Mahackeno Memories

In 1958 Charlie Taylor, his parents, and younger siblings John and Fran moved to Westport from rural western Kentucky.

Charlie Taylor, in the 1959 Staples yearbook.

It was a culture shock for the Staples High School sophomore. He found friends on the football team and Downshifters hot rod club, and retains a fondness for the town.

Though long removed from here — he’s had successful dual careers with Vanderbilt University and as a Nashville singer/songwriter — he is an avid “0688o” reader.

This summer, Charlie’s thoughts turn to Mahackeno. Today’s it’s a thriving co-ed day camp, on the grounds of the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Back in the day — when the Y was downtown — it was an equally beloved boys-only camp, in the woods off Wilton Road. Charlie writes:

Ah, Camp Mahackeno!


I was a counselor in training there when I was 15. Bruce Jamison was the director. He had come to Westport from a Y in Massachusetts, and was probably in his late 20’s with a young family. He was an early advisor to the Downshifters as well, along with football and track coach Paul Lane. 


Summers were spectacular, with canoe trips full of 6-year-old campers out on the Saugatuck River, and swimming lessons.


Swimming in the Saugatuck River.

All-night campouts were a highlight of the summer for the kids. I remember my first romantic adventures that summer with an older counselor, and my first beer party. (The names are redacted to protect the innocent.) 


I remember folk songs around the campfire by Steve Yollen, and in the mornings campers in a circle around the flag saying the Pledge of Allegiance. 



Pledge of Allegiance, at Camp Mahackeno.

Eventually my dad hired Bruce to work for the nascent American Cancer Society. He had a brilliant career there, before starting his own fundraising consulting career in Denver. 


Westport artist Stephan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno — and campers there — for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

Camp Mahackeno was the winter headquarters for the Downshifters. It was well equipped, with acetylene torches for metal work. I remember a chain hoist rigged for engine removal/installations as well. Maybe it was attached to a tripod of metal poles.


A magazine story on the Downshifters.

There was a lot of camaraderie there. A radio helped us stay abreast of the newest hits of the day on the night shift from WINS, WABC, Murray the K and Alan Freed. 


The Downshifters at Camp Mahackeno, with a Model A Ford.

Westport was a hidden gem back then. It was close to New York, but just far away enough to have its own pristine identity.


Put another way: It was a million miles away from my home town of Mayfield, Kentucky (or what’s left of it now, after a tornado almost totally ripped it off the map in December, 2021; this week, it endured extreme flooding).


To move from rural Kentucky in 1958, and then grow up in Westport, were two radically different experiences. I’m lucky I was able to experience those two different worlds as a teenager. 


When I went back to visit my friends in Mayfield during high school, people thought I was making up stories about Staples and the Downshifters, the beach, the hot rods, and of course access to theaters in New York.


Not to mention Paul Newman sightings, working for the Bedford estate on Beachside Avenue, lifeguarding at Compo, Burying Hill and the rest.


Westport shaped me into who I have become. I’ll be forever grateful to my dad for having the vision to move our family there. 

13 responses to “Mahackeno Memories

  1. charles taylor

    Thank you Dan. I’m sure we all have our own memories of Westport. Mine are just colored by having grown up in rural Kentucky Before we moved to Westport at 14. A seminal age, where new impressions last a lifetime.

  2. Dorothy Robertshaw

    Fabulous article, I feel the same way moving our family here in 1996 from Westchester.Love our town . Thanks for sharing 💃👩🏼‍🎤❤️😎

  3. Fred Cantor

    Charlie, I can relate. While my family’s move wasn’t quite as dramatic—it was only 45 miles from Fresh Meadows, Queens—the two communities and lifestyles were quite different in certain respects. And, like you, I feel “lucky I was able to experience those two different worlds…”

    I never did experience Camp Mahackeno though. I was already going to a sleep-away camp by the time I moved to Westport.

    Enjoyed your story, thanks for sharing.

  4. Carl Addison Swanson, Wrexcker '66

    All the organized summer activities such as Mahackeno, “Beach School” and Boy Scout at Candlewood were great for kids back in the Wonder Years. For some reason, I preferred riding my bike around town, pick up baseball games at Coleytown and of course, the wonderful Longshore. I had the option though. Not sure they do today?

  5. Celeste Champagne

    Wonderful memories. Where is Charlie now?

  6. Linda Parker

    Terrific memories , Charlie ! Thanks so much – where we lived determined so many memories – Sterling Drive – Old Mill Beach.Old Road – Fairfield Co. Hunt Club . Mayflower Parkway – Compo Beach .and last but not least , Wilton Road , the farm . What great days they were ! And I will always thank my Dad for his choice of Westport…

  7. Jo Ann Miller. USMC

    Thanks for the ride down memory lane. That said, the cost of Camp Mahackeno is $400-$500 a week for children K-10. My neighbor has four small kids. He can not afford that, he says, nor all the PAL sponsored sports his kids would love to play. I find such shameful in a town which is vast beginning to be all about money. Period.

    • Christina Scherwin

      Jo Ann,

      Please have your neighbor apply for financial aid for camp and Y membership and programming. We help many families each year and have funds available for families in this exact situation. It’s our policy to not turn away families in need.

      Thank you, Christina (COO – WWFY)

      • Jo Ann Miller. USMC

        Thank you for the information. But the father is a former professional athlete and has decided his 3 boys will excel far more with individual attention rather than group participation.

  8. Mary L Schmerker

    Oh, such wonderful memories. I do believe I may have claimed that the last picture of the Downshifters. was taken in our back yard on Calumet Road in other posts. Careful inspection does place it at Camp Mahackeno. However, my brother Corky Cookman is behind the wheel of the Model A Ford Roadster. It is his car for sure. I think I recognize Michael Calise in the picture. There was a time in the early days of the Downshifters when engines were pulled from a chain hanging from a steel beam that supported our garage. Thank you, Charlie Taylor, for the memories. Those were the days my friends and we thought they would never end. Thankfully they are still in our memory banks with smiles..

  9. Mary Ann Batsell

    Even though I was a few years behind Charlie i remember those days and of course many of the Downshifters, Corky, Freddy Fable, Andy Wilhauer alwsys rode his
    “car” in the Memorial Dsy Parade, those were the best days in
    Westport, thanks for sharing such wonderful memories!


    My mother was from Mayfield, and I spent many summers there in the 1950s and early ’60s. It was a great place to be from, and it’s sad to see the devastation they suffered from the tornado and more recently from the flooding.