Happy 150th, Bedford Hall!

This year, Bedford Hall turns 150.

It doesn’t look a day over 1.

One of Westport’s most venerated structures — with a storied history well worth telling — was renovated last year. A $120,000 makeover brought a state-of-the-art AV/home theater system, recessed and cove LED lighting and new halogen stage lights. It’s becoming Westport’s go-to space for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, art shows, memorial services and much more.

A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.

A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.

So where is Bedford Hall?

Hidden in plain sight. It’s part of the Westport Woman’s Club headquarters on Imperial Avenue — just around the corner from the police station. (Or, to use a better known landmark: up the hill from the Yankee Doodle Fair.)

The WWC — whose own long tradition dates back to 1907 — is throwing a birthday bash. Save the date: Saturday, April 16. Comedian Jane Condon emcees. There will be food, a silent auction, and a toast to the generations of Westporters who have kept Bedford Hall standing.

It was not easy.

From 1866 to 1950, the hall was part of Saugatuck Congregational Church. It sat where the Sunoco gas station is now — on the opposite side of the Post Road from the church’s current location.

When the church was moved across the street and down the hill, the hall was bought by the Woman’s Club (with help from Frederick Bedford, who had already purchased the Imperial Avenue building for them). The hall was cut in half, moved, annexed to the 1881 clubhouse, and renovated.

For the next 65 years, it was simply “the auditorium.” Now it’s regained its own identity, as Bedford Hall.

In the 1950s, Life Magazine ran photos of Bedford Hall being moved from the Post Road to Imperial Avenue.

In the 1950s, Life Magazine ran a story on Bedford Hall being moved from the Post Road to Imperial Avenue.

The Bedford family and Westport Woman’s Club have a long relationship, beyond the hall. From 1923 to ’49, E.T. Bedford granted the club space on the 2nd floor of the YMCA he’d built for the town (with a separate Main Street entrance for the ladies).

Bedford had long admired the Woman’s Club’s work. They’d brought sidewalks to downtown, provided vaccines and hot meals to schoolchildren, and founded the Visiting Nurses Association — among many other great projects.

The WWC has always tried to pay the Bedford family’s generosity forward. Shortly after the hall was moved to Imperial Avenue, the club granted 2 acres of its riparian rights to the town, for use as landfill parking lots.

The lots now host shuttle bus parking, the Farmer’s Market — and of course, the WWC’s own Yankee Doodle Fair. (The food court is just outside Bedford Hall; inside is a gourmet bake sale.)

Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church's Sunday School building move hang in its current home on Imperial Avenue.

Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church’s Sunday School building move hang in its current home on Imperial Avenue.

The Woman’s Club uses fair proceeds to fund their many charitable works — including grants to numerous local organizations, as well as scholarships. There’s another funding source for those programs too: rental of Bedford Hall.

Whatever goes around, comes around.

Even if it came — 84 years into its 150-year life — down the nearby Post Road hill.

(A commemorative program will recount the history of the hall. To purchase an ad, or contribute a memory or salute to Bedford Hall, email DorothyECurran@aol.com. Deadline is March 21.)

3 responses to “Happy 150th, Bedford Hall!

  1. I remember smokin the boys room with Bill Bronson

  2. We held my mom’s funeral reception at the WWC 14 years ago. It was a lovely setting, very homey and tasteful, and an ideal tribute since my mother had had some involvement with them. It also happened to be a very affordable venue (mom would have appreciated that as well, I think!).

  3. As a teenager We went there for the Holly Ball, for makeup and comportment lessons with Patricia O’Regan Brown of Derma Clinic Fame, had my first wedding reception there, and participated in all activities there as a member of the Westport Young Woman’s Club. Later I worked there catering parties on my own and with Seasonings Cateres (Joanne Hush owner), with Sarah Gross of Cabbages and Kings Caterers and running the kitchen for Fashion Show fundraisers for CLASP Homes, Inc. Lots of good memories oft his quaint historic location.