Category Archives: Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback #61

Westporters have watched with interest as renovations begin on 1 Wilton Road.

That’s the quaint little building squatting underneath the massive Wright Street office project.

Today it’s one of the many frustrating reasons for back-ups at the Post Road West/Riverside Avenue intersection. Plans to move the building to create a turning lane have been rejected (perhaps to rise again, in the future).

Once upon a time, that section of town was less chaotic. Back in the day, a man could stroll down the middle of State Street — past a still-familiar streetscape that includes National Hall (now The ‘Port restaurant).

But I’m sure turn-of-the-20th-century Westporters found plenty to complain about.

Look at that mud! Those rocks, and the wagon ruts!

And I know some folks thought that watering trough didn’t need to be smack in the center of the road.

Friday Flashback #60

Alert reader — and 11th-generation Westporter Jacques Voris — sends along a fascinating photo:

He writes:

This photo of John Burr Mills was taken circa 1922. He was about 87, and is holding his great-grand-niece, Shirley Mills.

John Burr Mills — a relative of mine — was here for much of the early formation of Westport, and its transition from a farming community into the artist colony of the 1920s.

He was born on February 25, 1835 in Greens Farms — a few months before Westport was incorporated. He was the second of 3 sons of John Mills and Sarah Batterson. His father died when he was 20 years old. He and his older brother Charles struck out on their own.

John was primarily a mason. He built the State Street (now Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road) bridge. He lived until 1934, and his direct descendant Wayne Mills still lives on West Parish Road.

What I really like about this photo are his hands, as he gently holds the child. Look at the size of them, and think about their obvious strength.

In addition to the photo, Jacques has a request:

I need “06880” readers’ help finding something. There was once a horse track in Greens Farms called the Dingee Racetrack. Other than a name, I don’t know a thing about it. Where exactly was it located? When?

Readers: If you have any information on the Dingee Racetrack, click “Comments” below. NOTE: The racetrack on the Bedford property — near, interestingly, West Parish — was called Wynfromere. It may be a different one.

Friday Flashback #59

Last week’s Friday Flashback featured the Tally Ho restaurant. Located near the intersection of the Post Road and Main Street, the popular American restaurant closed shortly after the 1950 photo was taken (click here to see).

In its place came West Lake: Westport’s 1st Chinese restaurant. At the time, that cuisine was considered exotic.

Last week’s photo showed the Saugatuck River lapping against the back of Tally Ho.

A few years later, the river was filled in. Parker Harding Plaza — quickly dubbed the Harder Parking lot — was created.

Here’s the rear entrance to West Lake. The brick building to the right housed the Westport Library (today, it’s Freshii and Starbucks).

As for the 3-story Main Street building whose back we see in this image: It’s still there.

But it’s hidden by new construction.

 

Friday Flashback #58

Last week’s Friday Flashback featured an intriguing aerial photo of downtown Westport, circa 1955.

That was right before the Saugatuck River was filled in, creating Parker Harder Plaza.

At the time of that photo — and ever since there businesses on Main Street — the river lapped up against their back doors.

Just like this:

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

Peter Barlow’s 1947 photo shows the Tally Ho restaurant. It was located — according to this 1950 matchbook — at the corner of State Street (now the Post Road) and Main Street.

That’s probably the site of the noted 1960s-’70s restaurant, West Lake. In modern terms, it’s next to the stark concrete plaza directly opposite Anthropologie (Bedford Square).

The not-to-scale map calls Main Street “Route 57.” Apparently, that’s its official name.

If you’ve got any memories of the Tally Ho — what kind of food it served, the type of customers, what it meant to be a “cocktail lounge” back in the day — click “Comments” below.

Friday Flashback #57

The transformation of the Westport YMCA into Bedford Square has brought big changes to downtown.

But that area is always changing. We may not notice it — but our commercial center constantly evolves.

Even the Saugatuck River looks different now, compared to a few decades ago.

In 1985 — to honor the 150th anniversary of the community’s founding — the Westport Historical Society produced “Westport … A Special Place.”

A 2-page photo spread highlighted the many changes that had taken place over the previous 30 years — when Wells Studio took an aerial shot.

Clicking on or hovering over the image shows downtown before:

  • Landfill for the library and Levitt Pavilion
  • Police headquarters on Jesup Road
  • Parker Harding Plaza behind Main Street — also landfill — narrowed the river
  • The 4-story Gap building, and Brooks Corner across the street
  • Demolition of several industrial buildings on Riverside Avenue
  • Save the Children (formerly Famous Artists) on Wilton Road.

Much has changed in the 32 years since 1985, of course — including the current renovation of Save the Children.

What else do you notice in the photo above? Click “Comments” to share your thoughts.

Friday Flashback #56

Some Friday Flashback photos are unrecognizable today. Others are long gone.

More than 100 years after this image was taken, it’s still around.

And it looks almost unchanged.

The photo — provided by Seth Schachter — shows what is now Toquet Hall, on the Post Road across from Bedford Square.

Around 1900 — when this photo was taken — it housed the offices of the Westporter-Herald newspaper, and the Westport Drug Company. You could buy newspapers, postcards, magazines and cigars there. The store next door on the left sold cigars too.

There’s the still-familiar alley leading to Toquet Hall — today, a teen center — on the right.

So who was Toquet?

Benjamin H. Toquet was born in Paris in 1834, and came to America in 1845. He served in the Civil War, then returned to Westport.

His son Benjamin Louis was born in 1864.

Toward the end of the century the younger Toquet — now a respected businessman — built an opera house on Post Road property inherited by his wife, Nellie Bradley. The first town meeting was held there on April 2, 1892.

For the next 17 years, all town meetings and assemblies were held there.

The older Toquet died in 1913, a successful entrepreneur. He headed up the Toquet Motor Company, which developed carburetors for Fords.

B. Louis Toquet had a daughter, Vivienne. His family — and his father — lived at 10 Avery Place. As of 1946, he still lived there.

More than 70 years later, their name — and building — live on.

The Toquet building last year.

Friday Flashback #55

For over 50 years, The Willows medical complex — aka “Fort Apache” — has sat at the Kings Highway North/Wilton Road intersection.

But for 3 decades before that, it was the 3rd home to The Bolton School — aka The Westport School for Girls.

Mary E. E. Bolton

The school was opened in 1925 by Mrs. Mary E.E. Bolton and her sister, Miss Katherine Laycock. The founders’ main goal was to educate Bolton’s 2 daughters.

The women were “completely unknown in Westport,” a school history in the 1951 yearbook says.

But they put up a sign outside a 3-story Myrtle Avenue house. Bolton leased room for her school — and living space for herself and her daughters — there.

Besides Betty and Bunny Bolton, 2 other girls — all 7 years old– enrolled. By year’s end, 14 others joined them.

The next year the school moved to a large Greek Revival house on the corner of Post Road West and Ludlow Road.

Three years later, they relocated to the Kings Highway North site. The Bolton School occupied a large Victorian farmhouse, and 3 outbuildings.

Each year, a new grade was added. The first graduating class was 1935.

By the mid-1950s though, the old house, barn and sheds were fire traps. Mrs. Bolton’s lease was nearing an end, and the owner of the property wanted to sell.

The Bolton School, on the corner of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road. The photo was provided by Bonnie Bradley, from the school’s 1950 yearbook.

A group of concerned parents and friends of the school, including Lucie Bedford Cunningham, approached the sisters with the idea of incorporating The Bolton School as a not-for-profit, which could raise money to build or buy new facilities. Mrs. Bolton declined, preferring to retain ownership of her nursery school and lower school, but Miss Laycock, headmistress of the Upper School, agreed.

Long story short: In 1956 the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School opened in the dilapidated house. After a search, the Bedford/Vanderbilt family sold 26 acres of property on Beachside Avenue — for $250,000.

Kathleen Laycock

In 1959, Kathleen Laycock School moved in. The next year, Mrs. Bolton’s younger school followed.

Both prospered. But by the end of the 1960s, single-sex schools were under siege. In 1969, after a year of study and deliberation, the trustees voted to admit males.

Knowing the difficulty of attracting boys to “Kathleen Laycock Country Day,” the trustees renamed the school. In September 1970, 23 young men joined 300 young women at Greens Farms Academy.

The rest is history. You can still see the remnants of what was once the Bolton School on Beachside Avenue.

If you close your eyes, you can visualize it too at Fort Apache.

(Hat tip: Bonnie Bradley)

Friday Flashback #54

In today’s technologically marvelous world, any kid with a camera and a computer can make a movie.

Local teenagers do it uncommonly well. Nick Ribolla (“Welcome to Westport“) is one viral sensation example; there are countless others.

In 1962, movie-making was considerably more difficult.

So when a group of Westport youngsters made a feature-length, color production, everyone took notice.

And by “everyone,” I mean the New York Times and Life magazine — along with plenty of movie-goers.

A New York Times story of December 7, 1962. Note that Ralph Bluemke had his own director’s chair.

“I Was a Teenage Mummy” was a spoof of classic horror films. The plot is typical: a 3,700-year-old mummy menaces (of course) Westport.

The movie was the brainchild of Ralph Bluemke. He was the “old guy” — 22.

His co-producers were Jeff Mullin (15) and Allen Skinner (14). The cast — all local kids — ranged in age from 15 down to 9.

Allen Skinner (left) sets up a shot for director Ralph Bluemke. Co-star Jayne Walker looks on. (Photo/Westport Town Crier)

All the cameras were borrowed. “A local automobile dealer lent a Cadillac for one sequence,” Life reports, “and one mother was conned out of her new Mercedes.”

The Westport Police Department lent a cop car — and a cop.

Some scenes were shot at Longshore; “suburban  homes were pillaged for props and costumes.”

Somehow, a pilot at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) persuaded passengers to sit in their seats for half an hour after landing, while a climactic scene was filmed.

Life reports on a “Mummy Movie Made by Kids.” The captions read: “A 9-year-old villain unwraps a teenage mummy in Westport” and “Movie victims litter Connecticut beach in a simulated Sahara.”

Like any moviemaker, Bluemke faced challenges. The mummy’s makeup took 3 hours to apply each day. And “a passing train or somebody dashing by in a bathing suit could bug a whole scene,” he told Life.

“I Was a Teenage Mummy” had its world premiere at the Fine Arts Theatre (now Restoration Hardware) on April 26, 1963. The next night, there were 2 screenings at in the Staples High School auditorium.

Publicity for the world premiere of “I Was a Teenage Mummy.” The tagline read: “It may not scare you to death. But you’ll die laughing.”

Though “obviously an amateur production,” a website notes, “the details are spot on. Lots of little touches and accurate costume details that make it an impressive achievement for a group of youngsters, or adults for that matter. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

More than half a century after its release, “Teenage Mummy” lives on. You can buy a DVD for $10.

Ralph Bluemke — the young director — thought of everything, cinematically speaking.

But he never imagined that 50 years later, anyone with a TV could watch his film about a 3,700-year-old mummy terrorizing his — now our — suburban town.

“I Was a Teenage Mummy” — the DVD case.

Friday Flashback #53

In 1979 2009 — as her 30th Staples High School reunion neared — Peggy Lehn made this collage:

Now — 8 years later — she dug it out of her garage, and sent it along.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. If you were in Westport then: How many of these places and things do you remember? Westport Pizzeria and Liberty Army Navy seem to be the only 2 stores still around.

If you were not here: What are you most curious about? I’m guessing the Minnybuses — and the bizarrely named S&M Pizza. (Trust me, nothing crazy went on there.)

Click “Comments” below to share memories — or ask questions.

Friday Flashback #52

Today, the Friday Flashback turns 1 year old.

Since last summer, we’ve featured some fascinating photos of Westport’s past: The sanitarium. The Compo Beach bathhouses. Gorham Island. Ray the Good Humor Man.

To celebrate this anniversary, I wanted something truly iconic.

The cannons? Minute Man? Remarkable Book Shop? Big Top?

Nah. They’ve all been featured many times on “06880.”

The Minnybuses? Arnie’s Place? A bit too narrow.

Suddenly, it hit me. For generations of kids of all ages, nothing said “Westport” like the Ice Cream Parlor.

The final location, on the Post Road.

In 3 locations — Main Street, Compo Shopping Center, and finally the Post Road (opposite what is now Qdoba) — the Ice Cream Parlor served up a lot more than sundaes, wax candy and a Pig’s Trough.

It served up memories.

Mine are of wrought-iron chairs, more ice cream flavors than Howard Johnson’s, and jars filled with candy.

What are yours? Click “Comments” below.

An Ice Cream Parlor menu, signed by famous people who had been there.