When I-95 Took Its Toll

Before it focused its attention on Brooklyn — its real estate, its music scene, the type of glasses its hipsters wear — the New York Times actually reported metropolitan-area news in places like Westport.

Kathie Bennewitz — who was researching the construction of I-95, and the destruction it wrought on Saugatuck — unearthed a couple of interesting Times stories from nearly 60 years ago.

On June 20, 1956, the newspaper announced: “Advancing ‘Pike Drives Wild Animals to Town.”

“Human dwellers in Fairfield County are not the only inhabitants to be dislocated by the construction of the Connecticut Turnpike,” readers read. “Denizens of the woods on and near the Thruway route are also being displaced.”

A Westport Humane Society spokesman said he’d received “frequent” calls from residents wanting to know what to do about “the wild life that is invading their backyards and sometimes even their swimming pools.”

Raccoons, possums and skunks were “regular visitors.” No word, though, on deer.

Construction in 1957 of the Connecticut Turnpike bridge in Saugatuck. Charles Street feeds into Riverside Avenue (bottom). Note the Gault tanks along the river (upper left).

Construction in 1957 of the Connecticut Turnpike bridge in Saugatuck. Charles Street feeds into Riverside Avenue (bottom). Note the Gault tanks along the river (upper left).

Less than a year later — on February 15, 1957 — the Times reported that Westport had saved a 35-foot, 70-year-old holly tree from the chainsaw.

Town officials rescued it from highway demolition. Uprooted and towed 2 miles behind a police escort car, it was transplanted “a short distance from the police station in the center of town.”

“It was too beautiful to destroy,” said First Selectman W. Clarke Crossman.

Wildlife being forced from its natural habitat by construction. Saving trees from destruction.

As the saying goes: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

7 responses to “When I-95 Took Its Toll

  1. Bobbie Herman

    Is the holly tree still alive? If so, do you know where it is?

  2. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    My memory of I-95 going through was the way it changed my walk to Saugatuck Elementary school from Narrow Rocks Rd. We always stopped at Kenny’s store on the way home for a snack. Kenny’s had to move and that is when it went to The other side of town at the Old Mill.

    • Kim Johnson

      I lived on Compo Cove summers in the early ’50s and remember Kenny Montgomery and his mother running the tiny store across the street. They didn’t seem very happy there, must have been quite a loss of income as the area was so seasonal then, but never knew the history – thanks!

  3. I was a kid, but I remember when they were building it, driving by houses in flames (!) deliberately burned to make room for I-95. (Back then we all still burned leaves in the yard, and had an incinerator for household trash.) But yes, putting in the highway was a big deal!!

  4. Kathie Bennewitz

    The holly tree was said to have been moved near the police station. downtown I wonder if is still there too. Maybe the tree warden knows??

  5. Gary Singer

    As a student at the Univ. of Bridgeport in the early 50s, we had an unofficial fraternity/party house at 816 Broad St. The resident frat brothers were planning a reunion around 1958, only to discover that I-95 was now where the house once was. Also, as a pre-teenager in Norwalk, I made frequent visits to Phil Bakers, the best pizza place in the entire world, located on the corner of New Canaan Ave. & Broad St. It too was a victim of the construction, when the I-95/Rt 7 interchange was built. Writing this, it occurs to me that both these “losses” were at a Broad St. Hummm.

  6. Tom Allen '66

    I was in third and fourth grade at Saugatuck El when I-95 was built and was living in Saugatuck. My pals and I watched the thruway being constructed from our perch at the end of Sachem Trail. Half of our community was taken out by I-95. Many houses were condemned — and families, and sometimes houses, moved — and businesses shut. The old Saugatuck survived for decades, but only as a shadow of its former self.