by: Nan Lauder Eckfeld and Pat Dawson Lauder
See the YouTube flick at the end of this article.
In my childhood, Hickory Bluff was a semi-shabby, small “beach club and bait shop” on Bluff Avenue in Rowayton, CT (before the 50s). The store had dark wooden floors, a fishy-smelling interior and was very crowded with boating equipment. It sold snacks, bait and fishing gear, and rented small fishing boats and motors. At the rear of the building were a porch with some wooden chairs, a long row of slightly shaky, two-story bathhouses on a wooden deck built over sand and water, and a ramp leading to a floating dock. The dock rose and fell with the tide, so to get to it at low tide you would be walking down a very steep and slippery ramp. At high tide it was nearly level. The deck to get to the bathhouses or the dock was always so hot from the sun it would burn your feet if you didn’t wear shoes – and I got more than one splinter from that wooden deck. There was a small beach with a float to swim out to in high tide (or to walk through the mud to at low tide), and showers off to the side to rinse off the salt (or the mud). The Bluff had a special atmosphere and everyone loved it there. George Schlicting owned it when Dad started renting his fishing boats, and it was known simply as “George’s”.
As kids. we always begged to go to the Bluff beach, but since we weren’t members, we had to wait to be asked by a friend who belonged, and then we were thrilled to go there, tacky as it was then. Although Peg and I spent most of our teen years at the Shore and Country Club, Mom, Dad and Bob spent a lot of time at the Bluff – not at the beach, but with the boating and fishing aspect of it. As our family got more involved in boats and fishing, Bob spent more and more time there until they finally gave him a job, and it became his home away from home for many years.
This may be a repeated story, but telling it again here puts it into context. When Dad stopped renting boats and started buying them (first Pansy II and then Bo Jr, as I wrote about recently), he kept them moored at the Bluff, and he rented one of the bathhouses to store his boating gear – outboard motor, oars, gas can, seat cushions, fishing rods, etc. During one of our hurricanes, Dad heard a rumor that the Bluff bathhouses had been blown away. He was excited because his gear was old and he began looking forward to his insurance buying new replacements. When the storm passed, he rushed to the Bluff to see the damage. It looked like someone had taken a knife and sliced off half the bathhouses in the row, and his was the last one still standing. I’ve never before, or since, seen anyone so disappointed that he didn’t suffer a loss from a storm.
As I said, Peg and I spent most of our summers at the Shore and Country Club, so I didn’t know that much about Bob’s life at the Bluff outside of the renting of boats. I asked Pat Lauder to share some of her memories of the Bluff, so the next several paragraphs are hers.
“The first owner I recall was George Schlicting, who was grumpy and not well liked by the ‘Bluff Boys’. The Bluff Boys were Bob and his buddies – Chris Hoyt, Art Barnes, Chris Staplefeldt and Dave Grant. Their responsibilities were to carry the rental motors down to the dock and install them on the rental boat s, which they had to bring to the main dock, and then instruct the renters on how to use them before setting them free to the waters of Long Island Sound.Read More