In the 1920s and 1930s, the northernmost portion of Wilson Cove was a shallow tidal basin used primarily by commercial boats.
One such activity was harvesting ice – big business before the advent of refrigeration. Ice from ponds and lakes in the local area was transported from the cove to Oyster Bay for sale on Long Island and New York City. On the return trip, ships would head for Wilson Cove bearing coal for distribution in Fairfield County.
Prior to that, the cove was used, among other things, as a naval storage base during World War I. Once the ships were loaded, they set off for France to provide guns, ammunition and other war supplies to the troops.
The east side of the cove, now occupied by Norwalk Yacht Club, at one point served as a steamboat landing. A spur of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad ran along the eastern shore to the south end of Wilson Point. Ice, coal and farm products in the railcars were transferred to the boats docked there. Also, an oil transfer station and tank farm for Standard Oil Company hugged the shore along Wilson Avenue.
The name Wilson dates back to 1825 when Lewis O. Wilson became owner, as dowry from his bride, of the property where Wilson Cove Yacht Club sits today. Wilson was in the textile business in New York City. A robber baron who eagerly participated in high-stakes deals was owner of hundreds of acres of prime property around Wilson Cove. He enjoyed the best that life offered but died a pauper alone in a rundown hotel in Norwalk in 1892.
The Norwalk Yacht Club clubhouse was originally located on the west side of Wilson Cove along Bluff Avenue. The 1894 Victorian with dock is still there and now is a private residence.
Also situated on the west side of the cove, just south of Wilson Cove Yacht Club, is the original Rev. Thomas House. It now is part of the Thomas Place Condominium Group of homes. The Thomas House was originally built on Wilson Point. However, it obstructed Wilson’s view of Long Island Sound. So the house was moved to the opposite shore by pushing it across the ice one winter when all of Wilson Cove was frozen solid.
Eventually, commercial use of the cove ended, and the inner part of Wilson Cove was dredged. The excavated material was used as landfill for the existing building and parking lot. A barge was brought in and served as the foundation for the present mast shed.
One of the early owners of the land was the Lunette Burchard estate that sold the property to Daniel Toomey in 1922, who started a marine construction business. Upon Toomey’s death in 1945, the property was sold to John and Cecilia Spangle, also for marine construction use. They later installed docks and finger slips for recreational boating.
In 1959, 12 of the yard’s patrons established Wilson Cove Yacht Club, each donating $10 to start the treasury. The first commodore was elected in 1962. That is when Betty Ann Smith made the Cocktail Flag that is still used today and is hoisted to signal that the bar is open. Her husband and subsequent commodore Dick Smith fired his cannon at every Commissioning and Decommissioning ceremony, eventually donating it to the club.
The property has seen several owners since the Spangles: Bob Anderson, Toste Moller, Grove Ely and now Clute Ely. On two occasions, the club attempted to buy the property: in the mid-1970s and then again in the late 1990s. In both cases, the club was unsuccessful.
Wilson Cove Yacht Club continues to lease the clubhouse. Over the years, it has been redecorated for the pleasure of the members. Yachtsmen come from the tri-state area and are delighted to keep their boat in an attractive, protected cove with easy access to Long Island Sound.
Joyce H. Meurer
Member since 1974
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