On March 11, our world changed.
COVID had lurked here for a while. But that day, schools closed. Stores, restaurants, the library and Y followed quickly. In a head-spinning 24 hours, the entire town shut down.
Every Westporter had a multitude of fears. We worried about interrupted educations, job losses, wiped-out savings. We wondered how to juggle childcare and eldercare. We had no idea how or where to shop for groceries. We hoarded toilet paper. We thought we might, literally, die.
A few industries flourished. Most suffered greatly.
Real estate professionals bunkered in. With buyers and sellers confined to their homes, open houses canceled and the entire Northeast locked down, they imagined they’d never sell another property.
To everyone’s amazement, the market sizzled. First came rentals; sales followed soon. Buyers purchased houses sight unseen. Sellers juggled multiple offers, above the asking price. In a world gone crazy, the real estate market was truly insane.
Some of those newcomers have been here since spring. Others arrive every day. Almost unnoticed — kind of like the coronavirus, but in a good way — they snuck up on us.
They haven’t taken over our town. But all these new arrivals will inevitably change it.
As a native Westporter, I am truly happy and excited
In a thoroughly unscientific sampling, it seems that nearly every new homeowner comes from Manhattan or Brooklyn. Some had already thought about moving to the ‘burbs; the virus sped up their plans. Others had no intention of leaving New York.
But here they are. They bring youth, energy, fresh eyes and young kids to our town. They are smart, talented and creative. They are diverse and intriguing.
They want to take advantage of the best that Westport offers. They love what they’ve seen so far — and they haven’t even seen us at our best.
They want to contribute something to their new community, too. With so many of them working from their (new) home offices, they’ll have time to give back. All we have to do is let them know what’s possible, and invite them in.
If you’re a newcomer, get involved!
- Learn about our schools. Visitors will be limited in the beginning, but I’m sure there are many ways to help outside the walls.
- Check out the Artists Collective of Westport. Wander over to MoCA.
- The Westport Country Playhouse is closed this year. Put it — and its many wonderful programs — on your list for 2021. And don’t forget the Levitt Pavilion.
- Join the Westport Rotary Club, Westport Sunrise Rotary, Westport Woman’s Club, Westport Young Woman’s League and/or League of Women Voters (men welcome!).
- Volunteer for a political campaign. The Democratic Town Committee, Republican Town Committee, and similar organizations are looking for the next generation of leaders. Once you get a feel for local politics, run! The Representative Town Committee (RTM), Boards of Education and Finance, Planning & Zoning Commission and so many more need you.
- Play ball! Coach your kids in youth sports. You will never be turned away.
- The Westport Library — at least, the transformed version — is almost as new as you are. Hours are limited now. But you’ll be astonished at the variety of its offerings, the richness of its collections, the technology that it harnesses, and the community it creates.
- Go outside our borders. The need for help is great in neighboring towns. Bridgeport’s Mercy Learning Center and Adam J. Lewis Academy are 2 of my favorites. There are literally dozens of others.
- Have you been to a drive-in movie this summer? The Remarkable Theater was a way cool, surprise pop-up addition to our entertainment options. Now help them bring an actual building to town.
- What’s your interest? Environment? (Sustainable Westport. Wakeman Town Farm. Earthplace. Save the Sound.) Diversity? (TEAM Westport.) Neighborhoods? (Greens Farms Association. Save Old Saugatuck.)
The Westport world is your oyster.
And we’ve got plenty of them. Find them at a restaurant (and discover your favorite eating places). Learn about the Saugatuck River by kayak, paddle boat and rowing vessel (Westport Paddle Club, Saugatuck Rowing Club, Sea Kayak. Work out at the (soon to be expanded) Westport Weston Family YMCA. Spin at Joyride or Soulcycle. Jog or bike on the roads (be careful!).
I’ve left out thousands of ways for newcomers to get the most out of their new home — and contribute to it. Feel free to add your own; click “Comments” below.
Our new arrivals will add new ways to this list, too. They’ll bring new ideas, create new organizations, take our town in new directions.
This is a wonderful time for our town. Out of the bleakness of a pandemic has come an opportunity for reinvention, growth and progress.
Our realtors have done their part. Now it’s up to all of us — the Westporters who have been here awhile, and those who have just joined us — to do the rest.
Help save lives in your community! Become an EMT and join the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service. We are always looking for new members to help serve our wonderful community. More information can be found on our website which is http://www.westportems.org Thanks Dan!
Exactly a century ago in 1920 Westport tipped from an agrarian community with light manufacturing into a suburban one. As one contemporary noted “one could buy a farmhouse for what it took to rent a New York apartment”. And thus the first wave of New Yorkers came, and later ones driven out of the city by The Great Depression, and the post war baby boom (including Lucy and Ricky!) and on and on and now…and each time the locals complained…
understandably in many ways, but Dan you are dead on: each wave brings a vibrancy and renewal…and hopefully an uptick in better parking behavior!
While residents might not naturally think of the Chamber of Commerce, if new comers have a business they can and should join.
This particular Chamber runs events, like Drive In Tailgate concerts during the pandemic. Tickets for our next goes on sale this Friday 10am, for Terrapin – A Grateful Dead Experience, Friday thec11th of September 7pm.
Then normally we run the Dog Festival, Slice of Saugatuck, Restaurant Week, food contests and many more.
Well I will say the mind set from long ago has changed. It’s definitely not the same small town know everyone feeling it use to be.
Where did you get the idea that Westport tipped from an agrarian community to a suburban one in 1920?
Deej Webb, Lets try this again. Where did you get the idea that in 1920, Westport went from an agrarian community to a suburban town?
Jack, http://www.boats-against-current.com., website for my book. The book will answer that – and much more about Westport History which you might be interested in.
Deej, Suburban areas are lower density areas that separate residential and commercial areas from one another. Bridgeport was a hugely successful city in 1920, probably one of the greatest cities in the country right after WWI. Fairfield, at the time, could possibly have fit your definition, by I don’t think Westport would. What industry was in Westport in 1919 and 1920 that caused this reversal?
Jack, there is some validity to what Deej is saying. Henry “Hen” Mills was sited as the “last large scale onion farmer in Westport” when he passed away in 1944. Census records up until 1920 list his occupation as “Farmer”. However, in 1930 he is now listed as working as a mason.
I would agree that “Suburb” is not a good characterization, but it was definitely loosing its agrarian character starting around then.
Jacques, We grew onions on our Post Road property until 1953. Then in 1954, we opened the Westport Golf Range on that property. My guess is in 1920, Westport had 5,500 residents and I don’t really think many traveled to Bridgeport or Stamford to work. Also, people had big families back then, so if the population was 5,500 or 6,000, you probably had maybe 1,200 workers since back then most women didn’t work, and families had between 4 and 12 children. Westport was not a suburban town in 1919 and 1920. Like I mentioned, those that lived in Fairfield on the Bridgeport line, were more likely to work in Bridgeport.
Jacques, My father’s cousin was a farmer and a mason, who worked for Homer Mills. It was not unusual to have a dual occupation since one only farmed from March to October. The farmers had second jobs for five months. For example, my uncle Adolph delivered coal during the 5 winter months, but he farmed the other seven.
I was not saying that Westport became suburban in the 1920s, I would say that change happened more in the 1950s. Witness North Avenue, in 1950 there were about 15-20 house in total between Long Lots Road and Cross Highway. The houses were not numbered, and there were none of the side streets. By 1960 the number houses had increased, they were all numbered, and many of the side streets we know and love were built. This very much sounds like the transition from a more rural to a more suburban area.
What I was saying is that there is some validity to the statement that the process of transition from a primarily rural, agrarian community had begun by the 1920s. To wit, in 1900 the population was 4,017 people. Of those, 210 had their occupation listed as “Farmer”, or 5.23%. In 1910, it was 4,259 people, 171 farmers, or 4.02%. By 1920 5,114 people, 117 farmers, or 2.29%. By 1930, 6,073 people, 62 farmers, 1.02%. By 1940 it was 8258 people, 34 farmers, 0.41%. Clearly this is community were working the land is fading as the primary occupation, that is to say becoming non-agrarian. Did that mean that there were no longer farmers? Of course not. I still remember the farm the Rippes operated on the Post Road where Harvest Common is now. I also remember the farm they operated on North Avenue which was operated by others until quite recently. I remember buying corn from Ike and Pearl Wakeman on Cross Highway. The Beltas still operate a farm.
None of which detracts from the statement that by 1920 the process of becoming a non-agrarian community had well and truly started.
Jacques, Lets take 1920, when there were 5114 residents and as you say 117 farmers. But who were the other 5003 people? We have to count wives who didn’t work. In that 5,003 are children, and a lot of them since it wasn’t unusual to have four, eight or ten kids in a family. Also, farmers had dual occupations back then because you can only farm for 7 and a half months. For example, my uncle Adolph delivered coal for five months, but he was a farmer. Those percentages are misleading because families were so large back then.
Jacques, In the 1940 census you quoted, my grandfather was listed as a farmer. But wait, he had eight kids and all of them farmed, but aren’t listed as farmers, and my grandmother helped on the farm too. So even in 1940, the statistics you quoted don’t tell the whole story.
Jacques, I forgot the farm hands. Let’s take 1940. Between the Stahursky and Backiel farms, you had two listed in the census as farmers, but 17 others, children and wives who farmed. Then there were the farm hands, my grandfather hired about 12 for the season, so now you have two listed in the census as farmers, but you had 29 farming. In the late 40s and early 1950, my grandfather brought over 10 from Puerto Rico to help on the farm. They lived in the red building across from the Stage Door in that red antique building. I remember them. So the 1940 Census doesn’t give an adequate picture of the farming community. You mentioned Belta. He started his farm in 1946, so he started late as a farmer in town.
Great article Dan.
Thought of another mention for new comers.
Some events coming up outside the pod soon and outside 06880. Will keep you posted.
Hope all is well with you.
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And the Westport Museum for History and Culture!
Catherine – You echo my own immediate thoughts: what about our HISTORY???
Now, as an ‘Official New Englander,’ you can share in our unique viewpoint and responsibility to our History. Learn about it from the inside (that doesn’t mean you need to live in an 18th century classic as we do, but our museums in this county are stunning, diverse and most informative). Respect its place in our 21 century lives, protect it accordingly, and ENJOY the beauty of this part of the world! Welcome aboard!
Great article! Love my new town of 3 years, plus the 30 living right next door.
Excellent piece Dan! I plan to forward this to all my new Westport buyers… and yes Manhattan & Brooklyn is accurate. I usually urge new owners to subscribe (right after they get their name on the train parking pass list), but this gives me the perfect introduction to the town and your valuable blog. Thank you!
The Westport Astronomical Society is a rare assembly of astronomical and photography talent, with facilities to back it up (and an amateur radio
Also to find out what is happening Downtown, go to WestportDMA.com
Dan, you forgot to mention the wonderful app for mobile devices – Otocast – available on the Apple or Android, that gives descriptions of our town’s arts, culture, and history. Developed by the Westport Arts Advisory Committee at http://www.westportarts.org we hope to have this expanded into a mobile guide to everything westport – Discover Westport!
I second that! Otocast’s mobile audio guide (free app) is filled with great content and interesting stories of Westport’s past and present.
Not to be snarky about such a positive piece, but I would ask that you remind those from New York that stop signs are more than suggestions (just last night I watched three cars with New York plates zip through my local four way stop without even bothering to slow down), and it is illegal to idle one’s car for more than three minutes, as idling is both wasteful and a greater source of pollution than driving.
Thanks, Jill, but that’s hardly a NY thing. Westport drivers have been doing both for MANY years!
Westport Marketplace is the great new website launched by the town, the Chamber and the Westport DMA that lists ALL the stores, restaurants and other businesses and places to visit in Westport. Was a huge town effort, but is an amazing resource
From 1910 to 1920, Westport’s population grew about a 1,000 residents. From 1920 to 1930, it grew about another 1,000 residents. I believe from 1930 to 1940, it grew by about 2,000 residents. Westport was still a sleepy town in 1940. Of course some people from NY came in to the town, due to its proximity, but it really didn’t change the character of the town that much, and we’re talking a 30 year time period from 1910 to 1940. Also, when they did come, we loved it! I remember my father bought a piece of property on the corner of Long Lots and Hyde Lane around 1957, and doubled his money in three months. He flipped it. We bought 8 acres on South Morningside Drive around 1959 and a year or so later, sold four of the acres for what we paid for the 8 acres, and basically got 4 acres for free! We loved newcomers! Westport exploded when the Connecticut Turnpike was built.
Jack, by far and away the biggest population explosion in town in terms of percentage growth happened in the 1950s. No other decade in the 20th Century was even close in that regard. I would agree with you that I had never thought of Westport as a suburb in 1920 (unless it was somehow considered a suburb of Bridgeport or Stamford—and by that I mean a large number of Westporters were working in Bridgeport or Stamford).
Re the Westport of 1960 (after the dramatic population increase of the 1950s): 30% of Westport’s working population was employed in New York at that time according to “A Handbook for Westporters” published in 1960 by the Westport League of Women Voters.
Fred, Westport was so awesome in the 1950s through the 1970s! It still had that hint of a small town because it seemed everyone knew everyone else. I know a lot of new people came into town, but we all went to the same few places of entertainment like the Fine Arts, and we all took our dates to play miniature golf, and went to the Peppermill or the Clam Box. They were great years! There was the Crest Drive-In, not far from town, and every high school kid was there on any given summer night. It was still a small town.
My grandfather moved to Westport from Philadelphia in the 1930s. It has been passed down to us that at that time Westport was all onion fields and artists.
Bonnie, Regents Park, on the Post Road, was the Westport Golf Range from 1954 to 1983. Before that, we grew onions on that property! My uncle had a Bell and Howell movie camera in 1941, and I have a small part of a movie showing the Post Road and the onion field from the summer of 1941.
That is great. Thanks for your comment.
New to having a yard and garden? Join the Westport Garden Club! Dedicated to sharing an interest in gardening, furthering knowledge and a desire to beautify the town of Westport.
Did anybody mention that this blog is the best place to find out what is going on in town? To know about the Crown Jewel of the town, the Staples High School? Well, Dan has a book too.
Thanks, Frank. And, ahem, yes, it’s called “Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ History.”
Terrific article! I am excited to share it with all my office clients at Symphony Workplaces. Thanks Dan!