Category Archives: Looking back

Photo Challenge #328

Last week’s Photo Challenge showed a close-up of a bit of the Compo Beach playground. It was kind of obvious, even though I cropped Patricia McMahon’s image as closely as I could. (Click here to see.)

But leave it to Rick Benson — who has forgotten more about Westport than I’ve ever known — to provide the back story:

This is a wheel from the original playground, taken down in April 1989 to make room for the first Robert Leathers Community Built playground.

When that wore out and the current one was built, this was relocated again to the “new playground.”

The “original playground” Rick refers to was actually just a monkey bar, swing set and whirligig adjacent to the basketball courts.

The plan for the first Leathers playground created an enormous controversy.

Playground opponents — no, that’s not an oxymoron — feared a ruined beach vista. They worried the swings and ladders would be a magnet for out-of-towners, or taken over by beer-drinking, pot-smoking, sex-having teenagers.

The playground controversy brought the first — and only — death threat of 1st selectwoman Marty Hauhuth’s tenure.

Anti-playground activists obtained a court injunction. (They were not playing around.)

As soon as it was lifted, construction began. It was a magical weekend.

The playground quickly became one of Westport’s prime attractions. It did not ruin the view; it enhanced it. And the only problem now is that on beautiful days, too many people use it.

Congratulations to (besides Rick) Rich Stein, Totney Benson, Andrew Colabella, Evan Stein, John Richers and James Weisz.

All knew where to find last week’s Photo Challenge. Even if they didn’t all know as much about it as Rick does.

How about this week’s puzzle? If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Gene Borio)

March 11, 2020: The Day COVID Crushed Our Town

On Sunday, March 8, 2020, town officials hosted a community forum on COVID-19, at the Westport Library.

“A small, well-spaced-apart crowd was joined by many more online participants this afternoon,” I wrote.

“Presentations were clear and cogent; questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful; answers were direct and honest.” Topics included schools, the Senior Center, restaurants, Metro-North, budget implications, gyms and the YMCA.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe (far right), at the March 8 COVID-19 panel.

The key takeaways:

  • There were dozens of “what-ifs.”
  • The best precautions included rigorous hand-washing, frequent cleaning of surfaces, and careful monitoring of surroundings and contacts.
  • It was virtually inevitable that COVID would come to Westport.

In fact, it already had.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left),and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe demonstrated the best way to say hello, COVID-19-style.

Three days later — on Wednesday, March 11 — fear had heightened considerably.

A student at Staples High School asked me if I thought schools would close. “Maybe Monday,” I replied.

That night I was supposed to have dinner with my sister and nephews in New York, and see Andy Borowitz. We texted all day about what to do. With trepidation, we said: Let’s go for it.

Suddenly, news came that Westport schools were closing. A news conference was quickly planned for outside Town Hall. Forget dinner, I texted. I have to cover this.

The weather outside Town Hall was beautiful, I reported. But the officials on the front steps were grim.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper and others outlined the day’s rapid developments.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announces COVID-19 news.

They noted a private party in Westport the previous Thursday, March 5. Of the 40 or so attendees — of all ages — 14 reported coronavirus-like symptoms.

“It’s likely many people were exposed,” Cooper said. “And others will be.”

Schools would be closed indefinitely, for deep cleaning. Also shut: Town Hall. All meetings, including the Board of Finance budget. The Senior Center. Toquet Hall. The Westport Library (until Monday).

Marpe noted that private institutions must decide for themselves which events to cancel. “We recognize these are tough decisions,” he said.

Print and television reporters kept their distance from each other, at the press conference on the steps of Town Hall. (Photos/Dan Woog)

I still planned one last hurrah that night in New York.

I never went. Midway through writing my story, I got a text. Andy Borowitz had canceled.

The next day, I walked downtown.

The scene was surreal. Main Street was abandoned. Stores were shut; every parking spot was open.

A friend in an office above Brooks Corner spotted me. We talked for an hour. He runs a summer camp. He had no idea if — or how — he’d be affected. We agreed: None of us knew what’s ahead. But suddenly we were very, very worried.

One of my fears was that with Westport locked down, I’d have nothing to write about.

An hour or so after the Westport Public Schools announced they were closing, Trader Joe’s looked like the day before a snowstorm. (Photo/Armelle Pouriche)

I could not have been more wrong.

After returning home, I did not leave for the next 4 days. I wrote constantly. There were stories everywhere.

I wrote about:

  • Constantly changing advice on numbers and safety precautions
  • Store closures: How to get food
  • Church closures: What to expect for Easter and Passover
  • What students should expect, with schools closed
  • The emotions of the Staples girls’ basketball team; COVID canceled the state tournament, just as they reached the semifinals
  • The lack of test kits
  • A raging debate on whether “small gatherings” were okay. “It’s not a snow day!” one news story reported. Some in Westport disagreed.

And of course, I wrote about the beach.

The weekend was gorgeous. Stuck at home Thursday and Friday, Westporters flocked to Compo. Some wore masks. Most did not. Some practiced that new concept: social distancing. Others did not.

Compo Beach, March 13, 2020 (Photo/Jo Shields Sherman)

Alarmed, Marpe shut the Compo and Burying Hill parking lots, and the Compo playground.

Some Westporters applauded his action.

Others protested. They drove to the beach, and parked up and down Soundview Drive.

Police issued tickets. But they were playing whack-a-mole. As soon as one beachgoer left, another arrived.

With the parking lot closed, folks parked up and down the exit road.

All that was within the first 96 hours of COVID in Westport.

It’s been here since.

I realized quickly that I would not run out of stories.

The pandemic has affected every aspect of life here. I’ve written about:

  • The return of college students and 20-somethings to their parents’ homes
  • The continued fallout from “the party”
  • Mental and physical health
  • Westporters of all ages coming together: teenagers shopping for the elderly; women making masks (and yarn bombing trees); churches providing meals; children painting positive messages on rocks
  • Where to find toilet paper, paper towels and Lysol
  • Businesses and restaurants that closed — and new ones that opened
  • Pop-up entertainment, like the Remarkable Theater and a Staples grad who sings opera
  • How to access business loans and other help
  • Hybrid education, Staples’ unique graduation, and the virtual Candlelight Concert
  • 12-step programs, religious services and more online
  • App developers who help the world trace contacts, visualize impacts, connect with others
  • Virtual programming: the Westport Library, JoyRide, non-profit fundraisers and more
  • Where to get tested, and how to get a vaccine.

One of the yarn bomber’s first works, at fire headquarters. (Photo/Molly Alger)

One year ago today, I stood on the steps of Town Hall. I still thought I could get to New York that night.

I haven’t been back since.

This has been a year like no other. Every man, woman and child in Westport has been affected.

We’ve lost 28 neighbors. Over 1,400 here have been diagnosed with COVID. If we did not believe that COVID was real on March 10 last year, we sure did on March 11.

Soon, “06880” will look ahead. We’ll try to figure out what March 11, 2022 will feel like.

But today, let’s look back. We want to hear your thoughts on the past year.

What did the town do right? Wrong? What are you most proud of, or regret the most? How did your life change?

Click “Comments” below.

And remember: Wear a mask!

James Dobin-Smith created the OneWestport.com website in a matter of days. It provided up to date information on what’s open and cloed, all around town.

Remembering Lee Greenberg

Lee Greenberg — longtime resident, active volunteer, salon host, talented sculptor, noted tennis player and skier, yoga teacher (long before most people knew what that was), and friend to countless Westporters of all ages — died Friday at her beloved home of 43 years, on Duck Pond Road.

Born Lee Snell during the Spanish flu influenza on January 22, 1918 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York to parents from Belarus Russia, she came to Westport in 1941 after marrying Nat Greenberg. He operated the Westport Hardware Store for more than 55 years, and became a noted real estate developer.

Lee and Nat were among the earlier Jewish residents of Westport. Nat helped establish Temple Israel, and later enabled the development of Birchwood Country Club.

Lee Greenberg

Lee was intellectually curious, bold and worldly, and dedicated to a healthy lifestyle including exercise and mobility long before it became popular. She played tennis, did yoga, and did splits into her 90s.

A perennial beach and sun worshiper, she held court year-round with friends and family while playing backgammon and Scrabble on her cherished beaches (from Block Island in summer to St. thomas in winter). Young at heart, she kept her mind active with games and news to the end of her life. 

She was aided by the irreplaceable love, endless dedication and careful driving of her 18-year caregiver, Gina Prempeh from Ghana. Through this winter she could be found at Compo Beach, listening to her favorite operas and watching the sun set next to her “bouquet of trees.”

Lee was married to Nat Greenberg for 43 years, and to the late Jacques Sternberg for 10 years. She is survived by her children, Linda Libow of New York, Gail Greenberg of California, Michael Greenberg of Westport and Debbie Filkins of Block Island, Rhode Island, and their spouses; step-children Edward Sternberg, Cathy O’Gara and spouses; 8 grandchildren, 3 step-grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; 6 step-great-grandchildren; the Snell nephews and their children, and her beloved caretaker Gina Prempeh.

In the spirit of Lee’s love of and support for the environment, music, history and equality, the family welcomes donations in her memory to the Westport Rotary Club, Temple Israel Community Tzedakah Fund (Social Action), Norwalk Symphony, Block Island Historical Society, or Salmon River Restoration Council

A week ago, “06880” and the entire town honored her on her 103rd birthday

Fellow Rotarian Gillian Anderson writes:

I was fortunate to see her recently. On January 19 a half dozen friends from the Westport Rotary Club gave her an ice cream cake (chocolate, her favorite), a bouquet of roses, some fabulous balloons and a card made by Dave Matlow of his photographs of Lee with family and friends.

We saw her in her heated garage with her loyal companion and aide Gina, her son Michael and one of her granddaughters. We enjoyed a short, socially distanced visit and sang “Happy Birthday.”

She was happy to see us. She spoke about her husband Nat and her long life in Westport. She celebrated her 103rd birthday with her family 2 days later.

We are so pleased to have seen her and to greet her so happily in this special way. She was a remarkable, unique character. We shall miss her very much.

Gillian prepared these remarks for the Rotary’s celebration of her 103rd birthday:

The former Leah Snell moved to Westport from New York in 1941, when she married Nathan Greenberg. He was a native of the town, and an early member of Westport Rotary. As fellow Rotarian Ann Sheffer said, “The Greenbergs were committed to the evolving community of Westport, and the world in general. They brought the world into their Westport home.”

Lee continues to be an inspiration, an example to us all of a life well lived, a truly abundant life.

Lee has continued to represent an outward looking, worldly curiosity and contributes so much to the local community. Until COVID hit, she was not only a regular attendee at Rotary but also active over many years in the Westport Historical Society, a board member of Norwalk Symphony, the Westport Arts Center, and her Carriage Barn sculpture group at the New Canaan Society for the Arts

Horse sculpture, by Lee Greenberg.

I first got to know Lee 10 years ago at Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler’s house. Political candidates were making rousing “get out the vote” speeches. I sat down next to her and introduced myself. I had no idea I was sitting with the Grand Dame of Westport, the person who knew everyone in the room and just about everyone in the entire town.

She showed me her sculpture (“When Pigs Can Fly”), which she was donating to raise funds for the DNC silent auction that night, then gave me thumbnail bios of all the important folks in the room. Quite an education! Gradually we became friends, particularly when she invited me to attend her renowned cultural salon.

Lee’s cultural salon was an extraordinary gathering at her home each week. She and her friend Herb Podell invited a small group of friends and acquaintances to hear a speaker or performer of note. The cosmopolitan range of her interests and connections was breath taking: opera singers, musicians, journalists, political columnists, photographers, artists, human rights activists, politicians, economists and authors. For many years, each shared their ideas and talents in Lee’s living room to an appreciative audience, who were thrilled to attend and join in the lively discussion that followed.

One of the striking aspects to me of Lee’s persona is her intellect and curiosity. Her conversation is peppered with questions and references to current events, to making connections and with people in the news, many of whom she knows personally. Until quite recently, here at Rotary lunches when the speaker would ask for questions from the floor, Lee often nailed it with a reference to a relevant  New York Times article she just read and quiz the speaker on his opinion!!

In her second century, Lee Greenberg was as sharp as ever.

Of course, we must mention Lee’s life-long athleticism. Local tennis champion – often playing on her back yard tennis court, skiing every winter, and yoga and daily exercise routines. For many years she taught yoga on the beach at her place in St Thomas, and on Block Island.

This perhaps is one of her secrets to long life and mobility. I had been unaware of all this until one evening about 8 years ago (when she was a mere 95). I was working out at the NY Sports Club. There was Lee doing a circuit of the machines – legs and abs, all manner of major stretches. My trainer said, “Oh yes, Lee’s one of my best clients. She’s often here 5 days a week!”

Mobility is still important to Lee – she loves to be out and about in her beloved Westport. Thanks to the TLC and careful driving of her loyal helper Gina, you’ll easily find Lee most afternoons at Compo Beach. Her white SUV is parked overlooking the water. She often holds court with many friends who love to be in her company.

When we celebrated Lee’s 100th, several members spoke.

Martha Aasen talked of Lee’s outstanding generosity and energy as a fund raiser for countless political candidates over many decades. She said, “It’s a privilege to call her a friend.” Martha told this story:

In the late 1950’s, Lee, Nat and their 4 children were living in a then-huge house on Long Lots Road, enjoying a very comfortable life Liz Taylor and then-husband Mike Todd were house hunting. She was pregnant. Her mother lived in Ridgefield, and Liz wanted to be near her mom.

Their realtor called Nat Greenberg — a long-time Westport real estate developer — in a panic. The realtor had nothing to show them, so he asked Nat if he could them his house.

In walked Liz Taylor and Mike Todd. They loved the house — one of the few in those days with a swimming pool and tennis court — and asked if the Greenbergs would  consider renting it for a year.

Their first reaction was “of course not!” But Nat and Lee talked. They came up with an idea: They could live in Switzerland for a year. Mike offered to pay not only the year’s rental, but for the family of 6 to travel to Europe in style, by ocean liner — and for their chalet.

Unfortunately, during that year Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash. Lee learned the news at a ski mountain. It was a tragic ending to Liz Taylor’s Westport adventure.

A post-script on the 175 Long Lots Road house: Liz Taylor and Mike Todd were not the only famous residents. Lee and Nat eventually sold their home to Harry Reasoner in 1968 — the same year the TV newscaster teamed up with Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace to begin CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

Ann Sheffer also spoke. She talked about the strong family ties between generations of Greenbergs and Sheffers. Her grandparents were close friends of Lee and Nat — all wicked tennis players, and all involved in local real estate development.

Ann also talked about Lee’s talent as an artist, and how nearly every Democratic candidates for state and local elections — and many national ones — from the 1950s through the ’80s were hosted by their two families, for fundraising and support.

Longtime Democratic activists Lee Greenberg (center) and Martha Aasen, with President Bill Clinton.

After the speeches. cake and singing of “Happy Birthday,” Lee stood up. She expressed great joy for all the wonderful words spoken about her. She thanked the Rotary Club and guests for a great celebration, and said she had so much fun she’d like to do it all over again.

However, she concluded, she’d settle for seeing her friends again next Tuesday at the Rotary Club.

Restoring Historic Homes, One By One

Teardowns gets tons of publicity. The loss of familiar streetscapes — and their replacement by (often) bigger, more modern homes — is hard to miss.

Renovations are harder to see. Much of that work goes on inside. But they’re an important part of Westport life too.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly was born and raised in Westport. Her father Tony Ialeggio — an architect for over 40 years — instilled in her a love for historic houses.

She graduated from Staples High School in 1991. Nineteen years later, she purchased a 1927 home on Colonial Road that was a prime candidate for demolition.

She restored it beautifully. In 2012 the Historic District Commission honored her with a Westport Preservation Award. It noted her sensitivity to the mass and scale of the historic Greens Farms Congregational Church neighborhood.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly’s Colonial Road home … (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

“It is an example of how a small, modest house can be successfully preserved, expanded and adapted to the needs of a modern family on a small parcel of land,” the award said.

But Tracey was not through. Last July, she bought another historic house, on Sylvan Road North.

She asked Westport Museum of History & Culture house historian Bob Weingarten to research it. He found that the property was purchased by Charles and Frederick Fable — brothers who created Fable Funeral Home — in 1939, from Edward Nash.

… and her house on North Sylvan. (Photo/Megan Kelly)

Frederick died a few months later. His son — also named Frederick — continued to build the house, with his uncle Charles. It remained in the family until 1985.

Tracey’s friend Andy Dehler surprised her on Christmas with a historic house plaque. It’s one of many that remind everyone who passes that history continues to live in town.

We just have to know where to look.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly, with her historic home plaque. (Photo/Megan Kelly)

The Yule Log Lives. Of Course There’s A Westport Connection.

Since 1966 Westporters have celebrated Christmas by gathering together, drinking egg nog, and watching a film loop of a fire burning in a fireplace.

This COVID year — 54 years after it began — the “Yule Log” is more important than ever. With family gatherings smaller, and few options for leaving the house, we’ll take comfort in one old tradition that’s easy to enjoy.

The traditional Yule log …

And we owe it all to a Westporter of yore:  Fred Thrower.

According to Wikipedia — which is usually pretty right, most of the time — Fred was president and CEO of WPIX, Inc.

Inspired by an animated Coca-Cola commercial a year earlier that showed Santa Claus at a fireplace, he envisioned this television program as a televised Christmas gift to those residents of “The Big Apple” who lived in apartments and homes without fireplaces.  This also provided time for employees of the TV station to stay home with their families, instead of working for the usual morning news program.

The original film was shot at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City John Lindsay.  An estimated US $4,000 of advertising (along with a roller derby telecast that night) was canceled on Christmas Eve for the show’s inaugural airing.

Thrower, and WPIX-FM programming director Charlie Whittaker selected the music, largely based on the easy listening format the radio station had at that time, with the likes of Percy Faith (whose rendition of “Joy to the World” is played at the beginning and the end of the telecast), Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Mantovani, and the Ray Conniff Singers to name a few.

During the shoot, the producers removed a protective fire grate so that the blaze could be seen to its best advantage.  Unfortunately, a stray spark damaged a nearby antique rug valued at $4,000.

The “show” was a ratings success. Two years later a new, less jerky, longer (6 minutes, 3 seconds) version was filmed.

For decades the Yule Log quietly, unassumingly, lovingly thrived.

… and a 3D version.

WPIX is now owned by E.W. Scripps. But the show goes on: tomorrow, Christmas Day, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The coronavirus has taken so much from us. Thankfully, anyone in the tri-state area can still enjoy this quaint, odd tradition, created by a long-ago Westport neighbor.

And if your family can’t gather here the traditional way, don’t worry. Just grab an iPad, and watch together, virtually.

All you need is Zoom. Just “log” on. Ho ho ho!

Bennewitz On The Boyers: Arts Pioneers Draw New Attention

As town art curator, Kathie Motes Bennewitz has spent years fleshing out full narratives of our earliest generations of artists — the men and women who established Westport’s reputation as an “artists’ colony.”

The first painters and illustrators arrived around 1904. Ralph and Rebecca Boyer joined them in 1923. Like many others — then and now — they had young children, and found Westport a better place to raise a family than New York City.

You may never have heard of the Boyers. But Bennewitz has.

In fact, her essay “A Seeing Eye for Beauty in the Everyday World: Ralph L. Boyer (1879-1952) and His Daughter Rebecca Boyer Merrilees (1922-2012)” is part of a new book.

A Life in Art: The Boyer & Merrilees Families was just published by the Northern New England Museum of Contemporary Art. It includes over 100 full-color images, covering the art they created from 1907 to 2010. Most was done right here in Westport.

The Boyers lived in Coleytown. It was far from the center — but their neighbors included James and Laura Gardin Fraser, Oscar and Lila Audobon Howard, and Kerr and Phyllis Brevoori Eby. James Daugherty lived nearby, in Weston.

The Boyers’ antique saltbox had been the home of illustrator Clive Weed. Known as the Aaron Burr Adams house, it still stands on Easton Road, near Bayberry  Extension.

Boyer built a small studio, on a hilltop. He had sweeping views of the Aspetuck River, where the stream widens into a lake (now part of the Newman Poses Preserve). When he was not painting, Boyer was fishing.

“Landlocked Salmon No.1 (c. 1924-1935),” etching and drypoint. Inscribed: “To my friend James Daugherty with deepest regards Ralph L. Boyer.”

Boyer’s favorite drawing and etching subjects included haying on the Coley farms, trees along the Saugatuck River and fly fishing on the Aspetuck. His etchings of trout, salmon and bass capture their grace of movement.

He also painted portraits of key community members and artists. During the Depression he received important WPA mural commissions. His most famous — the “History of Fire” series — hangs in the Westport fire station today.

Along the Saugatuck (mid to late 1920s), etching and drypoint (Ralph Boyer)

His daughter Becky graduated from Staples High School in 1939. Her yearbook called her “one of the town’s most expert badminton players, as well as one oits leading younger artists.”

After Pratt Institute, she became an accomplished commercial illustrator. She was most renowned for her botanic work.

In 1960 she became the first female artist with a Reader’s Digest cover (a painting of ferns). She drew 8 more covers, all botanical.

Becky and her husband Douglas Merrilees moved to Northfield, Vermont in 1961. There he developed what is now called the “Made in Vermont” movement. She continued to draw nature there.

Artwork by Rebecca (Becky) Boyer Merrilees.

Bennewitz’s essay was inspired by a generous donation to the Westport Public Art Collections by Becky Boyer Merrilees in 2012, just months before she died. It included etchings and sketches by her father, watercolors by her mother, and beautiful paintings by Becky, along with art by Kerr Eby.

The Boyers’ time here — particularly the early years — must have been quite  something. In 1931, the Boston Evening Transcript described Westport like this:

An extensive permanent colony of painters, etchers, sculptors, typographers and printers of 20 years (who) have established themselves in the fabric of the town…

A very attractive social structure has sort of accumulated, so that Saturday evenings the year ‘round are very jolly indeed.…

They are friends, they are people. They fish and skate and ride and sail sloops and swim and have children. They gossip — dear me! How they gossip, and they are as easily friendly as any group you could imagine.

(Click here to buy A Life in Art: The Boyers & Merrilees.)

“Self-Portrait” (Ralph Boyer)

Barnes & Noble Nears Downtown Move

Growing up, Gordon Joseloff loved the Remarkable Book Shop. Klein’s books, too.

For years after the Main Street stores closed, he dreamed of bringing a bookstore back downtown.

Joseloff died last month. But now that’s almost a reality — in a building his family has owned for years.

Joseloff’s cousin Bruce Beinfield – an architect who also grew up here, and remembers the bookstores fondly — is handling negotiations for the Post Road East building.

For decades, it housed the Fine Arts Theater. From 1999 through last spring, it was Restoration Hardware.

Soon — perhaps right after the holidays — Barnes & Noble will move from its current location, to the downtown site. Earlier today, Beinfield confirmed that a deal is imminent.

Barnes & Noble is poised to move here …

The Barnes & Noble chain was acquired last year by Elliott Management Corporation. Their goal is to give local managers more leeway in operating each store.

At 10,000 square feet, the new Barnes & Noble will be smaller than its current store. It moved into the shopping center near Angelina’s after outgrowing its original Post Road location further east (most recently, Pier 1).

Beinfield says that once the deal is finalized, Barnes & Noble hopes to move as soon as possible. Applications for signage are already on file with town officials.

Plans for a new Starbucks café inside have not yet been filed. However, the back of the building will have food. As reported on “06880” last month, Basso Restaurant & Wine Bar will soon replace Matsu Sushi (the former Fine Arts 3 theater) on Jesup Road.

So what will become of the current Barnes & Noble location? There’s no official word, but rumors include Amazon Go — the high-tech, automated, geofenced app-driven store selling prepared foods, meal kits, groceries and alcohol.

If that happens, it would be a full circle of sorts. Before Barnes & Noble, that building was a Waldbaum’s supermarket.

… from here.

Finding New Life In An Old Cemetery

As COVID cases soar, Westporters search for safe activities.

Among the best places to explore on your own: cemeteries. Odds are you won’t find anyone infected there (or anyone else alive, for that matter).

Our town is filled with fascinating graveyards. Willowbrook, off Main Street near Cross Highway, is the biggest. Greens Farms Church — Westport’s first meetinghouse — has 2 (“upper” and “lower”) on Hillandale and Greens Farms Roads, near the Sherwood Island Connector.

Saugatuck Church’s Evergreen Avenue cemetery and the one shared by Assumption and Christ & Holy Trinity Churches on Kings Highway North near Old Hill are also filled with Westport names, both famous and obscure.

Smaller cemeteries include Compo Beach Road, Longshore Club Park, Post Road West near the Norwalk town line, and Wilton Road near the Merritt Parkway.

Gray’s Creek cemetery on Compo Beach Road. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

All are easily accessible. But the Kings Highway Colonial Cemetery is not.

It’s a small graveyard at the corner of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road. Unless you walk or bike there, the only access is by parking at the medical office across the street, then taking your life in your hands (bad analogy) as you cross Route 33.

The other day, David Wilson did just that. He grew up in Westport (Staples High School Class of 1975), and still spends plenty of time in the area.

Yet in all those years, he had never explored that cemetery.

He was dismayed to find parts in disrepair. Headstones were knocked over. Brush littered the grounds. Broken trees were everywhere.

(Photo/David Wilson)

Intrigued, David found 2 archived Facebook Live tours of the cemeetery. They were led by Nicole Carpenter, director of programs and education at the Westport Museum for History & Culture.

Once in a driving rain, and once on a beautiful spring day, Nicole gave viewers a look at the gravestones. She explained back stories too, including the changing styles and meanings of the stones’ shapes and colors.

The Taylor family — who gave their name to the neighborhood then called Taylortown (the nearby marsh is still called that) — share a large section with the Marvins (of tavern fame).

Abigail Taylor’s grave.

A non-family member is also interred there: Dinah, a “colored” servant and cook. That’s highly unusual, Nicole explained.

There’s the Judah family too, among the first Jewish residents of Westport (then part of Norwalk). Michael moved from New York City because of anti-Semitism. His son Henry became an Episcopal minister; Henry’s son, Henry Moses Judah, was a brigadier general in the Mexican-American and Civil Wars.

The Judas family owned an estate in Saugatuck, which was named for them. Over the years, Judas Point morphed into Judy’s Point.

The 2 tours are fascinating. If COVID keeps you indoors, click here and here to watch.

Kings Highway Colonial Cemetery.

But Nicole missed one of the most fascinating parts of the cemetery. At a mound not far from the road — perhaps the spot where Benedict Arnold (not yet a traitor) set up a cannon to thwart the British as they returned from their 1777 raid on Danbury (they thwarted him, by taking a different route back to Compo Beach) — there was a secret, spooky spot long known to kids like me, growing up in Westport.

If you lay flat on your stomach, and peered into the area where the ground had shifted, you could see all the way down to the bottom. There — arrayed like a horror film — sat a set of bones.

I’ve forgotten many things about being a kid here.

But as long as I live, I’ll always remember that skeleton.

A section of the burial mound, near where the earth has moved.

Roundup: Maine, Save Cockenoe Now, Melissa Joan Hart, More


Who doesn’t love Maine?

Tom Kretsch sure does. The longtime Westport photographer has just published “Touching Maine.” The hard-cover book’s 93 pages of images and text capture the essence of that special state: its water, rocks, fog, islands, structures, dinghies and abstract impressions.

A signed copy is $50. For $100, you’ll get a signed copy plus one of the 8×10 prints shown below. Email tom@peacefulplacesphoto.com, or call 203-644-4518.


Lindsay Shurman is searching for a holiday gift for her husband. And she needs “06880” readers’ help.

She wants to give him Walter Einsel’s iconic “Save Cockenoe Now” poster (below). Back in the 1960s, it was everywhere — and played a role in the town’s purchase of the island off Compo Beach, saving it from becoming a nuclear power plant (!).

A few are still floating around. But The Flat sold the one they had. And Lindsay just lost a Westport Auction bidding war.

“Any idea where I may find an original?” she asks.

“Maybe someone is willing to part with it for a price. Or a donation made in their name to a favorite cause. I could even settle for a reproduction. I just need an original to scan.

“Any help would be so appreciated. I’m obsessed with this poster, and gifting it to my husband this holiday season!”

If you’ve got a lead, email lindsay.shurman@gmail.com. And sssshhhh …  don’t tell her husband!


Melissa Joan Hart has been very busy lately.

The Westport resident produced, directed and starred in 3 new Lifetime holiday films.

“Feliz NaviDAD” — yes, the name of the classic song by Westonite Jose Feliciano — premiered Saturday. “Dear Christmas,” with James Priestley, airs this Friday (November 27, 8 p.m.). “Once Upon a Main Street” follows on Sunday (November 27, 8 p.m.). (Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein, via Connecticut Post)

Jason Priestley and Melissa Joan Hart, in “Dear Christmas.”


Distance education isn’t new to Taylor Harrington. The 2015 Staples High School graduate works at Akimbo, a company that creates online learning experiences.

The pandemic — as awful as it is — has created opportunities. Taylor and her team saw a chance to help young people looking to grow.

They created The Emerging Leaders Program, a free, 5-day online workshop for people ages 16-25,looking to make a difference in the world .

The first 2 sessions were powerful. The next is set for January 4-8. Young leaders — or anyone knowing one — can click here for details. Applications close December 1.

Taylor Harrington


And finally … back in 1961, teenagers were doing (supposedly) the “Bristol Stomp.” Len Barry, lead singer of the Dovells — the band with that hit — died earlier this month, at 78. Four years later, he had another smash with “1-2-3.”

Remembering Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson — longtime executive director of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and the man who over 40 years brought it from a small institution into one of the town’s most robust organizations — died Wednesday on Cape Cod. He was 91.

Amy Sanborn passed along the sad news — and a very in-depth piece from the Westport Y blog, in 2014. The Y at that time was still downtown, where Bedford Square is now. The story said:

Matt Johnson came to our Y in 1952 as a fresh-faced college grad from upstate Connecticut. He started as a supervisor of the Y’s youth and adult physical programs, taking on more responsibility over the following 2 decades. In 1970 he was named executive director, a position he filled with great accomplishment until his retirement in 1989. The longtime Weston resident remains an active part of our Y family to this day….

It’s safe to say that no other Y staffer presided over more change at our Y over more years than Matt Johnson. Matt was instrumental in bringing sports and recreational opportunities to Weston youth, efforts that ultimately led to our Y serving all our Weston neighbors as the “Westport/Weston YMCA.”

Matt Johnson (standing) with (from left) YMCA president George Dammon, CBS News anchor (and Weston resident) Douglas Edwards, and 1st Selectman John Kemish.

Matt also oversaw the greatest development of our Y facility since its opening a half-century before: the construction of the Weeks Pavilion in the 1970s, which gave our Y its Stauffer Pool, racquet courts, men’s and women’s health centers, locker rooms and an indoor track ….

Matt then laid the groundwork for the next phase of our Y’s evolution at our downtown facility: the conversion of the town’s central firehouse into a 2-level Fitness Center that to this day boasts the original brass pole used by generations of local firefighters.

After recalling Matt’s encounters with guest speaker Jackie Robinson, and Westport actors Bette Davis and Paul Newman (an avid YMCA badminton player), the story continues:

When hot-rodding became popular, the Y rolled right along. As Matt recalls, “Bill Etch, who was a volunteer leader, had an interest in cars and with some friends formed a club called the ‘Downshifters,’ which met every Friday at the Y.”

“When the club became too big for the Y rooms, they began to meet at Camp Mahackeno, where they set up shop in the unheated pavilion. There were 30 or so young men in the club, including a young Michael Douglas, and they’d take apart cars, put ‘em back together and then participate in regional events with their cars.”

Matt and his late wife Fran raised their 4 children in Weston, and were instrumental in helping develop the community’s recreation programs and establishing Weston’s enduring connection to our Y ,…

As far back as the 1950s, Y leaders realized the need for more space to hold its many popular programs and activities, and shortly after Matt took the helm of the Y in 1970, he helped spur the most ambitious expansion of the Y to date.

The most critical need at the time was, simply, “more water.” As you can see from photos of the time, Staples High School swimmers used the 4-lane, 20-yard long Brophy Pool (then 4- to 10-feet deep) as their home pool. Imagine the scraped chins, or worse!

The original Brophy pool — used by Staples High School for practices and home swim meets.

Matt helped coach the Staples team, including a young swimmer named Bob Knoebel. Another swimmer, Mike Krein, was instrumental in forming the Y’s Water Rat swim team, holding practices both in the Brophy Pool and, during summers in the ‘60s, at Longshore Club Park. At the time Longshore’s pool was saltwater, flushed regularly, but evidently not often enough. The Y’s swim team name derives from the trespassing rodents the kids would sometimes encounter during their early-morning swims.

The Y’a voard and volunteer leaders set a 5-year goal that included building a new facility with a larger pool….

The addition of the Stauffer Pool and Weeks Pavilion in 1977 (named for the retired geologist who was a major donor) was followed by the conversion in 1984 of the town’s central firehouse into the Y’s fitness center.

Matt Johnson (center) at a 2011 Westport Y function, flanked by (from left) then trustee chair Pete Wolgast and Jim Marpe, past Y trustee chair and now Westport First Selectman,

Longtime Y member Larry Aasen, who has known Matt since 1963, says, “For Matt, it wasn’t just about running the Y; it’s about serving the community. And whether his task was raising money for an expansion or doing the dishes after a potluck dinner, you could always count on him.”

Indeed, Matt Johnson has played a major role in building up our Y over the past 60 years. But more than that, he’s left his mark as a community builder – of Westport, Weston and of all the separate communities of swimmers, gymnasts and program participants that make our Y all that it is today.

(Click here to make contributions in Matt Johnson’s name, to the Westport Weston Family YMCA.)

The upper gym at the Westport YMCA was named for Matt Johnson in 1999.