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Friday, February 17, 2012

Historic Robinson Cottage: A Southport Gem

Historic Robinson Cottage: 
A Southport Gem
Southport Village property dates back before 1796
By Mike Lauterborn

Southport, CT – Cozy. Great vibe. Wide plank floors. Big yard. Descriptors that could easily comprise a real estate listing were in fact how the tenants of the historic Southport Village-based Robinson Cottage refer to the three-century old structure they call home.

The Shugrue family – Jamie, Karen and one-year-old Grey – moved in at the beginning of November 2011 and have enjoyed the homestead, at 33 Main Street, greatly. “We’ve always liked old houses,” said Jamie. “We lived in a Victorian in New Haven, and in older homes in Black Rock and Easton.”

Karen’s occupation as a Westport teacher spurred their decision to investigate Southport properties. The Cottage availability was a tip from a friend. “He had seen a For Rent sign,” Jamie said. “We came and saw it right away and knew we’d love to have it. It’s got a great vibe and we loved the floors. The fireplaces (of which there are two) drew us in. And the yard is huge. I can’t wait for the summer, or even snow, as there’s a little hill we can sled down. We had Grey’s first birthday here, a nice brunch.”

The namesake and builder of the Cottage, John Robinson, Jr. (1762-1834), was a veteran of the American Revolution, ship builder and ship captain. He was born and raised in Black Rock, the son of a shipwright and carpenter and, while in the militia on guard along the seacoast helped defend against British General Tryon in 1779 when Tryon and his men landed to burn Fairfield.

In 1786, Robinson purchased a three-quarter acre plot, at the join with Pequot Avenue, and it was believed he had erected the house there by the time he was married on December 18, 1788, though there is no positive proof of a construction date prior to 1795. He added another acre in 1793, for a total of two acres.

Robinson’s wife was Sarah Thorp, daughter of Revolutionary War Captain Stephen Thorp. They had seven children together, including two sons – though one boy died as an infant and the other drowned at sea, at age 11. As such, there was no male to carry on the family name.

By the 1830s, as the couple’s daughters married and moved away, land was sold off, reducing the property to one and a half acres. Robinson was then killed in an accident in 1834, crushed by falling gravel. Sarah died 11 years later.

The homestead changed hands a number of times through subsequent years until the Sasquanaug Association acquired it in the spring of 1929. After the last of its occupants passed in 1931, the house was not lived in again until after it was renovated by the Association in the 1950s.

The Association’s mission has been to preserve the structure as a two-floor, modest saltbox, with two rooms on the first floor and two rooms on the second level accessed by a steep stairway. The house itself stands on one large rock, and there is a center chimney stack.

At Christmastime, the Association opened the home as an attraction during the Southport Christmas Walk. A roaring fire, cider and cookies welcomed visitors and gave a brief glimpse at what life in the old Village charmer is like.

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