Tag Archives: Sherwood Mill Pond

Photo Challenge #133

Last week’s photo challenge was easy. You might call it a “clam dunk.”

Richard Hyman’s photo showed devices under the 2nd wooden bridge at Sherwood Mill Pond, just before Compo Cove.

They were described variously as a “sluice gate,” “pumps,” “pond gates,” “lock system,” “flood control gates” and “water control mechanism.”

Actually they’re electric gates, installed around 1990. They replaced hand cranks.

Craig Clark provided important context:

They are neither locks or flood gates, but gates to keep water in the pond after high tide. The escaping water was then used to run the grist mill. On an incoming tide there was about 2 feet of clearance under the gates. Many of us swam under them, much to the distaste of the lifeguards.

As the tide changed, the gates would close and hold water back, hence the name Mill Pond. The gates were raised yearly to flush out the pond and allow any repair work to be done to the stone coffer dams, and flush out some of the other stuff that would accumulate.

The Mill Pond has gotten a lot shallower over the years, due to sand coming from Compo Cove and the state park. Farmers used to harvest the salt hay that grows on the flats, and the channels were cut for mosquito control. The Mill Pond is one of Westport’s and the state’s true treasures.

Congratulations to the 24 alert readers — a record! — who knew their onions: Fred Cantor, Luke Garvey, Lisa Marie Alter, Vanessa Wilson, Matt Murray, Craig Clark, Andrew Colabella, Rich Stein, Bob Stalling, Susan Granger, Robert Mitchell, John Brandt, Martin Gitlin, Stan Skowronski, Jill Turner Odice, Antony Lantier, Julie Fatherley, Peter Swift, Jay Tormey, Joelle Malec, Michael, Pettee, Rosalie Kaye, Linda Amos and Don Jacobs. (Click here for the photo, and all responses.)

Since last week’s photo challenge was so easy, here’s a tough one. If you recognize this sign, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Paul Curtis)

Taking The Oyster Tour

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Northrop family’s new venture.

Westport’s premier oystermen were planning tours of their admired-from-afar-but-seldom-seen-up-close operation on Sherwood Mill Pond. It was a chance to watch a very cool (and nationally known) business in operation — and to visit the mysterious house out on Hummock Island.

Last week, I took the tour.

I joined Jeff Northrop Jr. and his dad, Jeff Sr., plus a longtime Westport couple and a girl who just graduated from Staples.

It was high tide. On the Mill Pond that’s only 18 inches to 2 feet deep. But it was perfect for the boat. The weather was outstanding too.

Jeff Northrop Jr. readies his boat.

As we headed out, Jeff Jr. said that his father’s great-uncle had dragged the 1747 house — originally built as a cooper shed next to a grist mill — across the 83-acre Mill Pond by oxen, at low tide, around 1850.

A photo showing the grist mill and adjacent cooper shed — now the Hummock Island house — hangs on the wall inside.

The pond was originally a tidal stream. It was dammed up to provide power to turn the water wheel that ground grain.

Relics inside the Hummock Island house include timbers from the original Allen’s Clam house. They came from the schooner Remson, built by the Sherwood triplets. The abandoned vessel is still visible at low tide, in the Saugatuck River near the William Cribari/Bridge Street Bridge.

Jeff Sr. lived in the house during his high school years (he graduated from Staples in 1971).

The Hummock Island house (left). On the right is an equipment shed/boat, added a couple of years ago.

A caretaker then lived there for decades, until he was 83. The next year, Hurricane Sandy devastated the house.

The Northrops painstakingly restored it. They did so well, it’s earned a Fairfield County preservation award.

The Hummock Island house.

It sits now on a tiny spit of land. But the island was once much bigger. In fact, Jeff Sr. said, the town still insists he has 5 1/2 acres there.

The view to the back of Sherwood Mill Pond — toward I-95 and the train tracks — from the Hummock Island house.

Jeff Jr. pointed out 2 machines. One separates oysters into 3 sizes. The other cuts them down to uniform shapes. In 1 hour, it does what once took a week.

Oysters must be separated, because smaller ones won’t grow in the same cage with larger ones.

Hummock Island oysters.

The Northrops farm 4 million oysters at a time, below the surface and in floating bags. The Mill Pond is so nutrient-rich — and the water so pristine — that they take just 18 months to mature. Nearly everywhere else, it’s 3 years.

Jeff Northrop Jr. shucking oysters.

The Northrops supply wholesalers, including Pagano’s of Norwalk. From there they’re distributed all over the country. The 3-inch Hummock Island oysters are the highest grade — a delicacy prized by oyster lovers everywhere.

Next to the house is an equipment shed: the “Oysterplex.” Though it looks like another house, it’s actually a boat. (Jeff Jr. called it a “giant catamaran.”)

The Northrops hauled all the materials across the Mill Pond, and built it from scratch. When town officials questioned whether it was a structure or a boat, father and son rode it all around the island. It’s definitely a boat.

Jeff Northrop Jr., inside the Oysterplex equipment shed/boat.

The Northrops are well known for their oysters. But there’s 30 more acres behind the Hummock Island house. Just as they’ve done with oystering, they’re now revitalizing clamming in the Mill Pond.

A clam rake.

The tour over, Jeff Jr. and Sr. took us back across the Mill Pond. We passed a stick they’d found and planted. Instantly, Jeff Jr. said, ospreys and hawks found it.

The Northrops’ love for the Mill Pond is palpable. They know its history, its rhythms and its secrets.

Now the secret of Hummock Island is out.

And it — at least, its tour — is yours for the taking.

(The Northrops’ tours run through August. Times vary, depending on tides. For more information, click here.)

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.

Ospreys On The Mill Pond

Westporters never get tired of our ospreys. Alert “06880” reader — and early riser — Jen Greely writes:

This morning I took my paddleboard out for the first time this season.

I paddled around Sherwood Mill Pond, watching the oyster farmers work and the commuter trains pass by. Then I spent more than an hour quietly floating, while enjoying this beautiful osprey pair put the finishing touches on their nest.

I took these photos as they flew back and forth, gathering some last sticks. I don’t think they could ask for a prettier location to raise their offspring.

My husband and I said the same thing when we moved here in 2013!

(Photos/Jen Greely)

If You’re Wishing All This Rain Would End …

Riverside Avenue, an hour ago … (Photo/Nicola Sharian)

… at Sherwood Mill Pond … (Photo/Maria Calise)

… at the Compo jetty by Schlaet’s Point … (Photo/Jim Hood)

… and over Compo Beach.,,, (Photo courtesy of Katherine Bruan)

… as well as Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Jack Krayson)

Westport Oysters Pop Up At Grand Central

Claus Meyer is a world-famous food activist, cookbook author, professor and TV host. A founder of the New Nordic cuisine philosophy, his Copenhagen restaurant Noma was rated the Best in the World 4 times (!) since 2010.

So it was pretty cool the other day when he showed up at Sherwood Mill Pond. He visited the Northrop family’s Hummock Island house, accessible only by boat — the base of operations for their famous oyster farm.

He and a few of his chefs sat with the Northrops, discussing the finer points of oystering.

Claus Meyer (left) and Jeff Northrop Jr. at Old Mill Beach, before their oyster farm tour and tasting.

Claus Meyer (left) and Jeff Northrop Jr. at Old Mill Beach, before their oyster farm tour and tasting.

But that’s not the whole story.

Meyer invited Jeff and his son (Jeff Jr.) to be part of his food operation in Grand Central Terminal.

That’s the 16,000-square foot Great Northern Food Hall in Vanderbilt Hall, which has taken the historic landmark by storm.

Which is why — all week long — commuters, other travelers and food lovers of all kinds have been stopping  in at the Hummock Island Oyster pop-up bar.

Pat Hanna and Kenny Varyruardrok of Hummock Island Shellfish opening oysters from Westport for the hungry masses.

Pat Hanna and Kenny Varyruardrok of Hummock Island Shellfish opening oysters from Westport for the hungry masses.

They’ll be there through next Thursday (December 22) tomorrow (Friday, December 16) from 4-8 p.m.

That’s good news for Westporters heading home via Grand Central.

But if you’re not — heck, even if you are, but you love Hummock Island oysters — you can get them at Pearl at Longshore, any day of the week.

 

Annual Beach Replenishment Project Washes Away

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime Westport observer — Chip Stephens writes:

Those of us who have been around a while remember that not so long ago, Sherwood Mill Pond neighbors had the sand in front of their houses replenished once a year. A barge would recover sand washed into Compo Cove from their beaches by storms and high tides. Big Kowalsky front-end loaders spread it out, recovering private beaches up and down the cove.

In recent years, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has restricted that activity. You can see what’s happened by not replenishing the beaches from Hillspoint Road. Landowners see it more painfully from their windows.

Old Mill "Beach." (Photo/Chip Stephens)

Old Mill “Beach.” (Photo/Chip Stephens)

We’ve long been told that the reason the sand washes away is that the Army Corps of Engineers made errors when they replaced reefs and stones on Sherwood Island and Compo Beach. That caused misdirection of natural currents, sweeping away sand on those local beaches into the Mill Cove flats.

Now the landowners face difficulties with DEEP and local boards in placing erosion controls, walls or reefs to save their beach, their land and their houses.

DEEP’s answer is to plant the beach with grasses and plantings. Unfortuantely, even modest storms wash them away.

What will happen? Well, time and tide wait for no man…

Fall Fisherman

Today was a day for your favorite fall pursuit.

Westporters went apple picking, hiking and biking. We raked leaves, carved pumpkins, cheered on the soccer sidelines and played touch football.

One guy went fishing, at Sherwood Mill Pond. Nico Eisenberger was there, to capture one small but wonderful slice of autumn.

(Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

Buy An Oyster Knife; Build A Sherwood Mill Pond Sharpie

Three years ago, Westporter JP Vellotti helped turn century-old deck planks from the Laurel — at the time, America’s oldest oyster boat still sailing — into handsome and useful oyster knives.

The production run was limited. Many folks missed out.

One of Jean Paul Vellotti's oyster knives.

One of Jean Paul Vellotti’s oyster knives.

Now Vellotti is back, with an updated version of the Laurel oyster knife — and a new idea. It satisfies requests for more knives, celebrates history and gives back to the community.

Vellotti hopes proceeds from the new knives will help fund construction of a Sharpie. That’s the type of old-school vessel that for decades was part of Westport’s oystering and maritime traditions.

Sharpies were stable enough to carry heavy loads, with sails large enough to go across Long Island Sound.

A double-masted Sharpie, on the Mystic River.

A double-masted Sharpie, on the Mystic River.

Saugatuck River Sharpies were used to “tong” and “rake” for seed oysters. Vellotti hopes to register his Sharpie with the state as a seed boat. It would be the first Connecticut-built sail-powered craft used in oystering since the 1950s.

“The neat thing about a Sharpie is that it doesn’t draw much water,” Vellotti says. “It can sail inside the Sherwood Mill Pond with the centerboard up, and around the islands with it down. It can also go all the way into downtown at any tide.”

He hopes to offer rides on the Sharpie — perhaps as a quick spin around the Mill Pond, or a pre-Levitt Pavilion concert sail.

A Sharpie model built by Harry Runyon, caretaker of the Sherwood Mill Pond island house.

A Sharpie model built by Harry Runyon, caretaker of the Sherwood Mill Pond island house.

“This is not an overnight project,” Vellotti notes. “But I’m 100% dedicated to it. If the community can support me, I’ll deliver a boat we can all enjoy.”

Soon, he’ll take classes at Maine’s WoodenBoat School. He has all the power and hand tools required; he just needs to learn skills like lofting and cutting a stem rabbet.

Vellotti’s instructor grew up 3 houses down from the Staten Island yard where the Laurel was built. His grandfather helped construct it — an amazing coincidence.

In an undated photo, a Sharpie (foreground) sits on braces near the old Sherwood Mill Pond grist mill.

In an undated photo, a Sharpie (foreground) sits on braces near the old Sherwood Mill Pond grist mill. The mill later burned; a private home has replaced it.

Vellotti plans to draw the lines and make the patterns this winter, and calculate the materials needed. Construction starts in the spring. If all goes well, the boat will make a splash — literally — next summer.

“Sharpies are not the hardest boat to build,” he says. “This is an attainable goal.”  He’s getting help and support from other boat builders and woodworkers.

His Sharpie is not yet built. But Vellotti is already looking ahead, beyond his boat and the Mill Pond.

“If all goes well, this might start a chain reaction of small, traditional wooden craft in our waters,” he says.

“I have a Cornish Pilot Gig in mind. It would be a great team builder, and look fantastic rowing down the Saugatuck River.”

(To order Laurel oyster knives — or for more information on the Sharpie Mill Pondo project — click here.)


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Mary Allen’s Historic Mill Pond Bench

Alert “06880” reader — and amateur historian — Wendy Crowther writes:

Mary Riordan Allen grew up on Hillspoint Road, a few houses away from the iconic Allen’s Clam House.

In the early 1900s, Walter “Cap” Allen opened his clam and oyster shack on the banks of Sherwood Mill Pond. The oysters came from beds in the pond and nearby cove. Cap often hand-shucked them himself. Over time he grew Allen’s into a rustic family eatery.

Recently, Mary returned to the property — now the site of the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve. It was a special occasion: to meet her bench.

A year ago, she asked Sherry Jagerson — chair of the preserve committee – how she and her family could contribute to the spot that meant so much to them. (A photo on the plaque — and below — shows Cap Allen holding a baby: Mary’s husband, Walter Allen.)

Captain Walter Allen (far right) with his wife Lida, daughter Beulah, holding his son Walter Ethan Allen (Mary’s future husband). The photo was taken at Allen's Clam House around 1911.

Captain Walter Allen (far right) with his wife Lida, daughter Beulah, holding his son Walter Ethan Allen (Mary’s future husband). The photo was taken at Allen’s Clam House around 1911.

Several months later, Mary came to Westport from her home in Maine. Sherry, I and other committee members walked the site with her, to pick out the best spot for the Allen family bench.

Mary Allen, at Sherwood Mill Pond.

Mary Allen, at Sherwood Mill Pond.

After returning home, Mary sent me old photos. One showed her son Chris sitting on what may have been the same boulder from decades earlier.

Mary said that Chris loved feeding the swans close to shore. In early spring, they came to the marsh, rebuilt their nest, laid their eggs and raised their cygnets.

Mary Allen's son Chris, with Sherwood Mill Pond swans.

Mary Allen’s son Chris, with Sherwood Mill Pond swans.

In high school, Mary clammed at low tide on the mud flats, and sold them to Cap. She also sold horseshoe crabs. He put them in floats where he kept his fresh clams; they kept the water clean.

Cap Allen and his wife Lida, in front of the clam house.

Cap Allen and his wife Lida, in front of the clam house.

The Clam House and Mill Pond were Mary’s summer playground. She and her friends rented Cap’s handmade rowboats, to catch blue claw crabs and have adventures. They swam at the gates at high tide — a “challenging and dangerous activity” that today she would not allow.

In winter, the pond froze over. The ice skating was wonderful.

Years later — after she married — Mary’s own children enjoyed similar activities. They also ate quite well at Allen’s. After all, she was family.

Cap’s son, Walter Ethan Allen, had a 35-foot ketch-rigged oyster boat. With a shallow draft and long, shallow centerboard and rudders, it was perfect for oystering. For better ballast, Walt asked neighborhood kids to sail with him.

When Walt returned from World War II, he asked Mary — a Staples High School student — to help. Eventually, ballast turned to romance. They married when she was 18. He was 30.

Walt and Mary Allen had 5 children. This photo shows Abigail, their oldest (Cap’s grandchild), in front of the barn that once stood tight against Hillspoint Road on the edge of the Clam House property. The barn -- which still stands -- was rustic inside, but furnished with a full kitchen and a 2nd-floor loft. Cap used it as a popular summer rental property.

Walt and Mary Allen had 5 children. This photo shows Abigail, their oldest (Cap’s grandchild), in front of the barn that once stood tight against Hillspoint Road on the edge of the Clam House property. The barn was rustic inside, but furnished with a full kitchen and a 2nd-floor loft. Cap used it as a popular summer rental property.

Cap owned a 1934 Ford Phaeton convertible. He drove it to the bank every Monday morning, to deposit the week’s proceeds.

Mary enjoyed hanging out at the clam house. Cap was “quiet but friendly and affable, and had a nice sense of humor.” A cigar smoker, he recovered from throat cancer. In 1954, age 75, he died of arterial sclerosis.

His sons — David and Mary’s husband Walt — tried to keep the business going, hiring help while they held their own jobs. Finally, they decided to run the restaurant only. The Uccellinis — 2 generations of their own family — did a magnificent job too.

Allen’s Clam House was a hugely popular summer place. Over time though, the building wore down. Environmental restrictions made it financially impossible to continue.

The restaurant closed in the mid-1990s. The land was ripe for sale. Developers — hoping to build 3 houses — made lucrative offers. Westporters mourned the loss of what had always been a favorite view. They urged the town to buy the land.

Mary worked closely with First Selectman Diane Farrell, and negotiated a special deal. Though it took many years, the site was eventually rehabilitated by volunteers. It officially opened as a preserve in 2010.

The Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve is one of the most tranquil spots in Westport. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

The Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve is one of the most tranquil spots in Westport. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

For the dedication, Mary’s daughter Bonnie Allen wrote:

A special acknowledgment is due to my mother, Mary Riordan Allen, the last remaining owner of the Allen’s Clam House property. 11 years ago, in the spirit of Captain Allen’s concern for the Mill Pond and its meadows, she turned down high purchase offers from developers in favor of selling the property to the town at a price it could afford.

With generous matching contributions from like-minded Westporters (Paul Newman, Harvey Weinstein and Martha Stewart among them) the town of Westport bought the property, and honored my mother’s wishes that it be preserved in its natural state, dedicated to my grandfather, Captain Walter Dewitt Allen.

Last week, Mary and Bonnie returned to Westport to meet their bench — a gift from Mary and her children. The plaque honors Mary’s husband Walt, who died in 1982, and Bonnie’s son, Sebastian Katz, who died in 2000 at age 20.

Mary and Bonnie Allen, on the family's bench.

Mary and Bonnie Allen, on the family’s bench.

The plaque on the Allen family bench.

The plaque on the Allen family bench.

Mary’s bench is the one that Sherwood Mill Pond visitors gravitate to most. I suspect that’s because it provides the same views and sense of peace that first drew Cap to this special piece of the Mill Pond, and inspired him to raise a family and a business on its shores.

Thanks to Mary and her family, this site is a wonderful place, where both nature and history are preserved.


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