View Full Version : Thimble Islands, Connecticut

December 10th, 2006, 09:38 AM
In latest mystery,
widow buys up islands off Connecticut coast

nydailynews.com (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/N/NY_ISLAND_COLLECTOR_BAOL-?SITE=NYNYD&SECTION=MIDEAST&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT)
Associated Press Writer
December 9, 2006

BRANFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Some people collect stamps. Christine Svenningsen collects small islands.

The widow, whose private ways and extravagant tastes in real estate have tongues wagging along Connecticut's coastline, has spent about $33 million in recent years to buy 10 of the Thimble Islands in Long Island Sound.

The secluded islands, known by the Mattabesec Indians as "the beautiful sea rocks," have attracted legends and luminaries for generations. Circus star Tom Thumb found love on the islands, and treasure hunters have combed them for Captain Kidd's buried riches.

Svenningsen's buying spree - especially the prices she has paid - has sparked the latest mystery on the islands.

"It's like a movie," said Valerie Wiel, who owns a market on the nearby mainland in the Stony Creek section of Branford. "Is she going to buy the whole town? The town has been pretty much the same for a long time. To me, this points to more change than people would be comfortable with."

Svenningsen, a widow of a party-goods magnate, bought her latest island this week for $2.7 million and has her eye on another one.

"There's no master plan," Svenningsen said in what she called her first and only interview. "They're like little pieces of art. I get to put my brush to them."

An artist, she is renovating many of the historic homes and paints the furniture with bright fish and other nautical themes. She fills her islands with colorful gardens, including one with lilies.

"You can smell it before you get to the dock with your boat," she said.

Of the hundreds of Thimble Islands, about 25 are considered habitable. Tour boats have taken sightseers among the islands for generations.

Houses on the islands have long served as social gathering spots for the wealthy and famous, as well as summer vacation sites for families of modest means. President William H. Taft and actor James Earl Jones were among the visitors, while "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau and his wife, newscaster Jane Pauley, own an island home.

Svenningsen's late husband, John, bought a home on the islands in the late 1970s. After he died in 1997, she began to buy more islands.

She bought the house where Tom Thumb courted "Miss Emily." Local legend has it that his boss, P.T. Barnum, ordered Thumb instead to marry "Miss Livinia," another of his performers.

Tom and Emily's names remain etched in a rock near the house. Svenningsen said she plans to rebuild a bridge that connected the house to another island before it was washed away by the 1938 hurricane.

"She tends to take very good care of the islands," said John Herzan of the New Haven Preservation Trust. "It's not pure preservation, but it's high-quality renovation."

Svenningsen shocked the town in 2003 when she paid $23.5 million for the 7.75-acre Rogers Island with a Tudor-style mansion, tennis court, docks, swimming pool and bath house. It remains the highest price that one of the Thimbles has fetched.

"I think she's creating her own market," said Bill Donaruma, a town appraiser.

Svenningsen said she agonized over each purchase and had to be mindful of the competition. Other buyers may have developed condominiums, she said.

"It's not the Hamptons, and I don't think anyone wants it to become the Hamptons," Svenningsen said. "I think we all like it the way it is, a little slower pace of life."

Her purchases have come as soaring real estate prices, especially along the waterfront, have caused a dramatic jump in property taxes. That has forced some property owners to sell after living on the islands and the mainland for generations.

Some worry that the islands are increasingly becoming a playground for the rich.

They are concerned that the days when families stayed in small homes with kerosene lamps, no televisions and only rain water for showers are giving way to trophy homes with manicured lawns.

"The Thimble Islands were quaint. I don't think they're quaint any more," said Anthony DaRos, Branford's former first selectman, who has worked on the homes as a contractor for decades. "They were such a great playground for everybody."

2006 The Associated Press.

December 10th, 2006, 09:46 AM
Thimble Islands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thimble_Islands)

The Thimble Islands are an archipelago (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archipelago) of small islands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island) in Long Island Sound (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Island_Sound), in and near the harbor of Stony Creek, Connecticut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stony_Creek%2C_Connecticut) in the southeast corner of Branford, Connecticut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branford%2C_Connecticut), 4115′52″N, 7245′11″W (http://tools.wikimedia.de/~magnus/geo/geohack.php?params=41_15_52_N_72_45_11_W_region:US _type:isle). Known to the Mattabesec (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mattabesec&action=edit) Indians as "the beautiful sea rocks", they consist of a jumble of granite (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granite) rocks, ledges, and outcroppings resulting from glaciation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glaciation), numbering between 100 and 365 depending on where the line is drawn between an island and a mere rock. The islands serve as a rest stop for migrating (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Migrate) seals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal). Some of the shoreline residences in nearby Pine Orchard, Connecticut (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pine_Orchard%2C_Connecticut&action=edit) have a spectacular view of the Thimbles. Although they are said to be named for the thimbleberry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thimbleberry), a relative of the black raspberry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_raspberry), that plant is seldom seen in the area, being more frequent in northern New England. Other species of blackberry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackberry) and raspberry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raspberry), however, are sometimes referred to by residents of the area as thimbleberries

TOURS: http://www.thimbleislands.com/ (http://www.thimbleislands.com/)



December 10th, 2006, 09:54 AM
Living Half a Mile Off the Coast

Douglas Healey for The New York Times
SECLUDED, WITH VIEWS Thimble Island houses are usually handed down
through families — unlike this house on East Crib, listed at $3.9 million.
None of the heirs feel they can afford to buy the others’ shares.

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/realestate/30wczo.html?ex=1165899600&en=1bb9f0a77776088a&ei=5070)
July 30, 2006

In The Region | Connecticut

On a summer evening earlier this month, as the shell-pink sky over Long Island Sound deepened to rose, the deck of the water taxi to East Crib Island, about half a mile off the coast of Branford, Conn., was ringed with nine smiling windswept faces and weighted with boxes of groceries and board games.

Three of the nine were guests headed to a party at Allyx Schiavone’s island home, which is on the market. There, the smell of grilled meat scented the salted air and nostalgia mingled with regret. “Can we say the place is haunted?” Ms. Schiavone, 36, asked her real estate agent, Joseph Piscitelli, half in jest, moments after he stepped off the taxi to supervise a Friday evening showing of the home. “I hate to part with it.”

Indeed, East Crib, like the 22 other inhabited islands in this storybook archipelago known as the Thimble Islands, is haunted by the ghostly scenes of summers past: Monopoly games illumined by kerosene lanterns, boat-borne dinner parties and showers that rely on rainwater. At the moment, the Schiavone house on East Crib Island, built about 40 years ago, is the only one for sale on the Thimble Islands, according to Mr. Piscitelli, who sells waterfront real estate for Coldwell Banker.

The property, listed for $3.9 million, was willed to Ms. Schiavone and her three siblings by her grandmother, Esther Schiavone, who died in 2002. None of the heirs feel they can afford to buy the others’ shares of the house, so they have put it up for sale, Ms. Schiavone said.

The design of this 1,888-square-foot house differs from that of its more traditional shingled or clapboard Thimble Islands peers. With stucco facade, flat roof and teakwood living room, the house has the retro, preppy ambience of an advertisement for Kate Spade, the handbag designer.

The five-room house features a living room flanked on three sides by glass and a wraparound porch, where bathing suits were drying in the setting sun. There are two lower-level bedrooms, and one upstairs. The half-acre of scrub pine and day lilies includes a deepwater dock and beach. Its vista includes other islands and the sailboat-dotted Sound.

East Crib is one of only six islands that receive electricity from the mainland; the rest either have no power or rely on generators. Before the advent of cellphones, islanders summoned boat transportation by placing red flags on their docks.

Ms. Schiavone, whose father, Joel Schiavone, is a well-known New Haven real estate developer, says island living doesn’t mean isolation. “Everyone out here thinks of it as a place to come with your family,” she said. “It almost feels weird to be out here alone.”

There are 100 to 365 islands in the Thimbles, depending on one’s definition of “island”; 23 are inhabited and have 81 dwellings, most of them summer homes. Money Island, with its 32 houses, could be considered bustling. But many islands, like Ms. Schiavone’s, have just one or two homes. Two of the islands are so close that a footbridge connects them.

Despite their thimblelike size, the islands, which are part of the Town of Branford, were actually named for a variety of berry.

Over the centuries, they have had a number of notable visitors. Captain William Kidd dropped anchor here and, legend has it, buried his treasure on one of the islands. For two years while he was president, William H. Taft spent summers on Davis Island. Nowadays, the television personality Jane Pauley and her husband, the Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, have a home on Governor’s Island.

Fifteen years ago, many of the island homeowners stayed for the entire summer, but Mr. Piscitelli says it is now more common for owners to visit either on weekends or for a week or two at a time, often from their year-round homes in New York or New Jersey.

In the summer, Thimble tour boats wend past the islands on the hour, Ms. Schiavone said. There are two passenger ferries and the water taxi, which charges $8 round trip, for island transport, but some choose to use their own boats. Island residents leave their cars on roads in Stony Creek, the seaside village that is part of Branford, although some have rented or bought garage space near the dock.

On High Island, none of the residents have running water, so they collect rainwater in cisterns. They obtain power from generators or 12-volt batteries. There are no sewers on any of the islands, which means septic tanks are required. Mr. Piscitelli said the lack of sewers had inhibited growth and development. The islands are also vulnerable to storms.

Bob Milne, a native of Branford who pilots the ferry Volsunga IV and conducts boat tours of the Thimble Islands, said the 1980’s brought the biggest change to them, in the form of new money and renovations. “Pretty much any place that could have been upgraded has been,” he said. “‘Now it’s just crazy. There’s a lot of money out there.”

Indeed, on a Friday evening, a seaplane alighted on the foamy green waters next to one island and dispersed luggage-wielding passengers to a dinghy.

But John Herzan of the New Haven Preservation Trust says there is an inherent respect for the islands’ architecture. “There’s a lot of pride and appreciation for these islands,” he said, “and in general, people have renovated in a historically sensitive manner.”

Home sales are a rarity. Employees in the town tax assessor’s office said the islands’ properties were more typically handed down through families.

In the late 1990’s, Christine Svenningsen, whose late husband, John, was the president of the party goods manufacturer Amscan, caused a stir by buying entire islands; she now owns five. In 2003, she bought four — including Phelps Island, which has no houses, for $1,000, and Rogers Island, which included four buildings, for $22.3 million.

The name aside, the cottages on Money Island are the Thimbles’ most affordable, with the least expensive being about $600,000.

Although Ms. Schiavone and her siblings have made the decision to part with their beloved island, they would like to leave their stamp on it.

“My grandmother’s nickname was Rip and we’ve always called the place Rip’s Rock,” Ms. Schiavone said, as the sun-streaked Sound unfurled behind her like foil paper. “She swam around the island every day in the summer. We’re starting a campaign to change the name because, in some ways, it will always be her island.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

December 10th, 2006, 10:15 AM
Thimble Islands, Branford, CT


(C) 2004 Steve Dunwel (http://www.backbaypress.com/aerial-land-05.html)

Branford, CT; Stony Creek, Thimble Islands, Long Island Sound ...


http://www.bobperron.com/COASTAL/8.html (http://www.bobperron.com/COASTAL/8.html)

Kids dive off Money Island for an audience of passing tourists ...

http://www.outtakes.com/thimble/thimblestne.html (http://www.outtakes.com/thimble/thimblestne.html)


http://www.outtakes.com/neseen/jul.html (http://www.outtakes.com/neseen/jul.html)

December 10th, 2006, 01:02 PM
Thanks, lofter, for bringing back memories of an obscure place. The week I spent on one of those islands was the most restful of my life.