Remembering The Bedford Years

A momentous moment seems to have passed by in Westport, almost unnoticed.

Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren

Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren died earlier this month, at her Green’s Farms home. She was 104.

The granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford — who was a director of Standard Oil, founder of the Westport YMCA, namesake of Bedford Middle School — she was no slouch herself.

A benefactor of countless causes, Lucie volunteered at the Norwalk Hospital until she was 96, and the Pequot Library Book Sale through age 97. A champion golfer and sailor, she and her 1st husband — 1958 America’s Cup champion Briggs Cunningham — won numerous European sailing titles.

She was the mother-in-law of former US congressman Stewart McKinney, and grandmother of current State Senator John McKinney. She is survived by 3 children, 12 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren — as well as her sister, Ruth Bedford.

Charlie Taylor did not know Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren. But he knew Ruth very well. Lucie’s death prompted these recollections, about an earlier — and fascinating — time in Westport.

I worked as a landscape gardener and laborer for Ruth Bedford and her father Fred (Edward T. Bedford’s son) on their Beachside Avenue estate from 1958 — when I was a Staples sophomore — until I graduated from college in 1965. What a great place to work!

Edward T. Bedford — Fred’s father, and Lucie’s grandfather — built an enormous estate on Beachside Avenue.

My dad had encouraged me to go to Nyala Farms to get a job at the dairy, as a 15-year-old. (NOTE:  The 52-acre farm, now bordered by Green’s Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector, had been owned since 1910 by the Bedford family. Fred Bedford named it after the beautiful “nyala” — antelope — he’d seen on safari in Africa.)

Louis Gordon — chief gardener and estate caretaker — intercepted me. He told me to report on Saturday “down on the Shore Road. I’ll put you to work on the Bedford Place.” I stayed for the next 6 summers.

It took up 17 acres, mostly on the Sound. I spent all day cutting the front and back yard of the house, with a 6-foot Locke mower. I started at $1.10 an hour, for an 8-hour day.

There was a greenhouse where we grew cut flowers for the main house, and a truck farm across the road. I was in charge of storing a year’s supply of coal to fire the furnace for the greenhouse. A truck came at the beginning of June, and dumped a small mountain of coal. It took me 6 days — 8 hours a day — to move the coal into the bin.

The main house included a big game trophy room, and models of hulls of 12-meter racing boats.

The Bedford estate (front view).

The dock went probably 120 feet into the Sound. A little house at the end received guests in bad weather. Stairs went down into the water, to ease passengers onto the dock and walkway that led to the expansive backyard and rear entrance to the main house.

Mr. Bedford kept a long, black Cadillac limo for trips to his homes in New York and Palm Beach.

Numerous car commercials were shot on the estate, especially the semicircular pea gravel driveway. Every Friday I raked all the tire tracks from the driveway, in preparation for the weekend. It was so long, the job took 4 hours. I also weeded the driveway.

The Bedford estate gardens.

One day I was clearing brush. Mr. Gordon was talking to the man who owned the property next door. It was J.C. Penney himself. We were never introduced.

My favorite times were Friday evenings, at quitting time. Mr. Gordon would ask if I had a date that night. If I did, he’d whip up a corsage of carnations or other flowers for my date. If I was staying home, he’d make up an arrangement for my mom.

When I was in college, Mr. Gordon occasionally let me take dates down to the dock, to swim. He told me to be very discreet, however. And I was.

Charlie Taylor, today.

Mr. Gordon sent me on some dangerous assignments, like 50 feet into huge old elm trees to prune, or onto chimneys at the main house to cut back ivy. But I gained confidence during those summers. I learned to work and give all-out effort. He accepted nothing less than the best. There were no slackers on the Bedford payroll.

He made me very proud of myself. When he chewed me out, I deserved it. More to the point, he explained why he was chewing me out, and the importance of doing a good job.

I owe Westport, and the Bedfords, a lot. Miss Ruth, if you read this, thanks for the week I caught poison ivy so bad that when I showed up for work with a face and fingers so swollen, you sent me home — but you still paid me my $80 for the week I missed. I learned a lot from you too, Miss Ruth. Thank you.

(Charlie Taylor is now a senior development officer at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. He’s also a long-time musician. To keep busy while mowing the Bedford lawn, he made up song lyrics. He later studied songwriting at UCLA, and worked with musicians like Gram Parsons, Billy Preston and others. Charlie’s 3rd CD will be released soon.)

Charlie Taylor back in the day, with Kitty (Amanda Blake) and Dale Evans.

24 responses to “Remembering The Bedford Years

  1. Eric Buchroeder

    This was a fantastic remembrance and a clear connection between the past and present of Westport. Charlie, I remember you and your sister Ann who I both got to know when I was six and you were both counselors at Camp Mahackeno. My sister Pat was a classmate of your sister Ann’s at Staples ’61. I remember you and your sister playing the guitar around the campfire at Mahackeno singing songs from Kentucky. I remember you went to Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and my sister transferred there after two years at Mitchell College. I hope all of the Taylors are well and thanks for a clear glimpse at the past. And thanks to Dan Woog for his uncanny way of finding this great stuff. I’ve been away from Westport since ’78 and Dan always finds a way to make me feel like I still live there.

    • Eric of course I remember you…We had some great times as Downshifters at Camp M…Ann stayed on as a Camp M staff member after I went to work for the Bedfords. I appreciate your remembering me to your sister..Pat was wonderful and is doing well I trust…Have you got her contact info?

      Charlie

  2. Great story, Dan!

  3. Stacey Landowne

    What a wonderful piece of memoir. You convey a sense of the weight of the collective lives that encompass any single individual’s existence as well as your own youthful innocence. A pleasure to read.

  4. Timothy Woodruff

    Fascinating Post! Great Story, Indeed! Thanks Dan!

    Timothy Woodruff

  5. Fred Cantor

    Fascinating history.

  6. A real Downton Abbey

  7. I still remember one day when I fished Bedford’s Point and caught a nice striper weighing 18-pounds. To fish Bedford’s, we had to park on New Creek Road and walk Beachside up to the gate and out to the Point. I was lugging that bass back to my car and saw this big Cadillac limousine parked by the gate. As I walked by, the window rolled down and a well-dressed gentleman admired the fish, asked what I had caught it on and then offered me (and the fish) a ride back down to my car. I declined, not wanting to dirty his car and thanked him. It was of course Mr. Bedford and my only regret later was in not offering him the fish for his courtesy. On the charts, it’s called Frost Point but to every veteran angler, it will always be Bedford’s Point. – Dick Alley

    • How’d you get out to the point? Along the beach or past the gate to the house? As an aside, i doubt most folks know that it’s perfectly legal to walk anywhere on the beach below the mean high-tide line, even in front of the houses on Beachside Ave. It’s well established in the law, under the Public Trust Doctrine, that seaward land of the mean-high tide line is owned by the State for the benefit of it’s residents and can be used for walking, fishing or any other legal means.

  8. Is that the house with a large Claes Oldenburg sculpture on the front lawn?

    • No. That house, called The Beeches, is owned by Mrs Ronnie Hayman, the widow of Sam Hayman. They bought the house in 1972, word has it, for $100,000….yeah, a hundred thousand.

      The Bedford house was torn down years ago by Mrs. Warren because it was too large and difficult to maintain

  9. Eric Buchroeder

    Charlie I will forward Pat’s info to you on FB email. She is alive and well in Westport. One of the last of the Mohican’s. I’ve kept tabs on you guys through Bruce Jamieson, another Mahackeno guy I’ve stayed close to over these many years. Great to re-connect with you Charlie. The Taylor kids were older than me and all highly looked up to. Still are!!!!
    Best,
    Eric

  10. Great post, Dan. It took me back. Really good writing, I was there with you.

  11. brad french

    i’ve had the opportunity to work on some of the great old estates…schlaet/black (bluewater hill), lindbergh (near the hunt club), pabst (bayberry) frazier peters (charcoal hill) and more…all have been sub-divided but the memories are still there

  12. One of your most interesting blog pieces, Dan. When I lived in Westport I didn’t think much about its history, and never wondered much about the relevance of names like Bedford or Staples. I appreciate the insight into the history of the town.

  13. All praise goes to Dan Woog….He is living history…I.m sure there are hundreds of stories like this out there…send them to Dan…so we can relive our history through your eyes…..

    • Letitia Carter

      Hi Charlie- Just wondering if you ever heard anything about Ruth’s father’s property in Easton, CT. He may have used it for hunting. Any info you have would be great!

  14. Great remembrance, Charlie and congrats to Dan for bringing it to life for the rest of us.

  15. Wendy Crowther

    I love these historic stories, Dan – thanks for finding a way to weave them into the present. Keep ’em coming!

    I have an old post card of the Bedford Estate. It shows how extensive and beautiful the landscaping was – kudos to Louis Gordon and Charlie Taylor. The Bedford Family has done much to make Westport a great place to live. Hearing of Lucie’s passing is sad. I would have loved to listen to her stories and memories.

  16. Lucie and Ruth are amazing women and role models. I am so fortunate to have had Lucie for a grandmother and have Ruth as an aunt ((-: It would have been fun to have known them (and their dad) back when (I was born in ’64). Thank you for the wonderful memories and pictures.

  17. Peter Gambaccini

    How nice to come across this. I worked for Ruth Bedford during one of my high school summers. I missed overlapping with Charlie by a year or two. Ruth was incredibly kind and generous with me, and patient … I was one of those Westport kids who’d passed Driver’s Ed by being tested for “automatic” transmission and had more than a bit of trouble with her pickup truck, but she stuck with me. She was a totally unpretentious woman and I’m sure she still is.

  18. Henry E Bedford

    Charlie, thank you for this story. I am Henry Bedford III, also living in Nashville, and great grandson of Henry Bedford, E.T Bedford’s first cousin. We would love to have you to our home in Leipers Fork to share stories and perhaps some music. I would enjoy taking you for a flight in our hot air balloon over the countryside. I’m henrybed@gmail.com

    My great grandfather was a portrait artist and painted Alfred Bedford, E.T.’s uncle. Does anyone here know if he also painted the portrait of E.T. In the YMCA?

  19. Hi Charlie, I’ve enjoyed reading this blog and thank you for sharing your memories with us all. I work next door to Ruth and agree that she is a wonderful person. She still loves her horses! I always look for a little mop of white hair in the window when I am outside walking the property. She is in good health, feisty as ever (or so I’m told.)
    I passed on your well wishes and shared your poison ivy story (I too have caught it, though not nearly as bad as you!)
    Again, thank you for sharing. It really made my day!
    Jim

  20. Stephen Midlik Jr

    OMG! I was born 1953 & since I was 6 or 7 till teen-aged my Father would bring a “lucky” friend (new friends sometimes were in for a surprise) & me to work & play & help at Beautiful, Beautiful Nyala farm early almost every Sat & Sun. (I tell everybody I grew up on a Dairy farm, & it was just about true) How I miss that place! I climbed the copper beeches by the caretaker’s house to the top. What a view! I broke down when they stopped that farm. I dream, even now, vividly, of every nook & cranny from hayloft to milk room where we worked & played. I weep now as I write this for the loss of a premier & most excellent, beautiful thing. Someone (Henry Bedford III maybe?) Please tell me that the endless rows of oak cabinets that held the pictures, birthdays, names, specs, awards, & colorful prize ribbons (Mostly Blue) for all the premiere animals that were bred & raised there are in the care of the family. Or in the Smithsonian Museum. We knew Horace a caretaker, We called him “Horse” for fun. We fixed & sharpened the Locke Reel Mowers that’s how we met. I milked the cows sometimes by hand & drank it fresh as can be & squirted the cats in the face. They would all line up at milkin time. They had a bull so mean he pulled the ring out of his nose 3 times, it hung like a flap. He snorted & looked like an elephant seal! HAW! & don’t dare put your hand on the bars! I actually was homesick for the place & feeling sad the farm & animals were gone so I called 203-222-3000 & spoke with a friendly lady who also grew up on a dairy farm. She & I reminisced about such basic wonderful things & I asked if I could visit once more. We’ll see what happens. Please someone respond & I will update if I can visit & maybe take some pix.
    May the Great Spirit guide all those who loved that place as I still do.