Category Archives: Organizations

Fire Department Tour: A Day To Remember

“06880” reader Sharon Maddern sent this letter to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Fire Chief Robert Yost and Deputy Fire Chief Brian Meadows. But it’s worth sharing with a much larger audience:

I’d like to let you know about an outstanding experience my son and I recently had visiting the Westport Fire Department, and what an impressive, dedicated and professional team they are.

My son Derek is 21. Though he has some disabilities, he is a huge firefighter fan. He listens to all the calls over the scanners, and follows them online. For him this was a super-exciting day.

With the help of Sal Liccione, who set up the visit, we arrived on a Saturday morning. I expected a basic 20-minute overview. But our guide, Lt. Jonathan Piper — a veteran fireman of 20-plus years — gave us an incredibly informative tour of the facility. Even I was enthralled by the advanced technology, and his extensive knowledge of all the sophisticated equipment.

He explained the various roles of the department beyond firefighting, including HazMat and emergency responses like pulling cars out of ditches.

We also got a firsthand look at the new fire engines.

Derek gets a close-up look at a Westport fire truck.

I cannot tell you how meaningful this was to my son, and how appreciative I am of the time Jon took with us. Even I could follow his articulate, enthusiastic and patient explanations!

While I have spent the last 17 years working in commercial real estate in Westport, I was never aware of the extent that the fire department and these men are involved in: all the day-to-day aspects of our safety, including road hazards, building inspections, alarm responses, etc.

I hope that the WFD continues to receive Westport’s respect and the funding that it deserves, as they have an enormous burden of responsibility. They are an invaluable part of the community, and should be generously supported in their endeavors to continue to provide such an efficient, effective resource for the town.

This was a day both my son and I will always remember. Our thanks go out to the WFD!

More Closings For Cribari Bridge

Town officials have been notified by the state Department of Transportation that an inspection several weeks ago revealed structural deficiencies in both the substructure and ornamental truss structure of the William F. Cribari Bridge.

ConnDOT says that immediate repairs are necessary to maintain “the continued safety and stability of the existing bridge structure.”

Repairs begin on July 30. The tentative schedule calls for 6 weeks of work — weather permitting.

The contractor will work between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., Mondays through Fridays. The bridge and sidewalk will be closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Marine traffic requiring bridge openings may be limited during work periods.

ConnDOT will continue to focus on the longer term future of the Cribari Bridge.  As previously announced, their Project Advisory Committee meets tonight (Wednesday, July 18, 6:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium).

The historic, controversial and soon to be worked-on William F. Cribari Bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Historical Society Shines A Light On Westport’s Troubled Past

Iron shackles. Burned timbers. “Negro child.”

They’re not the usual things you see at the Westport Historical Society.

But this is not the usual WHS exhibit.

Slave shackles, on exhibit at the Westport Historical Society.

“Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport” opened in May. It’s one of the most creative and compelling shows ever mounted at Wheeler House. (Which, the exhibit notes, sits across Avery Place from a building that may have been built by slaves.)

It’s also one of the most important.

I attended the opening reception. It was packed. I talked with people who recalled some of the important events, like Martin Luther King’s visit to Temple Israel, and the fight over bringing Bridgeport students to Westport through Project Concern.

But it was too crowded to really see the artifacts and photos, or read the texts.

So the other day I returned. The Sheffer Gallery was quiet. I had time to study the exhibit.

And to think.

I learned a lot. I’m a Westport native and lifelong New Englander. But I never knew, for example, that slavery was not fully abolished in Connecticut until 1848. (The decades-long process spared white farmers the loss of free labor while they were still alive.)

Some of Westport’s biggest names — Coley, Nash, Jesup — were slave-owners. The property deeds — as in, these human beings were their property — are right there, for all to see.

A 1780 payment voucher for a black patriot soldier who bought his freedom, and immediately enlisted.

We see too a recreated hearth, from a Clapboard Hill home. It’s cramped and dark — and it’s where a young slave girl might have slept.

The reconstruction of sleeping quarters in a crawl space, from a Clapboard Hill Road home.

I did not know that black Westporters fought for the Union in the  Civil War. Nor did I know that an unknown number of slaves are buried in unmarked graves in Greens Farms Church’s lower cemetery.

I did know — on some level — that African Americans have a long history here. But I had not thought about what it meant for them to work on our docks, in our homes, or at our farms.

Black Westporters were domestics, chauffeurs and seamstresses. But they were also, the exhibit notes, teachers, artists, physicians, activists and freedom fighters.

The exhibit includes a 1920s painting by J. Clinton Shepherd, “The Waffle Shoppe.” It may well be based on an actual restaurant on Main Street.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Great Migration drew millions of African Americans north. Westport — offering work on farms and estates — was one destination. Black families lived on the Post Road, Bay Street — and 22 1/2 Main Street.

I have known for years that that address — set back in an alley that later became Bobby Q’s restaurant — was the site of a boardinghouse, where dozens of African Americans lived.

I knew that in 1950, it burned to the ground. Arson was suspected.

Photos and text about 22 1/2 Main Street.

But until the WHS exhibit, I did not know that a few months earlier, black Westporters had asked to be considered for spots at Hales Court, where low-cost homes were soon to be built. The Westport Housing Authority grudgingly agreed — but only after veterans, and others “with more pressing needs,” were accommodated.

Was that a cause for the fire? The exhibit strongly suggests so.

(Nearly 70 years later, construction at the old Bobby Q’s has revealed charred timbers — vivid testimony of that long-ago tragedy. It’s worth a look.)

I have long been fascinated by this photo, of one African American standing apart from everyone else in the Shercrow School photo. The WHS exhibit gives her a name — Anna Simms — and notes that she may have been a student or teacher.

The exhibit pays homage to African Americans like Drs. Albert and Jean Beasley, beloved pediatricians; Martin and Judy Hamer, and Leroy and Venora Ellis, longtime civic volunteers, and educator Cliff Barton.

It also cites the contributions of white Westporters like Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (arrested with Dr. King in St. Augustine, Florida); Board of Education chair Joan Schine, who fought for Project Concern, and artists Tracy Sugarman and Roe Halper, staunch supporters of the civil rights movement.

Roe Halper presents woodcuts to Coretta Scott King. The civil rights leader’s wife autographed this photo. The artwork was displayed in the Kings’ Atlanta home for many years.

But ultimately, “Remembered” remembers the largely forgotten men, women and children who helped shape and grow our town. Some came freely. Others did not. All were, in some way, Westporters.

In the foyer outside the exhibit, a stark wall serves as a final reminder of the African Americans who lived quietly here, long ago.

It lists the 241 slaves, and 19 free blacks, found in the Green’s Farms Congregational Church record books between 1742 and 1822. Most were listed only by first names: Fortune. Quash. Samson.

Some had no names at all. They are called only “Negro Child,” or “Negro Infant.”

The wall does not carry the names of all the white people listed in the church books during those 80 years. Many are well known to us, centuries later.

And most of them, the exhibit notes, owned the men, women and children who are now honored on that wall.

(For more information on “Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport,” click here. The Westport Historical Society, at 25 Avery Place, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors. Members and children 10 and under are free.)

(WHS is also memorializing the names of over 200 Westport slaves, through bricks in the brickwalk. The $20 cost covers the brick and installation. To order, click here.)

In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at the 5th anniversary of the dedication of Temple Israel. He autographed this program.

Compo Beach: 2018 Style

Compo Beach sure looks and feels a lot different this year than last.

If you haven’t noticed, you’re not paying attention.

Or maybe you can’t get in.

A quick recap: This past winter — in response to Westporters’ rising complaints about overcrowded parking, picnic tables and sand — the Parks and Recreation Commission did some rising itself.

They raised the price of season beach stickers for Weston residents, from $250 to $375. They raised it for all other non-residents even more: from $490 to $775.

Daily passes rose too. They’re now $50 on weekdays, $65 on weekends.

Westporters’ prices rose slightly. A season sticker is now $50 ($25 for seniors).

Parks & Rec also instituted caps on sales. They limited non-resident sticker sales to 350 (from the previous 600). And — perhaps most significantly — there is now a daily cap: No more than 100 non-residents are allowed in each day. Signs on nearby roads indicate when the limit has been reached (sometimes as early as noon).

South Compo Road, just before the Minute Man.

Add in newly remodeled bathrooms on both sides of the bathhouses, and extra grills at South Beach; a new entrance pattern and special parking area for non-residents — leaving prime beachfront spots for Westporters — and the difference is palpable.

Many beachgoers love the “new” Compo. They applaud the space they’ve got, the availability of picnic tables and grills, even the lower decibel level.

Compo Beach isn’t always this empty. But it’s a lot less crowded than it used to be.

Others are less pleased.

They wonder about lost revenue. Though Parks & Rec said that increased fees would pay for better maintenance and the full-time cop, it seems from anecdotal evidence and those daily cap signs that the beach is bringing in a lot less money than it used to.

That probably also affects Joey’s by the Shore. It may have contributed to PAL sitting on a few hundred unsold fireworks tickets this year — thousands of dollars that won’t go to programs and kids.

And smaller crowds means less “life” at the beach. There are fewer languages spoken, fewer games played on the grass, fewer opportunities to share our shore with others.

Plenty of people think that’s great. It’s our beach — paid for by our tax dollars.

Others miss the out-of-town regulars they used to see, and worry we’ve only added to our “elitist” image.

What do you think? Do you love the changes, and think they’re long overdue? Do you think they’re too draconian? Are you conflicted?

Click “Comments” below. And — as always — please keep things civil. Play nice in the sand.

As part of its changes, Parks & Rec posted several signs outlining rules at Compo Beach.

A Dog Named Misty Mae

Julie Loparo — president of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates — loves dogs. 

She loves dog stories too. Here’s one she shares with “06880” readers:

Winslow Park may not be the place where everybody knows your name.

But they do know your dog’s name.

Regulars at the downtown park are quick to share stories about their own dogs, and answer questions about yours.

When a dog gets distracted by a squirrel or another canine buddy, the group watches closely until it’s reunited with its owner.

Just another day at Winslow Park.

Several weeks ago however, the crowd discovered a little one that’s a poster dog for the ever-growing number of abandoned dogs (and cats) in Connecticut.

A senior, blind long-haired chihuahua was found in a beat-up dog carrier on a park bench. How she got there, and how long she’d been there, were mysteries.

But clearly, she’d been left there.

Westport Animal Control quickly responded. She was transported to Schulhof Animal Hospital for evaluation and care.

Once stabilized and treated for a possible flea situation, she was brought back to Animal Control.

It became clear she was not keen on the food being served (though it’s very high quality dog food). A Westport Animal Shelter Advocates volunteer prepared healthy meals of organic meats and vegetables. The little one liked that.

Misty Mae

On Wednesday, WASA officially adopted “Misty Mae” into their foster family.

With the help of Schulhof’s staff, WASA will bring her up-to-date on vet care, with vaccinations, and detailed blood and dental work. They’ll consult with eye specialists, to see if she’s a candidate for cataract surgeries.

They’ll also search for a new, loving home for Misty Mae.

She’s sweet, quiet, and 10 to 12 years old. She has not been reactive to other dogs, though additional testing will be done. She loves to be brushed and cuddled. She’s a lap dog in every sense of the word.

For additional information about Misty Mae, call 203-557-0361, or email wasa1@optonline.net.

To donate for her vet care, click here (and note that you are contributing for Misty Mae).

Winslow Park is definitely the place where everyone knows your dog’s name.

And Westport is where Animal Control, WASA and Schulhof all come together to help a dog named Misty Mae.

Melissa Joan Hart Wants Westport To #StopSucking

America knows Melissa Joan Hart as an actress — the star of sitcoms like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Melissa & Joey.”

Westporters know her as our neighbor. Like moms all around town, she cares about the environment, and the world we’re leaving our kids.

Melissa Joan Hart, with her family.

One of her major concerns is plastic straws. They’re too light to be recycled, and are one of the most common pollutants found in waters — on Compo Beach, in Long Island Sound, everywhere really.

Melissa is not alone. Other Westporters are working to eliminate plastic straws. Internationally, a Plastic Free July Foundation — based in Australia — is taking aim at all single-use plastics.

But Melissa has taken special action. Spurred by the knowledge that ours was the first town east of the Mississippi River to ban plastic bags, 10 years ago — a move many other communities have emulated — she’s beating the bushes to get restaurants to stop using plastic straws.

Or, to use her favorite hashtag: #stopsucking.

The idea, Melissa says, is for restaurants to move to “straws on request only” — and use alternatives like bamboo, paper, pasta or stainless steel straws. Another option: Patrons can carry reusable straws.

A number of leading restaurants are already on board. Melissa has commitments from The Spotted Horse, Gray Goose, Arogya, Jesup Hall, The Whelk, The Cottage and OKO.

She’s working on Terrain, Amis, Bartaco, Granola Bar and Tarantino’s. Then she’ll keep going, through all our many restaurants and other food places. (She’s got an ally in Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran).

But that’s not all. Melissa wants influential Westporters to post each restaurant that makes the #StopSucking promise, and drive traffic there.

If it’s posted to Instagram accounts like @LonelyWhale, @LifeWithoutPlastics and @Take3fortheSea, the campaign can reach far beyond Westport, she says.

Melissa Joan Hart loves living, raising her kids — and dining — here.

She’ll love it even more when we all #StopSucking.

Westport Historical Society Mystery Object #5

Once again, the Westport Historical Society stumped its visitors. No one identified this object:

It was part of their “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit. The featured item changes every 2 weeks. If you stop in and identify it, you win something from the gift shop.

So what was it?

Known variously as a sap, slapper or blackjack, the heavy leather pouch is 8 12 inches long, and filled with lead (sometimes a flexible steel rod too). Unlike a baton, a sap’s size and shape allows it to be concealed inside an officer’s pocket.

Saps may not look as intimidating as a gun or a baton, but they sure are dangerous. A sap is dense enough to break bones, and the leather edge is rough enough to cause a dull, ripping laceration to the face when jabbed. Slappers are ideal in tight quarters, like a fight on the ground against a large suspect.

Slappers are rare these days, forbidden by many jurisdictions across the country. Even so, some uniforms still come with a sap pocket.

Westport’s Watery, Wondrous Bohemia

Westporters are used to seeing our town pop up in stories about things to do and see in the tri-state area.

But WCVB-TV — a Boston station whose viewers usually head to places like Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Lake Winnipesaukee — featured us in its recent “A Tank Away” series on cool spots to see.

Like a teenager, we’re always concerned with what other people think of us. Here’s how we look on Boston TV.

Westport, it seems, is a place with “celebrity status, elegant neighborhoods and an expensive [or ‘expansive’] public beach, the arts, and an immaculately groomed town center lined with restaurants and shops.”

Our “immaculately groomed town center.”

Our history is “very bohemian,” says interviewee (and Westport Historical Society director) Ramin Ganeshram.

Compo Beach and marina are a 29-acre “park.” Historical properties are “a-plenty.” The Historical Society itself is “a gathering place for the public.”

The Westport Country Playhouse gets a shout-out. So does Earthplace (with a tangent about chinchillas) and DownUnder (especially its “Paddle With Your Dog” program).

“Nature has a starring role” in Westport, Bostonians learn.

And — oh yes — we have “watery wonders.”

You can catch the entire 5 minute-plus feature on WCVB’s website.

Where the subhead is: “Paul Newman was a fan – how much more motivation do we need. We’re off to Westport, Connecticut, a mix of beach town and bohemia that’s worth a trip.”

WCVB’s perky anchors tell Boston viewers to “head west on I-84 for the shores of Connecticut.” At some point they’ll have to head south, too.

(Hat tip: Bob Mitchell)

Chill Out, Grill Out — And Give!

Last summer, Allyson Maida took a shot in the dark.

The longtime Westport psychotherapist — in her role as president of Business Networking International — organized a “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” event at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Attendees brought their own balls, frisbees, food and drinks (grills were provided). A per person entry fee helped raise over $7,200.

Allyson Maida

Every penny went to children living in transitional housing, served through Homes with Hope. Funds covered day-to-day expenses like birthday parties and transportation not covered by traditional sources.

There was more too. Businesses like Calise’s Deli, Aux Delices and Garelick & Herbs gave gift cards, so families in need could enjoy great food. Folks offered tutoring services and clothes.

It was a wonderful day, filled with surprises.

Weston Police commissioner Susan Moch spontaneously and pridefully sang the national anthem. Everyone stopped, and joined in.

Nick Santasiero and Jimi Italiano pulled out guitars and jammed. Others banged bongos.

Kids and adults played softball together. Strangers tossed frisbees.

Ernie Addario, Bill Hall and Amy Guyette Hall cooked vegan, vegetarian and meat meals. Fleisher’s Craft Butchery brought a large tent (and lots of sausage). Spotted Horse sent steak tips and salad, while Garelick & Herbs provided desserts. (The few leftovers went straight to the Gillespie Center.)

Bill Hall takes care of business at last year’s “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” party.

Everything came together, Allyson says.

Now she’s organized an encore.

The 2nd annual “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” is set for this Sunday (July 15), at Greens Farms El. It starts at 2 p.m., and continues until the last person leaves.

This year, some of the children benefiting from the event will be there too. You won’t know who they are.

They’ll be just like everyone else: Westporters having fun in their town.

(The entry is $20 per person, payable at the event; children under 12 go free. Food and drinks are provided, though you can bring your own. For more information, email allyson@allysonmaida.com. Tax-deductible donations can be made payable to “Westport BNI,” and sent to Allyson Maida, 840 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880; write “Homes with Hope” on the memo line.)

Cribari Bridge Advisory Committee Formed

The William F. Cribari/Bridge Street Bridge saga rolls on.

The 1st Selectman’s office just sent out this press release:

The state Department of Transportation recently announced the creation of a Project Advisory Committee for input and guidance as the project to rebuild the William F. Cribari Bridge advances.

The first meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 18 (6:30 p.m., Town Hall Auditorium).

According to the DOT:

CTDOT is initiating preliminary engineering work to address structural and functional issues affecting the bridge. As part of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act, an Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation will be conducted in order to determine the socio-economic and environmental impacts of various design alternatives. The purpose of the EA/EIE is to explore options that accommodate safe vehicular, bicycle, pedestrian, and marine travel, are resilient to the changing shoreline climate and environmental conditions and consider the historic character of the bridge.

The Cribari Bridge does open. The other day, a mechanical issue kept it in this position for a while. (Photo/David Squires)

Based on the concerns and needs of the community, the Department has identified a group of project stakeholders whose expertise may provide helpful input into a variety of issues, including safety, mobility, environmental concerns, and historic considerations. A Project Advisory Committee is being developed to provide critical input and assist the Department in its decision-making process. Other stakeholders may be identified during the study process and incorporated in the PAC as warranted.

The PAC will meet at key milestones during project development in fulfillment of its role.

Local organizations, businesses and government entities that CT DOT has identified in its initial PAC roster include:

Town of Westport:

  •             First Selectman
  •             Fire Department
  •             Police Department
  •             Public Works Department
  •             Conservation Department
  •             Historic District Commission
  •             Shellfish Commission
  •             Harbormaster
  •             Boating Advisory Committee
  •             Downtown Plan Implementation Committee

Also:

  • Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce
  • Westport Preservation Alliance
  • Bridgebrook Marina
  • All Seasons Marine Works

State and regional entities that have been invited include:

  •             CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
  •             CT Commuter Rail Council
  •             CT Trust for Historic Preservation
  •             CT Fund for the Environment / Save the Sound
  •             Federal Highway Administration
  •             State Historic Preservation Office
  •             Western CT Council of Governments

The Selectman’s office suggested a number of additional organizations and individuals to be included in the PAC when it was made aware of the formation in late June. To date however, CT DOT did not include those groups in its initial invitation, but noted that other stakeholders may be identified and added to the PAC.

The future of the William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge is central to any discussion of the future of Saugatuck.
(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

First Selectman Jim Marpe commented, “The creation of this PAC is part of an ongoing environmental assessment that is required due to both the historic nature of the bridge and its location over the Saugatuck River. It should be stressed that this step in the process is not a sign of any intent or decisions regarding the ultimate design or rehabilitation of the bridge. Neither is it a reflection on any conclusions that may be made by the Town to accept the State’s offer to rehabilitate the bridge and turn its ownership over to the Town, as proposed by CT DOT in 2017.”

Marpe continued, “I recognize the Cribari Bridge contributes to the historic character of the Town of Westport and in particular, the Saugatuck community. This will be an important opportunity for the members of the PAC and eventually, the whole community to once again offer its opinions and observations related to the bridge and any environmental impacts that may result from its rebuild or rehabilitation.  The meeting on July 18 is open to the public, although CT DOT management has indicated that public input will be limited at this session.  It is unclear how much input or level of participation will be accepted from those individuals and organizations not identified as members of the PAC in either this or subsequent meetings that will be organized and conducted by the CT DOT.”

Comments or questions regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment process, the formation of the Project Advisory Committee and the agenda/conduct of the July 18 meeting should be directed to CT DOT’s Project Manager, Priti S. Bhardwaj by email (Priti.Bhardwaj@ct.gov) or phone (860- 594-3311).

Another view of the William F. Cribari Bridge. It’s interesting that everyone photographs it from the Riverside Avenue side. (Photo/Michael Champagne)