Monday, May 11, 2015

Fenwick: Katharine Hepburn's Connecticut Home

If you have a place to hide, you don't have to be a celebrity all of the time. Fenwick as always my place to hide. My celebrity and I became separate. Katharine Hepburn is safely frozen on the screen, so she is taken care of. I think I'll be Kathy again.
(Chandler, 327)

Fenwick, pre-1938

Now it's summer and we go to Fenwick. Fenwick is and always has been my other paradise. It is at the mouth of the Connecticut River about forty-five miles from Hartford. Dad discovered it in 1913. I was five and a half.

At that time Fenwick was composed of space-and about forty houses. They are big houses - shingle or plank. Three storied. Slightly Victorian. Bi porches. At that time terrible stony barnacled beaches - a pier - at the base of the pier was a big sort of pavilion bathhouse (now gone).
There as a huge old hotel in the center at the present circle, which was between the original first tee and the ninth green of a very primitive nine-hole golf course.

At the northeast tip was a yacht club.

It is a peninsula which curls off Saybrook to the south. Then like the foot of a sock. Fenwick is virtually surrounded by water. It faces Long Island Sound - on it's south side. On its east side it looks across the Connecticut River at Lyme. On its west end side it is attached to the end of the Connecticut.

Originally it was Lynde Farm. On its southeast tip - the toe of the sock - it has a lovely old lighthouse built in about 1760. Late there was built an outer light, in 1860, which was connected to the shoe by a breakwater. It gave a controllable end to the Connecticut River traffic (Hepburn, 61).


Our house was on the east end of the main group. We had a lot of beachfront and a free view to the east.

Through the years Dad had jetties built out into the water. These have brought us in a very nice sandy beach (Hepburn, 64).

Well - that hurricane of '38... late September...I remember going for my swim about 8 a.m. It was a very fine atmosphere. The tide was low - almost on the change. The air clear - a light breeze. The color of everything very definite. I went back in - had breakfast. Went outside. A steady wind was blowing now, but it was very pleasant. I decided to play golf (Hepburn, 211).

It just sailed away - easy as pie - and soon there was nothing at all left on the spot where the house had stood for over sixty years. Our house - ours for twenty-five years - all our possessions - just gone.

There was nothing on our property...flat as a pancake...just a bathtub at a cockeyed angle and a toilet (Hepburn, 213).

I suppose you didn't have brains enough to throw in a match before it disappeared. I'm insured for fire.
~ Mr. Hepburn


We began to dig. And, believe it or not, we actually dug up eighty-five pieces of flat silver and the entire tea service.

Then we got some blocks and began to design our present house - built on the same location (Hepburn, 214).

Fenwick, 1939
The grandness of the estate in Fenwick was strangely augmented by its decrepitude. It was disheveled and unkempt in the charming manner of a mad scientist’s laboratory; you got the impression that its inhabitants weren’t slovenly but just so busy with fascinating projects that quotidian matters such as cleaning and routine maintenance were forgotten. There were cracks in walls and a cobwebby haze that dimmed windows; the floors creaked and groaned like the hull of a doomed galleon; and the whole place felt as if it was always leaning shruggishly into the gusting ocean wind. - source

Fenwick, before Kate's death

Swimming in the snow

The Fenwick kitchen

Recipe from At Home with Kate
 Also here.
I don't like to use salted butter in my brownies. If I do use it, I have to adjust the proportions. You can always add salt. You can't take it away.
(Chandler, 11)

Then we all sleep in our old rooms:
I'm on the east end, second floor.
Dick and Tor - top floor, east end and west end.
We're all here for better or for worse.
It's where I spend my free time.
You can see - it's a family house.
It's a bit odd but it seems to work (Hepburn, 68).

Short video
Ton of photos of the recently renovated house here - it looks amazing! Check it out! (Of course I would have never remodeled it. I would have made it into a museum.)
More pictures here
Interesting article on Fenwick in the Shoreline Times, 2011
Fenwick today
A look at Hepburn's haunted hacienda in Coldwater Canyon

A little more about Katharine Hepburn (from Chandler's book):

"If you want to know about men, you have to ask plain one, not a beautiful one." (179)

"No matter how late the performance, I can go to sleep as soon as I get to my bed. I wake up just as early as if I'd gone to bed early and had the right amount of sleep. I have my built-in alarm clock. I believe it's because I never wanted to miss anything." (253)

I collect on impulse, I can't really say I'm a connoisseur of anything. I don't read books or study about anything. I just see what I like, and I don't let go. I'm more of a hunter than a shopper. I love the pleasure of the hunt...I never considered it shopping. I considered it hunting...These things all around us tell the story of my life. I remember when and where I acquired most of them (307).

On diaries: "Through the years, I did write down some notes and impressions, but not the dreary things. I feel if you have to live through something unpleasant, you certainly don't want to read about it years later and relive it." (310)

"Probably I should have kept a plot diary of my movies and plays. I think I remember the plots, or most of them, because I have quite a good memory, but at my age you have a lot to remember. One memory crowds out another as they fight for their place in my head. I'm often surprised at the funny little things I remember, and the more important things that I don't remember. I've never wanted to have a lot of photos either, certainly not of myself. I want a few people I love. In the end, I think the only pictures I care about are the ones in my head." (311)

This is one of two posts for the 2nd Annual Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon. Be sure and check out all of the other "divine" entries!

All images found via Pinterest
I Know Where I'm Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography. Charlotte Chandler. 2010.
Me: Stories of My Life. Katharine Hepburn. 1996.
At Home with Kate. Eileen Considine-Meara. 2006.

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