A Trip Back To The Jennings Trail

Last year, “06880” sounded the alarm that the Jennings Trail Tour had been canceled.

A staple of local 3rd grade life for years — once an actual bus tour of historic Westport highlights — a while ago it morphed into a field trip to Wheeler House, the Westport Historical Society‘s very historic home.

Now — ta da! — the field trip is back.

Director of elementary education Julie Droller revived it — and enlisted Staples High School senior interns as docents. A team, including WHS education director Elizabeth DeVoll and town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz worked to make the tour fit current curriculum requirements.

In a 2-week span, over 500 kids marveled at artifacts and photos that told of Westport’s long-ago rich farmland, fish-filled river and bustling shipping industry. Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” mural also mesmerized them.

A detail from Robert Lambdin's magnificent mural.

A detail from Robert Lambdin’s magnificent mural.

The docents challenged them with questions like, “What was it like to be a kid in Westport 150 years ago?”

The 3rd grade social studies curriculum includes a study of Connecticut and Westport history. On the Jennings Trail tour, the youngsters created a local timeline, from long ago to today. Each one created an Archival Folder, to bring home.

In 1997, Paul Newman wrote in a Historical Society booklet, “Westport is special to us because it’s home.

That was a decade before the current 3rd graders were born. If they know Paul Newman at all, it’s as that lemonade guy.

But thanks to the Jennings Trail Tour, a new generation of young Westporters is learning a great deal about the town that they too call home.

Interns (from left) Abby King, Ale Benjamin, David Raice and Mehar Kiami. All are Staples High School seniors except (Fairfield Ludlowe High).

Interns (from left) Abby King, Ale Benjamin, David Raice and Mehar Kiami. All are Staples High School seniors except Abby (Fairfield Ludlowe High).

8 responses to “A Trip Back To The Jennings Trail

  1. So happy this field trip is back. The best and most memorable trip my kids took.
    Kudos to the westporters who fought for it.
    I’d go on it even without kids in the school. It makes them realize how special Westport is!

  2. Joyce Barnhart

    The Westport Young Woman’s League used to recruit docents for Jennings Trail from their members. I was one and loved doing it, first because I led bus tours for my children’s school and second because I learned so much. That’s how I know that “Saugatuck” means “mouth of the tidal river” and “Compo” derives from “Compaug”, meaning “bears’ fishing ground”. Burying Hill Beach was a Native American burial ground and the first Greens Farms Church was burned by the British during the Revolutionary War(probably during the Danbury raid.) The Reverend Hesekiah Ripley of that church served as a chaplain in the rebel army.
    I will have to see if I still have the script and take myself on a tour again. It is “Jennings Trail” after Bessie Jennings of Greens Farms, because it originated with her.
    WHS had a recorded tour, narrated by the Newmans, I think, that they did as a “grown-up” Jennings Trail bus tour.

  3. Jo Ann Davidson

    Thanks to Julie Droller and Kathie Bennewitz for reviving the Jennings Trail Tour. I first went there in 1964 as a Grade 3 parent on a school bus with Bessie Jennings when she was alive. She showed the Hillspoint kids where the elm stood “that was here when Adrean Block sailed up the coast” and where the colonists hid the church silver in the well, so the British wouldn’t find it. I think the adults got more out of it than the kids. But then, I kept going on more trips until I ran out of third graders.

  4. It’s so important that children learn to love the past, especially when it is THEIR history. They’ll appreciate it so much more as adults.

  5. Michelle Scher Saunders

    I have fond memories of the Jennings Trail program with both of my boys. I volunteered from 2005 thru 2009 and had the opportunity to learn so much of Westport’s early history. I remember dressing up in petticoats and working in the kitchen, first with the Westport Young Woman’s League and then through the PTA. I was responsible for baking pound cakes (1 pound of sugar, 1 pound of eggs, 1 pound of butter, 1 pound of flour, salt and nutmeg) which I sliced and gave to the students as I talked about all the kitchen tools from the 18th and 19th century. All the children loved the tour and especially the pound cake. The last time I volunteered, we were not allowed to serve the pound cakes (someone might have an allergy.) So happy to hear that Jennings Trail is back.

  6. David Grant

    Hi Dan – Do you know if Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural was made into a purchasable print?

    Sent from my iPad


  7. I do not know. Check with the Westport Historical Society: http://www.westporthistory.org.

  8. Kathleen Bennewitz

    I am looking into having a print/poster made of the Lambdin mural after its installed at Town Hall after the Saugatuck @ Work show closes. Stay tuned!