Friday Flashback #144

Alert “06880” reader/amateur historian Fred Cantor has a knack for finding obscure but fascinating Westport vignettes in newspaper and magazine archives.

This week’s gem is a New York Times story from September 9, 1956. Headlined “Westport Reviews New Home Numbers,” it says that — “prodded by irate residents who are loathe [sic] to adopt an urban street numbering system” — the Representative Town Meeting voted to “reconsider the $4,500 building address program recently adopted by town officials.”

Seems like Westporters “vociferously” objected to a plan to number (or re-number — it’s not clear from the story) houses on streets. Residents clearly did not want “any change in their rural flavor to something resembling urban impersonality.”

Postal officials had contended that “the lack of proper street numbers and mix-ups resulting from similar names and inaccurate numbering were making efficient deliveries increasingly difficult.”

That’s all we know from the Times story. Whatever street numbers we had — and have now — apparently work fine.

I had no way to illustrate that story. Fred helpfully sent along a Saturday Evening Post cover from May 1944. Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used a local model — and local scenes — for his illustration.

But Fred was not done. He went hunting in the Westport Library for old town directories.

The Price & Lee 1957 edition showed that homes and businesses on at least some major streets had assigned numbers. Streets like High Point — just being developed at that point — did not.*

What was more remarkable to Fred was the personal information included in the directories. They included professions of the income earners, spouses’ names, and those of older children. Presidents of companies, domestic employees — they were all there.

In 2019, the notion of privacy is all over the news (including the New York Times). We call this the “Information Age.” But more than 60 years ago, there was plenty of personal information available to all.

Just very few street numbers.

*My parents moved there in 1956. Their mailing address at that point was “Lot 12 East, High Point Road.”

21 responses to “Friday Flashback #144

  1. The objection to numbering houses with longer (i.e. more citified) numbers took place in Weston too. I remember when my parents were building their house on Weston Road, in 1955, they were informed the house would have a multi-digit number. Finally, after many objections from Westonites, the plan was abandoned and lower numbers won. Jane Sherman

  2. Jack Backiel

    Woog & Serling would be in competition for # 1, speaking about numbers!

  3. Jack Whittle

    From what I have encountered, Main Street was renumbered at some point. House numbers from the late 1800s do not correlate with their addresses today. Perhaps the activity referred to in the NYT’s story explains this

    • Jack Whittle

      Take the Lees family home on the canal side of Main Street near the St John’s Pl intersection. In the 1941 Westport directory this home (still owned by a Lees then) is listed as 171 Main St (the address where Talbots is now located). I believe the modern address of this home (owned by Damico now) is 257 Main Street

  4. Jacques Voris

    Well, if you had asked… The original street number scheme, at least for the northeast part of town had very large numbers for the houses at first. For example my house on North Avenue was over 20,000. After the change it was a much more sensible 48.

  5. John Kelley

    Like you we loved on High Point Road, moving three in 1955, and we did not have a number. As I vaguely recall, there was a previous attempt to number the houses that did not catch on. We moved away in 1962, just as zip codes and seven digit dialing came into existence.

  6. John L Krause

    House I was born in at 1 Lincoln Used to be 4 Lincoln. My Grandfather refused to throw away the original house number. It lived on a post in the basement as long as he did.

  7. Beechwood first listed its street number on Weston Road in the 1959 directory. I’ll have to go consult the directory again to see how it was identified before that. Thanks for the background!

    • Fred Cantor

      Frederic, our house on Easton Road—not too far from yours but much, much newer having been built in the 1950s—also did not have a street number as of the 1957 or 1958 directory to the best of my recollection. The only listing in the directory for our Easton RD house was in connection with the name of the owner at that time.

  8. Karl S Taylor

    In 1939 I lived at 573 Imperial Avenue with my mother and 3 siblings. This was at the southern corner of Wakeman Place. Today the number is 184. Not sure when the change happened but it probably had to do with simplifying the postal routing system for the town.

  9. Jay Tormey 66

    Growing up on Main street in the 50’s our house number was 347 towards the end of the 50’s it changed to 387. Don’t know why.

  10. Patricia Driscoll

    Our house on Myrtle Ave. had a number change around that time.

  11. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I had Mrs. Barbara Sesserman as a second grade teacher at Greens Farms School. I must have been seven years old at the time.

    • Peter Gambaccini

      She was my teacher, too. I thought it was third grade but perhaps it was second. I do know that she was far and away the youngest teacher I had at GFS, and was extremely kind, which matters a lot for little kids.

  12. Janet Navon

    Thank God they got it squared away before the advent of Amazon!

  13. Matt Panos

    We moved to Manitou Rd in the late 50s and rented the old Fabbrio (sp?) house. This explains why we had two numbers (11 and 21)! Loved that area across from Longshore’s 4th hole!

    • Melissa Wilson

      Have you been back to Manitou? Very few normal houses now. McMansions abound.

  14. Dennis Jackson

    The second Westport house we lived in after my parents bought it in 1956, way out in the woods and among the farms, was at 529 North Ave when we bought it. It soon became 57 North Ave, which I referred to jokingly as “Fabulous 57“ after WMCA. In Summer, we used to camp out in the woods that became Staples.

  15. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    I’ll have to dig through some really old information. My parents and grandparents lived at 4 Violet Lane in the 193? – about 1948. As far as I know it always was # 4. In 1947 or 48 we moved to 12 Calumet Road and as far as I can remember it was always #12. If I discover differently for either one I’ll report back.

    • Jack Whittle

      Calumet – Sniffen – Lauren was a subdivision newly built in 1953 on the fields of Fillow Florists. Would have gotten newly-created street numbers.

  16. Caryl Beatus