In the early- and mid-1800s, Saugatuck was the commercial and financial center of town. Then Horace Staples opened a bank upriver, built a couple of wharves and National Hall, and the area around what is now called “downtown” flourished.
In the 1950s Saugatuck — by then an Italian-American community — was ripped apart (physically and emotionally) by the construction of I-95. Main Street got its mojo; Riverside Avenue became an afterthought.
Now — with a renovation project bringing new restaurants, retail, apartments and street life to the area — Saugatuck is hot. Downtown is firing back, with a renovated Church Lane and $500,000 Main Street initiative on tap.
So this seems as good a time as any to revisit the New York Times of December 2, 1923.
“Urge That Westport Be Saugatuck Again,” the headline read.
And the subhead: “Many Citizens of Connecticut Town Think the Old Indian Name More Distinctive.”
The story described a drive by “leading citizens here in another attempt to restore to this village its original name.”
The major selling point: There were 18 other Westports in the US, and 4 more around the world. That led to “confusion of the mails and the long-distance telephone calls.”
There was only 1 other Saugatuck, however — a Michigan town that took its name from ours.
With Westport, Connecticut growing — the Times called the town of nearly 5,000 “the largest and most noted art colony” in the country, home to “a dozen different industrial plants” and a brand-new, $300,000 YMCA — there was “agitation for the restoration of the town’s old name of Saugatuck.” The drive was led by John Adams Thayer, with support from state legislator Harry M. Ayres and “many other prominent citizens.”
The Times reported that the name Saugatuck came from the Indian “Sauki-tuk,” meaning “outlet from a tidal river.” The town of Saugatuck was founded in 1640, and called itself that until the incorporation of “Westport” in 1835.
That was the Times’ 1st — and only — report of the proposed name change. There is no word on when, how or why the idea sank to the bottom of the river.
(Hat tip to Fred Cantor for unearthing this New York Times story.)