Early in my life, I spent a lot of time at this historic location as friends of mine own a home built on the footprint of the Old Mill. The home at Old Mill Beach is amazing and historic. The structure they live in was once a mill (a grist mill to be precise, which is used to grind grain). I grew up and live in Fairfield, Connecticut, just north of Greens Farms, Westport.
More and more over the years I have realized how important this property is.
This site goes back to colonial times. The original mill building was built in 1711. Over time, five buildings have occupied this site. In the 1880s the mill was owned and operated by the Sherwood Family; starting in 1790
According to SOURCE: JENNINGS, GREENS FARMS the mill thrived for a long time, specializing in kiln-dried corn meal shipped to the West Indies. The business declined by the 1860s along with a decline in grain farming. The mill stood idle for a while and then ground mineral barytes for a few years before it burned down in 1895. According to Jennings:
“The tide mill had an undershot horizontal waterwheel — that is, the outflow of water turned the wheel by the force of the water against the under part of the wheel. The water-wheel was some 18 feet long and about 14 feet in diameter, located outside the mill, and when the gates were lifted the water flowed out with tremendous force, and power was transmitted into the mill. If milling was good, two shifts, night and day, were needed according to the tide. The tide must be ebbing before the mill would run, and continue till the incoming tide equaled the outflow from the pond.”
To summarize, when it was low tide the Mill Pond was shallow and as high tide comes in the mill pond would become full. It was this movement of water in and out of the mill pond that provided the energy to drive the mill.
How clever our ancestors were using the power of the tide to drive their mill. “Clean energy!”
Over the years the property has changed hands and since the early 1900’s, it has been a private residence. Like the original mill, the home straddles the water and when you sit on the porch that is hanging over the water, you feel like you’re on a boat.
The home, now owned by my friends, sits next to Sherwood Island. On the far side of the of the mill pond inlet there are private homes on the Island and the only way to access these homes is by walking over a footbridge. No motor vehicle traffic is allowed on theprivate side of Sherwood Island. The other side of the Island is Sherwood Island State Park, a popular destination in Connecticut.
My friends are very social people and they often had parties at their Beach house. I met a lot of interesting people at their home. Really good times. Over time I introduced my family and other friends to my new friends at the beach.
Weekends were relaxing at Old Mill Beach. The home was equipped with two canoes and a kayak. It was a common weekend activity to take the boats out on the mill pond (sometimes referred to as Sherwood Mill Pond) (behind the house. We would paddle across the mill pond and exit into Long Island Sound, thereby the loop and returning to the front of the house. After that workout we would then share a meal together and hang out on the porch.
Then disaster struck. Along came Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Everyone at Old Mill Beach had to evacuate. The entire area of Old Mill Beach and all of the homes there were overwhelmed by water and ocean debris. When my friends returned, they found the entire first floor of their home filled with sand and everything was ruined.
My friends don’t give up and they are good caretakers. They cleaned up there home and moved back in. However, while Sandy has passed the threat of another devastating storm is realand always front of mind. It’s not a question of if but when.
The only way to protect their home and its history is to go up. After much planning they hired a company to raise the home out of harmsway. This is a big undertaking. The home is old and large and a part of it actually hangs over the inlet to the mill pond, so they had to work around the water. The contractor built cribbing and used pneumatic jacks to slowly raise the house. The contractor then created concrete piers (stilts) to support the home. Long front and back staircases have been constructed to allow for entry and exit for the home which is now several feet up in the air from the former ground level. What a change.
Thanks to my friends, this home will live into the future and future generations and families will also be able to enjoy this historic home and its access to the beach and mill pond
Here are some recent pictures
Here are some old pictures
Above Images © Westport Historical Society
The old mill pond was a popular swimming hole.
Children posing for a picture on the bridge to Sherwood Island.
A closer look at the house below.
A home in the middle of the mill pond.
People have lived in the house over the years.
Some believe this house was once a part of the grist mill.
And it was floated to its new spot after the mill building burned.