Category Archives: religion

Saugatuck Church’s Pipe Organ: Not A Pipe Dream

The Thanksgiving week fire of 2011 devastated Saugatuck Congregational Church.

But it did not destroy that venerable downtown institution.

View looking into choir room

The aftermath of the November 20, 2011 Saugatuck Congregational Church fire. This is the view looking into the choir room.

Congregants, clergy and friends helped the church rebuild. Three years later, services were once again held in the historic building.

Yet the restoration was not complete.

Lost in the blaze were the entire 100-year-old music library, 5 pianos, a harpsichord and the pipe organ.

Firefighters cut a hole in the roof above the pipe organ. The heat from the blaze metled some pipes, and burned others. Water and asbestos poured onto the organ.

Firefighters cut a hole in the roof above the pipe organ. The heat from the blaze metled some pipes, and burned others. Water and asbestos poured onto the organ.

Though there’s finally a new Steinway in the sanctuary — itself now an acoustic marvel — the pipe organ has not been replaced.

But just wait till you hear what’s in the works.

A parishioner came up with a very substantial matching grant. Fundraising is almost done.

Meanwhile, an organ committee spent 3 years talking with and listening to a number of companies. Last summer, they signed a contract with Klais Orgelbau. The German organ builder’s headquarters are in Bonn — just down the street from Beethoven’s home.

Philipp Klais is a 4th generation organ builder. He’s worked around the world — including, a few years ago, at First Church Congregational in Fairfield

While there, he’d have dinner in Westport. Whenever he passed Saugatuck Congregational, he admired its beauty. It was, he thought, the quintessential American church.

Saugatuck Congregational Church, in all its splendor.

Saugatuck Congregational Church, in all its splendor.

When Dr. Heather Hamilton — Saugatuck’s director of music — called Klais, he could hardly believe the connection.

He flew to Connecticut. Standing by the burned-out church in a snowstorm, he told Hamilton and committee member John Walsh he’d be honored to help.

“He was like a kid in a candy store,” Hamilton recalls. “He said he wanted to make the organ an educational tool for the community.”

Saugatuck’s new organ chamber will include plexiglass. Music lovers — including students — will be able to see all the levers and bellows as they work. The organ utilizes age-old technology, but it will be the first time Klais has ever built one this way.

Pipe organs are complex instruments.

Pipe organs are complex instruments.

“An instrument of this kind sitting in the middle of Westport will be incredible,” Hamilton says.

She emphasizes that although the 2-manual, 26-rank pipe organ will be housed in Saugatuck Church, it really belongs to the entire town. Unitarian Church minister of music Ed Thompson is nearly as excited as Hamilton.

So is Mark Mathias. The Saugatuck Church member is a founder of the Mini Maker Faire, and an advocate of all things both artsy and techy.

Of course, building a pipe organ like this takes time. It won’t be installed until 2019.

In 2011 the Saugatuck Congregational Church organ was covered with soot and water. But music still rested on its rack. (Saugatuck Church fire photos by Heather Hamilton)

In 2011 the Saugatuck Congregational Church organ was covered with soot and water. But music still rested on its rack. (Saugatuck Church fire photos by Heather Hamilton)

Plus, the organ coffers are about $100,000 short. That’s not stopping Klais — he’s a true believer — but it’s why the Saugatuck Church is sponsoring a few fundraising concerts.

The next one is this Sunday (October 16, 3 p.m., with Carol Goodman; $25 suggested donation). On Friday, November 18, it’s “Music From Manhattan.”

Saugatuck Congregational Church has a rich history. It’s seen a lot in its 186 years, in its current location and the earlier one, just across the Post Road.

But its new pipe organ will be a story for the ages.

Christ Church, Revisited

Earlier today, I posted a 1914 view toward the Saugatuck River, from what is now Birchwood Country Club.

I pointed out various Riverside Avenue sites, like the old Staples High School and Assumption Church. But I had no clue about the church on the far left of the photo:

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Thanks to alert “06880” readers Bob Grant, Ann Romsky, Tom Leyden and Peter Barlow, the mystery has been solved.

The spire at the far left belongs to Christ Church, consecrated first in 1835 on the northeast corner of Ludlow Street and the Post Road. In 1885 the congregation moved a short way to a new building Burr Street, on land owned by the Nash brothers.

In 1944, Christ Church merged with another Episcopal church — Holy Trinity — which had been on Myrtle Avenue since 1863. That downtown church was — and still is — called Christ and Holy Trinity.

The abandoned Burr Street church was demolished in the late 1940s or early ’50s. Peter Barlow was there — and took a photograph. This afternoon, he sent the image to “06880”:

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

Christ Church no longer stands — but God is still there.

After demolition, Assumption Church built a parochial school on the site. It has since closed, but Assumption continues to use the building for various functions.

Moth Radio Hour: Westport-Style

A while ago, Jane Green told a story for the Moth Radio Hour. It was recorded in front of a live audience at New York’s Cooper Union.

Jane Green

Jane Green

In June, the Westporter — and internationally renowned author — told Moth stories again, on stage at an old, lovely theater in Boston. She was  joined by a Jamaican writer, New York City doctor, Puerto Rican actress and Boston fireman.

If you don’t know the Moth Radio Hour, you should. Broadcast on 400 radio stations — including WNYC in New York — it makes “This American Life” sound like amateur hour.

Story tellers have no script, and use no props. They stand in front of a microphone, under a spotlight, facing a room full of strangers.

The Moth Radio Hour is real, true stories, told by real, true people. Some are humorous. Others are heartbreaking. Some are both. All are transfixing and addictive.

moth-radio-hourAlert “06880” reader — and very-interesting-woman-herself — Katherine Bruan is a Moth fanatic. She also loves Jane Green.

So, Katherine thought, why doesn’t Westport — a town filled with talented, charismatic people, many with diverse backgrounds and all of whom have stories — have our own Moth hour?

It could be once or twice a year, Katherine suggested, at the Westport Country Playhouse or library. It would bring the community together. We’d all be entertained, moved and uplifted.

It’s a fantastic idea. And — to Katherine’s, my and probably your surprise — it’s already been done.

Starting last fall, Tom Croarkin organized several similar events at the Unitarian Church in Westport. He calls them “Story Slams,” but they’re really Moth Radio Hours without the radio.

Each participant gets 5 minutes. They can’t use props. And their story must fit a theme.

The Westport Unitarian Church welcomes everyone -- including story-tellers.

The Westport Unitarian Church welcomes everyone — including story-tellers.

The first one — last November — centered around “Lying Through My Teeth.” The second, in February, was about “Lost and Found” (stories were figurative, as well as literal).

May’s theme was “Trouble.” Fifteen folks got up and told woeful tales.

The next Unitarian Church Story Slam is this Friday (September 23, 7 p.m.).The theme is “Vacation.”

There’s a $10 admission fee (it’s a fundraiser for the church). BYOB.

To RSVP (not required) or more information, email

So start thinking about your vacation stories. I’m sure Jane Green has at least one good one to share!

Digging Into Westport’s 300-Year-Old Mystery

The other day, amateur historian Bob Weingarten published a story in Greens Farms Living magazine.

Read the previous sentence carefully.

The publication calls itself Greens Farms. Not Green’s Farms. Or Greensfarms.

Punctuation matters. And the punctuation of Westport’s oldest section of town was the subject of Weingarten’s piece.

I’m interested. From time to time, I’ve referred to that neighborhood in several ways. I never knew the answer — and never knew how to find out.

Weingarten quotes author Woody Klein, who called John Green “the largest landholder” among the 5 Bankside Farmers who in the late 1600s settled around what is now Beachside Avenue (the “banks” of Long Island Sound).

This is where the Bankside Farmers first worked the land. It looks a bit different today.

This is where the Bankside Farmers first worked the land. It looks a bit different today.

The area was called Green’s Farms. But in 1732 it was changed to Greens Farms because, Klein says, Fairfield — the town of which it was part — did not want “any individual landholder to become too independent.”

The plural form, Weingarten writes, could mean either that Green had more than one farm, or that it was “adopted from the multiple farms of the Bankside Farmers.” So Greens Farms it was.

Except in property deeds, which referred to “the Parish of Greensfarms.”

However, in 1842 — when the parish was incorporated into the 7-year-old town of Westport — the spelling became Green’s Farms.

The church of the same name adopted the apostrophe. Today it sometimes uses one, sometimes not. Sometimes on the same web page.

Green's Farms Congregational Church

The church — with or without an apostrophe.

Confusion continued, though. For decades thereafter, official documents and maps referred to both Green’s Farms and Greens Farms.

Weingarten also mentions two streets: Green’s Farms Road and Greens Farms Hollow.

The state Department of Transporation has used both spellings — and a 3rd: Green Farms, for the Metro-North station.

Weingarten cites one more example. The post office near the train station uses the apostrophe spelling on one sign, the non-apostrophe on another.

This is definitely not one of the options.

This is definitely not one of the options.

Weingarten favors Green’s Farms. So do I.

But “06880” is a democracy. So — even though the zip code is 06838 — we’ll put it to a vote. Click the poll below — and add “Comments too.”

All you have to lose is an apostrophe.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Friday Flashback: The Follow-Up

Friday’s 1st-ever “Flashback” photo caused quite a bit of commotion, among a subset of “06880” readers.

The image — of the Pine Knoll Inn — led to back-and-forth comments, about whether the once grand home-turned-boardinghouse had ever been moved, from its spot on the Post Road behind the Crest Drive-In to a place further back at what is now Playhouse Square.

Jill Turner Odice just sent this photo, from 1950:

Saugatuck Church moving 1950

It shows the Saugatuck Congregational Church being moved — on logs — down and across the Post Road, from its original site near the current Sunoco gas station, to its present location. (Life Magazine featured the event, in a photo spread.)

You can see the Tydol gas station (more recently Getty, now Quality Service and Towing.) Next to it is Dairy Queen — the forerunner of the Crest.

And there, directly behind the gas station on the far left, you can see a little bit of the Pine Knoll Inn.

Meanwhile, Neil Brickley emailed aerial photos. They don’t reproduce well here, but they do show that between 1934 and 1965, the Pine Knoll definitely moved further back.

The year was probably 1957. Wendy Crowther noted this:

In April of 1957 there was a law suit filed by contractors who were hired to remove topsoil from the Pine Hill Estates property “in the rear of the Dairy Queen stand” during the “relocation of the Pine Knoll Inn, which is owned by Pine Hill Estates.”

The Pine Knoll Inn met its end in the early 1980s. It was torn down to make way for the Playhouse Condominium complex, behind what had already become Playhouse Square.

Rabbi Orkand: Oscar’s Was A Link To Westport’s “Covenant” End

For 31 years — from 1982 to 2013 — Robert Orkand was Temple Israel’s senior rabbi.

Rabbi Robert Orkand

Rabbi Robert Orkand

He and his wife Joyce now live in Massachusetts, near their son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. But Rabbi Orkand keeps close tabs on Westport, through “06880.”

The closing of Oscar’s sparked the same nostalgia and sadness many Westporters feel. But he has a special perspective on the history of downtown’s famed delicatessen. Rabbi Orkand writes:

The closing of Oscar’s is, in many ways, the end of an era. Locally owned businesses such as Oscar’s are, sadly, becoming a thing of the past.

There is an aspect to the story of Oscar’s, and many other businesses, that is not told often enough. But is a piece of the history of Westport that reflects its diversity and uniqueness.

When I arrived in Westport in 1982, there were a number of businesses that had been founded by Jews — Oscar’s, Gold’s, Klein’s, Westport Hardware, Silver’s, to name just a few. What few people know is how Jewish ownership became possible many years ago.

Gentleman's AgreementUntil the early 1940’s, many real estate agents in lower Fairfield County signed on to an unofficial “covenant” not to show property to Jews, or to discourage them from moving into certain neighborhoods. (The movie “Gentleman’s Agreement” depicted this practice.)

Even though certain cities, such as Norwalk and Bridgeport, had Jewish residents, many towns did not (and in a few places that is still true). Westport was one of the towns in which the “covenant” was enforced.

Before he died in 2009 at the age of 97, Leo Nevas told me how the real estate “covenant” ended in Westport.

He was the 7th and youngest son of Morris and Ethel Navasky, Lithuanian immigrants who met and married in the United States. They settled in Norwalk, and operated a small chain of grocery stores in the area.

Leo earned a law degree from Cornell University in 1936 and joined his brother, Bernard, in the practice of law in South Norwalk. Upon Bernard’s death in 1942, Leo opened an office in Westport. He continued to practice law for 73 years, until his death.

Leo Nevas

Leo Nevas

When Leo purchased the building in which his law office would be located, a local real estate agent inquired about renting an office in the building. Leo said that he would make a deal with her: If she agreed to ignore the informal “covenant” that made it difficult for Jews to purchase homes in Westport, she could have an office rent-free for a year.

She agreed. She began showing homes to Jews, which forced other agents to do the same. As Jews began purchasing homes, merchants opened stores and other retail establishments. One was Oscar’s, founded by Oscar Sisken and his wife, Sally.

While Westport’s Jewish community is strong and thriving, the retail establishments founded by the pioneers who helped establish that community are, sadly, gone. The memories of those pioneers will, however, remain with us.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Cuba Trip Opens Eyes — And Ears

Every year, Saugatuck Congregational Church sponsors a youth mission trip.

Last year they went to Portland, Maine.

This year they headed to Cuba.

The 24 teenagers and 15 adults did not do as much “work” as usual. This was more “cultural immersion,” says youth group coordinator Dana Johnson.

They visited an orphanage, churches and families whose children have disabilities. They did plant coffee, pick and peel “thousands” of mangoes, and moved bags of sand at a construction site.

Peeling mangoes...

Peeling mangoes…

...and moving bags of sand.

…and moving bags of sand.

They also went to Varadero Beach, a favorite spot for Canadian and European tourists.

But mostly, they forged what they hope are lasting friendships.

The Saugatuck Church group rode around in an old school bus, emblazoned with “Pastors for Peace.”

The bus...

The bus…

...and a peek inside.

…and a peek inside.

Wherever they went, Cubans waved. “They’re so happy to see Americans,” Johnson says. “We felt like rock stars.”

One woman excitedly handed her baby to the female travelers. She could tell everyone that Americans held her child.

At a seminary in Matanzas, a pastor asked them to pray for him, and his country. “He was excited that the blockade has been lifted,” Johnson explains. “But he’s worried about the future. Capitalism can be precarious. He’s concerned that income inequality will widen.”

The teens and adults spent only a couple of hours in Havana. Mostly they were in Matanzas, and outlying villages. Though Matanzas is a big city, Johnson says it felt like something from “a different era.” Horses and buggies roamed the streets; farmers sold eggs and bread from bicycles.

A dusty road.

A dusty road.

Before the trip, Johnson says, the teenagers thought their task was to help people.

They realized quickly, though, the power of simply meeting other people, and hearing their stories.

“Our kids came away feeling that they’d been helped,” Johnson notes.

“When we debriefed each night, they talked about not judging people until you listened to them.”

Listening, and learning.

Listening, and learning.

The Cubans do not need help, she adds. “They just need their stories to be heard and validated. The kids got that. I think they came home more willing to hear other people’s stories.”

Sharing food, and stories.

Sharing food, and stories.

Rev. Alison Patton (2nd from right), with old and new friends.

Rev. Alison Patton (2nd from right), with old and new friends.

Saugatuck Congregational Church mission members kick up their heels in Cuba. (All photos/Mark Mathias)

Saugatuck Congregational Church mission members kick up their heels in Cuba. (All photos/Mark Mathias, Marion Yingling and Miggs Burroughs)





Saugatuck Church: Walk Our Rainbow Labyrinth!

Last fall, members of Saugatuck Congregational Church joined Eagle Scout candidate Liam Borner, in building a labyrinth. It’s on the edge of the front lawn, underneath trees.

Labyrinths are a series of concentric circles with many turns, all leading to a center. They’ve been important spiritual parts of many cultures for thousands of years. Walking a labyrinth provides a calming meditative state that re-energizes, reduces stress, helps re-focus and nourishes the soul.

Saugatuck’s labyrinth has 7 rings — the same number as colors in the rainbow.

Recently, church members prayed for the residents of the Orlando shooting. Realizing that the rainbow flag has special meaning to LGBT folks, congregants lined each labyrinth ring with a different color.

Saugatuck Church labyrinth

The Saugatuck Congregational Church labyrinth.

The tribute takes on added layers of meaning now, with more violence in Bangladesh, Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

“We remember all those who have been impacted by the violence in our world — of every faith and nation,” says Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton.

Everyone — church members and not — is invited to walk the colorful labyrinth.

“Take time to remember, grieve, contemplate ways to honor our human diversity, or simply walk in silence. All are welcome!” Patton says.

To Cuba, With Love

Skies were dark at 3:30 this morning, but Saugatuck Congregational Church was brightly lit.

Parents and religious leaders saw nearly 40 teenagers and adults off. They’re headed to Cuba, for a week of working with disabled youngsters, helping out on a pineapple plantation, and discovering Cuban history and culture.

Safe travels!

Cuba trip

Remembering Elliott Netherton

Elliott Netherton was a tireless Westport Historical Society volunteer.

But the Connecticut plates on his sleek, dark green classic Jaguar always read “KY COL.”

The University of Kentucky graduate and former Kentucky National Guard officer spent 34 years with GE as a financial management executive.

Yet it was his life after retirement that made his death last Thursday at 83 so impactful on Westport.

Elliott Netherton

Elliott Netherton

As CFO of the Historical Society — during the Great Recession — Elliott moved assets into no-load index funds.

Other non-profits staggered, as sponsorships and donations plummeted. But the WHS — which was still paying off a mortgage — thrived.

“Elliott was dealing with very serious heart issues at the time,” then-president Dorothy Curran recalls. “He put his health — perhaps even his life — on the line for us.

“He was not always easy to work with. He knew his parliamentary procedure cold, had no use for wandering conversation, and insisted that board meetings end promptly at 5:30 p.m.”

His chair says it all.

His chair says it all.

But, Curran says, “he was a quiet, principled, tireless force of nature. There never was any question that his moral compass, financial integrity and heart for service, above and beyond, were in the right place.”

The WHS was hardly Elliott’s only volunteer activity.

He was a longtime Boy Scout leader (during and after GE, at the local, district and national levels). He was an avid Y’s Men participant (recruiting excellent retired executives from that group for the WHS financial advisory committee).

He served Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church with his financial acumen. He also was an officer of Westport’s Republican  Town Committee (and spent many Election Days as a poll monitor).

Elliott and Joyce Netherton.

Elliott and Joyce Netherton.

In support of his wife Joyce — a distinguished executive and volunteer in her own right — he worked the “boiler room” of the Westport Woman’s Club during Yankee Doodle Fair crunch time, counting cash late into the night.

Longtime friend and fellow volunteer Pete Wolgast also salutes Elliott’s integrity.

“He could always be counted on to do the right thing,” the fellow church finance committee member says.

“He was highly intelligent. And he used native ability, along with his experience from many years as an internal auditor at GE, to be an extremely valuable member of many non-profits.”

Elliott Netherton, in his military days.

Elliott Netherton, in his military days.

Pete says Elliott “straightened out the church’s accounting and finances, and brought them up to general accounting standards.” When Pete became WHS president in 1995, he did the same for that organization.

Then he did it all over again, for the Y’s Men.

On Sunday, Pete stopped by Elliott’s house.

Seeing Elliott’s Jag with the “KY COL” plates in the driveway, Pete says, “I realized our community had lost an outstanding citizen.”

(A memorial service for Elliott Netherton is set for Tuesday, June 7, 1 p.m. at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. Hat tip: Rick Towers and Bob Mitchell)