that was dredged at the turn of the last century, for the purposes of a safer route for Westport’s onion farmers.

The page Jeff provides proof — and a history of how “Saugatuck Island” was formed:

t! There’s more! Jeff sends along this story by Gregg Mangan, from ConnecticutHistory.org:

Westport is a quiet beachfront town along Connecticut’s southern coast known for its pristine views of Long Island Sound, its upscale shopping, and its close proximity to New York City.

Many attributes that make Westport a desirable residential community, however, once made it home to a thriving onion farming industry. Boats and railroad cars full of onions from Westport and the surrounding area once flooded the markets of New York.

Around the time of the Civil War, the town of Westport began to commercially farm onions. In April of every year farmers drilled rows of holes 12 inches apart for sowing onions. They separated the abundant rocks from the soil by using machines and rakes or, sometimes, by hand.

Westport farmers originally fertilized the crops using local sources of manure, but the rapid expansion of the industry required the importation of commercial fertilizers along with railroad cars full of manure from horse stables in New York. Local farmers then stored harvested onions in barns where they covered them in hay and cornstalks until eventually adopting the use of heated onion houses.

Onion carriage

For the first weeding of onions, an onion carriage, patent number 247,856 by J.C. Taylor, Westport

Horse and oxen teams then carried the onions to the shipping docks. There, men like Captain John Bulkley and his brother Peter piloted their schooners full of onions, oats, butter, eggs, hats, and combs to New York from which they returned with flour, molasses, sugar, mackerel, rum and gin. During the busiest parts of the season, two boats from nearby Southport and one from Westport made weekly trips to New York, complemented by 1 or 2 boatloads of goods shipped by rail.

Southport white, yellow and red globe onions all developed around the Westport area and became staples of the local diet. In New York, yellow and red onions sold for $1.50 per barrel and higher, while white onions commanded as much as $10 per barrel. Westport onion farmers like Talcott B. and Henry B. Wakeman (who lived on opposite sides of the road from one another) helped make Westport onions some of the most popular agricultural products in the Northeast.

The most prosperous years for onion farming in Westport lasted from around 1860 until 1885. By the end of the century, however, the rising costs of fertilizers and competition from larger farming enterprises largely brought an end to the commercial industry in Westport. Farmers then grew onions primarily for the local population, which now included numerous German and Irish immigrants who came to the area to work on the onion farms.

After the decline of the industry, wealthy urbanites slowly developed the farmland for summer homes and permanent housing away from the noise and pollution of the city. This transition from farm land to residential suburb helped mold much of the town’s character into what it is today.

(Courtesy of Edible Nutmeg)

PS: If you remember Onion Alley, now you know the name did not just fall out of the sky.

Pic Of The Day #1112

Honoring front line personnel on Saugatuck Island (Photo/Gene Borio)

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Sunrise over Saugatuck Island (Photo/Howard Edelstein)

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Saugatuck Island bus shelter (Photo/Gene Borio)

Raising Alarms On Saugatuck Shores

The new bridge to Saugatuck Island has gotten lots of press (and praise).

But area residents are less pleased about another project on Saugatuck Shores.

Gene Borio reports on a culvert replacement project that has closed off Canal Road since earlier this month.

“Somehow,” he says, “the construction company missed out on the idea that if they completely close off ingress and egress of seawater to the pond for 2 months of estimated work, the pond might stagnate and start dying.”

(Photo/Gene Borio)

When 3 eels floated to the surface, neighbors called the town. An emergency culvert was quickly installed.

But, Gene says, “the eels were so bad, even a gull wouldn’t eat them.”

This gull tried — and rejected — this eel, photographer Gene Borio says.

He adds, “It’s definitely affecting life around here. Even on weekends, people think they can’t cross to get to the beach.”

They can, he says — if they don’t mind mud and obstructions.

Still, drivers constantly see a sign saying the bridge is closed, and turn around.

Saugatuck Shores resident Jeff Manchester is also concerned. Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of cars, oil trucks, boats and trailers and school buses have backed down Canal Road, he says.

One of the many trucks that now backs down Canal Road. (Photo/Jeff Manchester)

They’re following confusing signs that should instead divert Canal Road traffic over the bridge on Harbor Road.

(Photo/Jeff Manchester)

He recommends a simple solution: replace the “Bridge Closed” sign with the one used when the bridge was being renovated.

Otherwise, he warns, “we’ll see a vehicle in the canal.”

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Saugatuck Island sunset (Photo/William Adler)

Saugatuck Island: A Bridge To Somewhere

Alert “06880” reader, native Westporter — and active Saugatuck Island resident — William Adler writes:

In recent days, the Saugatuck Island bridge project has been given the final touches. Traffic is once again busy to and from this neighborhood on Westport’s westerly shores.

The Saugatuck Island Special Taxing District arranged for whitewashing of the bridge railings, and has restored landscaping that had been disrupted by heavy construction equipment.

The new bridge replaces a quaint timber structure of wooden pilings and rustic railings originally built in the 1920s.

The old bridge …

The old bridge was well past its intended lifespan in 2012, when it suffered structural damage in Superstorm Sandy.

The total cost of $2.1 million includes a $1.3 million FEMA grant. The town and SISTD split the remainder 50-50. Construction began last year.

The new bridge retains the feel of its predecessor, while providing greater safety, practicality and rock-solid durability. The single span of concrete deck sits on steel girders, with an asphalt surface. It is secured on 50-foot deep sheet pile abutments clad in concrete.

96 feet long and 20 feet wide, the bridge can hold 20 tons – more than sufficient to accommodate heavy emergency equipment, unlike its wooden predecessor. The bridge’s anticipated life span is 75 years.

… and the new.

The bridge completion comes as Saugatuck Island has been experiencing a housing boom. During the past 5 years, about 1/3 of the approximately 100 properties on the island have changed hands. Prices range from $700,000 to $9.8 million.

Others have been expanded, elevated or otherwise enhanced. New construction has increased the number of larger, higher-end luxury residences.

In addition to 400 Westport residents, the island is home to Cedar Point Yacht Club, established in 1887, and the Saugatuck Shores Club (1946).

SISTD was established in 1984 to tax island property owners for local community costs — mainly road maintenance.

The Saugatuck Island bridge, as seen from Canal Road.

As for Saugatuck Island itself: Near the end of the 19th century, the Army Corps of Engineers cut a canal between what is now Canal Road and Spriteview Avenue, to provide a faster, safer route for onion farmers to transport their goods to Norwalk.

The newly formed island was called “Greater Marsh Shores at Saugatuck.”

Pics Of The Day #472

Saugatuck Island resident Gene Borio sends along these photos of the approach to the newly renovated bridge on Harbor Road.

Inside the wooden bus stop, plaques honor Dean Powers and David Goldstick for their “skill and hard work beautifying our island.” An example of that beauty is found opposite the wooden structure.

(Photos/Gene Borio)

Songwriting Boot Camp Hits Saugatuck Island

Westport’s rock history includes some notable homes.

REO Speedwagon lived at 157 Riverside Avenue — and wrote a song about that now-demolished house.

Producer/musician Dan Hartman had a studio in an old sea captain’s home on Edgehill Road. He recorded Johnny and Edgar Winter there, and many others.

Now add another: Jeff Franzel’s house on Saugatuck Island.

It may soon be even more famous than the others. A couple of weekends ago, the beach house was filled with that music — plus pop, folk, country, reggae, even gospel.

None of the songs had ever been heard before. Hey — they’d only been written an hour or 2 earlier.

But some — or all — of them may one day top the charts.

Franzel’s Saugatuck Shores home (once owned by former 1st selectman Marty Hauhuth) was the site of America’s 1st-ever Songwriting Academy

Collaborating on a song at the recent “boot camp.” (Photo/Ann Becker Moore)

The brainchild of Martin Sutton — a British songwriter/producer who has worked with Backstreet Boys, LeAnn Rimes, Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John,  Lulu, Mike & The Mechanics and Idol winners worldwide — it’s a “boot camp” for musicians and lyricists looking to take their work to the next level.

In addition to songwriting, they learn about producing, publishing, marketing and contracts. It’s a collaborative but intense process — hence the nickname “songwriting boot camp.”

Sutton opened his academy in England a few years ago. Franzel — a Westport native who played piano for the Hues Corporation (“Rock the Boat”), Les Brown, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mel Torme and Bob Hope, then wrote hits like “Don’t Rush Me” for Taylor Dayne, and others for the Temptations, NSYNC, Shawn Colvin, Josh Groban, Placido Domingo and Clay Aiken — partnered with Sutton to bring the academy to the US.

Jeff Franzel, overseeing the Songwriting Academy in his Saugatuck Shores home.

“We give them everything I wish I’d had when I started out as a busker,” Sutton says.

Which is how 15 already accomplished men and women, ages 20 through 68, came from across the country to Westport earlier this month. They spent Friday through Sunday learning about structure, form, hooks and arcs.

In the process, the group — some professional musicians, one an accountant, another a dentist; black, white and Hispanic — formed a tight, cohesive community.

Many ages and genres came together at the “songewriiters’ boot camp.” (Photo/Ann Becker Moore)

From the moment they arrived, Franzel and Sutton coached them on how to create great songs. They teased out personal stories — the better to inspire their work. They critiqued them, pushed them, prodded them.

On Friday night, they shared music they’d already composed. On Saturday — just 24 hours later — they performed songs they’d written that day.

It was remarkable. The music was catchy. The lyrics were clever (one song was titled “Twice Upon a Time” — you won’t forget that). The performers were on fire.

Some had already achieved musical success. Michael Read has played with the Turtles, Mitch Ryder and Three Dog Night. Still, he says, “I want to get better. I start songs, but I don’t always finish them.”

Michael Reed (left), with fellow Songwriting Academy students.

Ykesha Milbourne belted out a spectacular gospel tune, “Can You See the Light in Me?” Sutton told her, ” I can see 50 women in robes holding candles swaying behind you.”

Before the song was finished, the other 14 academy students joined in the chorus. They’d never heard it before — but clearly, it was a song that could endure.

Ykesha Milbourne wowed the entire talented class. (Photo/Ann Moore Becker)

“We give you tools, not rules,” Sutton told the group. “This is like giving a sculptor the best hammer, chisel and marble. Then it’s up to him to put his imagination to work.”

The Songwriting Academy is expanding. There will be other locations in the US, and Europe.

But in the months and years ahead, when you hear a hit song, it might have been born by the beach on Saugatuck Island.

Which may or may not be a catchy enough line for a hook of its own.

Pic Of The Day #129

The wooden Saugatuck Island bridge is gone. It will be replaced soon by a metal span. (Photo/Gene Borio)