22 ½ Main Street: Putting Names To The Faceless

The “06880” story about 22 ½ Main Street — the boardinghouse behind what is now the Bobby Q’s alley that went up in flames in 60 years ago, and has now been largely forgotten — intrigued many readers.

And it inspired Jack Whittle to do some digging.

Trawling through 1940 US Census data on Ancestry.com, he found a page listing information on 22 1/2 Main Street.

At the time of the counting, 28 people lived there. Their names included Dew, Martin, Gomez, Williams, Jackson, Paulk, Brown, Tomberlin, Bullock, Lemon, Powell, Sallus, Wrintz, Michels and Harold. All were “Negro.”

The youngest was 1 year old; the oldest, 54.

The list included “head” (of household), wives, sons, daughters, brothers, aunts and cousins. Eight were “lodgers.”

Most were born in the South, though some of the children were born in Connecticut. Samuel Lemon was born in British Columbia.

Only 1 — 14-year-old Abner Paulk — was listed as having attended school at any time within the previous month. Most of the adults completed only a few grades.

The census asked where they lived in 1935. Most were still in the South. A few were listed simply as “Some place.”

Their occupations were laborer, gardener, butler, domestic and handyman. Their employers were almost all “private family.”

The census also asked each adult’s income for all of the previous year. In 1939, that ranged from a low of $430, to a high of $1,132.

28 responses to “22 ½ Main Street: Putting Names To The Faceless

  1. Westport Convert

    Factoring inflation and current buying power, those incomes are the 2012 equivalent of $7,109.38 and a high of $18,715.87

    Amazing. One of my good friends pays her part-time nanny nearly $45,000. Oh, how the times have changed.


    • Eric Buchroeder

      Have your good friend contact our admissions director at the commune. Nannys work for much less than $45,000 in a socialist utopia. As Ben Franklin said on his blog, saving it is better than stealing it.

      • Westport Convert

        In Westport, the nanny is the “boss.” Not the parents. Thanks to capitalism and the free market, the caretaker (more so in Westport than elsewhere) is calling the shots on compensation.

        And that’s fine by me. Although I’d probably feel differently if I were the one seeking to hire the highest qualified nanny in this town. Couldn’t afford it.

        Say hi to Karl Marx for me, Eric. Thanks.


        • Eric Buchroeder

          You’re actually starting to make sense. Must be the heat I’m feeling from the KGB monitoring my posts.

  2. Angela McKelvey

    It was my understanding that the children of black families were sent to school in Norwalk as early Westporters did not want Blacks in their schools.

    • Jack Whittle

      That’s an unattractive piece of info, source?

      I can say that a review of the 1934 and 1942 Staples yearbooks (both in my collection) shows no black faces in the graduating classes

      • Jack Whittle

        By the way, none of the residents of 22 1/2 Main listed on the 1940 census were of high school age (or school age, really) so it’s not an issue raised by this info.

  3. Is there any way to get a higher resolution picture of hte Census page? Or how about a URL to the pages? I’d like to read it myself.

    • Thanks to Jack Whittle for this information. Log in to Ancestry.com (it’s free for a couple of days right now!). Then:

      On the home page, under the “quicklinks” heading on the right, click on “US Census Records.”

      On the next screen, under the “included data collections” heading on the left (scroll down), click on “1940 US Federal Census.”

      Select sate (CT) County (FFLD) and Town (WSPT) from the drop-down boxes, then select “District 1-220.”

      Manually input page 20 and click “go,” — that’s the page with 22 1/2 Main Street.

  4. I would believe that there were few to no African. American. students in those days in Westport or in the days during the 1960’s/early 70’s when I attended elementary and middle school in Westport. My dad was first an educator in the Norwalk school system and also ran a closed circuit educational tv station in Norwalk before moving to the Westport schools. My earliest 4 or 5 year-old recollection in 1960’s of ever having met an African American was when going to work with my dad over in Norwalk.

    Seems like this is part of Westport’s history so we just have to see it for what it is — very few Af. American people. It still was one of the most unique hometowns to ever grow up in back in the day.

    • Jack Whittle

      Well, that one I can answer from personal experience – in 1972 at least, there were quite a few (more than just a few, actually) African American kids in my 4th grade class at Burr Farms – most were bussed in from Bridgeport (“project concern”?) while some (like Mark Ford) lived in town. Pretty sure there was an earlier Woog blog post on that effort to give some kids from Bridgeport a chance to go to school here.

  5. That’s a really amazing post on Burr Farms El. It speaks well for that teacher and for those who pushed the busing program through. It was an enlightening time in Westport the way I remember it. People were awake more. My path in the Westport schools was Bedford El, Saugatuck El and a short time at BJH –in the 60’s and early 70’s and I can tell you, sadly, I don’t remember any Af. Amer. students. But doesn’t mean they weren’t there in small number. I know there were none in my home room classes as I still have my class pictures! 🙂

  6. Jamie Walsh

    Thanks Jack for the research. Really interesting and informative!

  7. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Truly fascinating stuff… Your historical stuff recently has been great reading…

  8. For those interested in census research, the Westport Public Library offers free access to US census records through 1930 all from the comfort of your home (or library) computer. Click on http://www.westportlibrary.org/research/databases, and then under Geneology, click the link to access Heritage Quest Online. I’m not sure why the records stop at 1930 – perhaps there is another link to access later records, but at this hour, the always helpful WPL reference desk is closed until the morning.

  9. While we’re putting names to the faceless, why don’t we put a name on 22 1/2 Main Street….like “ghetto”

    • Or maybe you could put your name on your extremely offensively and spectacularly ignorant comment.

      • Well, what would YOU call it??? Did blacks live anywhere else in town at that time? Probably the only thing offensive is not where they lived but why they probably had to live there…largely out of sight. Remember, we’re talking about the pre-war years not 2012,

        • Jack Whittle

          While I don’t mean to suggest that Westport was the model of integrated society in 1940, a single boardinghouse hardly makes a “ghetto” – and to answer your “did blacks live anywhere else in town at that time?” question, yes, they did. I encourage you to page through the 1940 census material and you’ll see that blacks lived elsewhere on Main St (eight were living at 61 Main St. – see page 34 of the same volume) – although I am not willing to pronounce Main Street a slum or ghetto – and I see a family of three at 11 Davenport Ave (page 26 of 1-222) to name a few I found with a quick glance. True, there are also individual African Americans seen living in the houses of white families as cooks, “houseman” and chauffers too.

  10. Ex-Westporter

    when I was in Staples in the 50’s there were two blacks that came from 2 upper middle class familes. The male was a great athlete plus an excellent student & the female also was an excellent student. Since they were a year behind me I don’t know if their families remained in Westport but they both were college material so I am sure wherever they are now they were successful.

    • Jack Whittle

      The 1952 Stapleite (yearbook) shows an African American boy In the junior class (and I don’t see any other faces of color in the group class photo) – but he was also the class vice president, that’s something. Lyle Hayes, does that name ring any bells? Someone could check the 53 yearbook (I don’t have it) and see if Lyle remained involved.

  11. Bev Breault

    absolutely that was Lyle Hayes. He was liked by everyone both in grades and atheletics. I’ll bet my last dollar he is a proud sucessfull standup citizen, Margorie Britton was the other black girl & her parents were doctors. Margorie was headed off to college & I am sure did just as well as Lyle If anyone might know where they are some of their past classmates would love to hear from them.

  12. Bev, you might be interested in this story from the 6/21/12 Norwalk Hour re Lyle’s grandmother http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1916&dat=19780621&id=CeogAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QW4FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1085,4196311. Lyle is a Boston U grad and lived in Trumbull when this story appeared. Great high school athlete. I heard his name often when I was growing up, along with Curt Maddock and Ed Chappa from your era……….TA ’66

  13. Wendy Crowther

    The reason the records stop at 1930 is because the much anticipated 1940 census was just released to the public this past March or April (all privacy related). I jumped in to take a look as soon as it hit the genealogy websites. Though the info went online, there was still much work to be done to make it easy to do searches for names, rather than having to flip page by page through a town’s enumeration districts to find a name. I’m sure that by now they’ve done a lot of work on it to bring it up to speed and to make it easier to search for names, addresses, towns, and districts.

  14. Wendy Crowther

    Oh, and Dan, when you mentioned that some of the black tenants listed their address in 1935 as “Some Place,” I believe that the expression might actually say “Same Place,” meaning that they lived in the same location in 1935 too.

    • Jack Whittle

      Yes, it was just released to the public, but No, actually the 1940 census is still being indexed (by ancestry.com) – CT is not indexed yet, so I had to page through it.

      Agree on the sameplace – once you pour over a bunch of these you become familiar with the typical inputs.

    • Wow — you’re right. Thank you!