"It's a great, unpretentious hometown," says Andy Rooney about water-ringed Rowayton, Connecticut, where he's lived with his wife since 1951.
But it wasn't the river, the coves, or the Long Island Sound that attracted the 60 Minutes commentator to this community of about 4,000 people. "I am oblivious to the water," he says with characteristic frankness. It's the district's village-like atmosphere that's the biggest draw, says Andy. "Rowayton has a special character."
In a place where you're likely to see more boats on Five Mile River than cars on Rowayton Avenue, the water does have its allure. "That's why I'm here," Kevin Conroy says, pointing to the river from the deck of his eatery, Rowayton Seafood Restaurant. He's made it his mission to help revitalize the community's small downtown, where some derelict buildings still stand.
Kevin opened a gourmet grocery store two years ago so residents wouldn't have to drive into Norwalk to buy groceries. A dock along the river allows boaters to pick up their goods waterside. "You can pull your boat up to load up," says Molly Ferm, who came here three years ago with her husband, David.
Molly and David moved here permanently after renting in the community. "It has a lot of boating, sailing, in-line skating, and walking. We like to do all of the above," she says. To renovate a home on South Beach, the couple worked with local architect Roger Bartels, who creates houses that suit their coastal settings.
Roger has designed numerous new homes and renovated old ones, blending Cape Cod's simple shingle-style design with fanciful curves, turrets, and porches that take advantage of water views. He employs nautical elements, such as ship's railings, lighthouse-like towers, and decks worthy of an ocean liner. "Over the past 10 years, he has transformed the architectural face of the village," says Lynn Julian, who once worked in Roger's office and now sells real estate in the area.
All residents are invited to join the Rowayton Civic Association, which supports aspects of the community, including the public Bayley Beach, three schools, a library, and an arts center. The group also sponsors a full calendar of annual events―including an Easter egg hunt, the Father's Day Row, Art in the Park on Memorial Day, fireworks on the Fourth of July, and a River Ramble in August.
Newcomers and longtime residents such as Andy Rooney realize how fortunate they are to have discovered this place. "It has managed to remain quite unchanged," says Andy of the town where he and his wife have attended the same New Year's Eve party with friends for more than 50 years. One reason for the unchanging quality, he surmises, is that the homes here don't attract those in search of large homes at bargain prices. "It's more expensive for what you get," he says, adding that it's worth it.
While the real estate market is tough, with most homes ranging from $480,000 to several million, it's not just a house you purchase. You buy a lifestyle. And though out of reach for many, in a place as idyllic as this, the price seems to be just about right.