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74 Rowayton Avenue 
The John H. Lowndes House, c. 1898

Captain John Howard Lowndes came to Rowayton from Long Island about June 1865 to take advantage of the thriving oyster business and the fertile oyster beds of the Norwalk area. He had spent at least some of his youth in the town, as his parents had moved the entire family to Rowayton when John was four years old. His younger brother Theodore had been born here and was, at this time, already involved in the local oyster industry. John and Theodore, and their sons, found great success in Rowayton, running the Lowndes Oyster Company from about 1870 to 1910.

 

During his time in Rowayton, John owned several different

properties. He and his wife, Hannah Bunce Lowndes, started

out in a small house on Main Street (today 82 Rowayton Avenue)

but soon added the land adjacent to the south to their

property. By this time, John had experienced some success

through oystering and was able to build a large, elaborate

Italianate home on the corner of Crockett Street and Rowayton

Avenue, right next door to his first house. Tragically, the

elegant Lowndes home was lost to a fire, and 74 Rowayton

was built in its place.

 

It later became the home of the well-known writer/artist couple, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss for 27 years. They also owned the property across the street on the Five Mile River where they moored their sailboat. The couple loved living in Rowayton, and over the years here, hosted many friends, authors and artists among them, at their house for drinks and conversation, for the weekend or sometimes the whole summer in the case of Maurice Sendak. As their basement tended to flood, "Crockett" was often seen painting in his studio wearing rubber boots, up to his ankles in salt water.

 

Crockett Johnson was the pen name of cartoonist and children's book illustrator David Johnson Liesk, born in New York City in 1906. He took the name Crockett from his childhood hero Davy Crockett coupled with his middle name Johnson. His bestselling Harold and the Purple Crayon is still a favorite today, and a number of the Harold stories were made into animated films. 

After the stock market crash of 1929, like many members of his generation, Dave, as he was affectionately known, turned left. He read Communist publications like the Daily Worker and New Masses and befriended others in the movement. He was soon contributing cartoons to New Masses. By 1934, he was working for them full time.

In 1939, Dave met the love of his life - Ruth Krauss - at a party. "The outgoing, energetic Ruth met the wry, laconic Dave," wrote Philip Nel in his biography of the couple. "We met, and that was it," explained Ruth. This meeting resulted in not only the marriage of two best friends but in a life-long partnership in a new career for both: children's book publishing. The first product of this new union: The Carrot Seed, published in 1945.

Dave published 26 children's books over the course of his career, quite a few of them with Ruth. Then, after more than 20 years as a successful illustrator, Dave's creativity took a divergent path: he created over 100 paintings relating to mathematics and mathematical physics. Eighty of these can be found in the collections of the National Museum of American History. He died in 1975, Ruth in 1991.

Ruth Krauss, who received a B.A. from the Parson's School of Applied Art in New York, spent time at the Bank Street Writer's Laboratory where authors were encouraged to work directly with children. She had a wonderful sense of fun, and "broke rules and invented new ones, and her respect for the natural ferocity of children bloomed into poetry that was utterly faithful to what was true in their lives," said The Horn Book. Ruth had many books to her credit and mentored Maurice Sendak who spent weekends and parts of the summer here.  Mr. Sendak claimed, “Max [of Where the Wild Things Are] was born in Rowayton."

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Harold and the Purple Crayon book cover.jpg
Dave Liesk Crockett Johnson smiley copy_
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Author week Rowayton Library Carl Rose Crockett Johnson Ruth Krauss Jim Flora copy.jpg

National Library Week at Rowayton Library 1958 with Rowayton talent

Crockett Johnson Harriet and Fred Schwed

Writers Fred and Harriet Schwed with Dave
 

Back row: Fred Schwed Jr. (author of Where Are the Customers’ Yachts?), unknown person #1, John Sharnick (journalist, TV producer), Leonard Gross (author of God and Freud), Crockett Johnson, unknown person #2, Jim Flora (creator of children’s books, art, and album covers).  Front row, left to right: Phyllis Rowand (artist, illustrator of some of Ruth Krauss’s books), Carl Rose (cartoonist for New Yorker & others), and Ruth Krauss.  

Dave Johnson and Ruth Krauss 74 Rowayton
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