Category Archives: Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback #350

As Longshore swings into the summer season, officials continue to debate a renovation plan.

More than 60 years after the town bought a failing country club, to avoid a development of 180 homes on prime property, it’s time for an upgrade. A golf clubhouse, pickleball courts, walking paths and much more are on the table.

I thought I’d seen all the photos available of Longshore, from its early days as the nation’s first municipally owned country club.

But Pamela Docters recently posted a “new” old image on Facebook.

Among the notable features:

  • The partly hidden “lighthouse,” just below the marina
  • Creaky, wooden bathhouses, below and to the left of the lighthouse
  • The old saltwater pools, with a bit of sandy beach nearby
  • Cabins, at the site of the current
  • Longshore Sailing School
  • Trees!

What do you notice? Click “Comments” below.

(Since 2009, “06880” has chronicled the ups and downs of Longshore. That’s one small part of what we do. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!) 

Friday Flashback #349

Westport’s Memorial Day parade has been a town highlight for nearly a century.

But coincidentally, 2 parade photos from the same year — 1965 — popped into my inbox within a few days of each other last week.

One — posted by Paul Ehrismann on Facebook — shows a gaggle of kids and parents, turning the corner from the Post Road (State Street) onto Myrtle Avenue:

Their outfits — today, quite politically incorrect and culturally misappropriated — show they were part of the Westport YMCA’s “Indian Guide” program.

I was never an Indian Guide, so I don’t know whether they learned actual history or stereotypical myths about Machamux, the Pequots, and other people and tribes who lived here nearly 4 centuries ago.

But if I had to guess …

The other photo came from Adam Stolpen:

In 1965, Adam was a Staples High School student — and the one delivering a Memorial Day address. The site for the ceremony in those days was Jesup Green. (Today it’s at Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.)

Others in the photo include Westport resident and former Connecticut Governor John Davis Lodge (all in white, with a Navy cap); World War I veteran and grand marshal E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones (to the right of Governor Lodge, with hands folded), and Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron T. Rubenstein (seated at far left).

Adam thinks the man in uniform on the far right may be parade director Frank Cunningham.

The Memorial Day parade has endured for years. But over the past few years, attendance has been a bit down.

Yet it’s one of those things that makes Westport feel like a small town — and a very American one.

The parade begins Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. The route takes it down Riverside Avenue, then onto the Post Road and Myrtle Avenue, ending at Town Hall.

A very inspiring ceremony — with brief speeches, patriotic music, a 21-gun salute and a tribute to grand marshal, 99-year-old World War II veteran Ben Pepper — follows, around 10:30 at Veterans Green.

Don’t miss it! And maybe 58 years from now — in 2083 — your picture will be part of a “Friday Flashback” too.

(“06880” is as “Westport” as the Memorial Day parade. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

Friday Flashback #348

One of our town’s worst tragedies happened 77 years ago this month.

As Woody Klein noted in his book on the history of Westport, on May 2, 1946 a tire on a truck filled with vulcanizing cement blew on Post Road West, near Sylvan Road.

It swerved into a tree, and immediately exploded. A huge fire quickly erupted.

First on the scene was ambulance driver Arthur Audley, and his daughter Edna. They helped the trucker and others.

But the driver died the next morning at the hospital. Also killed were Fire Chief Frank Dennert, former fire chief Francis Dunnigan,  and firefighters John H. Gallagher. Dominick Zeoli died later.

Eight others were injured.

A plaque honoring the firefighters, 50 years after the tragedy.

Westporters responded quickly — including more than 2 dozen blood donors, who headed to Norwalk Hospital.

The Westporter-Herald printed an extra edition the next morning (so readers did not have to wait for the afternoon paper), and solicited contributions to the Firemen’s Fund. A benefit baseball game raised more money.

Four firefighters people seriously injured in the explosion — Zeoli, George and Jimmy Powers, and 13-year-old John Saviano — were still in the hospital on June 23 when they received a surprise visit (and autographed baseballs) from Babe Ruth. He was a frequent golfer at Birchwood Country Club, and Saviano was often his caddy.

Babe Ruth autographs a baseball for George “Nookie” Powers. His soon-to-be wife Virginia “Jinx” Closson looks on.

That moment was overshadowed by the tragedy, of course. The fire was seared into the memories of all who were in Westport that May day.

The 4 firefighters’ names are part of the state’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Windsor Locks.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

And more than a decade after that accident — when the Post Road was the main route for trucks traveling to and from New York — the Connecticut Turnpike opened.

The danger moved from local roads, to an interstate highway.

(Friday Flashback is a weekly feature on “06880.” Please click here to support your hyper-local blog. Thank you!)

Friday Flashback #347

Last week’s photo of Boccanfuso’s gas station next to Mansion Clam House (later Parker Mansion) brought plenty of comments, and many memories.

Plus 3 photos, from Patricia Driscoll.

She writes that before it was a beloved seafood restaurant, the Mansion building was …

… a mattress factory.

Her great-aunt Elizabeth Ball worked there. Other relatives may have too.

Patricia says Elizabeth was born in 1894. She was quite young when she started at the factory. This photo is from around 1910:

Patricia also sent a photo of her great-aunt and grandmother at a Westport school. They were between 6 and 8 years old, she says; she does not know exactly when it was taken, or where.

There appear to be 29 students in one class — and clearly all were not in the same grade.

Patricia’s third photo is of another relative, Thomas Ball, in his Post Road jewelry store:

“06880” readers: If you know anything about the mattress factory, school or jewelry store in these photos, click “Comments” below.

(Every Friday, “06880” offers a look at back at old Westport. Today, we ask for your support — so we can continue our work into the future. Please click here to donate. Thank you!)

Friday Flashback #346

Traffic often backs up on the Cribari Bridge. Drivers can wait quite a while to turn onto Riverside Avenue.

Things were not as bad in 1962 — even without a dedicated right-hand turn lane.

Instead — as Gail Comden’s photo shows — there was a gas station. (In fact there were several in Saugatuck. Now there is one.)

(Photo courtesy of Gail Comden via Facebook)

Just north of the gas station is Mansion Clam House. After several decades, it became Parker Mansion. Now it’s vacant.

What’s next? Another restaurant? A business or real estate office?

Or a teardown, to help ease — somehow — the traffic that plagues Saugatuck?

(Friday Flashback is one of many special “06880” features. If you enjoy it, please click here to help support your hyper-local blog. Thank you!)

Friday Flashback #345

As Westport’s Board of Finance and RTM engage in their annual debates over the fate of theWheels2U service — and the Westport Transit District in general — it’s time for another look back at the minnybus.

Back in the day, they were Westport’s cutting-edge (yet diesel-belching) transportation technology. Driving fixed routes (with Jesup Green as the hub), they ferried people — mostly pre-teens and teenagers — around town. At least one parent was known to park kids on a Minnybus for a round-trip or two, using it as a vehicular babysitter.

At least 10,000 youngsters used it as a place to escape home, smoke cigarettes, and/or make out.

Rick Davis was too young to do any of that stuff.

Kids still ride all over town. Today, Uber delivers them from Point A to B much more quickly (and expensively).

But — no matter how entertaining your Uber driver — it’s nowhere near as much fun.

(Photo courtesy of Gail Comden via Facebook)

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Friday Flashback #344

As Westporters look forward to another beach season, now is a good time to look back.

Alert reader/amateur historian/avid pack rat Fred Cantor unearthed a 1963-era aerial view of Compo.

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Among the differences 60 years later:

There were no docks in the marina (not yet named for Board of Finance chair Ned Dimes). A great summer job was piloting the tender boats that ferried sailors and guests to their crafts.

Wooden bathhouses sprawled from the brick pavilion to the wooden one. Only a few “lockers” still stand; part of the structure is now Hook’d. In 1963 beachgoers got their burgers from a concession stand, visible at the corner of the main parking lot exit and the start of Soundview Drive (where the volleyball courts are today).

Look at all that empty land around Compo Hill and Minute Man Hill. If only you had been around then, and bought some of it …

What do you see? Click “Comments” below.

(Friday Flashback is a weekly “06880” feature. If you like these looks back in time, please consider a contribution. Just click here — and thank you!)

Friday Flashback #343

Last week’s Friday Flashback showed Ken Montgomery’s Old Mill store — one of several predecessors of the current Old Mill Grocery & Deli.

It had been his mother’s market. He joined her, after his original place — on the corner of Bridge Street and Compo Road South — was demolished, to make way for the new Connecticut Turnpike (now called I-95).

I’d never seen a photo of it. Then, just days after that Friday Flashback, Pamela Docters posted an old Westport Town Crier newspaper clipping on Facebook:

As the caption notes, Ken wanted to move the “retail landmark” to property he owned opposite the old Saugatuck Elementary School (now The Saugatuck co-op housing complex). His request was denied.

The caption also says that he hoped to return with a new store once the highway was finished.

That never happened. But the Old Mill store was good to him.

And Ken was good to his town. When he died, he left a $500,000 gift to the Westport YMCA.

Pamela posted a couple of other fascinating doomed-by-the-thruway photos.

This one, from June 7, 1956, shows houses moved to Dr. Gillette Circle.

Dr. Gillette Circle is off Davenport Avenue, which itself is accessed by Ferry Lane West off Saugatuck Avenue — adjacent to I-95 Exit 17.

Indian Hill Road — also part of the neighborhood — is now sliced in two by the highway. It once connected, all the way north to Treadwell Avenue.

Dr. Gillette Circle is once again buffeted by change. The 157-unit Summit Saugatuck development is a few yards away, on Hiawatha Lane Extension.

As for I-95, recent state Department of Transportation work has radically altered the landscape first created when the turnpike was built. It took 70 years for trees and vegetation to grow. Now it’s all gone.

Of course, as thruway construction took place Saugatuck was not the only neighborhood affected. Another photo posted by Pam shows a Greens Farms home — already 125 years old — being moved 700 feet away from the new route’s right-of-way, to Turkey Hill South.

The Connecticut Turnpike cut a wide swath through Westport. It changed Saugatuck forever, and made an enormous impact everywhere else.

Three-quarters of a century later, most of us cannot imagine life here without it.

But there are still Westporters, and former residents, alive who do.

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Friday Flashback #342

Almost a year ago, a small group of Westporters announced a big milestone.

Residents — and folks from far away — contributed well over $1 million. The century-old food stand by Old Mill Beach was saved from possible destruction (and modern construction, as a private home).

The new place would open soon, with an important nod to the past: Old Mill Grocery & Deli. That was its original name,

Most recently, it had been known as Joey’s by the Shore. For 2 decades before that, it was Elvira’s.

For much of the second half of the 20th century, it was called Kenny’s (for owner Ken Montgomery).

Or by its nickname: Grub’s.

“06880” has posted many photos, from the building’s earliest days to its most recent.

But we’ve never seen this shot before. To many generations of Westporters, this was Grub’s.

It was taken around 1976. But really, it’s timeless.

(Photo/Clayton Liotta via Facebook)

(Remember Grub’s? Consider a gift in its (his) honor, to “06880.” Please click here — and thank you!)

Friday Flashback #341

Eighty years ago today — on March 31, 1943 — Oklahoma! debuted on Broadway.

But the road to the St. James Theatre began 50 miles away, in Westport.

In 1940, a production of Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs incorporated turn-of-the-century folk songs, and a scene with a square dance. Theatre Guild producer Theresa Helburn suggested to Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall — founders of both the Playhouse and Guild — that it would make a good musical.

The original poster has a story behind it. John Ford agreed to direct the show but was detained by film commitments. Substitute director John Haggott followed ideas he and Ford put together earlier in Hollywood.

The trio invited Richard Rodgers — who lived just a few miles away, in Fairfield — to see a performance. Inspired, he wrote a show with those elements with his lyricist partner, Oscar Hammerstein.

Three years later the Guild produced Oklahoma! on Broadway — with a grateful nod to Lilacs.

Over the years, Oklahoma!‘s bond with Westport tightened even more. At just 17, dancer Bambi Linn made her Broadway debut in the show. She was Dream Laurey, the dancer in the dream in which Laurey tries to decide between Curly and Jud.

Bambi Linn — whose Broadway career flourished after Oklahoma! — moved to Westport in the early 1960s. She and her husband, Joe de Jesus, taught generations of young Westporters to dance.

Bambi Linn, as Dream Laurey in “Oklahoma!” on Broadway.

Oklahoma! was revolutionary. It’s considered one of the first shows in modern musical theater. Up to then, songs did not really move plots forward. They were sung to entertain.

Oklahoma! told its story through music — and, thanks in part to Bambi Linn, dance.

There’s one final Westport-Oklahoma! connection. Richard Rodgers’ grandson — composer/lyricist Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza) — married actress Haley Bond. Before graduating from Staples in 2003 (where she was known as Haley Petersen) she was an actor herself, with Players.

The high school troupe has (of course!) produced Oklahoma!. Theystaged it 4 times: in 1973, 1989, 1995 and 2012.

Players is known for their near-Broadway quality work.

Which, in Oklahoma!‘s case makes a ton of sense, given its birthplace — or at least, conception — right here in Westport.