Friday Flashback #7

Earlier this week, I wrote about the exciting transformation plan for the Westport Library. If all goes well, the newest iteration of the library will be finished in 2019.

The Jesup Green building opened in 1986 (on the site of the former town landfill). A bit more than a decade later, it underwent its first renovation.

Westporters of a certain age think they remember the original library. Most of the stacks — and the famous art collection, and children’s section — were housed in the sterile Parker Harder building that now includes Starbucks, Freshii and HSBC Bank:


But the real first library — built in 1908, called the Jesup Library in honor of its benefactor Morris Jesup, and then in the 1950s incorporated as part of the “new” library — was located just east of that building. It sat on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street:


But our Friday Flashback digs even deeper than that.

Here’s what that 1908 “Jesup Library” replaced:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Seth Schachter via Bill Scheffler)

This view looks west, at the corner of the Post Road (left) and Main Street (right). You can see the outlines of the buildings that are there today, lining the left side of Main Street.

If you’ve got any Westport Library memories, we’d love to hear them. Click “Comments” below.

28 responses to “Friday Flashback #7

  1. Interesting to see what was where Needle Park used to be …:-)

  2. I remember spending hours in the old old library next to the old library and using the microfiche machine and when you wanted to copy you got a black background negative whatever you copied , technology really wasn’t there then now it is the library

    • Trouble is: it’s not technology in the library that lets you look up stuff online — it’s technology you use in your home…on a park bench …anywhere.

      So the library people are desperately looking for new uses to justify grand edifices and headcount: auditoriums to hear TED talks, a “Maker Space” to use a 3D printer – something that’s also likely to become a household appliance within a few years.

      (Remember they did the same thing awhile back when they decided to go into the videocassette rental business!)

      They’re adding space for everything EXCEPT reading books, which is relegated to smaller stacks downstairs that will accommodate “most of the books” the library owned before.

      As there is ample evidence that readers are moving back to printed vs. e books (at least that small portion of the population that still reads books), it’s likely the library will need to do another renovation maybe 10 years from now to add to the stacks that are being reduced in this current renovation.

      • I’m very happy that our library is taking a broader view of its mission. Information exists beyond the printed book.

      • Does everyone in Bridgeport have technology in their home?
        Be glad you have the space and resources to accommodate all forms of information for anyone to use, appreciate, learn from, which is the purpose of a Public Library.

        I doubt the book stacks will disappear.

        • I should have added Bridgeport schools, reminded by the imbalances between Fairfield County and Bridgeport in a NYT article last week.
          But everyone knows about that, right?

      • If you were to study the trends in library use around the country, what actions best in class libraries are taking (including the Library of Congress) and the usage patterns here in Westport you would understand that what Maxine started and Bill is building on is amazing for a town our size. I did this in my work with Maxine and I am proud to say this is a fact based plan. To continue to be a vibrant core to Westport’s future these changes are not just needed they are mandatory. Remember first the Betamax and then VHS and then video disks (poor Blockbuster) and the case is clear, be on the cutting edge and go away.

        • I hope you weren’t asking Mr. Blau to “go away”. That would be rude, and it doesn’t work.

          • No Nancy, not Mr. Blau but the library would because it wouldn’t be relevant to users needs. We need to make it so he (and everyone) wants to use it more.

        • You’re right, Mr. Flatow, I have not studied the trends in “best in class” libraries, but as a businessperson myself I have always been skeptical of statements like “be on the cutting edge or go away.” To me that sounds like what Enron’s Jeff Skilling said to turn off critics skeptical about the company’s direction.

          In this case, I really do think there’s an issue above and beyond the mere waste of a public institution averaging 16 years between major building projects. And that issue is straying away from the library’s primary mission of facilitating the reading of books, something which — unlike the use of electronic devices — actually needs to be promoted in our increasingly reader-less society,

          To me, the symbolism of moving the book stacks downstairs, away from the main level, is unmistakable.

  3. These photos point on an amazing decline in the service life our library buildings:

    1908 building: 48 years
    1956 building: 30 years
    1986 building: 12 years
    1998 building: 20 years (assuming 2018 completion of new renovation.)

    If you average the last two, we’re talking a 16 years between major building projects!

  4. Love the flashbacks!

  5. Very interesting and thorough Flashback. Thanks for your research Dan.

  6. Thanks, Dan, for the 1908 photo. Now I can envision what my grandmother, then 16, saw when she went downtown.

  7. Bonnie Bradley

    Memories of the Jesup Library: (Preface) When I was a little girl I went to the Bolton School, then located at the intersection of Wilton Road and Kings Highway (“Fort Apache”) and, in a new location, GFA today. Bolton School was always very small – I never experienced a class with more than 8-10 kids and as a senior had French classes alone – not much fun. The street near the beach where I lived was isolated and without any children at all, except for me. The only kids I knew who lived anywhere near were Jack and Billy Mitchell, on Compo Beach Road. It was almost inevitable that reading became obsessive for me. I was thrilled to discover the library – my mother must have taken me the first time, after I had read everything in the house.

    Jesup Library was my heaven and my haven. In those days Westport had local bus service with the route from the beach to town, ten cents a ride. Thus I was able to get to the library at any time! Starting at about age 9-10 anytime I wanted! It must have been many of hundreds of times that I rode that bus to the Jesup Library.

    At the Library Miss Eleanor Street was the librarian. She was strict and fierce. In a very short period I was done with the tiny “children’s section” and ready for something more interesting. Miss Street was quite angry and disapproving, she considered it completely inappropriate that a mere child should roam the “adult section” unsupervised. Nevertheless I prevailed. I remember reading Forever Amber in 8th grade math class, hiding it behind my algebra book or on my lap. My parents never noticed or questioned what I read: my father encouraged intellectual curiosity. Forever Amber LOL.

    Needless to say, I am addicted to books, all kinds, fiction and nonfiction, but not “bodice rippers” any more – too repetitive, boring and generally demeaning to women – get a life, girls! And I still read the old fashioned way, with paper books, from the library. Thank you Mr. Jesup!

    • The Westport Librarian,Miss Street, God rest her soul, was our neighbor for many, many years. She had this uncanny ability to throw her voice in a manner that no doubt caught the attention of pilots flying overhead. And she was the only person I’ve ever known who read National Geographic from cover to cover. An interesting woman with an insatiable curiosity. Good thing she’s not around to see how many books the Westport Library has dumped to make room for whatever it is we’re supposed to care about now.

  8. Linda D. Parker

    Thanks for the great photo, Dan – how well I remember the Jesup Library!

  9. Dick Lowenstein

    Missing from the current version of the 1908 building is the colonnaded parapet shown in the picture. Does anyone know when and why it was removed?

    • Good point, Dick. The building isn’t the same without its balustrade. I suspect it was removed during a roof replacement. Unfortunate choice.

  10. Joyce Barnhart

    I remember climbing the stairs in the Parker Harding Building to the Children’s Section in the Post Road library with my then 5 year old son, Matthew. I told him we would look up dinosaurs in the card catalog so we could learn where to find the books. When we reached the top of the stairs, near the desk, without our asking, the librarian told us the Dewey decimal numbers to check. I guess she knew them by heart after years of helping kindergarten-age little boys and their mothers. Now my neighbor at The Westport Community Garden is a Westport Library children’s librarian. I’ll have to ask her if she knows those numbers. I bet she does.

  11. Good story, Dan, Thanks fot thee history lesson. Loved it!

  12. Bonnie Bradley

    Thanks Linda… and I don’t even know you or live in Westport anymore!

  13. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    Good Story Dan and great memories. I remember Miss Street. She was helpful to me as a student. Always took the time to show me how to research what I needed. I was even allowed to review very old documents about Westport for a Staples High School report. (Review not check out.)
    Applying to college a standard question was what had I read, I always received remarks about the wide range of material that was available for me to choose from. Bonnie mentioned the local bus… what a wonderful benefit that was.

  14. I remember the old library on the corner as that was the one that was here when I moved to WP Spent many and hour there roaming through the stacks – had 2 kids in school so they used it alot. Love to see the “old history” of WP – brings back many memories – looking up things in the card catalog – sitting on the floor reading – “those were the days” as the saying go