Celebrating Old Mill Pond, a place 'away from world' right at home

Shortly after moving from Manhattan to Westport with her husband Mel and young daughter (Melissa Kane) in 1969 local author, artist and teacher Judy Katz familiarized herself with her new community by driving along its roads and through its neighborhoods.

One area stopped Katz in her tracks, and became a place she returned to often “in my life and in my dreams” over the last 46 years.

Katz fell in love with Old Mill Pond, also called Compo Cove and Sherwood Mill Pond, a tidal pond where a mill was built in 1714. The man-made pond was created a year later, so 2015 is its 300th anniversary.

“It’s my favorite place in the world. I love to stand on the (two) bridges. You can see the whole dome of the sky, 360 degrees all around you and the sky is reflected in the water. You’re floating between the sky and the water … It’s a magical place,” said Katz, who captured the beauty of the pond and her love for it in dozens of watercolor paintings.

Katz celebrates the pond, its history and local environment in her latest book “The beautiful POND” (Two Birds Press), released Nov. 19. The book features many of her paintings and her words, some in typeset and some artistically rendered by Katz, which bring readers on a journey through the pond’s history that includes a working grist mill — the first commercial enterprise in the area that became Westport — to its transformation into a waterfront community and coastal sanctuary that is home to more than 70 species of birds and aquatic life.

“It’s a love story,” said Katz, who still visits the pond every day. “It makes me enormously happy to be here. It’s like a shot of joy … No matter the season, whether it’s raining or sunny, it’s always beautiful,” she said. “You are completely away from the world when you are there.”

Katz so loved the pond that for two summers the family rented one house and then another on Old Mill Cove. No vehicles can access the homes there. Residents carry their groceries in wheelbarrows or wagons.

“I would paint out there on the (second-floor bedroom) balcony in the moonlight with the waterfall right below me next to the bridge,” she recalled.

As Katz spent more time near the pond she learned more about it, and was prompted to research its legacy. In the Westport Library she found a book by George Penfield Jennings, “Greens Farms Connecticut: The Old West Parish of Fairfield.” Katz interviewed descendants of the pond’s early settlers and the late Allen Raymond, a civic activist who also served as the town’s historian. She pored over newspaper articles. Bob Weingarten of the Westport Historical Society and Elizabeth Rose at the Fairfield Historical Society assisted her research.

Katz credits them all with supporting her effort, but none more than Robin Tauck, a travel company co-owner, business leader, philanthropist and Old Mill Pond resident who provided financial backing for the book.

Tauck said Katz’s book is “a good environmental story of renewal and rejuvenation” that captures “our waters and historic traditions.” Tauck called the cove “our precious pond” and a “bucolic sanctuary” that offers a spiritual calmness. “The moving waters are incredibly restorative,” she said.

Tauck said the pond and the mill provided “the seed of Westport.” The mill gave the area the local commerce required to receive a charter to establish the town.

Just as the pond has enriched and contributed to the community, so will Katz’s book. All of the proceeds will benefit SoundWaters, a science and environmental education non-profit with a mission of protecting Long Island Sound. Tauck said she and Katz interviewed officials of several local non-profits from Bridgeport to Stamford before deciding on SoundWaters as the recipient.

In a press release, SoundWaters Chairman Scott Mitchell, said, “We are excited to partner with ‘The beautiful POND,’ a unique creation that highlights attention to our most valuable resource and we gladly partner to help steward the future of cleaner waters into the next generations.”

A number of programs are scheduled in conjunction with the publication of Katz’s book. Katz will sign her books at the local Barnes & Noble store at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4. The Westport Arts Center will host a book-signing event on Dec. 16, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. The Westport Historical Society plans to exhibit her paintings next spring.

Katz’s “The beautiful POND” is available for purchase at Earthplace, Barnes & Noble and the Westport Historical Society, or online at www.thebeautifulpond.com.