Category Archives: Looking back

Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Westporter Mark Naftalin is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And not just to see the exhibits.

The keyboardist will be inducted in April, along with fellow members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The seminal blues-rock band joins Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers in the “Class of 2015.”

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

According to the Hall of Fame website, Naftalin — along with bandmates including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop –

converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James. With the release of their blues-drenched debut album in the fall of 1965, and its adventurous “East-West” followup in the summer of 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll.

 

And they played at Monterey:

 

After leaving the band in 1968, Naftalin — the son of former Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin — produced records, concerts, festivals and radio shows.

He started his own label, recording with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner and James Cotton.

He’s been a sideman on over 100 albums — including the great jangly piano riff on Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line.”

 

Last night, Naftalin reflected on what he calls “a great honor.” He is proud of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s interracial makeup; grateful to have worked with such creative, energetic musicians, and gratified that from the 1960s through today, people tell him the group’s music meant something to them.

“We’ve gotten fervent testimonials that we helped get someone through high school, college or Vietnam,” Naftalin said.

“And a number of musicians have said they were drawn to exploring blues music because of our influence. It’s a real privilege to be a little part of that.”

Mark Naftalin today.

Mark Naftalin today.

He and his wife Ellen — a 1967 Staples High School grad — started coming to Westport in 1991, the year they got married in the house she grew up in. They moved here permanently in 2002.

Naftalin will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. You can go to Cleveland for the ceremony.

Or you can head to the Westport Historical Society on December 31. From 6-8 p.m. he’s at the electric piano, part of his 7th annual First Night gig.

You can catch “Mark Naftalin and Friends” at the Pequot Library too, the weekend of January 17-18. He’ll play the Steinway concert grand.

It’s a long way from Monterey to Westport. But that detour to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile.

 

Remembering Gorham Island

Wednesday’s “06880” story on the death of Sidney Kramer included a few lines about his founding of Save Westport Now. The impetus for Westport’s 3rd political party was the construction of a 40,000-square foot glass office building on Gorham Island, diagonally across Parker Harding Plaza from Kramer’s Remarkable Book Shop.

Reader Kathleen Burke was reminded of a beautiful watercolor postcard. Artist Walter Dubois Richards created it, as part of the campaign to save the Victorian house that sat on Gorham Island.

Whether all you know of that spot is the bile-green office — or if you fondly remember the old home there — you’ll appreciate Richards’ painting:

Gorham Island - Walter Dubois Richards

Here’s another view, of unknown origin:

Gorham Island house

Noted artist Al Willmott painted this view of Gorham Island and downtown:

Gorham Island by Don Willmott

As did famed “Little Toot” artist Hardie Gramatky:

Gorham Island by Hardie Gramatky

Here’s the view today:

Gorham Island office

We can’t get that house back. But it wasn’t because Sidney Kramer didn’t try.

It Was Ever Thus

Alert “06880” reader Ann Sheffer sent this along, from the “Exit 18″ Facebook page. Lise Krieger wrote it for the Westport News. It could have been written in 2014. But the dateline was more than 20 years ago: March of 1994.

With the imminent closing of The Remarkable Book Shop, downtown Westport, as many of us knew it, is taking its final, dying breath. What used to be a unique town, filled with mom and pop stores, unusual gift and clothing shops, and family restaurants, has succumbed to the latest American disease: “malling.”

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop (Photo/Westporters.com)

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop. It was on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.  (Photo/Westporters.com)

Newcomers and younger folks love the new Westport – and why wouldn’t they? It has every chic clothing store chain that dress-alikes love to patronize. It has coffee bistros. It is expensive. Its parking lots are packed with Volvos, Jeeps, and Range Rovers. Westport is the place to shop and be seen. The mall transformation will be complete when a roof is erected over the entire area.

For comfort, I want to blame this affliction on somebody. Is it the fault of the chain store operators for wanting to increase their bottom line? Is it the fault of the consumers who desperately need to conform fashionably? Is it the fault of town government which allows the transformation? Or is it the fault of store owners who sell out?

I guess no one is to blame, really. Main Street towns all over America are dying because they can’t compete with the shopping malls sprouting like chicken pox throughout their areas. Westport is simply staying in the race.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

I grew up in Weston and spent much of my childhood on Main Street. I hardly go there anymore unless I absolutely have to. At the risk of sounding bitter, I hate the crowds, I hate the stores, I hate the entire atmosphere. Yes, nostalgia can be a powerful emotional force. I don’t want to accept Westport the way it is today; I want to remember it the way it used to be.

When my brothers and I were young, my mother shopped for our clothing basics at Greenberg’s Department Store. My brothers got their formal clothes up the Post Road at Paul Zabin’s, and I was outfitted for my party duds at Trudy Gary’s….

Often my father took me to town on Saturdays to keep him company while doing errands. I loved to visit my neighbor, Mr. Messex, who worked at Hartman’s Hardware Store. The worn wooden floor was always neatly swept, and the tools, hardware and garden equipment were always in place. The store smelled faintly of fertilizers and insect repellents. If Hartman’s was out of something we needed, my dad would visit its competitor, Welch’s, up the street.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

My father bought his office supplies at Klein’s and was a regular patron of the record section before Sally moved to her own place. We often perused the bookshelves that sat atop crooked, wooden floors at Remarkable, and Dorain’s Drug Store, recently gone from Main Street, was the only place we knew for our pharmacy needs. My father knew the names of all of the people who worked in these stores, giving the Saturday trips to town a social air, as well.

Before fueling up at the gas station where The Limited now stands, dad would take me to Bill’s Smoke Shop for a treat. We sat at the counter and ate ice cream sundaes, and then I looked at the comic book racks while my father read the paper.

One of our regular dinner stops was Westlake, a dimly lit Chinese restaurant. If we were lucky, we were seated next to a window overlooking Needle Park. That was the name given to the hangout for hippies, and it was therefore assumed, drug-users. It was Westport’s answer to the ’60s counter-culture, and always made for interesting people watching….

Main Street 1976, by Fred Cantor. West Lake (left) had just closed.

Main Street 1976. West Lake (left) had just closed. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

There was a musical instrument store around the corner from Main, and when Baskin-Robbins went in across the street, a night at the movies took on new meaning. While my mother usually shopped for groceries at the less costly Stop and Shop, Westport Food Center and Gristede’s were there for forgotten items.

At night the greatest place to go for a bottle of wine and some live folk music was Grass Roots, which shared a wall with its rowdier counterpart, Ye Olde Bridge Grille. My parents often ate at Chez Pierre, while my friends and I stopped at competing pizza parlors, the Westport Pizzeria and S & M—both of which are still there, thank God….

One of the saddest deaths in Westport was the closing of the Ice Cream Parlor. The big pink palace was special for my brothers and me, a place where we bought bags full of penny candy from the turn of the century candy shop, ate hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the ornately decorated parlor, and watched old 5-cent movies on the machines that hovered in the corner of the room.

The Ice Cream Parlor was a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of establishment that gave Westport its character. But it’s gone and soon its pink sister, The Remarkable Book Store, will be gone too. While the new Westport generation will have its Gap, J. Crew, and Banana Republic memories, mine will be of two pink ladies and a handful of one-of-a-kind shops.

Ice Cream Parlor

The Ice Cream Parlor, on the Post Road not far from Main Street.

 

Remembering Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer would have been 100 years old on January 21.

He didn’t make it. He died earlier today, 64 years after moving to Westport.

But that’s one of the few things he did not accomplish in a long, productive and well-lived life.

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer was a major player in the publishing world. An attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — the original paperback house, founded during World War II when newsprint was scarce — he was better known locally as the owner of The Remarkable Bookshop.

For more than 30 years the pink building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza was beloved for its floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with new releases, poetry, cookbooks, obscure volumes and funky gifts; its cozy rooms, well-worn couches and sloping floors, and the encyclopedic knowledge of everyone who worked there.

Sidney’s wife Esther managed the store. She died in April 2011, at 93.

Remarkable made national headlines in 1978 when it refused to sell Richard Nixon’s biography because — in Kramer’s words — “we thought he was a rascal.” The store owner noted that it was not a freedom of speech issue. He even walked patrons down the street to Klein’s, which sold the book.

In 2001 — in recognition of the service Remarkable Book Shop provided — Sidney and Esther Kramer received Westport’s Arts Award.

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

But Remarkable — whose perfect name, serendipitously, includes “Kramer” spelled backwards — was not Sidney Kramer’s major contribution to Westport.

In 1981 he helped found Save Westport Now. Originally organized to prevent an enormous office building from replacing a century-old Victorian house on Gorham Island — diagonally across the parking lot from Remarkable —  Save Westport Now soon evolved into a 3rd political party.

It lost the Gorham Island war. But it won a battle along the way: The green-tinted office was originally planned to be much higher than it is now.

For the next 3 decades, Kramer and other activists monitored the Planning and Zoning Commission. They were particularly involved in issues like parking and the height of new buildings.

Save Westport Now said:

Mr. Kramer was never reticent in voicing his opinions about the manner in which over-reaching development would damage the character of his town. His analyses were not only respected, but often resulted in better outcomes. Although he relied on the members of his organization to help fulfill the SWN mission it was he, well into his 90s, who stood at Town Hall and spoke. And we all listened, learned and benefited.

Save Westport Now

Kramer was born in the Bronx in 1915. His parents emigrated to the US from Vilna and Minsk, in the 1890s. After graduating from NYU and Brooklyn Law School, Kramer served as counsel, accountant and eventually part owner of Penguin Books.

After Bantam he worked with other publishing companies, and was president of New American Library. In 1961 he founded Mews Books Ltd., a literary agency representing authors like Richard Scarry and Hardie Gramatky.

Sidney Kramer is survived by his son Mark of Newton, Massachusetts, the founding director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University and the author of many works of narrative non-fiction; his daughter Wendy Posner of Chicago; 4 grandchildren — and a very grateful Westport.

A memorial service is set for Saturday, January 24 (11:30 a.m., Westport Library). It’s 3 days after what would have been his 100th birthday.

 

 

Remembering Walt Melillo

To generations of Westporters, Walt Melillo was a beloved elementary school teacher.

I’m one of his former pupils — from 3rd grade, in Burr Farms School. Ever since those long-ago days, he remembered me. And I’ve remembered him.

Walt Melillo died yesterday, at 91. Today I’d like his many friends to remember him, through a 2010 “Woog’s World” column I wrote for the Westport News. If you did not know him, please read about the life of a proud native Westporter — and a wonderful man.

Walt Melillo teaching a Project Concern student, at Burr Farms School.

Walt Melillo teaching a Project Concern student in 1972, at Burr Farms School.

Born in 1924, Walt Melillo grew up on Franklin Street in Saugatuck. During the Depression the house – which stills stands — was filled with 25 extended family members. Melillos, Romanos, Reales, Espositos, Carreras – all lived and grew up together.

They grew vegetables in a backyard garden; baked their own bread, and made Prohibition-era wine. Each October, a neighbor butchered a pig. Every family got a part.

Walt attended Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street – where his parents had gone – and then Bedford Junior High (now Kings Highway Elementary) and Staples High School (the current Saugatuck El).

Staples was small. “We knew everyone,” he recalled. “There weren’t a lot of course options, like today. But it was an excellent school.”

He was influenced by legendary teachers like Gladys Mansir (English) and Eli Burton (social studies). He played baseball well enough to earn a tryout with the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds (in 1941), and football well enough to earn a spot on the Staples Wall of Honor (in 2004).

Walt Melillo, as a young man.

Walt Melillo, as a young man.

Right after graduation in 1942, Walt joined the Navy. He was on active duty in the Atlantic Ocean and North Africa campaign. His destroyer escort sailed to the Pacific, patrolling through invasions of Okinawa and the Philippines.

A kamikaze plane crashed into his ship. Melillo was blown from the signal bridge to the forecastle. His unit shot down four Japanese planes, and received a Presidential Unit Citation. Seventy years later, he chokes up recalling those events.

The dropping of 2 atom bombs saved Melillo from participating in the invasion of Japan. His ship survived another hazard: a typhoon in the shark-infested North China Sea.

“I was a lucky sailor,” Melillo said. He appreciates his chance to serve – and to see the world. “I met all kinds of people. Before I enlisted, the furthest from Westport I traveled was New Haven.”

The GI Bill sent Walt to college. He majored in physical education at Arnold College (now the University of Bridgeport), then earned a master’s degree from Columbia University and a 6th-year from Bridgeport.

In 1951 he was hired as a teacher by the Westport Board of Education. His salary was $2,800 a year — $300 more than usual, thanks to a $100 bonus for each year of military service. “That was a lot of money in those days,” Melillo noted. His first assignment was Saugatuck Elementary School – his alma mater, across the street from where his brother lived.

After 7 years, Melillo moved to the brand new Burr Farms Elementary School. There was tremendous camaraderie between students, staff, parents – even custodians. Principal Lenny Metelits was an ex-Marine; the talented, lively staff included Matt Rudd, Sam Judell, Ed Morrison, Lou Dorsey and Ace Mahakian.  The number of male teachers was extraordinary.

“The parents were just fantastic,” Walt said. “They were so kind to us. They understood that teaching was a tough job for everyone.”

Walt Melillo inspired thousands of Westport elementary school students. This is his Burr Farms Class of 1973.

Walt Melillo inspired thousands of Westport elementary school students. This is his Burr Farms Class of 1973.

After nearly 2 decades at Burr Farms Melillo moved to Green’s Farms Elementary School, then Long Lots. He retired in 1986, after 35 years in education.

He kept busy, attending  Senior Center functions and playing tennis (he and partner Paul Lane won tournaments in the Over-40 and Over-60 age groups).

But teaching and athletics were only part of Walt’s story. In 1947 he organized Westport’s 1st summer Beach School, at Compo Beach. He was still in college, without a degree, so football coach Frank Dornfeld ran the first year. But Walt soon took over, and for 29 years he and Bedford Junior High instructor Carol Bieling Digisi were in charge of a popular program involving thousands of children.

“It gave me another chance to meet great parents,” he said. “And the entire staff was teachers.”

Two boys in that initial beach school group were Jack and Bill Mitchell. Several years later their parents, Ed and Norma, opened a small men’s clothing store. Walt was the first non-family member  they hired.

Walt stayed there —  working Friday nights and Saturdays – for 13 years.

Bill Mitchell (left) and Walt Melillo.

Bill Mitchell (left) and Walt Melillo.

Walt’s life was full. He and Ann – his wife of 60 years – had 4 children. When they moved to Hogan Trial in 1960, it was the 1st house on the road; now there are 40. As a child, Walt hunted there.

“This is my town,” he noted. “As Paul Newman said, ‘Living in Westport is a privilege.’ I love it here.”

The family will receive friends on Tuesday, Dec. 9 from 4-7 pm at the Harding Funeral Home, 210 Post Road East. The funeral will take place Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 11 a.m. at Assumption Church, 98 Riverside Avenue. Burial with full military honors immediately following mass. Interment will be private. Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the Westport Center for Senior Activities, 21 Imperial Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

Fred Cantor’s Timeless Westport

As an alert “06880” reader, Fred Cantor has seen comments on every side of every debate about the changing nature of Westport.

As someone who came to Westport in 1963, Fred has seen many of those changes himself.

An accomplished attorney, film and play producer and writer, Fred has spent years taking photos around town. Recently, he asked Staples grad Casey Denton to help create a video of those shots.

Fred’s goal was simple. He wanted to document his belief that the essence of Westport’s beauty and small-town New England character — which his family discovered upon moving here over 5 decades ago — remains alive and well.

The video opens with long-ago Westport scenes. There are photos of mom-and-pop stores, the kind that filled Main Street back in the day. Obviously, that’s changed.

But most of the photos are from the recent past — many taken within the past year. And, Fred notes, they are “timeless Westport scenes.” Churches, barns, the Saugatuck bridge, the Minuteman and Doughboy statues, the Mill Pond and cannons — we are surrounded by wonderful history and spectacular beauty.

Fred knows that family businesses are very much with us. From long-time establishments (Oscar’s, Mario’s) to relative newcomers (Elvira’s, Saugatuck Sweets), there are more here than we realize.

Finally, Fred wanted to show that institutions like the Library, Westport Country Playhouse and Levitt Pavilion have been significantly upgraded over the years. The entire community benefits, Fred says, from “the strong commitment to the arts that existed when my parents brought us here over 50 years ago.”

Fred knows this is the perspective of just one near-native. But, he says — as health problems limit how far he can go from home — he is glad he can notice and appreciate more than ever what is right around all of us.

 

Remembering Chou Chou Merrill

Chou Chou Merrill hadn’t lived in Westport for decades. But today, countless Westporters mourn her death.

The Staples Class of 1970 grad died suddenly in her sleep Saturday night. She was 62 years old.

Thanks to Facebook, thousands of people knew and loved Chou Chou. She created, administered or was an avid contributor to a variety of online communities: “You Know You’re from Westport, CT If …” “Exit 18 – Westport CT Residents and Ex-Residents.” “Save Westport CT From Itself!”

The indomitable Chou Chou Merrill.

The indomitable Chou Chou Merrill.

Not long ago, she founded another group: “Westport CT Artists and Craftsmen.” It was a site for local creative folks to display their works.

That was no casual interest. Her father, Jason Raum, owned an operated “Jewels by Jason” on Main Street for many years. It was upstairs in the handsome stone building next to what is now Tavern on Main, across from Oscar’s.

That Westport connection meant a lot to Chou Chou. So did many other connections. She reveled in her childhood and youth here — the memories she shared, the friendships she nurtured, the opportunities she was given.

Her mother-in-law was Bette Davis. She seldom mentioned it. But not long ago, without saying whose it was, she posted a photo of the actress’ home on Crooked Mile Road. Chou Chou admired it not because of who owned it, but because of how lovely it looked.

As a board member of the Bette Davis Foundation, Chou Chou awarded scholarships to aspiring actors, and other talented students in the entertainment industry.

A couple of days before she died, Chou Chou Merrill (4th from left, black outfit) joined classmates and other longtime Westport friends at Mario's. It was the perfect spot to celebrate "old" Westport, and she highlighted the event on Facebook.

A couple of days before she died, Chou Chou Merrill (4th from left, black outfit) joined classmates and other longtime friends at Mario’s. It was the perfect spot to celebrate “old” Westport, and she highlighted the event on Facebook.

Chou Chou made her mark on her adopted hometown — Brookline, Massachusetts — too. She was a successful real estate broker there, and served on the Town Meeting (the equivalent of our RTM) for over 25 years. She was past co-president of the League of Women Voters Brookline, a member of the Flag Day Parade committee, and a contributor to Little League, the Senior Center, Library and Brookline Community Fund.

Today, many Facebook pages are filled with tributes to Chou Chou. Geoffrey Glaser wrote: “She inspired so much thought with her postings…. She was the glue that held Old Westport together…. She created conversation that introduced us to new friends and reintroduced us to old friends.”

Thanks to Chou Chou Merrill, Westport lives on in words and pictures. Thanks to Facebook — and her thousands of friends and admirers —  she will continue to live too.

Yeah, The Doors Played At Staples. Cream, The Byrds And Peter Frampton Too. And…

…also the Yardbirds, Animals, Rascals, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Plus the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils,  Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.

For years, those of us who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s have regaled friends with tales of those concerts. They looked at us like we smoked one too many bowls.

But they really happened. And now there is proof.

Smollin book cover

Mark Smollin — a 1970 Staples grad who went on to fame as an artist and designer — was at many of those shows. He’s just produced a massive e-book filled with photos, posters and ticket stubs — plus essays and remembrances by concert-goers and professional musicians — from those amazing days.

Oh, did I mention that tickets were usually just $2 or $3?

Doors posterThe Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT is a 150-page gem. It opens with an essay by Barry Tashian. Westport’s 1st home-grown rock star — his band, the Remains, opened for the Beatles — provides some context by recalling hunting down 45s at the Melody House on Main Street, listening to jazz concerts at Compo, and going to dances at the Y and Longshore.

Smollin tracked down Ellen Sandhaus, whose brother Dick signed those first legendary shows — while still in high school. (The story of how he and classmate Paul Gambaccini became 17-year-old concert promoters is in the book). Ellen contributed fantastic photos, taken with her Brownie camera.

Cream ticketSmollin used Facebook to find more information. Mary Gai joined Ellen as a writer and editor. Fred Cantor did heavy lifting in the Westport Library newspaper archives. He unearthed proof that — as students who were there have always maintained — the Blues Project, Left Banke and Blues Magoos (twice!) all played at Staples proms.

The buzz grew. People chimed in about bands they claimed played at Staples, but actually were at other local venues. So Smollin added a section on other places like the Nines Club (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Vanilla Fudge, ? and the Mysterians), and the Westport Country Playhouse (the Critters).

Smollin also gives a shout-out to non-rockers who played in Westport. That’s an impressive list too: Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Sammy Davis Jr., Ferrante and Teicher, Odetta.

Ginger Baker, Cream's drummer, at Staples in 1968. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples in 1968. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Finally — because he himself played in a band (called Smoke; they still do reunions) — Smollin included a list of local groups that may not have lasted long, but were legends in their own (and many others’) minds: Triumvirate. The Wild Sect. The Saints. Strawberry Fun Band. Mandrake Root. Styx. (No, not the more famous “Come Sail Away” band.)

The Real Rock & Roll High School is a trip — down memory lane if you were there (or wished you were), into the rabbit hole of amazing musical history if you were not.

The Staples auditorium -- where so many legendary concerts took place -- as seen in the 1970 yearbook.

The Staples auditorium — where so many legendary concerts took place — as seen in the 1970 yearbook.

So if you have any interest at all in great bands and solo artists — and others like Edgar Winter, Livingston Taylor and John Lee Hooker, all of whom also played in Westport — check it out.

I know. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. But we love it.

(Click to order The Real Rock & Roll High School.)

Bonus track: I mentioned Steve Tyler above. Here’s Aerosmith’s front man giving a hat tip to Staples, during his 1995 induction ceremony at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Who Is Westport’s Newest Oldest?

With the closing of Silver of Westport — and the demise earlier this year of Max’s Art Supplies — it looks like Mitchells is the oldest family owned and/or retail store in Westport.

Silver of WestportSilver’s arrived in Westport in 1951. It was already 47 years old, with previous locations in Fairfield and Bridgeport. Silver’s occupied 2 separate storefronts in Compo Acres (with a brief stint in Sconset Square, after a 1962 fire burned down the shopping center).

Max’s was founded in 1956, on the Post Road. It remained there — across from the Westport Y — until this summer.

Ed Mitchells original locationEd Mitchell opened in 1958. It occupied a small building on the corner of the Post Road and North Compo. It relocated to Colonial Green a few years later, then moved to its present Post Road site near Hillspoint Road in 1979.

It expanded to its current size in 1993, the same year the name changed to Mitchells (without an apostrophe).

Gault logoOf course, Gault is the great-great-grandaddy of all Westport businesses. Started in 1863 — nearly a century before Silver’s first arrived in town — it has morphed from coal and horse transportation through freight hauling, plowing, grain threshing, gravel, mason supplies, barge transport, oil, stone and cement, to its present incarnation as an energy conservation company.

Are there other Westport businesses dating to the 1950s (or 1860s!)? Click “Comments” below to add them to our list.

Celebrating Saugatuck, With A Mural And More

In 1852, Horace Staples — owner of a lumber and hardware business, silk and axe factories, shipping vessels and a thriving pier — founded the Saugatuck Bank.

Two years later he moved it to National Hall — his new building a couple of miles upriver, just across the bridge from a small downtown area overshadowed by the far more dynamic Saugatuck section of Westport.

Eventually, Saugatuck Bank became Westport Bank & Trust. It outgrew National Hall — which turned into Fairfield Furniture — and relocated to a pie-slice-shaped building nearby, where Church Lane feeds into the Post Road.

In 1965 the bank — whose motto was “A Hometown Bank in a Town of Homes” — commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a pair of murals. “Shipping on the Saugatuck” and “Hotel Square” were hung with great fanfare in the impressive, high-ceilinged room. (They’re still there, though the bank morphed a while ago into Patagonia.)

Robert Lambdin's old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

Robert Lambdin’s old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

In 1970 — to celebrate the opening of a new branch in Saugatuck, just down Charles Street from the Arrow restaurant — Westport Bank & Trust hired Lambdin to create a 3rd mural.

The artist incorporated more than 2 centuries of Saugatuck history into his new work. He painted Disbrow’s ferry, from 1745; the iron swing bridge, built in 1884; oxcarts, farms, churches, wharves, warehouses, factories and ships.

Standing prominently in the center is Captain Sereno Gould Allen, one of Westport’s last market boat captains.

The mural is framed — somewhat incongruously — by the I-95 bridge. It looks almost elegant. But when the “Connecticut Turnpike” was built in the 1950s, it destroyed the heart of that pulsing neighborhood.

Robert Lambdin's magnificent mural.

Robert Lambdin’s magnificent mural.

Westport Bank & Trust went the way of most local banks. It was swallowed up by bigger ones: Lafayette, Hudson. In 2013, TD Bank shut the Saugatuck branch for good.

Fortunately, the mural survives. In fact, it thrives.

TD Bank donated the work to the town. After restoration by Joseph Matteis, it’s the centerpiece of a wonderful new Westport Historical Society exhibit.

Called “Saugatuck @ Work: Haven of Community, Industry, Innovation,” the show includes photos and memorabilia — old maps, patents by Saugatuck inventors, costumes, and ship and railroad logs — from Saugatuck’s long history. (Did you know that before Italians came to work on the railroad, Irish did the same?)

Speaking of trains, there’s fascinating information on the role of transportation in the development of Saugatuck. The area is blessed with a river, Long Island Sound, rail lines — and of course, the highway.

Construction in 1957 of the Connecticut Turnpike bridge in Saugatuck. The highway ripped through that neighborhood.

Construction in 1957 of the Connecticut Turnpike bridge in Saugatuck. The highway ripped through that neighborhood.

The show includes photos of Saugatuck today, during its dramatic rebirth. Larry Untermeyer’s photos show new restaurants and shops, replacing some of Lambdin’s scenes.

A companion exhibit (“Framing Saugatuck: History Under the Highway”) shows the harsh impact of construction. The new interstate destroyed homes, businesses, even the Methodist Church.

The turnpike’s route was a political decision. The exhibit shows alternate possibilities. It could have cut the heart out of Green’s Farms — or even been double-decked over the Post Road, right through downtown.

The WHS exhibit runs through May 30. Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural then moves across the street to Town Hall, becoming part of Westport’s public — and very impressive — permanent art collection.

(For more information on the exhibit, click on www.westporthistory.org)