Friday Flashback #55

For over 50 years, The Willows medical complex — aka “Fort Apache” — has sat at the Kings Highway North/Wilton Road intersection.

But for 3 decades before that, it was the 3rd home to The Bolton School — aka The Westport School for Girls.

Mary E. E. Bolton

The school was opened in 1925 by Mrs. Mary E.E. Bolton and her sister, Miss Katherine Laycock. The founders’ main goal was to educate Bolton’s 2 daughters.

The women were “completely unknown in Westport,” a school history in the 1951 yearbook says.

But they put up a sign outside a 3-story Myrtle Avenue house. Bolton leased room for her school — and living space for herself and her daughters — there.

Besides Betty and Bunny Bolton, 2 other girls — all 7 years old– enrolled. By year’s end, 14 others joined them.

The next year the school moved to a large Greek Revival house on the corner of Post Road West and Ludlow Road.

Three years later, they relocated to the Kings Highway North site. The Bolton School occupied a large Victorian farmhouse, and 3 outbuildings.

Each year, a new grade was added. The first graduating class was 1935.

By the mid-1950s though, the old house, barn and sheds were fire traps. Mrs. Bolton’s lease was nearing an end, and the owner of the property wanted to sell.

The Bolton School, on the corner of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road. The photo was provided by Bonnie Bradley, from the school’s 1950 yearbook.

A group of concerned parents and friends of the school, including Lucie Bedford Cunningham, approached the sisters with the idea of incorporating The Bolton School as a not-for-profit, which could raise money to build or buy new facilities. Mrs. Bolton declined, preferring to retain ownership of her nursery school and lower school, but Miss Laycock, headmistress of the Upper School, agreed.

Long story short: In 1956 the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School opened in the dilapidated house. After a search, the Bedford/Vanderbilt family sold 26 acres of property on Beachside Avenue — for $250,000.

Kathleen Laycock

In 1959, Kathleen Laycock School moved in. The next year, Mrs. Bolton’s younger school followed.

Both prospered. But by the end of the 1960s, single-sex schools were under siege. In 1969, after a year of study and deliberation, the trustees voted to admit males.

Knowing the difficulty of attracting boys to “Kathleen Laycock Country Day,” the trustees renamed the school. In September 1970, 23 young men joined 300 young women at Greens Farms Academy.

The rest is history. You can still see the remnants of what was once the Bolton School on Beachside Avenue.

If you close your eyes, you can visualize it too at Fort Apache.

(Hat tip: Bonnie Bradley)

12 responses to “Friday Flashback #55

  1. Should have said “Knew”!!! Autocorrected as I hit send!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. fascinating stuff !!!! Thanks Dan! Interesting to note that another local school was built in 1925, the same year that The Bolton School was built/started — the school stands to this day— Greens Farms School – built by a Kings Highway resident — Charles Cutler.

  3. I remember it as “Bolton Country Day School, which is what I believe the sign in the 1950 photo above says. My sister Lindy went there for first grade, because she was 17 days too young to start at Saugatuck. She was one of five maybe six girls in her class. I went to the “nursery school” attached (yep, co-ed). 1955-56.

  4. Very interesting…thanks Dan!

  5. Mary Cookman Schmerker '58

    Thank You Bonnie! How wonderful to read this and see the pictures. My mother worked at the Bolton school and transitioned with Kathleen Laycock to the Vanderbilt property. I remember walking through the mansion before the school opened as the staff made some changes to turn rooms into classrooms and the garage into a dining room.
    There are wonderful back stories to the school. Nancy Lauber, first a student at Bolton, then a math teacher at Laycock eventually became headmistress and transitioned the school to co-ed.
    Imagine buying any property on Beachside Avenue for $250,000.00 today. There were acres of property and orchards.

  6. Fascinating history. I had no idea that the GFA name came into existence only in 1970 or that it first admitted male students that year.

  7. My little brother was in the first class to admit boys. I also remember Laycock school while still girls only a friend whose parents always threatened they would send her there if she didn’t stop getting in trouble! Dan, can you guess who 🙂 ?

  8. Fantastic and well sourced piece about the Bolton School, which I knew a little about previously. Thank you

  9. Michael Don Sullivan

    Certainly enjoyed this story Dan!

  10. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    Thanks for sharing the photos, particularly of the house and barn. The gate is still there to this day, and I remember being in nursery school in the barn. I waited in the house one time for my mother to pick me up. The photo is exactly as I remembered it!

  11. Thanks, Dan, for the great post. You really fleshed out the bare bones of information I was able to give you. And I learned lots of details I never knew even though I spent 12 years there. After graduating in 1956 I never set foot at Bolton again. When I arrived at Smith I felt exactly like Dorothy stepping onto the Yellow Brick Road… black & white to technicolor and all the rest, without the horrible Oz, who was thankfully left behind.

    The details of the transition to GFA (which happened after I left) were news to me – and were fascinating – like when you kiss the warty frog and he changes into the handsome prince. LOL: Certainly wish it had been GFA instead when I was at the school.

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