I told the back story: how in 1945 Frederick Bedford bought an Imperial Avenue house for the civic improvement organization to use. Five years later, he put up half the money to add meeting space. It came from an unusual source: Part of Saugatuck Congregational Church was moved from its original site, several hundred feet up the Post Road.
When the building was reassembled and joined to the Imperial Avenue house, the clapboard matched perfectly.
Now — a year later after Bedford Hall opened – the Westport Woman’s Club is ready to celebrate.
A birthday party — celebrating 150 years since the original meetinghouse was built — is set for Saturday, April 16 (6-9 p.m.).
There’s comedy (with Jane Condon as emcee), live and silent auctions, wine, food and birthday cake. Bedford family members have been invited.
As is true with Bedford Hall itself: The entire town is invited.
See you there. Hey — you only turn 150 once!
(Tickets to Bedford Hall’s birthday bash are $75 each. Reservations are due by April 8. Checks made out to Westport Woman’s Club should be sent to 44 Imperial Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. Include “Birthday Bash Reservations” in the memo line, and include names of attendees. Tickets will be held at the door.)
One of Westport’s most venerated structures — with a storied history well worth telling — was renovated last year. A $120,000 makeover brought a state-of-the-art AV/home theater system, recessed and cove LED lighting and new halogen stage lights. It’s becoming Westport’s go-to space for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, art shows, memorial services and much more.
A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.
So where is Bedford Hall?
Hidden in plain sight. It’s part of the Westport Woman’s Club headquarters on Imperial Avenue — just around the corner from the police station. (Or, to use a better known landmark: up the hill from the Yankee Doodle Fair.)
The WWC — whose own long tradition dates back to 1907 — is throwing a birthday bash. Save the date: Saturday, April 16. Comedian Jane Condon emcees. There will be food, a silent auction, and a toast to the generations of Westporters who have kept Bedford Hall standing.
It was not easy.
From 1866 to 1950, the hall was part of Saugatuck Congregational Church. It sat where the Sunoco gas station is now — on the opposite side of the Post Road from the church’s current location.
When the church was moved across the street and down the hill, the hall was bought by the Woman’s Club (with help from Frederick Bedford, who had already purchased the Imperial Avenue building for them). The hall was cut in half, moved, annexed to the 1881 clubhouse, and renovated.
For the next 65 years, it was simply “the auditorium.” Now it’s regained its own identity, as Bedford Hall.
In the 1950s, Life Magazine ran a story on Bedford Hall being moved from the Post Road to Imperial Avenue.
The Bedford family and Westport Woman’s Club have a long relationship, beyond the hall. From 1923 to ’49, E.T. Bedford granted the club space on the 2nd floor of the YMCA he’d built for the town (with a separate Main Street entrance for the ladies).
Bedford had long admired the Woman’s Club’s work. They’d brought sidewalks to downtown, provided vaccines and hot meals to schoolchildren, and founded the Visiting Nurses Association — among many other great projects.
The WWC has always tried to pay the Bedford family’s generosity forward. Shortly after the hall was moved to Imperial Avenue, the club granted 2 acres of its riparian rights to the town, for use as landfill parking lots.
The lots now host shuttle bus parking, the Farmer’s Market — and of course, the WWC’s own Yankee Doodle Fair. (The food court is just outside Bedford Hall; inside is a gourmet bake sale.)
Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church’s Sunday School building move hang in its current home on Imperial Avenue.
The Woman’s Club uses fair proceeds to fund their many charitable works — including grants to numerous local organizations, as well as scholarships. There’s another funding source for those programs too: rental of Bedford Hall.
Whatever goes around, comes around.
Even if it came — 84 years into its 150-year life — down the nearby Post Road hill.
(A commemorative program will recount the history of the hall. To purchase an ad, or contribute a memory or salute to Bedford Hall, email DorothyECurran@aol.com. Deadline is March 21.)
But the Westport Woman’s Club offers 2 things that are even better: Grants for non-profit organizations. And/or free use of newly renovated Bedford Hall for a fundraiser.
For 108 years, the WWC has been in the donating business. They’ve given grants and scholarships, along with services (the town’s 1st sidewalks) and more.
Last year alone, the club provided funds to Westport’s Department of Human Services for seniors and youths; Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County; Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation, Mercy Learning Center and others — 44 applications in all.
Westport Woman’s Club president Dorothy Curran stands proudly outside the organization’s Imperial Avenue home.
The WWC wants to make sure every local group knows about these funds.
They’re also passing the word about historic Bedford Hall. Organizations needing space for events will love its great stage, LED lighting, AV system and kitchen — all for free.
The grant application deadline is October 31; click here for the form. For information about Bedford Hall, call 203-227-4240.
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