The Westport Y, 90 Years Young

The Westport Family Y has changed a lot in 90 years — including its name. It’s no longer the “Young Men’s Christian Association.” So even though the Y’s actual 90th anniversary was last Thursday, officials did not plan a public birthday bash.

It was also Rosh Hashanah.

The 90th anniversary will be celebrated instead on Wednesday, September 18 (4 p.m.), with a street party on Church Lane.

Scott Smith — the Y’s communications director (a position that did not exist for most of the Y’s history) — passed along some tidbits from opening day.

The Westporter-Herald called September 5, 1923 “second to none in the history of the town. Not since the day of the official opening of Westport’s new bridge over the Saugatuck River has there been anywhere near as great a gathering as notables, both local and out of town.”

The YMCA's Bedford Building, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street.

The YMCA’s Bedford Building, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street.

Connecticut Governor Charles E. Templeton was there. So was Edward T. Bedford, the donor of “this new and handsome Y.M.C.A. building.”

Bedford described how, as a 15-year-old, he stood outside the old Westport Hotel, watching games of pool inside. He could not go inside, “on account of the saloon.”

Years later — a wealthy man, as a director of Standard Oil — he felt honored to fill “the need of some place for boys and young men to congregate.” His “new and handsome” YMCA stood at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street — the exact site of the former Westport Hotel.

The Bedford Building lobby in 1923. Not much has changed in 90 years.

The Bedford Building lobby in 1923. Not much has changed in 90 years.

The new building featured bowling alleys, billiard tables, a gymnasium and reading room. It would be a place to exercise one’s body, and mind.

Governor Templeton noted that Bedford did not have “the opportunities the young men of today have. (However), he didn’t smoke or wile his hours away; he didn’t stay up until midnight, not at all, but instead went to bed early and then was fresh for the tasks of the day to follow.”

Bedford’s work ethic, the governor implied, would be a good model for all the young people enjoying the new YMCA to follow.

Presumably, this advice remains true today — 90 years later. Even if the Westport Family Y serves more than “young men.” More than “Christians.”

And plans to celebrate its next big anniversary in yet another “new and handsome” building.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

18 responses to “The Westport Y, 90 Years Young

  1. Eric William Buchroeder

    Pave paradise, put up a YMCA.

  2. A. David Wunsch

    The YMCA piece is a reminder that there was a time when the wealthy made gifts that would benefit their small towns. Bedford is an outstanding example.

    I’ve lived in Belmont, Mass. for 30 years. . The town has badly needed a library for two decades. . Among the wealthiest residents — probably the wealthiest– is one Mittens Romney. Has he stepped forward to pay for a new building ? You know the answer . Nor has he done much else. No wonder the town went solidly for his opponent last November.
    A. David Wunsch
    Staples High School, 1956

  3. Really great old photos, Dan. Thanks for posting. I remember the lobby of the Westport Y well and seems like it still looks much the same. I remember the back stairway on the side entrance and the smell of chlorine as you entered the hallway. Really great place. A grand old lady on the corner holding watch over downtown.

  4. Back in the 1960s, the Staples Fieldhouse did not exist and none of the school gyms were typically open to the public on weekends for kids to play pickup basketball in the winter. So the Y was definitely the place for that. We also played a lot of badminton there and, yes, Edward T. Bedford probably would have loved the fact that we also used the pool tables on a Saturday afternoon.

    Maybe a present-day Edward T. Bedford will step forward to make a very generous donation to the Westport Cinema Initiative to help bring back a movie theater to downtown Westport (similar to what a Greenwich donor did with respect to restoring an indie cinema in Stamford).

  5. Fred….where is Mr. Weinstein with $$$ support for the Westport Cinema Initiative. In a perfect world, I think he could certainly front the whole thing.

  6. Wow…such great memories. Dance classes…cheering friends on the Staples swim team…then years later using a “guest pass” to work out in the gym!!! Not to mention the fantastic summers I spent learning so many things and having so much fun at Camp Mahackeno. We sure were a bunch of lucky kids!!! (thanks mom, thanks dad)

  7. Eric William Buchroeder

    Fri night dancing school in the upstairs gym. Wearing white gloves and a wool suit. Wishing someone would just put me out of my misery. How’re they going to teach young men to be gentlemen at Camp Mahackeno?

  8. Paul Greenberg

    Boo-hoo-hoo, some rich person is not funding my pet project. Look at you people whining and complaining. Where is the New England pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps attitude? You live in a wealthy town like Westport or Belmont (I live and lived in both, BTW) and can’t get an extra amenity in your basket? Forget about donating to cure disease, feed the hungry and stopping war, we need a new library and cinema. If these things are important to you, then get out there and raise the money.

    Also, Mr. Romney donated an average of 13.5% of his income to charity for two decades which is probably a higher ratio than anyone on this blog site.

    • Eric William Buchroeder

      I thought most New Englanders still had the first dollar they earned or they weren’t New Englanders.

      • Paul Greenberg

        We clearly must be keeping it for ourselves. According The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the New England states rank dead last in donations as a percentage of median discretionary income. Embarrassing to say the least.

  9. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    That’s a strange name,” Westport Family Y”. Does the “Y” still mean Young? Hmm. ” Westport Family Young” just doesn’t sound/or read well.
    Gym or Center seems to make more sense. And, regarding a new cinema, think of the luxury of naming a new cinema after yourself after you’ve raised the money! Get to work Westporters!

  10. Sharon Paulsen

    I feel like this post is about the nostalgia of the original YMCA building, more so than about current topics of fundraising and/or financial backers for current ideations, no?
    Anyway, I remember when my Mom first brought me into that front entrance lobby, back in the 70’s, to sign me up for swim class. I was young and small, so that lobby felt grand and otherworldly to me. I could smell the wood of what seemed like centuries old, and musty ancient carpets, and the dark architectural mouldings looming overhead. The front desk seemed too tall, imposing even, and yes, there was a strangely out of place chlorine scent wafting in from “somewhere over there, to the right, Mom”.
    Felt like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining in a way, but only in retrospect now.
    And it seemed to me at the time that there was a strange maze of narrow tiled corridors that eventually led to the locker areas and showers and finally the pool. It was such an non-intuitive transition, from the “old” building, to “not so old”, utilitarian structure. (Nope, didn’t study architecture to any great length – these were just inherent memories).
    Ah well, rambling here as memories pour in! I havent been inside the old Y since the 80’s (eekk gads). Thanks Dan!

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      Yes, it’s easy to get off topic here!
      I agree that the Y was quite imposing as a child, so much so that I don’t have a clear memory of the place, that, sadly, I didn’t use it. Shame.

  11. Paul, I just wanted to say a couple of things in response. First, I certainly hope you were not characterizing my suggestion as “whining and complaining” because I fail to see the basis for any such characterization.

    Second, I think your depiction of New England states as ranking dead last in charitable donations as a percentage of median discretionary income provides an incomplete picture. Among other things, the majority of the New England states (including CT) pay out more in federal taxes than we get back in federal spending while two of the very top states in terms of the charity standard you cite–Alabama and Mississippi–get back a lot more in federal spending than they pay out in federal taxes. So you could say we are helping subsidize those states.

    Furthermore, in terms of state and local taxes being levied and then spent towards such things as education, social services,etc., I think CT far surpasses places such as Alabama and Mississippi. So, I hardly think it’s fair to say that the spending practices of CT’s residents towards the public good are “embarrassing.”

    • Paul Greenberg

      Mr. Cantor:

      My characterization was made on the overall comments that implied that the very rich somehow have an obligation to pay for pet projects of the merely wealthy. I was suggesting that perhaps there are more worthy and more needy causes for donations than providing libraries and cinemas for wealthy towns like Westport and Belmont. Furthermore, if these causes are important enough, there is more than sufficient wealth in these communities to get these projects completed without a sugar daddy (or mommy).

      In terms of donations, you mentioned the poorer states of Alabama and Mississippi. Being taxed at a higher rate in CT than in those states should not be seen as a substitute for charity nor an excuse as to why we do not have to donate as much. We are wealthier so naturally we will contribute more tax revenues.

      You failed to mention that wealthier states such as North Carolina and Maryland are also in the top ten donating states. In addition, Virginia is 14 and New York is 17 so the theory that higher tax states do not donate as much seems to have little correlation to the facts. Connecticut is 45! For yucks and to avoid anecdotal information, I ran a correlation analysis between disposable income and donation rate. There is essentially no correlation. I stand by my contention that our donation rate to charity is embarrassing.

  12. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Seriously, wealthy Americans need to get out of their leather chairs and travel the world in order to think outside of the box you have created for yourselves. Focus, Senator, Focus

  13. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    What I mean to say is: Goodnight and Good Luck Westport, in all of your endeavours.