As her family’s eponymous business closes in on a century of creating unique travel experiences for its worldwide customer base, Westporter Robin Tauck returns to a simpler era with a click of a latch that opens her garden gate. Her early 1900s cottage is set on a point of land on Sherwood Island that juts into Compo Cove near the gateway to the island’s Mill Pond. Clad in vintage brown cedar shingles, the little house reflects a time when Robin’s grandfather, travel business pioneer Arthur Tauck, Sr., first ushered groups on guided automobile tours of New England, the Catskills and the Adirondacks.
“I’ve been told that the cottage is probably the most painted and photographed house in town,” says Robin. With the exception of maintenance and some dramatic landscape restoration after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, her property is an original, practically untouched remnant of the cluster of old beach cottages, accessible by two footbridges, that dot the cove’s island shoreline. It is a place out of time, and one of Westport’s secret treasures, a bit of the old village before its widespread discovery. While other modest cove dwellings have been renovated with more complex facades and grander profiles, Robin’s hugs its bit of beach in pristine dignity.
She guides her guest along a boardwalk, passing the “pirate shack”—a dilapidated structure that Robin rebuilt as a diminutive yet grand guest cottage—and the quiet of the place is broken only by the sound of the flow of the tide as it moves through hydraulic gates into and out of the pond. It’s not difficult to understand why this travel entrepreneur would choose such a location as a private retreat from her globe-trotting jaunts.
After buying the place a few years back, Robin, who grew up in town, and made Westport her destination on a 9,000-mile sail when she returned as an adult, became as enchanted with the cove and Mill Pond as generations before her had been. Delving into its history, with the help of the files and journals of her neighbor, the late longtime town historian, lifelong cove dweller and Westport booster Allen Raymond, she learned the storied past of her chosen spot. “Here, I’m a newcomer,” says Robin.
The cove’s history long predates the town’s incorporation, and vestiges of its early days remain. The old grist mill, a late-nineteenth-century iteration of the original 1714 structure, now used as a seasonal dwelling, is a key landmark. Crossing the footbridges and walking around the property, the visitor will spot members of the Northrop family tending the pond’s oyster beds—a revival of an old industry begun in the same location by their ancestors—which currently produce tasty bivalves that are much cherished in fine dining establishments around the Northeast.
Keeping the waters of the pond and cove clean (such tidelands are integral to the health of the Sound) has become something of a personal mission for Robin. So her care of the landscape around the cottage, the pirate shack and the lot at No. 48—now a park-like setting for the many parties and charitable fundraisers that she hosts—reflects her determination to maintain her surroundings as a well-functioning ecosystem for the people and the abundant wildlife that make their homes here. Her passion is reflected not only in the simple and traditional treatment of the waterfront landscape, it also inspired her sponsorship of The Beautiful Pond, a book about Compo Cove and its history, written and illustrated by yet another Westporter and cove devotee, artist Judith Orseck Katz. All proceeds from book sales go to SoundWaters, the Stamford-based organization dedicated to the protection of Long Island Sound and its coasts through education and action.
Since becoming a landowner here, Robin has enlisted several local firms to install and care for the flowers and greenery, and develop thoughtful hardscape to harmonize with her very traditional and historic cottage. A sturdy wood-planked boardwalk has been built over an existing concrete path that serves to protect the landscape and support the small wagons that Robin and other residents use to trundle supplies over the bridges—this private portion of Sherwood Island is carless. The simplicity of her home speaks to many of Robin’s visitors.
“Nearly everyone who comes here has a story about a place they remember along the Connecticut shore that was like this, a long time ago,” she says. “It does take some effort to preserve it, but I believe that it’s worth it.”
HOUSE & LAND DESIGN
Michael Greenberg’s local architectural and building firm tackled the restoration of her “pirate shack,” now a sweet little hideaway at the water’s edge. The Wilton landscape firm LaurelRock took charge of the plants and shrubs. Old seaside favorites—seagrasses, hydrangeas, and other New England staples—harmonize comfortably with the surroundings, rather than competing with the beautiful waterside panorama. LaurelRock’s president Burt DeMarche notes that even though the cottage is quite visible from the shore, it feels wonderfully private. “You can see the house and grounds from many places, but when you’re there, you don’t feel like you’re being looked at,” he says.
The onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, which, fortunately, did no serious damage to the cottage, required some significant remediation of the landscape. Jon Sweeney—whose firm, DLTC, has worked on the soil and turf around the property for a number of years—recalls the aftermath of the huge movement of sand and water.
“The landscape was buried,” he says.
After Sweeney did the necessary excavation, regrading and reclamation of the normal topography of the property, restoring turf and planting new trees, LaurelRock stepped in to install replacements and additions to the plants and shrubs that had been wiped out by the storm.
While most of the plants, particularly several varieties of seaside grasses, are salt-tolerant and characteristically good candidates for mitigation of erosion from the Sound, the Tauck property includes a few unusual choices, such as the beautiful standard rosebushes that bloom on the landscape in summer. These were planted to commemorate the weddings that Robin has hosted on her property for family friends; there have been four such celebrations so far. Each wedding family plants a bush at some point during the nuptial festivities, adding yet another tradition to this piece of history that remains very much alive.
“This is a very special place,” says Robin, “and I hope that, as its steward, I can set an example so that it stays this way far into the future.”