Richard Brodie Built A House — And Made A Home

Scott Brodie was a baby boomer — one of tens of thousands of youngsters who arrived in Westport with their families during the late 1940s and ’50s. Like nearly all of that generation, his story begins with his parents.

Scott writes:

In 1954, my father set out to relocate with his wife, 2-year-old son and infant boy. They left a 1-bedroom apartment on upper Broadway in New York City for a town midway between Manhattan and New Hartford, Connecticut, where he was the director of a summer sleepaway camp. They chose Westport, then a sleepy community of farmers and artists, with a population under 10,000.

They rented a house on Newtown Turnpike, and went looking for a lot on which to build a home. They settled on an acre near the end of Burr Farms Road, which was being developed as a street of cookie-cutter split-level homes extending past the Burr Farm apple orchard into the woods just west of North Avenue. He chose a wooded spot, on the uphill side of the street.

With time on his hands after the camping season was over he became his own general contractor. He built a California-style ranch house, unlike anything else on the street, largely with his own hands.

Richard Brodie in the rafters as he built his home, 1954.

Richard Brodie in the rafters as he built his home, 1954.

There, he and his wife raised 2 children, and welcomed a generation of youngsters growing up on the street. It was a simpler time. Dozens of kids, all nearly the same age, enjoyed the quiet of the cul-de-sac, riding bicycles and toy cars, and sledding down each other’s backyard hills.

There were no “play dates.” We would walk over to a friend’s house, literally knock on the door and ask, “can Johnny come out and play?” We went trick-or-treating by ourselves, without a parent lurking a few steps behind.

Richard Brodie and his wife Esther, in the house he built. They were married nearly 65 years.

Richard Brodie and his wife Esther, in the house he built. They were married nearly 65 years.

We all walked through neighbors’ yards to Burr Farms School, and later (through different yards) to Staples. (The first day I walked through the woods to the high school, I was worried to see a sign at the edge of a yard. Not to fear — it didn’t say “No Trespassing,” only “Please keep off the grass”!) Long Lots Junior High was a longer way off, most days a bike ride away.

The “synchronous culture” of the first generation on the street grew up and went  their separate ways. We became doctors, lawyers, musicians, furniture makers (novelist Cathleen Schine grew up down the street). As new families moved in, they found fewer children of the same age as theirs to walk over and knock on doors.

Then came the tear-downs. With increasing affluence and rising real estate values, the 1-acre lots became desirable as places to build much larger houses, with 3-car garages, pools and tennis courts. But the lawns to play on and hills to sled down were smaller. We still refer to them by the names of the families who first lived in them, all of them long gone.

The “Steidel House” across the street from the Brodies' – one of the few 1950s split-levels in its original state on the road, as it looked in 2012.

The “Steidel House” across the street from the Brodies’ – one of the few 1950s split-levels in its original state on the road, as it looked in 2012.

Most of them have been enlarged beyond all recognition except to a practiced eye:

The “Fleming House”  just to the north of the Brodies'. The deck over the original garage remains, but the garage has been converted  into living space, and a new garage added (left). The porch, dormer and new gables effectively camouflage the original '50s split-level.

The “Fleming House” just to the north of the Brodies’. The deck over the original garage remains, but the garage has been converted into living space, and a new garage added (left). The porch, dormer and new gables effectively camouflage the original ’50s split-level.

Our California Ranch is still there – now a wonderful place for an older couple, with no stairs to negotiate.


The Brodies' house, today.

The Brodies’ house, today.

The house to the south of ours was replaced a year or so ago. The “Steidel House” diagonally across the street came down last month. There have been massive excavations, and new foundations were poured last week.

The lot where the “Steidel House” sat, as it looks today. At least the demolition crew left the red maple on the front lawn.

The lot where the “Steidel House” sat, as it looks today. At least the demolition crew left the red maple on the front lawn.

No one builds his house on our street with his own hands these days…

My father, Richard Brodie,  passed away earlier this month, at age 96. He was a Westporter for nearly 60 years.

Richard Brodie, at his 96th birthday party.

Richard Brodie, at his 96th birthday party.

Richard Brodie graduated from New York University in 1938. His medical studies at the University of Edinburgh were cut short by the outbreak of World War II. He joined the US Army, serving in the Philippines, New Guinea and with the Occupation Forces in Japan.

After the war he joined his father as director of Camp Berkshire in Winsted, Connecticut. In 1954 he, his wife and 2 young children moved to Westport.  

He was active as president of the local chapter of B’nai Brith, and a leader of local Boy Scout troops, in the off-seasons between camp. He returned to school in his 40s, earning M.S. and Ph.D degrees in educational psychology from Yeshiva University.

Brodie spent many years as an educational psychologist in the Ridgefield and New Canaan school systems, and developed a private practice as a psychologist and nutritional advisor.

In the 1980s the Camp Berkshire property was sold to the town of New Hartford, which operates the site as Brodie Park. Richard remained an active and very competitive tennis player into his 90s.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Esther; his sons Scott and Bruce, and 5 grandchildren.

20 responses to “Richard Brodie Built A House — And Made A Home

  1. Very nice story Scott. I know that we both enjoyed being the first Burr Farms class to complete K to 6th… Long Lots and then onto Staples. They were truly the wonder years. I am sorry for your loss.

    • Scott E. Brodie

      Bruce — nice to hear from you. Thank you for your kind thoughts. — Scott.

  2. Edward Bloch

    What a charming story. It captures the essence of post-war Westport neighborhoods. Burr Farms Road was largely developed by a Norman Shapiro. He and his wife Eleanor would live in a completed house until it was sold and then move on to the next new house (at least that’s the story my father told who was a boyhood friend of Norman’s!).

    • Scott E. Brodie

      Dad bought the lot for our house from Norman Shapiro! The house he settled into, a few door down from ours, was one of the nicest on the street. Even that house has been replaced by a McMansion in the last decade!

  3. Vivianne Pommier

    My life centered more around Camp Brodie and my wonderful summers there.
    I send my love to Esther and Scott, and my thanks for the warm memories of our parents together in Westport, and on my camp visiting days.

    Vivianne Pommier

  4. Vivianne Pommier

    Apologies I meant Camp Berkshire… (no coffee yet)

    • Scott E. Brodie

      Vivianne — Wonderful to hear from you! It has been very touching to hear from many old campers, and to learn what an important role our summer camp played in their lives so many years ago. I will pass your message on to my mother. — Scott.

  5. A. David Wunsch

    A wonderful piece but I want to make a correction. To characterize Westport of 1954 as a “sleepy town of farmers and artists” is wrong. As my favorite radio personality Jean Shepard used to say, ” the trouble with nostalgia is that it falsifies history.” .There were, to be sure, a handful of farms in that period — but just a few. Nyala Farm was the most notable. And there were a small number of artists– mostly magazine illustrators. The culture of the town is more accurately grasped if you think of the hundreds of men in their gray flannel suits boarding the 8 :12 train for NY each weekday morning.

    The town did have its sleepiness. Many stores on Main Street closed early on Wednesdays. That custom, alas, is not going to be revived.

    A. David Wunsch
    Staples High School 1956

    • Scott Brodie

      I surely do not remember the flavor of the town in the 1950s as well as you (I was only two years old in 1954!), but my parents distinctly recalled the town as having a strong agricultural feel to it when they moved to Westport, in addition to the growing presence of the commuters. There were several working farms in town — I counted two children from active farm families among my elementary school classmates; at Burr Farms School, we got our daily 1/2 pint of milk from Ferris Dairy on Morningside Drive, which bottled milk from local farms; and the many streets and developments which now bear the word “Farm” in their name were still open fields and orchards, if not actively working farms. Barns with peeling paint were common, often with old hay still clinging to the chinks between the beams — conversions of these to picturesque houses continued through the 1960s. It was not unusual to find wild onions growing in yards and empty fields — Scott.

  6. Dan & Scott– I loved this post! Scott’s recollections of Burr Farms Road and the bucolic feel of the town in the 50s and 60s mirror my own. (I’d forgotten about the Ferris Dairy.) I also adore the picture of Richard, which so perfectly captures his bright spirit. He will be missed. Much love to Scott, Bruce & Esther. –Prill

  7. Marcy Fralick

    I, too, remember the Burr Farms area as Scott described it. Walking from my home on Hickory Drive (south of Long Lots and west of Morningside Dr), I remember lots of farm land, In fact, across from Keene and Hickory Drives, a little north of the Leth’s, was a huge open field that had been a farm. It is now filled with houses. When I think back on my time in Westport (1964-1972), I remember it exactly as Scott described, but like Prill, I’d forgotten about Ferris Dairy! Growing up in the Burr Farms/Long Lots/Staples area, it breaks my heart to see the McMansion’s take over the formerly bucolic, farmland I used to call home. My deepest condolences to the Brodie family on the loss of Richard.

  8. Michael Calise

    I would often pick up milk at Ferris Dairy with my dad I can still hear the clink of the glass bottles as they rolled off the line. The prize milk was the glass bottles of Nyala Farm Guernsey milk with an inch or so of cream on top.

  9. Karen (Speltz) Abramson

    Scott, your mother was my gym teacher at South School in New Canaan when I was a kid! Please give her my best.

  10. Doug Gallagher

    Scott you may remember my grandparents house across the street (the Hall’s). My parents bought it from them in 1970. Great memories of your parents, always one of the favorite houses during Halloween.

    • Scott E Brodie

      I certainly do remember your grandparents. We still call their place the “Hall House”. It was my second choice as an example of the “50s split-levels” in near-original condition which were built by Mr. Shapiro on the street, but it was difficult to get a picture which was not blocked by trees. The front lawn sloping down to the brook is still gorgeous. — Scott.

  11. Mary Ann West

    Scott, as with my former classmate; Karen (Speltz) Abramson, your mother was my gym teacher in New Canaan and then later at NCHS, your father was a leader in a teen group I participated in those crazy late 60’s, we even made a day trip to the camp!
    Love to your family and I am so sorry for your loss.

    PS, I will also post this on the New Canaan Facebook page: If you’re really from New Canaan (CT) you’d know….. There will be many people who knew your Dad

  12. karen gibbens

    as with Karen (speltz) Abramson and Mary Ann West, I too knew both your mother and father, Your father was involved with the Special Ed Class at Saxe Jr High school in the late 60’s which I was in, I would also see them in Westport at Bill’s Smoke Shop when I was there visting my grandfather.
    Your dad really cared about the kids and will be missed,
    I am so sorry for your loss.

  13. Mrs Brodie was my gym teacher for many years at South School in New Canaan. I have similar childhood memories of running around the neighborhood before McMansions and tear downs became commonplace.

  14. Noreen Rogers

    Hi, you two! I so enjoyed having dinner with you and some of our old South School friends. Your house is truly a home because you have made it that!