Friday Flashback #326

The year was 1803. Thomas Jefferson was in the White House. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States.

And — nearly 180 years ago — Westport did not even have a legitimate Main Street.

The other day, Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther were in the Westport Library, researching our town’s stone bridges. They stumbled on a remarkable map — one that even they, despite their years as diligent historians, had never seen.

They note that while Elm Street and Avery Place are connected close to the river, Main Street is still just a “proposed road” (outlined with dashes, left side of the map).

Myrtle Avenue was part of the “King’s Highway.” There were just a scattering of houses throughout the area.

The forerunner of what later became the Westport Hotel — at the corner of State Street (Post Road) and Main Street — was called the Nichols Hotel.

That makes sense. The village on the map was still “Saugatuck.” It would not become “Westport” until 1835.

That’s another 32 years, 4 presidents, and 7 states admitted to the union later.

(“06880” has been around far fewer years than Westport. But since our founding in 2009, we’ve never missed a day of posting. Please click here to help us continue our work. Thank you!)

21 responses to “Friday Flashback #326

  1. What a great discovery by two of Westport’s best local historians. Wendy and Morley have quite an amazing track record of researching, documenting and preserving so many historical treasures here in Westport. We all owe you a debt of gratitude for your intrepidness and dedication. Well done!

  2. Wow wow wow. Thank you!! This makes my heart happy for so many reasons. One..there are things in the Library we don’t know about yet! Two..I can read this handwriting. Three…that we are keeping our history alive!! ..and many more. Thrilling!! Yay Morley and Wendy! And Dan!

  3. This is indeed a fascinating find. So, if anyone knows, when did Main Street come into existence? And when did the name Main Street become a regular part of small-town America? Thanks.

  4. The birth of Main Street and the bridge!!

  5. Fred main st is the proposed road along the river!! Look at where he says Kings highway was! Now it’s myrtle Ave. Westport wasn’t born for another 30 plus years. Looks like kings highway went right into Weston Road!!

  6. Mary, thanks.

  7. Bill Strittmatter

    Shhhh. Wendy/Morley – don’t them where you found it. The Library might apply their new “Mural Rule” and dispose of it since it lacks inclusiveness, etc.

    Sorry. Too soon?

  8. Seth schachter

    Fabulous find Wendy and Morley !!!!! So cool!!!!!!

  9. Congratulations, Morley and Wendy, on this historical find, a rare and actual link to a day and time so different from today, yet leading this day, another page in the story of the town.

  10. Really cool find – and very happy it’s been shared

  11. PS – What is that where the Disbrow Inn was located some 23 years earlier (in the vicinity of where Christ & Holy Trinity is located today)? John S. P——‘s ?

    • Wendy Crowther

      It appears to say “John S. Pearsall’s.” There is reference to Mr. Pearsall in the text located in the center of the map too.

      • According to the River of Names catalogue, by Dorothy E. Curran, tile 15 represents the “First Saugatuck market boat, “Pedler,” embarks for New York City (pop 96,000) opens new trade for fresh farm produce.” Dorothy writes that when this happened in 1806, the Pedler was captained by Captain Samuel Pearsall who had been one of the builders of the boat. Perhaps he is the same John S. Pearsall whose home is listed on the 1803 map discovered by Wendy and Morley?

  12. Amazing research Morley and Wendy. You are certainly super sleuth historians!

  13. Werner Liepolt

    Very cool. I read this and had to shake my head having just been on Avery Place today. (Bridgewater Chocolate presents for my in-laws.)

    How connected to our past we are.

  14. Mary and Fred,
    Maybe you can help me. I wonder about changes in the name of Fairfield County streets through centuries – from ‘the King’s Highway’ to ‘the (Boston?) Post Road’ to ‘U.S. 1’ and how Myrtle Ave fits in. It is such an out of the way street to be the kings highway and doesn’t seem to be on a direct route to Fairfield (the next logical town on the way to New Haven?) Maybe the king needed a route to inland towns and the Post Rd came much later, or farms/properties intervened so the route that became U.S. 1 could not be straight over the river as it is now (or maybe I’m not reading the amazing map correctly).

    • Jeanne: Myrtle Avenue was indeed a portion of the of the original c.1673 century King’s Highway – what later came to be known as the Boston Post Road. Until 1807, when this route was redirected through what is now downtown Westport via a new bridge (part of a private toll road known as the Connecticut Turnpike – which was later put out of business by the arrival of the railroad in 1848) it wandered inland to the traditional “fording place” (now the location of the Kings Highway North bridge) where it was possible to wade across the Saugatuck River at low tide (most people could not swim and thus the fear of drowning was real). The Cable family also operated a ferry at this location until the first bridge was constructed around 1761. After the Post Road crossed the river, it meandered over to what is now Myrtle and then what is now Imperial (to avoid a swamp where Colonial Green is now). From there it seems to have tacked over to East Main – and so on.

      Owing to the limitations then imposed by terrain and water, the first official road of the New World basically went where circumstances obligated it to. In other words, the long way was the short way.

      We don’t really know much at this point about the map in question as we have not had an opportunity to really investigate it. But a tentative theory is that it may reflect the time in which the new bridge in what is now downtown was being constructed. This would have greatly altered the orientation of the settlement and the pattern of commerce. Thus, it may possibly explain the thinking behind the “proposed road” now known as Main Street.

  15. Jeanne: I have no idea, Mary is a longtime local history buff and might be able to answer that. Alternatively, someone at the WMHC might readily know the answer (or perhaps Dorothy or Morley or Wendy).

  16. Thank you, Fred. I hope so.

  17. Professional Historians!

  18. Thank you, Morley. I plan to follow that meandering path on a map and very much look forward to traveling on it in my car.