Moving Stories

The proposal to move the Gunn House — the Queen Anne building facing Church Lane — a few yards across Elm Street, to the Baldwin parking lot, has generated lots of comments on “06880.”

It’s an intriguing idea — but it’s not exactly novel.

Today’s plan pales in comparison with a move more than 60 years ago. In 1950 Saugatuck Congregational Church — yes, the entire church — moved across and down the Post Road.

Saugatuck Congregational Church today.

Saugatuck Congregational Church today.

The handsome building looks like it’s always been there. But from 1832 through the mid-20th century, the church sat 600 feet away — where the gas station and bank are now, behind the Baron’s South property near the corner of South Compo.

The church parsonage was located where it is today, near Myrtle Avenue. That house and 8 acres of land were a gift from Morris K. Jesup, in 1884.

A special meeting of the congregation on September 11, 1947, authorized the relocation of the meetinghouse to the parsonage property.

Three years later — in the early dawn of August 28, 1950 — the Post Road was blocked. 500 men, women and children gathered for a service of prayer and thanksgiving.

Then — at 60 feet per hour — the 200-ton building was moved down a 19-foot incline on 55 logs, which revolved under runners. “This is more fun than a cocktail party!” one “Westport matron” told Life magazine.

By nightfall, the 128-year-old Saugatuck Church had a new home. Six decades later, it looks like it’s been there forever.

Saugatuck Congregational Church move

Life Magazine chronicled the church move in its September 11, 1950 issue.

Life Magazine chronicled the church move in its September 11, 1950 issue.

Other notable moves include the white office building in the back of Colonial Green (it started at the front of the property, now the site of Webster Bank — directly across from Saugatuck Church); a white barn that was once part of Nyala Farm (it was moved across Green’s Farms Road, into a meadow), and the house at 97 Hillspoint Road, relocated in 1960 when Hillspoint School was built.

And, of course, the Sherwood House. A dilapidated structure, it was brought a few yards closer to the street. That helped create a lively scene, with great outdoor dining, for the new tenant: the Spotted Horse restaurant.

Which is, of course, directly opposite the hopefully-soon-t0-be-moved Gunn House.

9 responses to “Moving Stories

  1. This story always cracks me up. It’s really quite remarkable. Can you imagine the spirit of cooperation? This must have been when everyone in Westport spoke the same language. Can you imagine what would have happened more recently if everyone in town had lifted up the Y building and began to move it where they thought it should go? Oh, boy.

  2. Really cool story Dan. Love the comment about it being better than a cocktail party!

  3. gives a whole new meaning to the term “holy roller”

  4. I was one of the fortunate ones to watch this scene. It was amazing & glorious at the same time.

  5. I have a copy of the Life magazine in my possession. When i first looked at the issue I had no idea that article was in there. My highlight was the photo of “Boy Scout Jackie Mitchell” taking polaroid pictures of the endeavor.

  6. Post-Sandy… To those who wonder if it can be true that dozens of shore-dwelling Westport families are currently engaged in raising their homes to sit on higher foundations… this is not so bizarre… it HAS been done before… in 1950 !!! PS Can you imagine if that church were being hauled up the street TODAY? Cars would be honking, people would be flaming 06880 and the First Selectman… you name it…

  7. I work for the Red Cross and my old office on Church Ln. was also moved as well. The Red Cross address is 36 Church Lane. It’s actually a combination of 2 houses 36 Church Lane and what was 35 Church Lane. If you’re looking at the building 36 Church Lane was the house to the left (where the front door is). 35 Church Lane was somewhere across the street by the Gunn house. It was moved across the street about 100 years ago and turned sideways and it’s now the right side of 36 Church Lane. When Roger Leifer bought it he enclosed what was the old front porch on the right side of the building to expand what was the Red Cross Executive Director’s (Janet Filling) office.

    During WWII Betty Jennings (who still lives in Westport) mother was the director of the Red Cross and her family lived on the right side of the building. The right side house (old 35 Church Ln) was kept as a residence for the director while the left side house (original 36 Church Lane) was the Red Cross office.

  8. I was there too, and Gibson Daniels, the minister, stayed inside the church for the whole trip.