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Honoring Herb Baldwin

Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing is always a nice affair.  Folks play, socialize, eat, drink, and raise funds for over 30 local charities.

Nice — but hardly blog-worthy.

Herb Baldwin

This year’s event (Wednesday, June 9) is different.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore, then-1st selectman Herb Baldwin will be feted.

But this is no hollow let’s-thank-a-dead-guy thought.  Several relatives — including Baldwin’s daughter Phyllis, and 3 grandchildren — are coming from as far away as Indianapolis and Menlo Park, California.

Some will play in the golf tournament.  All will join in the 4 p.m. ceremony that will look back on Baldwin’s role in those lightning-quick 18 days, when Westport raced from “wow, Longshore Country Club is on the market” to a signed, $1.9 million contract to buy all 169 acres.

Allen Raymond — current town historian, and past member of Baldwin’s kitchen cabinet that helped seal the deal — will be there too.

So who was Herb Baldwin?

He arrived in Westport soon after serving in World War I.  In the same year he got married — seems like he always moved quickly — he bought 20 acres of Bayberry Lane land.

With no experience — and no capital behind him — he planted a thousand apple trees, and hundreds of rows of vegetables.

Four years later, he cleared $123.

He soon became a successful apple grower.  But he found time for plenty of volunteer work too.

He chaired both the Westport and state YMCAs, and served on the national Y council.

He taught Sunday school at Saugatuck Congregational Church, then became deacon emeritus, chairman of the state Congregational organization and a national commiteeman.  When the church moved — on logs — across the Post Road to its present location, Baldwin was on the engineering committee.

He entered politics in 1919, as a member of the Board of Tax Review.  He remained on it for 17 years, and was elected chairman.  He was a deputy judge of the Town Court, until laymen were barred from serving.

He spent 18 years in Hartford as a state assemblyman and senator, eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee.  Back in Westport, he was selected as the 2nd moderator ever of the RTM.

Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early '70s. Also in the front row, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney. Rear (from left): Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Brummel; unidentified; Board of Education member Merald Lue.

When 1st selectman became a full-time position in 1957, Baldwin was elected.  Early in his tenure he eliminated 28 sources of raw drainage from the Saugatuck River; soon, fish returned.  Roads in Saugatuck Shores were raised, preventing flooding.  Two new schools were built.

When Longshore was put on the market — in an area zoned for 1-acre housing — Baldwin shepherded the town’s purchase plan through both the RTM and Board of Finance.  Instantly, Westport was the 1st town in the country to own a country club.

Later in his 5 terms as 1st selectman he championed DDD zoning, allowing businesses like Glendinning (off Weston Road) and Stauffer (Nyala Farms) to build in residentially zoned areas.  Some Westporters opposed the moves — though the buildings were as discreet as offices could be, and the tax rolls benefited handsomely.

Baldwin Parking Lot — named for him — off Elm Street alleviated downtown parking problems (though several old homes were demolished in the process).

Baldwin retired in 1967, age 73.  In retirement he played bridge, backgammon, chess — and golf.  (He stopped in his early 90s — because his clubs were stolen out of his car trunk.)

In 1986 — for one of my 1st “Woog’s World” columns — I interviewed the-92-year-old Baldwin.  I asked him to sum up his life.

“May and I are as lucky as the devil,” he said, referring to his wife of (then) 67 years.

“We’ve got our health, our family, and we’ve been able to serve our community for 67 years.  What else could anybody want?”

Well, how about being remembered a quarter-century later for your role in preserving a property that has since become the most beloved purchase in our 175 year history?

(Wednesday’s golf tournament begins at 8:30 a.m.; tennis follows at 9 a.m.  Both events are at Longshore.)

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