Water's Edge Resort and Spa

View our
special offers

Discover Water's Edge Resort and Spa, which was transformed from a summer residence into a hotel by Bill Hahn on Memorial Day in 1941.

Water’s Edge Resort and Spa, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2017, dates back to the 1920s.

VIEW TIMELINE

A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2017, the story of the Water’s Edge Resort and Spa dates all the way back to the early 1920s. It was common at the time for upscale New Yorkers to escape the summer heat by either heading north upstate or west into coastal Connecticut. Many of those families often constructed their own remote seasonal cottages near Long Island Sound, where the soothing ocean breeze offered a much needed respite from the rigors of New York City. Among the families that fled into the New England countryside were the Knothes. Adolf Knothe himself was a prominent manufacturer of men’s clothing, producing such items like suspenders and garters. Desiring to own a vacation retreat for his family to use, he and his wife, Jennie, purchased some 14 acres of undeveloped land in Westbrook, Connecticut. Soon enough, the couple had built a magnificent beachside home just moments away from the water. They even designed the house with Shingle-style architecture as a way of capturing the bucolic New England charm that they so dearly wanted to enjoy. The Knothes adored their cottage so much that they eventually turned it into their year-round residence. Adolf even relocated his entire menswear company to Westbrook! Unfortunately, the Great Depression severely compromised the financial stability of the Knothes’ clothing store. Due to the collapse of their business by the economic calamity, Adolf and Jennie were forced to find a buyer for their beloved home.

After years of searching for a suitable heir, the Knothes made a deal to sell their residence to a 29-year-old man named Bill Hanh in 1940. Hanh was a New York transplant who had moved to Westbrook to work for the Castleburke Inn. Starting out as a waiter, Hanh had impressively worked his way up to serve as the inn’s manager. Nevertheless, Hanh desired to operate his own hotel one day. As such, he decided to transform the Knothe family estate into a brilliant seaside resort. Bill specifically hoped that his fantastic retreat would rival the great Grand Dames of the Catskills and the Poconos. Partnering with his sister, Ruth, the young man spent months transforming the structure into his dream resort. When the facility finally opened as “Bill Hanh’s” on Memorial Day in 1941, it became an overnight sensation. To accommodate the burst in popularity, the Hanhs soon added additional amenities like, a greenhouse, a movie theater, and several guest houses. But Bill and Ruth also personally endeared themselves with their guests, as their extravagant parties became the stuff of legend. July 11th was always a special day at the resort, for the two would celebrate Bill’s birthday with some of the better known celebrities of the day. Among the famous guests to attend the celebrations were Barbra Streisand, Katherine Hepburn, and Henny Youngman. Bill also used the occasion as an opportunity to raise money for the American Cancer Society, to which he gave a grand total of $1 million throughout his lifetime. He was later honored as the state’s largest fundraiser, giving just as much away as he earned.

Admired throughout the community, the eccentric Bill Hahn died on Easter Sunday in 1979. Committed to keeping her brother’s legacy alive, Ruth attempted to run the resort by herself. Yet, her efforts proved to be short-lived as she, too, died a few months later. With no one left to operate the resort, it shuttered its doors for good. Upon sitting dormant for long period of time, a corporation named “DGG Properties” bought the entire location for $1.6 million in 1982. The company was a partnership of three New York-based real estate investors consisting of Michael Dattilo, Fred Graziano, and Joseph Guarasci. Together, they immediately began restoring the entire structure with the intent on reopening it as the “Four Seasons Resort and Health Spa.” But nearly half-way through the renovations, the men decided to convert part of the location into a time-share community. DGG Properties then demolished some of the most decayed structures onsite in order to make way for the new condominiums. Meanwhile, the remaining historic buildings were thoroughly refurbished. After nearly four years, the resort debuted as the “Water’s Edge Resort and Spa” – Connecticut’s first ever time-share resort. Since then, the Water’s Edge Resort and Spa has provided outstanding luxury service to the throngs of visitors who venture out to Long Island Sound every year. Thanks to the efforts undertaken by PGG Properties, the wonderful legacy left behind by the Hanhs still exists today for future generations to appreciate.

  • About the Location +

    The Town of Westbrook resides along the northern coastline of Long Island Sound in Connecticut. About a half-hour south of Hartford, this historic settlement is close to the mouths of both the Connecticut River and the Thames River. Several smaller waterways define its shores, too, including a variety of causeways and coves. Those inlets function as a natural harbor, which initially attracted English settlers to the region nearly four centuries ago. In 1648, the area was first settled as the “Oyster River Quarter” of Old Saybrook. Old Saybrook itself was one of the first European communities to appear in what is now Connecticut, as it was founded a decade prior as the capital of a colony with the same name. Saybrook Colony was one of three short-lived colonies that would form the nucleus of modern-day Connecticut. (The other two were New Haven and Hartford). Its first inhabitants were puritans who had escaped the persecution of the Anglican Church, as well as King Charles I. Local authorities in Old Saybrook decided that the “Quarter” would act as the agrarian district for the town, providing a space for residents to establish pastures in peace. Over time, though, people began moving out of Old Saybrook to the “Oyster River Quarter” permanently. This action gave rise to a separate community that people took to calling, “Pochoug.” The word was Native American in origin and meant at the confluence of two rivers” when translated to English. Native Americans had long lived it the area, as well, with a large village once in operation at a place called “Pilot’s Point.”

    By the early 1700s, the community had achieved a certain level of autonomy from Old Saybrook. The residents had successfully petitioned the town council to establish its own congregation known as the “West Parish.” As with many other puritan communities in colonial New England, the presence of an self-governing church was legally essential to create a town. The “Quarter” then started to assume its own identity throughout the remainder of the century, with officials referring to the town as “West Saybrook.” The locals eventually merged the two names together at the outbreak of the American Revolution, calling the community “Westbrook.” Around this time, David Bushnell—a local resident—began championing the patriot cause. He soon became one of the most fervent local leaders that advocated for independence from Great Britain. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the cause was his naval invention known as the submarine. Christened as the Turtle, Bushnell first conceived of the submarine while studying at Yale University in 1775. He worked alongside another inventor named Isaac Doolittle to create a craft that would use the buoyancy of water to submerge itself. But unlike modern submarines, the Turtle sought to affix explosive charges to the sides of moored ships. The idea was so popular that the Governor of Connecticut, Jonathan Trumbull, convinced General George Washington to fund the project. The Turtle sailed on its maiden voyage in 1777 and was operated by a single pilot, Sergeant Ezra Lee of the Continental Army. Lee sailed the Turtle down to New York Harbor, where he attacked the HMS Eagle. Unfortunately, the operation failed and the Turtle was sunk as it was transported back to Westbrook aboard a sloop. Nevertheless, Bushnell’s concepts endured, for the submarine is now among the most commonly used naval war machines in service today. In fact, dozens of submarines are serviced in nearby Groton.

    In 1840, Westbrook was formally incorporated as a town by the Connecticut State Legislature. During the next two centuries, the community gradually evolved into a magnificent resort destination. Affluent families from both New York City and New England created the first summer homes in Westbrook, making it one of the most luxurious places to stay in the region. It attracted dozens of high-profile luminaries, including Vice President Charles Dawes and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Miss Roosevelt specifically visited the estate of her friend, Esther Lape, whenever she passed through Westbrook. Lape and Roosevelt had become well acquainted with one another due to their mutual participation in the League of Women Voters. Lape was good friends with a number of other respected suffragists, including Nancy Cook, Molly Dewson, and Polly Porter. She had long been active in women’s suffrage, becoming involved with the movement during his time as a lawyer in New York’s Greenwich Village. Even though Lape was a native of Delaware, she had developed an affinity for the sanguinary character of Long Island Sound. As such, she built a brilliant country house in Westbrook with her partner, Elizabeth Fisher Read, which they called “Salt Meadow.” When Read died in 1971, Lape donated the grounds to the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service. The organization, in turn, transformed the space into the William B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Westbrook remains one of Connecticut’s most cherished vacation hotspots, as it is still filled with many beautiful seasonal homes.


  • About the Architecture +

    When Adolf and Jennie Knothe originally constructed the Water’s Edge Resort & Spa as their private beachside cottage, they used the wonderful design principles of Shingle-style architecture as the source of their inspiration. Popular throughout New England at the height of the Gilded Age, Shingle architecture was born out of an immense regional interest to preserve colonial American culture. This desire specifically manifested in the aftermath of the Centennial Exposition if 1876, in which several of its exhibits celebrated the history of the nation’s origin story. Those throughout New England felt that the style of Shingle architecture best represented the simplistic aesthetics of British American architecture that was perceived as a humble alternative to the popular Eastlake and Queen Anne architectural forms that predominated across the rest of the country at the time. In stark contrast to those aforementioned styles, Shingle architecture specifically eschewed ostentatious decorations for complex shapes constructed with modest materials. Cedar shingling became the most prominent kind, giving rise to the practice of referring to the form as “Shingle” architecture. The shingling was applied across the entire structure from the roof to the walls. Architects typically stained or painted the material, even allowing it to weather natural in some cases. What few decorative elements that did appear throughout the structure tended to emphasize asymmetrical layout of each Shingle-style building, as a means of making it appear more rustic and authentic. But Shingle style did borrow some architectural elements from its fellow Victorian-era architecture. Great Palladian windows often appeared throughout the façade, while grand stone porches with beautiful columns occasionally served as the primary entrance point. On several occasions, architects would also include gables onto the roofs of some houses, as well as some small towers that blended in seamlessly with the overall design. Given the informality of Single architecture, it usually appeared only on residential structures. Yet, the style was also used to construct a few seaside resorts across New England, specifically along the coastlines of Long Island Sound and Cape Cod.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Katherine Hepburn, actress known for her roles in The African Queen and Woman of the Year.  

    Art Carney, actor best remembered for his role as Ed Norton on the 1950s sitcom, The Honeymooners.

    Barbra Streisand, actress and singer who has received two Academy Awards, ten Grammy Awards, Five Emmy Awards, and a Special Tony Award, among many others.

    Henny Youngman, comedian remembered as the “King of One-Liners.”


Sign up for our Newsletter

Partners

  • HHW Logo
  • NTHP Logo
  • AA Logo
  • WHHA Logo
  • STE Logo