New To The Neighborhood

Last Friday, the Rockwell family met several thousand of their new Westport neighbors.

The young couple and their two children were featured — in four color photos — on the front page of the Westport News’ Real Estate section. “New to the Neighborhood” the headline blared.  “Sense of community, schools and scenery draw family to town” the sub-head burbled.

At first I thought the Rockwells’ shout-out came because they were the first people in months to buy a house here (or anywhere in the country). But as I read further — about the family’s choice of Westport over the rest of the tri-state region, based on their initial criteria of “a good commute, excellent school system, reasonable taxes and wonderful town amenities,” then nailed down by Westport’s greenery (thanks, Google Earth!), two train stations, Longshore and beach — I realized this was a 2009 version of an old newspaper tradition.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s the Westport Town Crier ran a regular Page 1 feature: “New Folks in Town.”  Befitting its folksy title, each week the column welcomed 2 or 3 new families here.

Reading the “New Folks” stories several decades later opens an intriguing window on post-war, baby boom Westport.  Many families moved here from New York City, Long Island and New Jersey; some came from the Midwest.  (The Rockwells relocated from London; wife Aini previously lived in Asia.)

The new fathers worked for Union Carbide, IBM — solid companies like that.  (Alan Rockwell is a partner with an international law firm.)

The mothers, of course, did not work outside the home.  (Not that anyone used the term “working outside the home.”  These women were “homemakers.”)

The families — and they were always intact; no single men or women, same-sex couples; not even divorced people — looked forward to Westport life.  Little League, sailing, the YMCA, PTA, the Garden Club  — over and over, the New Folks in Town were eager to join in.

A generation or two later, the Town Crier column still resonates.  Many of the newcomers’ names are familiar.  They stayed, grew roots, raised families, got more involved in Westport than they ever imagined.  They ran for the RTM and Planning and Zoning Commission; they led fights for and against education budgets; they opened local businesses.

Others stayed a year or two, then vanished without a trace.  They made no impact here at all.  No “Folks Leaving Town” column chronicled their departure.

Reading “New Folks in Town,” now that many are “Old Folks in Town” (or “in Florida”), it’s easy to see a Stepford sameness to their arrivals.  They came bearing similar suburban hopes and dreams.  They were young, optimistic; their lives seemed poised to soar, and Westport would be the launching pad.

Some found what they were looking for here.  Others did not, or could not.  In their first appearance in the local paper, no one could tell which new folks would wind up where.

So:  Welcome to Westport, Alan, Aini, Tyler and Finnegan Rockwell.  We hope our town is all you wish it to be.  We hope you’ll get involved in our lives, in ways you expect and ways you can’t yet imagine.

We promise to check in a few decades from now, and see how you’re doing.

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