Friday Flashback #60

Alert reader — and 11th-generation Westporter Jacques Voris — sends along a fascinating photo:

He writes:

This photo of John Burr Mills was taken circa 1922. He was about 87, and is holding his great-grand-niece, Shirley Mills.

John Burr Mills — a relative of mine — was here for much of the early formation of Westport, and its transition from a farming community into the artist colony of the 1920s.

He was born on February 25, 1835 in Greens Farms — a few months before Westport was incorporated. He was the second of 3 sons of John Mills and Sarah Batterson. His father died when he was 20 years old. He and his older brother Charles struck out on their own.

John was primarily a mason. He built the State Street (now Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road) bridge. He lived until 1934, and his direct descendant Wayne Mills still lives on West Parish Road.

What I really like about this photo are his hands, as he gently holds the child. Look at the size of them, and think about their obvious strength.

In addition to the photo, Jacques has a request:

I need “06880” readers’ help finding something. There was once a horse track in Greens Farms called the Dingee Racetrack. Other than a name, I don’t know a thing about it. Where exactly was it located? When?

Readers: If you have any information on the Dingee Racetrack, click “Comments” below. NOTE: The racetrack on the Bedford property — near, interestingly, West Parish — was called Wynfromere. It may be a different one.

15 responses to “Friday Flashback #60

  1. Diane D. Cady

    so pleased to know about this. Thanks for your sharing it.

  2. Is it possible that the Bedford’s track was also known as the Dingee Racetrack because Edward Bedford married someone from the Dingee family? Also, what are the chances that Westport had two separate racetracks back in the day?

    • Chris, I stand corrected re the number of race tracks back in the day. But I still think there is a decent chance that the Dingee track and Wynfromere were one and the same given the fact that Edward B’s wife was a Dingee.

  3. Judith Ann Johnston

    When I served as Greens Farms Association President, many board members told me there was a flat racetrack at the southwest corner of Clapboard and Turkey Hill South. The land remains quite flat and oval ….

    • Arthur Schoeller

      Hi Judith – when were you President of GFA? Just curious as I am the current President.

      • Judith Ann Johnston

        It was around 1994 – onward. You are Sally’s Dad – our kids were on the same basketball team for years …

  4. Scott Kuhner

    Does anyone know if Grover and Gail Mills (they would have been Staples class of 1959) are any relation to John Burr Mills. and where they are today?

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      I don’t know where they are but I am hoping that someone answers. It would be great to reconnect.

    • Jacques Voris

      Sadly, both Gail and Grover have passed on. They are related to John Burr Mills, being descendants of his uncle David Mills.

  5. On page 97 of Westport…A Special Place (1985, Westport Historical Society) is a photo of E. T. Bedford and his sulky on his half-mile racetrack as well as a photo of the Bedford gardens and windmill. And, yes, I think that this is almost certainly the Dingee racetrack as Dingee was Mr. Bedford’s wife’s maiden name.

  6. Seth Schachter

    Love this image and background info etc !! — Thanks!

  7. Jacques Voris

    This is what I know:
    On or about page 104 of George Penfield Jenning’s book about Greens Farms, he writes, “Charles Mills of North Avenue was another road man. He built the old Dingee racetrack.:”
    Then from the Fairfield Record edition of 15 July 1897 we have this: “A Fast Mile Lrllie Youngs and Gillette trotted a very fast mile at Dingee’s race track, Green’s Farms, J u l y 5th. , Both horses finished in a dead heat in the remarkable time of 2 :11”

    Now, I presume that this racetrack was sufficiently well known that further explanation wasn’t considered needed at the time.

  8. Going to my stash of vintage aerial photos (1934) I found one that clearly shows an oval located on the west side of Center Street south of Hillandale Road. It had two ovals actually….a big one and a smaller one. I dunno if this is the Dingee Racetrack or not but how many such racing courses would exist in Westport. I would attach the photo if I knew how to.