Category Archives: religion

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)

Memorial Day: Back In The Day

If you’ve ever been to a Memorial Day parade in Westport — and the ceremony that follows on Veterans Green, opposite Town Hall — you know it’s one of our most fun, diverse, community-minded (and small-town) events.

If you’re a newcomer — or an old-timer who always sleeps in — you really need to see it. Stand anywhere along the parade route (from Saugatuck Elementary School on Riverside Avenue, across the Post Road bridge, left on Myrtle), and enjoy the passing parade of cops, firefighters, EMTs, Y’s Men, young soccer and lacrosse and baseball and violin players, fifers and drummers, and random others having all kinds of retro fun.

It seems like it’s been this way forever (except for talking on cell phones while “marching,” and taking selfies). Now we’ve got proof.

Alert “06880” reader and indefatigable historic researcher Mary Gai unearthed a news story from 1921. It describes Westport’s plans for the upcoming Memorial Day parade. The details are a bit different — but any of us magically plopped down 95 years ago would recognize it instantly.

Participants included a color guard and bands; veterans (from the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, riding in cars); the Red Cross, American Legion, VFW, and Boy and Girl Scouts. “As usual,” the story said, “a number of autos and many marchers” were expected to follow behind.

Hotel Square -- the start of the 1921 Memorial Day parade -- was located downtown, where the YMCA later stood. Today, it's being renovated at Bedford Square.

Hotel Square — where the 1921 Memorial Day parade began — was located downtown, where the YMCA later stood. Today, it’s being renovated as Bedford Square.

The parade began at 9 a.m. sharp, at Hotel Square (near the soon-to-be-constructed YMCA, at the corner of Main Street and the Post Road — then called State Street).

The route took marchers over the bridge, then to King Street (Kings Highway North), with a halt by the Catholic cemetery. The parade then headed south to Canal Street and North Main, stopping at Willowbrook Cemetery before doubling back down Main Street to Myrtle Avenue. Everyone ended at Town Hall (now Rothbard Ale + Larder, next to Restoration Hardware), for services on the lawn. The ceremony ended with a gun salute.

Exactly 50 years later — in 1971 — Mark Groth took some Memorial Day photos. He stood on the 2nd floor of Main Street, in the Youth-Adult Council offices, as the parade passed by.

Now another 45 years have passed. How much has changed — and how much hasn’t?

Check out Mark’s shots below. You be the judge. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

For years, E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones was a fixture in the Memorial Day parade. A lieutenant in World War I, as a child he had been photographed with Walt Whitman.

For years, E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones was a fixture in the Memorial Day parade. A lieutenant in World War I, as a child he had been photographed with Walt Whitman.

Staples High School band. In 1971, Main Street was open to 2-way traffic.

Staples High School band. West Lake Restaurant was located at the foot of Main Street, by the Post Road. In 1971, Main Street was open to 2-way traffic.

The Y Indian Guides make their way down Main Street (in 1971, a two-way road). Note spectators watching from 2nd-floor windows along the route.

The Y Indian Guides make their way down Main Street. Note spectators watching from 2nd and 3rd-floor windows above the Westport Food Center grocery store.

Local clergymen, including Rev. Ted Hoskins (Saugatuck Congregational Church) and Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (Temple Israel) march in front of a banner urging peace.

Local clergymen, including Rev. Ted Hoskins (Saugatuck Congregational Church, beard) and Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (Temple Israel, hand on head) march in front of a banner urging peace.

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans.

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans. (All photos/Mark Groth)

Play It Again, 323!

Last month, “06880” reported on a piano plea from 323.

Music lovers at the North Main Street restaurant hoped to raise $11,000 to buy a piano. The one used for 323’s popular Thursday night jazz series — lent by Beit  Chaverim Synagogue (through their leader, Greg “The Jazz Rabbi” Wall) — was not up to the job.

This was not just any piano, mind you. It was a fine 1937 Steinway “M” — from New York’s legendary Village Gate. For decades beginning in 1958, it was played by greats like Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Ahmad McCoy Tyner, Erroll Garner, Nina Simone and Sun Ra.

Would jazz lovers an hour from the city pony up the cash to give it a second life in Westport?

Yes! The deal has been closed. The new piano is already safely in its new home, right near the bar.

Steinway's classic piano, in its new 323 home.

Steinway’s classic piano, in its new 323 home.

The official welcome show is this Thursday (May 19, 7:30 p.m.). It’s billed as “Chris Coogan Meets the Jazz Rabbi.” All are welcome.

The fine print: The newly formed Jazz Society of Fairfield County has not yet raised the full amount. An interest-free loan from an anonymous jazz lover will tide them over for a few days. They  hope to reach their goal this week, and start a fund for periodic maintenance, regulation and tuning. Contributions can be made via PayPal (click here). For other arrangements, email JazzRabbi@gmail.com. For 323’s Jazz Series Facebook page, click here.

Jaime Bairaktaris, The Pope, And The Kids

In December, “06880” proudly told the story of Jaime Bairaktaris.

The Staples High School senior/EMT/Earthplace teacher/photographer hoped to fulfill his dream. He wanted to go to Naples over spring vacation, volunteering in a program with young kids in a very rough neighborhood.

Westporters opened their hearts — and wallets. They helped Jaime raise funds for the trip, a journey he could never have done on his own.

It’s been the experience of a lifetime.

In addition to his work with the improverished children, Jamie snagged a seat at yesterday’s papal mass in St. Peter’s Square. He sat just 150 yards from Pope Francis.

Pope Francis, as photographed by Jaime Bairaktaris.

Pope Francis, as photographed by Jaime Bairaktaris.

The mass focused on youth. Jaime saw it as a sign, to help even more.

“Now that I’ve been working with La Tenda, I know how truly incredible they are,” Jaime says.

“They provide healthcare, food and shelter for the homeless and poor. Their education and after-school programs keep children safe, and give them opportunity for a great future. Some kids’ parents are in jail. Others don’t have enough to eat. La Tenda helps them all.”

Centro La Tenda — in an area notorious for drugs and crime — is in a building that began as a monastery, turned into a war hospital, and now serves as an oasis for those needing the most help.

The children of La Tenda.

The children of La Tenda.

“The people who work there are the absolute best,” Jaime says. “I get emotional even thinking about leaving them. The kids have so much character, in an area so tough to live in.”

GoFundMe — and Westport — helped Jaime get to Naples. Now he hopes it can help again.

He’s opened up his account, and is accepting donations through 7 a.m. EDT Friday. All funds will be handed over to La Tenda, to continue their work.

Jaime made the decision to do this yesterday, at the papal mass. He emailed “06880,” then clicked “send.”

Now all you have to do is click here, to help.