William Phelps Eno’s Odd Plaque

I’ve walked up and down the Westport Y stairs — the ones by the pool, leading to the back parking lot — thousands of times.

But until the other day, I never stopped to read the plaque on the wall. (Full disclosure: The reason was that the stairs were gridlocked by a convoy of battle-ready baby strollers.)

The plaque honors William Phelps Eno. He’s the Westport businessman known as the “Father of Traffic Safety.”  His innovations — creations, really — included the stop sign, pedestrian crosswalk, traffic circle, 1-way street, taxi stand and pedestrian safety island. He designed traffic plans for New York, Paris and London.

For many years, his worldwide traffic institute was headquartered on Saugatuck Avenue, near the Norwalk line.

(Fun fact: He never learned to drive.)

It’s nice that the Westport Y has a plaque honoring him.

Eno plaque

But look closely. It honors the “William Phelps Eno Memorial Pedestrian Mall.”

Inquiring minds want to know:

  • Was this pedestrian mall once located where the plaque now stands? (The Y’s Weeks Pavilion was built in 1978.)
  • Was the mall somewhere else, and the plaque somehow landed here?
  • Will the plaque move to the new Y, when it relocates to Mahackeno?
  • And, most importantly: When was there a “pedestrian mall” in Westport, and why did we lose it?

3 responses to “William Phelps Eno’s Odd Plaque

  1. Tom Feeley

    His ENO Lane street sign said
    “ENO LA” which I always thought was a reference to ENOLA GAY, the bomb.

    In Florida, traffic circles are called “round abouts” which are better? For traffic than 4 way Stops.

  2. Jack Backiel

    If Mr. Eno invented the Stop Sign, then he cost me a lot of money in fines over the years. Seriously, it never ceases to amaze me how many famous people have lived in Westport over the years.

  3. Thanks, Dan, for bringing to light this interesting bit of Y history. I’ll try my best to answer the questions you pose, though other, more veteran 06880 readers may be able to explain related mysteries — like what buildings once occupied the property where the Y’s Weeks Pavilion now stands.

    The interior walkway was named after Mr. Eno to honor his Foundation’s $150,000 gift in the mid-1970s to help fund the addition that gave the Y its 6-lane pool, racquet courts, men’s and women’s health centers and upstairs running track, the latter since converted into a gymnastics center.

    As our Family Y has evolved over its 90-year history, many such plaques now grace the maze of hallways and landings of our downtown facility. And, yes, we plan to bring all that we can save to the new Y being built at our Mahackeno campus.

    Our new Y will also feature a very modern tribute – a picture mosaic of the Bedford Building composed of thousands of individual photographs uploaded by contributors to our current capital campaign. When complete, the mosaic will be displayed as a 6 ft x 4 ft wall mural in our new lobby. It will also be viewable and searchable online; find it at http://www.pictureyournewy.org. I’d like to think that the innovative Mr. Eno would approve!

    And speaking of plaques: Just this week I spoke with Ed Doubleday, son of “Doc” Doubleday, who worked at the Y from its opening in 1923 to 1957. Ed, a Staples grad and long retired to Florida from his own career at YMCAs in the Northeast, told me that when he was a kid, he helped his dad install a bronze marker in the lower-level boiler room marking the high-water line from the 1938 hurricane. Ed wasn’t surprised to hear of our Y’s inundation from Sandy; he lived through it before.

    We’re searching for that plaque – and collecting other stories and artifacts as we gear up for both our 90th anniversary this fall and our new beginning at Mahackeno next year.

    Perhaps longtime “alert” 06880 readers can share their own stories of the Doubledays, Bedfords, Brophys and the other legendary Westporters who have helped make the Y a center of community life for generations past – and those to come.

    Sorry to go on so long. Lots of history to cover! Thanks again —