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.”