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Bell Island: Summer in Paradise

In 1881, recognizing the possibilities of Bell Island as a summer resort, brothers Joel and Timothy Foster, with Levi Mansfield, began buying up pieces of property from Lewis Raymond. Bell Island was soon enjoying a reputation as a very fashionable resort. Hotels were built to accommodate the crowds, including The Montewesse Hotel, The Bell Island House, later called The Elmendorf Hotel, The Soundview Hotel, and Summit House which had an ice cream parlor. Mr. Pinka’s Candy Store was next door to Summit House.

The Fosters laid out a series of ten-foot-wide pass ways—which are unique to Bell Island—permitting almost every pedestrian quick access among properties, and particularly to the store and loading dock where supplies arrived, and ferry service was available. Because of one of the Foster brother's involvement with the Temperance Movement, a special clause was put into every deed of sale, up through the 1920s, stating that no alcohol could be sold or kept for sale on the property.[1]

 

Between 1905 and 1910, a number of prominent and wealthy people from New York and Danbury bought property and built summer homes with fashionable, wide-railed porches for cooling off from the summer heat. They came by boat or trolley, loaded down with all the necessities for the summer. Bird cages, dogs and cats, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, mother and father and children, and stayed for the whole season. 

 

Everyone had chores to do in the morning, which took care of housekeeping very quickly. In the early morning “Aunt Sally” from Rowayton would come daily to the Island with her home—grown vegetables. In the late afternoon she would return with the same cart in which she had brought the produce to carry away all the garbage that she could to feed her pigs. Chester Fitch, the grocer from Norwalk, arrived with horse and buggy every morning, as did the butcher, and went from house to house, sitting in the kitchen taking orders from the lady of the house. In the late afternoon they would return with their orders.

Adding to the panache of the fashionable new summer destination was the availability of a novel form of entertainment: lawn tennis. The Fosters built a court where many a game was played.

Among the defining characteristics of Bell Island are the lovely old stone walls that can be seen in locations throughout the lovely Island. Hand-built over one hundred years ago and barely showing their age, these walls were crafted by stonemason Charles Stevens, a member of the Bell Island Stevens clan, with stones rowed over from Sheffield Island. Assisting Mr. Stevens in the construction were Emil Knorr and Edward Browne of Yarmouth Avenue.

 

 

 

[1] Ironically, in just a few short years, Bell Island would become a hotbed of bootlegging activity during Prohibition, with boats pulling up in the dark of night on East Beach, Crescent Beach, and Hickory Bluff as well as in the tall grasses of Farm Creek. One house on the island had a room with a trap door in it under which boats could pull up and make deliveries without being observed. Despite the continual presence of government boats scouring the shoreline with high-powered spotlights, as Dr. Hank Gloetzner recalled, “those Federal marshals couldn’t catch a cold.” The piercing beams of light kept the locals from a good night’s sleep as they illuminated entire sections of a block, from darkness until dawn. The parties that resulted from the illegal liquor were notorious as well. Bell Island was known for both the day and evening fun to be had there in the first half of the twentieth century, and according to Dr. Gloetzner (the Gloetzner family was the first to live on Bell Island year-round) sometimes even included giant conga lines of joyful revelers that circled the island when the party had to end inside. Numerous stars of film and stage spent time on Bell Island in those days, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, members of the Barrymore clan, and Bert Lahr.

Bell Island South Beach swimmers Ron HaC
Bell Island Court South Norwalk Ron HaCohen 2017-07-07 001.jpg
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Bell Island Shore Front Ron HaCohen 2017
Bell Island Tennis Court and Club House Ron HaCohen 2017-07-07 001.jpg
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Bell Island tennis court

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Bell Island Gatehouse by Arno Scheiding

Bell Island by Jim Flora

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The Bell Island Gatehouse after the Hurricane of 1950

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