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.
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.
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.)
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.)