Question Box #8

Our Question Box is once again full.

Unfortunately, I have almost none of the answers. I thought I knew a lot about Westport. Now I see how clueless I am.

So readers: Please chime in with any additional information. Click “Comments” below.

If you’ve got a question for our box, email


I’m curious why there is a staircase leading down to the Saugatuck River, at the Riverwalk near the Library. Did people used to swim (or bathe?) in it? (Tracy Porosoff)

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

I don’t know, Tracy. I’ve often wondered, though.

And I’ve wondered when was the last time anyone used it.


There are 2 ancient-looking doors on the west side of Saugatuck Avenue, just north of the railway overpass. They’re unmarked, and wouldn’t make any sense to have there with the traffic whizzing by. One is on the 2nd floor, so they probably pre-date the road there. Any idea what they were for? (Marc Frankel)

No. But I’m sure some longtime Saugatuck residents do. And — to be honest — I’ve never noticed them. The next time I’m stuck in traffic there, I’ll look.


The photo above brings up my own question: Why do so many drivers not believe the 10′ 11″ warning sign on the Saugatuck Avenue bridge? 

If I drove a truck for a living — or rented a U-Haul, and was responsible for damages — I like to think I’d be a bit more aware than all of those ding-dongs who suddenly come to a screeching, roof-less halt.

And a related query: Why are there so many fewer accidents on the similarly low railroad bridge on South Compo? Does it have something to do with coming off I-95 onto Saugatuck Avenue, and still being in highway mode? Are there not enough warning signs? We may not be able to solve many world problems, but this one seems like it could be fixed.

Or at least cut down to, say, only one accident a month.


Hooper Road is off Bayberry Lane. It is actually just a driveway with 2 houses at the end: #3 and #4. Where are #1 and #2? And who was Hooper? 

I have no idea. But it sure looks like a nice, quiet, leafy neighborhood.


My Alvord children and I have just learned there is an Alvord Beach here. Where is it? For which ancestor is it named? And can we claim ownership? We’ve always wanted a private beach. (Lynn Flaster [Alvord] Paul

I know the answer!

Well, part of it, anyway.

Alvord Beach is the official name of the sandy area at Sherwood Island State Park.

I have no idea which Alvord it’s named for, unfortunately. But for the very interesting back story of Connecticut’s first state park, click here.

Alvord Beach, at Sherwood Island State Park.


I’d like to know about the Lees family — early Westport industrialists.

They have a big cemetery plot at Willowbrook, with gravestones goin back centuries, plus an extension with more recent family members buried across the way.

The grandmother’s beautiful Italianate Victorian house set back on Main Street was in disrepair for many years, but looks well kept up now. Amazing to think that property goes all the way back. (Jeanne Reed)

“06880” has written several times about the Lees family, with great input from Mary Palmieri Gai Jack Whittle. Here are some excerpts:

Lees Pond, Lees Dam and Lees Lane, all in the Richmondville area, are part of the Lees family.

Lees Dam (Photo/Scott Smith)

Lees Manufacturing Company – they ran the cotton twine mill on Richmondville Avenur – was founded in 1814 by John Lees, who was born in 1787 in England, and perhaps a brother Thomas Lees was also a founder. John Lees was married to Martha (b. 1793). They are shown living in Westport in the 1850 US census, with their two youngest sons, George and Henry.

Edward M. Lees (Courtesy of Dale Call)

Edward M. Lees (born c. 1832) appeared in both the 1860 and 1870 US censuses with his wife Caroline. In the 1860 census Edward’s occupation was “blacksmith,” while in the 1870 census it was “law student.” Edward was appointed postmaster for Westport on April 7, 1867. He died in 1909, and is buried alongside his wife in Willowbrook cemetery.

Edward Lees also fought in the Civil War. He joined Fairfield’s 17th regiment too, ending the war as a 2nd lieutenant in Company K. He was wounded at Gettysburg, and captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

As far as precise Main Street Westport addresses of the Lees are concerned,  Robert Lees (b. 1855) and his wife Lucy lived “on Main street near Myrtle Ave” in Westport in the 1919 Westport City Directory. Robert’s occupation was listed as “cotton twine manufacturing.”

Robert died around 1919 but Lucy continued to live in Westport, with her address listed as “171 Main St.” beginning with the 1925 Westport City Directory and continuing through the 1933 directory (when Lucy was 83 or so; she may have died soon thereafter). (NOTE: Street numbers may have been renumbered at some point.)

Meanwhile, beginning with the 1910 census John A. Lees (b. 1875) and his wife Margaret Sniffen Lees lived next door at 169 Main Street, along with their son John A. Lees Jr. (b. 1905). According to the 1917 City directory John A Lees Sr. was the president of Lees Manufacturing, and Charles Sniffen (his wife’s father? brother?) was shown as the manager. Sniffen Lane was developed much later, near Richmondville Avenue.

The Mill on Richmondville Avenue is now being converted into luxury housing.

John A. Lees Sr. and Margaret moved into Lucy Lees’ house after she died, because they are shown living at 171 Main St. in the 1940 census. At that point John A. Lees Jr. was married (Jane) and from 1931 – 1939 living at 193 Main Street.

John A. Lees Jr. (who also ran the company) and Jane eventually moved to Turkey Hill Road South in the 1950s. John A. Lees Jr. died on April 24, 1966.

The old Lees House at 257 Main State was (finally) restored by the owner. The last Lees in Westport — a woman who never married — lived there until she was in her 90s.


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11 responses to “Question Box #8

  1. Fergal Moore

    Hi Dan.  The steps down into the Saugatuck are slippery as old Nick!!

    A few years ago,  I swam in the last “Swim for the Slipper” which started at either longshore marina or at the 95 boat launch and everyone swam up to and touched the bridge in town and then exited via those steps.

    Others may have more details but I think it was organized by some people at the Mossman triathlon group. 

    Fun event, but sadly no longer!

  2. Some people need a reminder as to how tall their truck is. Westport or the state should consider putting a wire at 12 feet across the road in front of the bridge and dangle plastic rods down from the wire to 10’ 9”. If you hit the plastic rods you won’t make it under the bridge up ahead.

    • joshua stein

      IMO anyone driving a truck should be subject to a massive fine and/or license suspension for hitting an overpass.

  3. Beth Berkowitz

    I have seen first responders use the staircase going into the River near the library for training and rescue drills a few years ago (maybe 4-5 years? It was before the pandemic). Since the River used to be deeper and was used for shipping goods to downtown it may have originally been used for the ships to tie up and get on and off the ships, but I’m not sure. That’s just a guess.

    As for the doors near the Saugatuck railroad bridge, it could have been an ancient toll booth for a toll road. There is still a toll booth standing in Weston, going north past Bisceglie park before you get to Godfrey road. That one is a wooden structure and according to the weston historical society (I went on a bus tour many years ago when I originally moved to weston (about 22 years ago) was built by the land owner to collect tolls from the horses and horse and carriages that passed Thru on the original dirt road. I’m not sure I remember all the details though. I could be wrong about these doors near the railroad though as it’s just a guess.

  4. Rindy Higgins

    I used to kayak up river, climb those steps to go to the Levitt and paddle back! I’m with Beth (above) thinking they were there in the ole trading days, but also not sure.

    • Michele Sorensen

      I have also used these steps several times to tie up my kayak and walk to Starbucks for hot coffee in the winter.
      The steps may have been used for boarding barges that took onions to NY back in colonial times. Old photographs of Westport show barges along both sides of the river at the center of town.

  5. The more (in)famous underpass in Durham NC features a webcam and YouTube channel to immortalize the stupid. It also has plenty of signage, sensors and a steel “crashbar”, and was even raised to 12’4″. Still provides entertainment. BTW, “” appears available.

  6. The plan for an airport there reminded me of a long-range planning book from about 1960. Sherwood Island was supposed to be the sight of a heliport. New York Airways, a helicopter airline, did operate helicopter service from Stamford to New York airports at that time which my father frequently used when we lived in Westport. I know the Stamford service was discontinued by the mid-1960s and New York Airways went out of business after a crash at the Pan Am building heliport that ended public helicopter service in the area. I once took a helicopter from JFK to the Pan Am Building and still remember how exhilarating the views were.

  7. WRT those doors facing the low railroad bridge, many years ago, there was a railroad spur that switched off the local track. That spur had tracks that went into the lot east of Luciano Field and it now a parking lot. I would guess Gault or another business used that access for loading/off-loading materials. I do remember my dad taking me as a little kid to talk to the train crew in that lot. They talked working night shift style hours, as a tot I couldn’t quite grasp that concept.

  8. Cathy Barnett

    The railroad spur near West Ferry Lane and the railroad bridge was most likely used to unload flour sacks off the railroad car for Pepperidge Farm bakery. When my husband and I lived on Dr Gillette Circle in the 70s, we often watched this event take place in the evening from our front porch. Since Pepperidge Farm Bakeru no longer on PRW, the spur no longer used.

  9. Gault owns the building with the doors next to the tracks. Has anyone asked them? I have always been curious myself. I has assumed at one point it housed switching equipment for the railroad.