Last week’s demolition of the old Positano’s restaurant — remembered by real old-time Westporters as its earlier incarnation, Café de la Plage — evoked a welter of emotions.
It also revived memories of Allen’s Clam House, the other waterfront restaurant in the otherwise residential neighborhood.
Allen’s was right around the corner, on Sherwood Mill Pond. Built in 1890 by Captain Walter Allen, customers flocked there for seafood — and views — from as far as New York.
Allen’s Clam House, in the 1940s.
It was the go-to place for generations of celebrations — proms, anniversaries, holidays, you name it.
An aerial view of Allen’s Clam House, on the Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)
In 1999, the restaurant and surrounding .83-acre property was up for sale. To protect it from the developers, the town bought it for $1.2 million. Private donations — including $50,000 each from Paul Newman and Harvey Weinstein — defrayed part of the cost.
The restaurant was torn down a few years later. Today — thanks to efforts of Sherry Jagerson, and a group of dedicated volunteers — the land is known as the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.
It’s one of Westport’s hidden-in-plain-sight gems. Of course, you can’t buy clams there any more.
But you can bring your own, and have a very fine picnic indeed.
Captain Allen and his wife Lida, in front of the clam house.
Some of our photo challenges are easy. Some are hard.
But I don’t think I’ve ever posted one where a number of people get the right answer — but even more guess the same wrong answer.
Last week’s photo showed a picnic bench near some water. It could very well have been taken from the top of Burying Hill, looking out at Long Island Sound below.
Seven people thought it was.
But Seth Schachter actually shot the image at ground level. The bench was at Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve — the former site of Allen’s Clam House, now a wonderful, peaceful spot with tons of native grasses and plants. (Click here for the photo, and all the other wrong guesses.)
Chris Swan was the first person to answer (and he nailed it). Good thing, too — he’s been a member of the Sherwood Mill Pond Advisory Committee since its inception in 2005. (Plus, he grew up — and still lives — nearby.)
Kudos too to Matt Murray (another neighbor), Joyce Barnhart, Golda Villa, Kimberly Englander Leonard and Rebecca Wolin. I’m sure they all enjoy the preserve’s quiet beauty.
Now you can too. But ssshhh — don’t tell anyone!
This week’s photo challenge also includes a bit of water. Click “Comments” below if you know where it is.
The on-again, off-again, on-again saga of a restaurant near Old Mill Beach is off again.
This time, forever.
When Positano — the latest in a string of restaurants on Hillspoint Road — closed almost exactly 2 years ago, there was speculation the new owners wanted to tear it down, and build a big house right there on the sand.
There was also talk that some neighbors — fearing the loss of their shoreline view, and enjoying the funkiness of a restaurant in the midst of a residential area — were doing what they could to make sure a new restaurant took Positano’s place.
The “Positano property,” at Old Mill Beach diagonally across from Elvira’s.
That was somewhat ironic. When Positano applied for patio dining in 2012, neighborhood opposition scuttled the plan. Lack of outdoor seating was one factor leading to Positano’s closing, and its subsequent move to a new location next to the Westport Country Playhouse.
Though a number of residents worked for months to get another restaurant on the site, one neighbor continued to object. She sued.
Now comes news that the owner of the property — an LLC with an office in Nashville, Tennessee — has filed an affidavit with Westport’s Planning and Zoning Department. The owner acknowledges and affirms that “any and all commercial uses of the premises at 233 Hillspoint Road have been irrevocably abandoned and discontinued.”
In other words, any chances for a new restaurant — grandfathered in as a pre-existing condition — has been killed. Now, and in perpetuity.
Before it was Positano, 233 Hillspoint Road was several other restaurants (including, most notably, Cafe de la Plage). But before THAT it was a grocery store. Among its names: Beach Food Mart (above), and Joe’s.
So what happens next?
The property is back on the market. It’s listed as “A Generational Waterfront Opportunity.”
Potential buyers have a chance to “build and live directly on Compo Cove Beach’s [sic] most unique [sic] lot with spectacular Long Island Sound views.” The land “is now available for a luxury private home to be built.”
Buyers can enjoy “the most beautiful expansive water views, spectacular sunrises and sunsets” (those sunsets might be tough, since the listing notes it is an “east facing property”, and Compo Hill is a substantial obstruction to the west).
This photo from the real estate listing shows the current footprint of the former restaurant (center). The yellow line shows the property boundaries. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
The listing continues:
Enjoy the ever-changing tides and light, the shore birds, and the tranquility that exists with living right on the beach. With no neighbor to your right, it’s like having your own front row seat to the best Long Island Sound offers — sunbathing, swimming, fishing boating…
Seize this opportunity to create your own magnificent custom home for the first time ever on this site.
A mere $4,500,000.
But wait! There’s more!
Elvira’s — diagonally across Hillspoint from #233 — continues to be on the market too. There’s been no sale yet, but word on the soon-to-drastically-change street is that it may not remain a grocery store/ community center.
Located on the site of the old Allen’s Clam House, on Hillspoint Road a few steps from Old Mill Beach, it’s an oasis of wetland plants, vegetative buffers and walking paths.
Painters, bird watchers, book readers, flower lovers, parents with kids, lunch breakers — all find peace and beauty there.
Hard work helped make the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve what it is today.
Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who know about it.
Though the tiny parking lot is reserved for people enjoying or tending to the preserve, neighborhood and visiting cars — some very large — and trucks belonging to workers on nearby property often take up every spot.
Police occasionally ticket, but that doesn’t stop people from parking there.
That’s bad enough. What’s worse is the drivers who, when asked to move their cars, get belligerent toward the volunteers — mostly older women — who weed, water and pick up trash.
The scene below is typical. Not only were the drivers not preserve-goers — but one car parked on the paths, in the midst of the ecologically sensitive plantings.
This truck is pushed up against equipment used to care for the park.
I am fully aware that publicizing preserve parking may exacerbate — not solve — the problem. And I know that entitled parkers sometimes look upon these photos as badges of honor.
I’m posting this anyway.
Call me stupid or naive. But I truly believe that human nature is inherently good.
Sherry Jagerson was one of several determined Westporters who shepherded the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve into existence. She continues to work tirelessly to keep it healthy, and open to all Westporters.
Now she’s gearing up for a very different volunteer effort, thousands of miles away.
Sherry and and her granddaughter Adelaide Fowle — a Staples sophomore — are heading to Kenya. They’ll help build water filtration systems in a village called Chepsaita.
With their group — United With Kenya — they’ll also help build a library. For months Sherry has scoured Fairfield County, trying to get as many books as possible to send there.
FedEx is shipping them for free, at the end of May. So Sherry and Adelaide are in their final push for donated books. The deadline is May 21.
If you’ve got any — and what better way to spur some spring cleaning! — email email@example.com. She’ll arrange a pick-up or drop-off for this very worthwhile project.
For several years, a vacant lot on Compo Beach Road — the main entrance to the beach, just before Owenoke — has stood as mute testimony to the Great Recession. This is not the time to build on the site of what was once a teardown.
But the owner keeps paying property taxes.
Yesterday, he started to produce a tiny revenue stream:
That’s $30 less than the weekend fee.
And $55 less than the fine for parking illegally on the street.
Or in the equally illegal, much-further-away, but often full, Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve lot.
When a group of committed Westporters turned the old Allen’s Clam House site into a preserve — featuring wetland plants, a vegetative buffer above the tidal zone and walking paths — they figured it would take 3 years of care before nature took over.
That was 3 years ago.
A couple of Mother Nature curveballs — Hurricane Irene and an October snow — brought volunteers out in force. But as spring blooms, the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve has emerged as a much-loved, frequently visited and very natural part of town.
The Sherwood Mill Pond: one of the most tranquil spots in Westport. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)
It’s visited at all hours by a wide swath of folks. Painters, bird watchers, book readers, flower lovers, parents with kids, lunch breakers — all find peace and beauty there.
A few benches and a couple of signs are the only indications that humans have shaped the preserve. One of the signs describes the history and significance of the Mill Pond.
The handsome Mill Pond sign.
The other — a gift from Newman’s Own Foundation, created by Audubon illustrator Edward Henrey — identifies some of the 70 species of birds, and many forms of aquatic life. A cutaway shows mollusks burying beneath the sand, crabs scuttlingon top of sand, and mallards diving into the water.
Sherry Jagerson helped mastermind the preserve, from conception to reality. Entering its 3rd full season, she is pleased that each year, volunteers have had to do less “hands-on” work. (The hurricane destroyed lots of leaves, and water washed over vegetation to the street, but nature is hard at work restoring what was lost.)
Sherry, and fellow committee members like Liz Milwe and Wendy Crowther, are proud of the preserve. They’re pleased it’s getting so much gentle use.
Now — like the rest of Westport — they’re eager to relax and enjoy it.
(Despite the Mill Pond Preserve’s success, the committee can always use help. To volunteer, call Sherry Jagerson at 203-856-4580.)
The ever-changing Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)
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