In 1852, Horace Staples — owner of a lumber and hardware business, silk and axe factories, shipping vessels and a thriving pier — founded the Saugatuck Bank.
Two years later he moved it to National Hall — his new building a couple of miles upriver, just across the bridge from a small downtown area overshadowed by the far more dynamic Saugatuck section of Westport.
Eventually, Saugatuck Bank became Westport Bank & Trust. It outgrew National Hall — which turned into Fairfield Furniture — and relocated to a pie-slice-shaped building nearby, where Church Lane feeds into the Post Road.
In 1965 the bank — whose motto was “A Hometown Bank in a Town of Homes” — commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a pair of murals. “Shipping on the Saugatuck” and “Hotel Square” were hung with great fanfare in the impressive, high-ceilinged room. (They’re still there, though the bank morphed a while ago into Patagonia.)
In 1970 — to celebrate the opening of a new branch in Saugatuck, just down Charles Street from the Arrow restaurant — Westport Bank & Trust hired Lambdin to create a 3rd mural.
The artist incorporated more than 2 centuries of Saugatuck history into his new work. He painted Disbrow’s ferry, from 1745; the iron swing bridge, built in 1884; oxcarts, farms, churches, wharves, warehouses, factories and ships.
Standing prominently in the center is Captain Sereno Gould Allen, one of Westport’s last market boat captains.
The mural is framed — somewhat incongruously — by the I-95 bridge. It looks almost elegant. But when the “Connecticut Turnpike” was built in the 1950s, it destroyed the heart of that pulsing neighborhood.
Westport Bank & Trust went the way of most local banks. It was swallowed up by bigger ones: Lafayette, Hudson. In 2013, TD Bank shut the Saugatuck branch for good.
Fortunately, the mural survives. In fact, it thrives.
TD Bank donated the work to the town. After restoration by Joseph Matteis, it’s the centerpiece of a wonderful new Westport Historical Society exhibit.
Called “Saugatuck @ Work: Haven of Community, Industry, Innovation,” the show includes photos and memorabilia — old maps, patents by Saugatuck inventors, costumes, and ship and railroad logs — from Saugatuck’s long history. (Did you know that before Italians came to work on the railroad, Irish did the same?)
Speaking of trains, there’s fascinating information on the role of transportation in the development of Saugatuck. The area is blessed with a river, Long Island Sound, rail lines — and of course, the highway.
The show includes photos of Saugatuck today, during its dramatic rebirth. Larry Untermeyer’s photos show new restaurants and shops, replacing some of Lambdin’s scenes.
A companion exhibit (“Framing Saugatuck: History Under the Highway”) shows the harsh impact of construction. The new interstate destroyed homes, businesses, even the Methodist Church.
The turnpike’s route was a political decision. The exhibit shows alternate possibilities. It could have cut the heart out of Green’s Farms — or even been double-decked over the Post Road, right through downtown.
The WHS exhibit runs through May 30. Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural then moves across the street to Town Hall, becoming part of Westport’s public — and very impressive — permanent art collection.
(For more information on the exhibit, click on www.westporthistory.org)