From collies to clambakes
Sprite Island has seen many changes
NORWALK — It was a sweltering summer afternoon, but through the heat shimmer above the blacktop of Shorehaven Road, it was easy to make out Sprite Island just off Norwalk’s coast.
In the not-too-far distance, a family of kayakers could be seen pushing off one of the island’s two beaches for a midafternoon paddle while, nearby, a middle-aged man made lastminute preparations to his sailboat’s rig before embarking on a weekend cruise. Between the two, a snowy egret perched atop a half-submerged rock and stalked an unseen prey beneath the water’s surface.
As a small skiff taxied passengers through the boat moorings surrounding the island, its manager, Jeremie Blais, explained why Sprite is his favorite spot in Norwalk.
“Just look at all the other Norwalk Islands,” said Blais, gesturing south toward the other two dozen islands. “None of them have the kind of tree cover and the shade we have here. Not only is it cool and breezy on a humid day, but it’s easy for boaters to make out from almost anywhere in Norwalk’s waters. We like to joke about how it looks like a giant piece of broccoli growing out of the middle of the island.”
From afar, the towering trees may be the island’s most prominent feature, but its manicured grounds can mesmerize onlookers too once ashore.
The island boasts a stretch of beach at the rear where adult members can lounge and soak up the sun as their kids swim to and from a floating dock from which they can cannonball into the water. A small trail from there leads through the woods up to the island’s bluffs — a steep, rocky outcrop that members tout as the highest natural point in Norwalk’s portion of the Sound — where visitors can enjoy a bonfire or just kick back in an Adirondack chair and soak up the expansive view of the Sound, from Cockenoe Island all the way to Long Island.
Though it’s geologically part of the Norwalk Islands chain, Sprite is technically located in Westport waters.
“Enjoy it while you’re here,” Blais said as he shepherded passengers off the boat and onto the island’s docks. “This is Norwalk’s best-kept secret, the crown jewel of Norwalk’s islands.”
While Sprite may now have a lot to offer to the avid outdoorsman, the land itself took some nurturing to get where it is.
Before Sprite became a haven for sailing enthusiasts and kayakers, the island was privately owned by a lawyer from New York City named Sidney G. DeKay. While little background information about DeKay is available, what is clear is what he did with his 7.9-acre island estate.
He purchased the land back in 1923 and constructed a private mansion on the island. Over the course of a few decades, he transformed the rugged piece of land into the “hidden gem” that Blais and other members came to cherish.
To start, DeKay planted a dense canopy of trees around his mansion and sowed rolling lawns and flower-specked bushes around its core. Over time, he equipped the island with running water and electric- ity, and erected numerous other structures on the island, many of which stand still.
The renovated island was eventually purchased from the DeKays in 1952 by a group of Norwalkers, who were said to have had a falling out with a Norwalk club, the Ascension Yacht Club, and sought a place to make their own. Their original club, which later became known as the Ascension Beach and Pool Club, was located on the opposite side of Calf Pasture Beach until it was closed by Superstorm Sandy in 2013.
Though the DeKay’s mansion burned down in an unexplained fire in 1966, many of the other buildings on the island were eventually repurposed by the Sprite Island Yacht Club. A building once used to house the collies bred by DeKay became lockers and storage area for club members, and a small cottage became a de facto clubhouse.
Over its nearly 70-year history, the Sprite Island Yacht Club weathered many storms, both literal and metaphorical. In 1974, the Tidewater Holding Co. attempted to seize ownership of the island, though it was denied in court. Between 1982 and 1983, there were attempts by two different parties to have the club’s boat moorings re- moved from the Sound, but a compromise allowed the moorings to remain in place during the spring, summer and early fall months.
Things went smoothly for the club for a couple of decades until late in 2012, when Superstorm Sandy ravaged the island, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Despite occasional moments of unrest in the island’s history, members of the club from over the years recall it fondly.
Betsey Hubbell, 72, and her family were among the first members to join in the 1950s. She recalls attending dances and socials in the early 1960s, and water skiing for the first time.
“I practically grew up on the island,” she said. “I will always have fond memories of there.”
Gale Greenleaf, who belonged to the club around the same time as Hubbell, remembered the days before there was a boat to taxi them to the island and her and her siblings would walk to the island at low tide and collect clams along the way.
“It was very low key and a wonderful place for children to explore on their own while parents did whatever they did,” she said.
Sprite Island on June 29 in Norwalk.
The Keogh family enjoys the beach on Sprite Island on June 29 in Norwalk.
Club Manager Jeremie Blais tours the bluffs on Sprite Island.