The Old Mill Store, the oldest continuously operating retail establishment in the Town of Westport, and the last and only remaining commercial retail store and food establishment within a 1.5-mile radius, has served Westport’s coastal community for more than 100 years. Operating year-round and sited in what was originally an agricultural and aquacultural area, along the former Hills Point Highway (formerly a primary commercial coastal transportation artery), the building was built and began operating as the Old Mill Store in 1919, originally serving local farmers, oystermen, the few residents who lived there, and travelers along the Hills Point Highway.
“It’s a labor of love to preserve an historic property, and to ensure that future generations get to learn about and experience our community’s history, while also benefiting from the expanded mission.
This is a very special, important, and impactful project. It is so important to the town of Westport, and the entire state, that projects like this get done.”
Jen Tooker, First Selectwoman, Town of Westport
Situated in what has become a highly regulated, single-family residential and recreational zone, the store operates under a grandfathered use permit dating back to when it was constructed in 1919. For more than a century, since being built and opening its doors for business, the store has continuously functioned as a convenient retail food establishment and serves as a vital community resource and gathering place for local laborers, residents, and visitors.
Historic Significance of the Old Mill Neighborhood
The Old Mill Store is situated immediately adjacent to The Mill Cove Historic District and closely proximate to the Compo-Owenoke Historic District. These districts were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. The Old Mill Historic District consists of a small group of cottages, 15 of which are contributing buildings, and other cottages and outbuildings. The structure that houses the Old Mill Store is among the few remaining, well-preserved examples of Colonial Revival and bungalow-style cottages and structures which were built between 1908 and 1940. The Compo-Owenoke Historic District was developed between 1910 and 1940, covering 154 acres, and contains one of the largest assemblages of period architecture in Westport. Prior to residential and recreational development in these districts, which began in 1908, these were lightly populated agricultural areas occupied by farms and farming families, including the Bradleys and Wakemans, both important fixtures in Westport’s history.
The Old Mill Store is regarded as one of three important and iconic landmarks in The Old Mill and Compo Beach neighborhood, which include the cannons at Compo Beach, a monument memorializing the arrival of 200 hundred British troops landing there during the revolutionary war, and the Minuteman Statue, a monument memorializing the Minutemen who alerted revolutionaries to the arrival of the British troops and recognized by the State of Connecticut with a CT State Preservation Award.
“Like CT Preservation Award recipient, the Legacy Theater in Stony Creek, CT, built in 1914 as a silent picture house, and which lives on as a non-profit, the Old Mill Store has great history and is an historical asset that should be praised and receive a CT State Preservation Award.”
Bob Weingarten, House Historian, Westport Museum of Art & Culture
Westport’s history and architectural heritage is being erased at an alarming and accelerating rate as period homes and structures are being demolished in favor of luxurious new multi-million-dollar homes. Due to limited regulatory protections governing the tearing down of historic structures, and the high value of land, developers are the primary buyers of vintage properties — invariably for speculative development purposes. Consequently, local media outlets literally report on the “teardown of the day.” Community efforts to preserve historically significant structures often fail due to a lack of financial resources available for same. The broad community, dismayed by the possibility of losing this treasured historic structure and use, donated the funds that would ensure this property would be preserved in perpetuity for future generations.
When it was constructed in 1919, the Old Mill Store was one of a few, small, trading outposts in this relatively rural and undeveloped part of Westport. It is now the last remaining such outpost in the area. According to Bob Weingarten, House Historian for the Westport Museum of History and Culture:
Historic town records show that the structure located at 222 Hillspoint Road was constructed in 1919 by Harry F. Sherwood and opened to operate as a retail store. Records show that the property was sold by Mr. Sherwood to Fred Giorochino on September 27, 1927, who subsequently sold it to Sylvester and Florence Youngs on October 1, 1927. From the purchase of the store in 1927, the Youngs operated the store until selling a ½ interest on July 8, 1929 to Kenneth Montgomery. Mr. Montgomery became the sole owner and operator of the property in April of 1962, following the death of Mabel Montgomery, the daughter of the Youngs.
Kenneth Montgomery, co-owner of the store beginning in 1929 and, later, sole owner, operated the Old Mill Store on a full-time basis starting in the 1950s, when another store he owned was taken by eminent domain to make way for the construction of Interstate 95. “Kenny,” as he was known to all, was a sweet man — but not known to run the cleanest store in town, thus the nick-names for the store (like “Grubs” and “Dirty Kenny’s”), but he was still beloved by the community. He was also a surprisingly generous man: When he died in 1985, he left his estate to the Westport YMCA.
Following Mr. Montgomery’s death, the store was sold on January 15, 1986 by his estate to Old Mill Associates, LLC as an investment property. The property was leased to Peter’s Market, who were tenant/operators for approximately ten years. Old Mill Store changed ownership again on or about November 12, 1997 when Stacey and Nick Yiovanakos purchased the property. They operated it as a family business with their two children, daughter Niki and her brother, Harry. During that time it was called Elvira’s, to acknowledge and honor Stacey‘s late sister. Under Nick and Stacey’s (and Niki and Harry’s) loving watch, the Old Mill Store continued to be an important part of the Westport community and history, and a popular spot for local laborers, residents, and visitors to enjoy an early morning coffee and muffin, a quick snack, an ice cream, or a delicious pizza with friends. It was also the site of one of the busiest school bus stops in all of Westport, with dozens of neighborhood kids hopping on their buses there in the morning (after grabbing a breakfast sandwich to go), and then getting off their buses there in the afternoon (to buy candy, ice cream, or a slice of pizza) before walking home.
Due to its remote location and local convenience, the Old Mill Store was the main provisioning post for people living and working in the neighborhood as well as those visiting Westport’s beaches or marina. Indeed, one never knew who they might see there. Among the many noteworthy artists, writers, musicians, actors, business leaders, philanthropists, and others known to live in Westport and shop at the store, customers included Academy Award winning movie stars and world-class philanthropists, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who were regulars, stopping in often beginning in the early 1960’s with their small children (and sometimes with friend and neighbor actor Robert Redford) to load up on snacks before going out on their beloved boat. Martha Stewart, the famous lifestyle entrepreneur and 40-year Westport resident, also frequented the market when visiting the beach area. Westport area musicians Michael Bolton, Keith Richards, and Donna Summer were also regulars. Jose Feliciano would come by with his service dog. F. Scott Fitzgerald stopped in regularly with his companion, Zelda, while they were living in Westport and he was writing The Great Gatsby. More recently, Academy Award winning actress Anne Hathaway and her actor/producer husband, Adam Schulman, have been seen dropping by for a treat before heading to the beach with their children.
Tens of thousands of families — now spanning five generations — in Westport and the surrounding communities remember going to the Old Mill Store as children and later with their own families and, thus, the building is of historical significance not just in Westport, but in the surrounding communities and for many others outside the surrounding communities. Indeed, for nearly a century the Old Mill Store has been widely known and beloved as a local market that was the go-to spot for provisions and a friendly gathering place for the locals in, and many visitors to, Westport’s historic beach and boating community.
And that is when SEA was born. A neighborhood alliance was quickly forged to save their beloved and historic neighborhood gathering place and, in the process, do something to support an underserved segment of our community, while benefiting and celebrating the entire, diverse community.
“Preserving History. Serving Good.”