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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.

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 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.

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