Last week’s photo challenge was different. It was a portrait of an old guy, hanging in a private home.
Some people thought it was unfair. They guessed every famous Westporter — except Morris Ketchum. (The photo — circa 1850s, which you can see by clicking here — comes from Bob Ketchum. He’s Morris’ great-great-grandson, living far from Connecticut. Bob sent it to me, saying, “very little family lore was passed down” before his father — also named Morris — died.)
Finally, Pam Romano zeroed in on him.
So who was Morris Ketchum?
Bob’s great-great-grandfather helped bring the railroad to Westport. According to Woody Klein’s book he lived a couple of miles away, on a 500-acre estate called Hockanum. Consisting of parks, farmlands, wheat fields, vineyards, forests and gardens, it was considered one of the nation’s most beautiful estates. It was designed by Ketchum’s friend, Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park).
Born in 1796 in New York state, he came to Westport as a youth. Married to a member of the Burr family, Ketchum made his money in the cotton trade. He founded one of the first cotton commission houses in the country, in New York City. That led to his interest in the newly developing transportation network of railroads (with another wealthy Westporter, Horace Staples). That led to his role as a titan on Wall Street.
Hockanum — known now most as the place Abraham Lincoln allegedly slept at while here to raise money for the Civil War — still stands, on Cross Highway. Ketchum’s land — from Roseville Road all the way north to the Merritt Parkway and Lyons Plains — has been largely developed.
Morris Ketchum Jesup — who provided funds for the Westport Public Library building on the Post Road in 1908, shortly before his death — was Morris Ketchum’s godson. Morris Ketchum had been a close friend of Jesup’s father, who died when Jesup was young.
Got all that?!
Now you can smile at this week’s photo challenge. And stop complaining: It’s as Westport as Westport gets.
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