Tag Archives: Allen Raymond

Honoring Herb Baldwin

Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing is always a nice affair.  Folks play, socialize, eat, drink, and raise funds for over 30 local charities.

Nice — but hardly blog-worthy.

Herb Baldwin

This year’s event (Wednesday, June 9) is different.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore, then-1st selectman Herb Baldwin will be feted.

But this is no hollow let’s-thank-a-dead-guy thought.  Several relatives — including Baldwin’s daughter Phyllis, and 3 grandchildren — are coming from as far away as Indianapolis and Menlo Park, California.

Some will play in the golf tournament.  All will join in the 4 p.m. ceremony that will look back on Baldwin’s role in those lightning-quick 18 days, when Westport raced from “wow, Longshore Country Club is on the market” to a signed, $1.9 million contract to buy all 169 acres.

Allen Raymond — current town historian, and past member of Baldwin’s kitchen cabinet that helped seal the deal — will be there too.

So who was Herb Baldwin?

He arrived in Westport soon after serving in World War I.  In the same year he got married — seems like he always moved quickly — he bought 20 acres of Bayberry Lane land.

With no experience — and no capital behind him — he planted a thousand apple trees, and hundreds of rows of vegetables.

Four years later, he cleared $123.

He soon became a successful apple grower.  But he found time for plenty of volunteer work too.

He chaired both the Westport and state YMCAs, and served on the national Y council.

He taught Sunday school at Saugatuck Congregational Church, then became deacon emeritus, chairman of the state Congregational organization and a national commiteeman.  When the church moved — on logs — across the Post Road to its present location, Baldwin was on the engineering committee.

He entered politics in 1919, as a member of the Board of Tax Review.  He remained on it for 17 years, and was elected chairman.  He was a deputy judge of the Town Court, until laymen were barred from serving.

He spent 18 years in Hartford as a state assemblyman and senator, eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee.  Back in Westport, he was selected as the 2nd moderator ever of the RTM.

Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early '70s. Also in the front row, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney. Rear (from left): Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Brummel; unidentified; Board of Education member Merald Lue.

When 1st selectman became a full-time position in 1957, Baldwin was elected.  Early in his tenure he eliminated 28 sources of raw drainage from the Saugatuck River; soon, fish returned.  Roads in Saugatuck Shores were raised, preventing flooding.  Two new schools were built.

When Longshore was put on the market — in an area zoned for 1-acre housing — Baldwin shepherded the town’s purchase plan through both the RTM and Board of Finance.  Instantly, Westport was the 1st town in the country to own a country club.

Later in his 5 terms as 1st selectman he championed DDD zoning, allowing businesses like Glendinning (off Weston Road) and Stauffer (Nyala Farms) to build in residentially zoned areas.  Some Westporters opposed the moves — though the buildings were as discreet as offices could be, and the tax rolls benefited handsomely.

Baldwin Parking Lot — named for him — off Elm Street alleviated downtown parking problems (though several old homes were demolished in the process).

Baldwin retired in 1967, age 73.  In retirement he played bridge, backgammon, chess — and golf.  (He stopped in his early 90s — because his clubs were stolen out of his car trunk.)

In 1986 — for one of my 1st “Woog’s World” columns — I interviewed the-92-year-old Baldwin.  I asked him to sum up his life.

“May and I are as lucky as the devil,” he said, referring to his wife of (then) 67 years.

“We’ve got our health, our family, and we’ve been able to serve our community for 67 years.  What else could anybody want?”

Well, how about being remembered a quarter-century later for your role in preserving a property that has since become the most beloved purchase in our 175 year history?

(Wednesday’s golf tournament begins at 8:30 a.m.; tennis follows at 9 a.m.  Both events are at Longshore.)

Moving The Baldwin Boulder

As most of Westport knows by now, Herb Baldwin was a major force in the town’s 1960 purchase of Longshore.  In just 18 days, Baldwin — the first selectman — persuaded the Board of Finance and RTM to pay $1.9 million for the 169-acre property.

If you don’t know that history, you must be hiding under a rock.

Herb Baldwin

Perhaps it’s the rock — boulder, actually — tucked under the fir trees separating Longshore’s 1st tee and 18th green.  The boulder — and a plaque commemorating the event — were installed 25 or so years ago.  Over time, the boulder has nearly vanished from sight.

Tomorrow (Thursday) at 10 a.m., Baldwin’s boulder will be moved to a more prominent spot.  The new location — just 25 feet away, at the corner of the roadway next to the 1st tee — is actually the intersection of Julian Brodie and (ta da!) Herb Baldwin Drives.

Baldwin is long gone, but Allen Raymond — a member of his kitchen cabinet, and another important figure in the purchase of Longshore — hopes to be on hand.

Rotary Club members will be there too.  That’s also appropriate:  Baldwin will be honored at the Rotary’s June 9 golf and tennis outing, and at an invitation-only “Friends of Longshore” celebration later that day.  Members of the Baldwin family expect to attend.

Just think — in only 18 days, perhaps the biggest land acquisition in Westport history went from idea to completion.

Let’s  hope the front-end loader has as easy a time hefting the Baldwin boulder.

Dummies Tour Westport

Westport realtors are no dummies.

But when it comes to describing this town to potential buyers, many of them are like Sam Cooke.  You know — “don’t know much about history.”

The Westport Historical Society has ridden to the rescue.

Literally.

Last week, they sponsored 2 “Westport for Dummies” tours.  Like other WHS tours of the past 3 years — on foot and by kayak, as well as aboard bus — the idea was to introduce Westporters to areas of town they see every day, but don’t really know.

Last week’s tours drew nearly 50 dummies people each.  Realtors were the main target — history, after all, can be as much a selling point as schools, the beach, and his-and-her closets the size of Latin American countries — but anyone was welcome.

The guides were Westport’s best:  town historian Allen Raymond; former police chief and RTM member Ron Malone, and 11th-generation Westporter Peter Jennings.

Ron Malone, Peter Jennings and Allen Raymond -- with over 2 centuries worth of Westport life between them -- prepare for their tour. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

The route closely followed one designed in the 1960s by Bessie Jennings — the woman who taught generations of 3rd graders the same history the realtors are learning now.

Highlights ranged from the cannons at Compo  — which were not there in 1777; if they had been, maybe our ancestors would not have waved like matadors as the British landed and marched through before pillaging Danbury — to Parker Harding Plaza.

Why a municipal parking lot?

As the dummies people on tour found out, it’s historically significant.  Until 1955, the Saugatuck River lapped against the backs of Main Street stores.  The lot — sometimes snidely called “Harder Parking” — is all landfill.

The newest old stop on the tour was the Inn at National Hall.  Built by Horace Staples in the mid-1800s, site of graduations, dances, plays, concerts, basketball games, a bank and a furniture store, it faded into history earlier this month when the award-winning hotel was peremptorily shut by its owner.

The tour also included Beachside Avenue — not because it is lined with bajillion-dollar homes every realtor would kill to sell, but because it’s where the Bankside Farmers (some of our earliest forebears) settled in 1648.

Like any good tour, this one ended with giveaways.  Attendees received maps and highlight sheets.

So the next time dummies realtors show Westport off to newcomers, they’ll swing by Burying Hill Beach and say authoritatively, “The name is quite meaningful.  At one time, this was actually an Indian burial mound.”

Then again — mindful of  beachgoers barbecuing blissfully atop the hill — maybe not.

Ignorance is bliss.