A Legacy from 1639 to the Present
Cobb’s Mill is a staggeringly beautiful, enormously important piece of Weston history. The Mill has witnessed the stirring story of both natural and human obstacles from 1639, when Fairfield was settled by the Puritans escaping religious persecution in England, all the way forward to Cobb’s Mill’s current efforts to infuse our new venue with socially responsible activities. These activities will alter our historical direction, in order to change the restaurant into a hub of activity for the community, bringing palpable benefits to its customers and neighbors.
Before Drew bought the Mill in August of 2011, it had been closed in a bank foreclosure, and the previous owner was George Guidera, Weston’s First Selectman. George bought it in 2007, and ran it with his son-in-law, James Magee. When he bought it, he engaged the former manager, Domenic Cocchia, who had run it with his brothers, Frank and Peter, and another partner, Robert Testa, from 1986. Their predecessor was Julia P. Jones, who ran it as an old fashioned Inn from 1952 to 1986. Julia was preceded by Alice Delamar, one of the 10 richest women in the United States, who bought it in 1934, then went into business with Jacques De Wolfe to remodel it and create a fine restaurant. Alice’s father was in the salvage business, and salvaged the two bars at Cobb’s Mill in 1946, from the French ship Normandie after it sunk in New York Harbor in 1942. The large bar downstairs is alleged to be the largest piece of cast pewter in the world. Alice’s predecessors were Moira Wallace and Sydney Dyke, who ran an antique shop and tea room after buying it in 1928 from Margaret Ayer Cobb, who had inherited it from her husband, Frank, after he died in 1925. Frank Cobb was the editor of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper, and had purchased the original “Cobb’s Mill” on 36 acres in 1912, for a summer home, complete with farm, animals, a house with mill hands, and an ice house (now at 5 Old Mill Road) Frank soon learned that raising pigs and cows, grinding grain, and making shingles out of blighted chestnut trees was a fast way to go broke. Frank had made his purchase of the mill from Jennie Carver, who had owned and operated it as a mill since 1891, when her husband Simeon bought it for her along with 33 adjoining acres. Nathan Johnson owned it from1878. Sarah Dean from 1876. Osborn Taylor from 1866. William Davis from 1850. Curtis Cole from 1835. For eighty six years before that it was owned by assorted members of the Sturges family, starting in 1749, when Eleazor Sturges (1705-1774) was quitclaimed 160 acres, two thirds of the 240 acres purchased by his partner and son-in-law, Ephraim Jackson, which included a house and sawmill, one of Weston’s earliest businesses on the Long Lots. That house and sawmill may have been built around 1740, the probable date of construction of the adjoining barn, now part of a tasteful, lovingly expanded home construction at 3 Old Mill Road.
This simple list of owners offers no hints of the intensity of feeling, and the incredible hardships endured by the original or subsequent migrants. One might now think there was some romance associated with a boat trip to a new land to carve out a home and create a civilization where there was only a history of traders and explorers. But it was not at all like that. Most of the families coming to the United States were Protestant, the same religious affiliation as King Charles I, who succeeded his father, King James, upon his death in 1625. King Charles was influenced by the Pope and the important Catholic dignitaries in London. The Puritans, also Protestant, were Congregationalist, meaning they didn’t want to be told by Kings in London, or Popes in Italy what to do and how to do it. They wanted to figure it out for themselves, and pass their own rules and laws. They were independent, self-assured, and competent. Well-to-do so they could afford to close their homes and businesses, purchase passage for a two month trip across an irascible, unconquerable ocean, search for a homesite in the wilderness, be prepared to take on the Indians, without being able to speak their language or know their intentions, have confidence that they could build shelters, grow and hunt food, and generally withstand the vicissitudes of the Indian population, the weather, the wilderness, the seasons, the lack of food and shelter, the sickness, the isolation, and all the other hardships a wilderness presents. What forces could possibly be so intolerable that they could drive families to give up their friends, communities, health, safety, and possibly their lives in order to escape? Could the King’s religious restrictions and intolerance drive them to such lengths?
Clearly the King’s attitudes and behavior were a product of his history and life style. He owned a large portion of the globe, felt that he sat on the right hand of god, dissolved Parliament whenever he felt like it, and needed to be deferential to no one. In 1629 an opportunity miraculously presented itself to a struggling, unhappy, desperate Puritan population. It came in the unexpected form of a miracle: The Massachusetts Bay Company. The miracle of the Massachusetts Bay Company was that it wasn’t like the trading company from which it sprung. In 1629 the “New England Company” received a royal charter as the ”Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.” Almost immediately the emphasis changed from a trading company to a religious and political refuge for the persecuted Puritan stockholders. In 1628 the New England Company had received a land grant between the Charles and Merrimack Rivers, extending westward to “The South Sea,” which had to be the equivalent of the Pacific Ocean. By the Cambridge Agreement in 1629 a group planned to buy the stock of the company, and emigrate to New England. Inexplicably an apparent oversight allowed the new charter company to escape the burden and language requiring them to have a board of governors in England. This had the effect of making the new company like a commonwealth, a nation being born with authority to settle anywhere, write its own laws and rules, and behave in large measure like an independent country. The colonists sailed to New England in 1630 and established Boston as its headquarters. The company and the colony were synonymous.
By 1642 an estimated 20,000 Puritans had migrated to Boston in order to be settled in New England, which at that time included at least all or part of what is now Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. In Connecticut, in 1639, after a few unrelated settlements were started around the state, Roger Ludlowe brought families with 59 Puritans to settle in Fairfield, after he purchased the land from the Pequonnock Indians in Stratford. The first order of business for newly arrived settlers in the Fairfield wilderness was to build homes, barns, and shelters of various sorts, as well as to grow plants for food, and hunt and fish. These needs made the mill of primary importance since damming the streams to turn water wheels for power for lumber mills, grist mills, and apple cider was exactly what the settlers needed most. The first mills to meet this need were in the late 1640s. Cobb’s Mill made its contribution to this essential role almost one hundred years later, around 1740.
In 1664 King Charles II granted his brother, the Duke of York, jurisdiction over the land between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers, and west presumably to the Pacific Ocean. In 1671, to thwart the Duke, Long Lot’s land grants were given to settlers, a most important event in Weston’s history, subject to surveys done and redone over many years into the future. These grants began the practice of Fairfield residents, called Outlivers, to work and farm on their distant, long, skinny lots which extended nine miles from Long Lots Road in Westport, all the way to Redding. By 1690 permanent buildings were being constructed in Weston. Though Long Lots property boundaries near Long Lots Road were reasonably marked in 1714, significant settlement probably didn’t start until around 1730. Outlivers were willing to build stone walls and farm their land, cut trees, and ride their horses and wagons back and forth to their homes and families in Fairfield, but not willing to build houses and barns until their boundaries were clearly surveyed and staked. The surveying of the rears of the long lots wasn’t completed until 1758. In 1787 Weston (which included Easton at that time) was incorporated as a Town.
Today the business of La Roue Elayne is owned by partners Drew Friedman and Elayne Cassara. (Roue is French for “wheel,” as the wheel serves to empower the entire mill and is the central theme of Cobb’s Mill as it becomes the social hub of Weston and its surrounding communities). Drew initially saw the opportunity to purchase the Mill, fell in love with the property, threw caution to the winds, and put in an offer to the owner in foreclosure, Weston’s own Fairfield County Bank. After the Bank accepted his offer, Drew and Elayne joined forces to upgrade the property and enhance its beauty to better serve the community. Elayne’s concept complemented Drew’s, and their ambitious plans started to align, a perfect visionary match, both spiritually and conceptually. As fate would have it, they were each bereaved by the loss of a loved one, and shared a wish to create a riverside park to celebrate life, rather than live in grief, to honor their lost family members (Elayne’s son and Drew’s wife). They both wanted a memorial site on the premises, which could allow inclusion of others, and they both wanted to engage the public through dining, entertainment, education, and recreation.
Breathing new life into the beloved old mill, La Roue Elayne and its proud new owners now offer distinctive dining including Sunday brunch, a host of live entertainment, vibrant nightlife brand new to Weston, and a wide array of catering packages featuring the most elegant weddings. It will soon offer educational and social programs as well.