If you’ve stayed up nights wondering when the 1st telephone came to Westport — or the 1st white folks, or anyone for that matter — your insomnia is over.
Westport Historical Society, eat your heart out.
It starts just where you’d expect: 19,000 BCE (“Glacial ice melts, creating the spillway that formed the Saugatuck River”).
The next 13,000 years were pretty dull — kind of like the 1970s — but in 6000 BCE there was “evidence of prehistoric human activity in the Green’s Farms and Old Hill areas of Westport.” (They probably were not yet called by those names).
By 1000, Native Americans began growing corn, beans, pumpkins, squash and tobacco — in other words, everything sold at today’s Farmer’s Market, except for the devil’s weed.
The Pequot Indians prospered until 1637, when they were defeated by colonial troops in the Great Swamp War (near what is now the Southport line).
In 1648, the 5 “Bankside Farmers” acquired land from the Indians of Machamux in the area around present-day Beachside Avenue and Sherwood Island. Westporters.com does not mention whether the Bankside Farmers promptly established 5 banks on the site. I’m betting yes.
In 1654 Mary Staples was accused by Roger Ludlowe of being a witch. Her husband, Thomas Staples, sued for defamation, winning 10 pounds. That established both the Westport sport of lawsuit-filing, and the Staples-Ludlowe rivalry that lives on in high school sports today.
The timeline picks up steam in the 1800s. In 1846 Westporters vigorously 0pposed a railroad line. After a bitter battle, the town failed to block construction of the tracks. It’s a good thing no one fights anything in Westport today!
The 1st telephone was installed here in 1882, at Osborn’s general store downtown. Just in case you were wondering.
It was followed, in 1899, by the 1st automobiles. Local blacksmith J. Nelson Bulkley proudly displayed his Stanley Steamer. Interestingly, there was a blacksmith here through the 1960s — far after steam-powered buggies disappeared.
In 1902, Daniel Bradley challenged the ownership and public use of Compo Beach in Bridgeport court. He lost, but ended up with a street named after him. At the beach.
The Board of Finance was created in 1917, after the town “unexpectedly ran out of money.” Look for something similar to happen on a national scale sometime this summer.
Also in 1917, Westport voters defeated a proposed local alcohol prohibition ordinance, 355-256. Two years later, the national 18th Amendment passed. From Saugatuck to the Penguin, and throughout the rest of town, no one heard the news.
The 1st traffic signals were installed here in 1929. As with Prohibition, no one noticed — then or now.
A 1943 “Art Attack on the Axis” exhibition at the library raised $151,000. In today’s money, that’s enough to fill your tank with gas for an entire 15 weeks.
Westporters.com notes various other events — our 1st condos in 1977, on the site of the old Rippe’s Farm; the new library, which opened in 1986 on the site of the old dump; the May 20, 2011 purchase of the post office building — but the historical dates tabs are only part of the database.
Click on “Businesses,” and you’ll find everything from the 1st general store in Saugatuck (opened in 1798), through Allen’s Clam and Lobster House (1890), Embalmers’ Supply Company (1891) and Remarkable Book Shop (1962) to the demolition of the Main Street Mobil gas station in 1986 (think Vineyard Vines).
The “Churches & Temples” tab covers includes famous events like the moving of the Saugatuck Congregational building across and down the Post Road in 1950, to less well-known moments (the 1st record of Catholic services here was 1853 — “a small gathering at the Universalist Church”).
Are disasters your thing? We’ve had our share, from the British torching of 15 homes and 11 barns in 1779, to the 1895 destruction by fire of the Tidal Mill (sounds like an Onion headline), and more.
The “People” tab includes famous names like Jesup, Nash, Coley, Sherwood and Winslow. “Organizations” covers everything from the PTA (established 1897) and the Fairfield County Hunt Club (1923), through Little League (1952 — actually 1951, according to LL officials) and the World Affairs Center (1961). It’s an eclectic list, befitting our town.
There are databases for politics, population, publications and schools as well.
It’s all searchable — and you can also access it through an all-encompassing PDF file.
“06880” welcomes the Westporters.com history file. Use it often, and well.
Though I don’t think it will stop people from emailing me questions like, “Do you remember the names of all the restaurants across from the place that used to be Toys R Us?…”