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Compo-Owenoke Historic District


Home in the Compo-Owenoke Historic District, Wesport, CT, National Register

Photo: Home in the Compo-Owenoke Historic District, Wesport, CT. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Photographed by User:Magicpiano (own work), 2015, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed June, 2016.

The Compo-Owenoke Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Compo-Owenoke Historic District encompasses a small residential waterfront community on Long Island Sound in Westport, Connecticut. It includes Compo Beach and the associated residential areas of Compo and Owenoke to the north and west. Compo is a densely settled summer colony laid out in the early twentieth century. Owenoke, a contiguous residential area on the west, is located on a spit of land on the east bank of the Saugutuck River estuary and is bounded on the south by Long Island Sound and on the north by Gray's Creek. The Compo/Owenoke Historic District consists of 261 resources, of which 213 (82%) are contributing. The contributing resources include houses and cottages with their associated outbuildings as well as most of the recreational facilities at Compo Beach and the marina. The non-contributing buildings include 48 houses either built or extensively remodelled after World War II.

Changes have been made in the Compo/Owenoke Historic District both in the historic period (1900-1940) and since that time. The Compo/Owenoke Historic District encompasses two islands which were joined to the mainland prior to 1940. Most of the Owenoke peninsula, which was originally Hall's Island and accessible by a small bridge, was joined with landfill to the mainland by 1936. Minuteman Brook, which separated Compo from the mainland, was filled in, probably in the 1920s, with culverts under Apple Tree Trail and Bradley Street. Other changes to the area since the historic period include the paving of streets and the removal of the streetcar tracks on Compo Beach Road. In addition, Bradley Street, the only through north-south street, was widened about 1936.

Since the area was originally developed as a beach community, most of the houses were built for seasonal use: wood-framed cottages with shingled walls and open porches. They range in height from one to two stories. Today most of these houses have full foundations, rather than piers, and a number have been converted to year-round use. The predominate stylistic influence is Colonial Revival, followed by Bungalow and Tudor Revival. Within these stylistic parameters are a variety of types and forms, especially in the Colonial Revival. Many of the houses of this style can be identified by form or roof type but a number are simply vernacular cottages embellished with Neo-Colonial detail, such as fanlights, keystones, or pediments. In addition, most of the houses are individual examples of a type or style. Despite the relatively narrow time frame of the Compo/Owenoke Historic District's development, similar houses are rare, with only occasional examples of duplication either in neighboring houses or between houses on different streets.

Some houses in the Compo/Owenoke Historic District predate the formation of the beach community. Before the farmland was subdivided, there were two Queen Anne style farmhouses on Compo Beach Road facing the Sound: the David Bradley House (61 Compo Beach Road), built in 1864, and the Florence Gault House nearby (53 Compo Beach Road), built for his daughter in 1903. Behind the Gault House are three outbuildings which have been converted to cottages. There is only one other nineteenth-century house in the Compo/Owenoke Historic District, a former Greek Revival which was colonialized about the turn of the century (Nash-Bradley House, 40 Compo Beach Road).

One of the types of Colonial Revival utilizes the Georgian plan and form. Several of these were built on Roosevelt Road in the 1920s. Five-bay gable-roofed buildings such as the one at 6 Roosevelt Road are often embellished with a small portico and quarter fanlights in the gable end. A variation on this type displays a pent roof on the facade, as at 24 Apple Tree Trail. The Cape style is found throughout the district, some with gabled or shed-roofed dormers. A modified Cape form found at 6 Westport Avenue has a projecting facade gable on the left and an open porch to the right.

The gambrel form of the Colonial Revival is used extensively in the Compo/Owenoke Historic District both for small cottages and larger bungalows. Typical cottages of this type are found at 5 Apple Tree Trail and 2 Murvon Court. Both display shed-roofed full-length dormers; the latter example has exposed rafter ends, a Craftsman style feature common in the district. A larger example at 25 Soundview Drive (Schaufer Cottage) displays a two-story facade porch, now enclosed, as well as a small shed-roofed gable above.

A number of the larger houses in the Compo/Owenoke Historic District are found on the streets right along the water; Soundview Drive, Compo Beach Road, and Owenoke Park. The Colonial Revival style cottage at 63 Compo Beach Road designed by Sanford Evans, a Westport architect, was one of the first cottages built in the district. It is an eclectic example of this style which has been modified over the years to include several attached wings. Another large 1910 example at 15 Soundview Drive (William L. Taylor Cottage) is one of the earliest cottages in the district. Designed by a Bridgeport architect, Ernest Southey, it has an unusual pentagonal porch supported by shingled piers and displays a fanlight in the gable peak, a common feature found on a number of houses in the district. The matching houses at 16 and 18 Roosevelt Road are other examples which demonstrate the use of applied Colonial Revival detail.

The gambrel roof form is often utilized in Colonial Revival Bungalows, one of several distinct Bungalow types in the Compo/Owenoke Historic District. In some the gambrel end forms the facade with an attached open one or two-story porch, such as the one at 21 Norwalk Avenue. A more conventional example allows the gambrel roof to sweep out over an integral facade porch, as illustrated by a large cottage at 21 Owenoke Park (W. Sterling Atwater House). Three other types of Bungalows can be identified. A ridge-to-street version also integrates the facade porch under a gable roof, as in the example at 21 Danbury Avenue built about 1930. Two gable-to-street forms were also popular. Some have a one-story hipped-roof facade porch; others have a two-story porch with the roof of the upper porch an extension of the main roof with a jerkinhead. Characteristically, many of these Bungalows have exposed rafter ends and shed dormers incorporated in the side elevations,

The last stylistic influence in the Compo/Owenoke Historic District is the Tudor Revival, characterized by steep gables and stuccoed walls, some with half-timbering. Two examples on Owenoke Park also illustrate the dual orientation of most of the houses on the waterside of this street: one to the Sound, the other to the street (21 Owenoke Park, W. Sterling Atwater House; 23 Owenoke Park, Charles H. Kemper House). Cobblestone piers and a jerkinhead gable distinguish #25; large fluted columns support the south and side elevation porches on #23. A more conventional example of this style is located at 39 Soundview Drive (Parker Cottage). The shingled roof has rolled eaves to simulate thatching, a feature also found on the only wood-framed example of this style in the district, a cottage at 11 Murvon Court.

Significance

The Compo/Owenoke Historic District is architecturally significant as an exceptionally well-preserved and cohesive early-twentieth-century beach colony which developed between 1910 and 1940. It is one of the few extant assemblages of beach cottages in the region and the largest in Westport. Together with its adjoining beach and waterfront park, it conveys a direct and immediate association with early-twentieth-century coastal and resort development through its consistency of architectural style, materials, scale, and plan. Although built within a narrow time frame and generally limited to three basic architectural styles, Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and Tudor Revival, the district contains an unusual variety of form and type. Many buildings have retained their original materials, especially their wood-shingled walls, a typical sheathing for houses and cottages built in Connecticut's shore communities. With few exceptions, the original orientation of the cottages on their individual lots and to the street has been preserved, maintaining the historic appearance of streetscapes which are representative of seasonal communities in this period. The Compo/Owenoke Historic District is secondarily significant for its association with nineteenth-century agriculture, specifically the several farmhouses that remain to recall the historic use of the area before its development as a beach colony.

Several people were responsible for the residential development of the Compo/Owenoke community. The largest section, which includes the eastern third of the district, was a division of part of the David Bradley farm. A survey map of this area drawn up in 1909 for the Bradley sons contained 150 house lots. In 1919 their remaining undeveloped lots were sold to Samuel Roodner and auctioned off by him to individual owners. Before houses could be built, squatters in this area had to be forcibly removed and their shacks levelled. Only one section of this division was never fully developed for residential use. The small block at the corner where Compo Beach Road turns to become Soundview Drive has one cottage but is mainly used by the town as a parking lot. Roosevelt and Quentin roads were laid out by John Morris by 1919 and had lots for 22 houses. Murvon Court to the rear of another Bradley property was sold to a developer in 1922 by a Bradley daughter, Jennie Punzelt. By 1928 Apple Tree Trail was laid out for 12 more houses by A.G. Violet. A small group of generally larger cottages was built nearby in Owenoke, with some of the lots there subdivided and sold by the Irwin family in 1911 with deed restrictions. The covenants did not allow the sale of spirituous liquor, the building of hotels, bathhouses, or any other commercial use. Private residences had to cost at least $1,200 and the designs approved by the grantor. The first cottages in both Compo and Owenoke were owned by local residents, but they were apparently soon followed by people from New York and nearby towns.[1]

Development of Compo Beach began after World War I. Following a 1922 resolution of the disputed ownership of Compo Beach in favor of the town, Westport stepped up its recreational building program at the beach.[2] The town had already constructed a large wooden beach pavilion in 1919. By 1927 the beach facilities included 750 bathhouses, dining and dancing pavilions, and a lifeguard station, manned by volunteers. The still active Compo Beach Improvement Association was formed by residents in 1929 to maintain the beach and make minor improvements in the residential area such as street signs. That same year Westport issued municipal bonds in the amount of $110,000 to underwrite the cost of further development. New buildings included a yacht clubhouse in 1929 and a bathing pavilion in 1931, which was constructed of brick and replaced the earlier wooden structure which had burned. Dredging for a marina also took place. Landfill from the dredging was used to reclaim the salt meadow and sedge flats to extend the beach and the park area at Cedar Point. Trees were planted at the park and along the roadside at the beach in 1934. The park was self-sustaining through the 1920s and 30s with bathhouse and mooring rentals offsetting the cost of maintenance. Bathhouse facilities were rented on a seasonal basis to residents and an hourly basis to transients. Beach passes, which reached a high of 1862 in 1934, were issued by the police department. During World War II there was limited beach activity and the area was patrolled by civil defense volunteers. In the late 1940s marina facilities were expanded, including a two-thirds increase in the size of the yacht basin. The Cedar Point jetty was reinforced and new breakwaters were constructed. Concession stands were leased by the town. The former all-volunteer lifeguard association was supplemented by a paid staff. At this time the town began a policy of limiting beach access to town residents. Today Cedar Point and Compo Beach are supervised by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The Minuteman Yacht Club, formerly the Cedar Point Yacht Club, was moved nearby to its present location on Compo Beach Road in 1949. Its waterfront setting and orientation have been maintained.

Endnotes:

  1. Although there are town directories available for the period, many houses are listed as vacant and in early directories occupants are listed by name, rather than street address. By 1931, when street listing was inaugurated, there was no street numbering system, making it difficult to identify individual owners. From the permanent addresses and occupations listed, most owners or occupants were middle-class New Yorkers.
  2. The Bradley heirs had maintained that the beach was part of their farm and had built an extensive string of bathhouses along the shore and a pavilion.

References

See Item H — 1, 2 of the Multiple Property Documentation Form that accompanies this nomination.

† Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Associates, Ltd. and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Compo/Owenoke Historic District, Westport, Connecticut, nomination documet, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Compo-Owenoke Historic District Map

Street Names
Apple Tree Trail • Bradley Street • Compo Beach Road • Compo Road South • Danbury Avenue • Fairfield Avenue • Murvon Court • Norwalk Avenue • Owenoke Park • Quentin Road • Roosevelt Road • Route 136 • Soundview Drive • Westport Avenue

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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