Tag Archives: Bedford Junior High School

Friday Flashback #372

Once upon a time, Westport was a mill town.

As Mary Gai notes, “All mills were the same at first. The mill stones were imported from France.

“They were simultaneously wood cutting mills and grain mills. When steam power overtook all around 1840, the mills did cider, cotton (making raw fibers into ‘belts,’ the Mill at Richmondville went into twine. Both of my parents worked there in the late 1930s, making twine. Much of that road was employees of the mill. Mills were not appreciated. They were dismantled and turned into either commercial centers or residences.”

In the case of The Mill at Richmondville, they were turned into an office building — and, now, into apartments.

There was the mill at Compo Cove, which burned twice (and is now the home straddling the Sherwood Mill Pond inlet). It’s memorialized still in the name of the “Old Mill” area.

(Photo/courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

And, by Ford Road, there were these:

It’s misspelled on the postcard. Today, nearby, is Sipperley’s Hill Road (often misread as “Slippery Hill Road”).


50 Years Ago This Week:

Led by former Bedford Junior High School principal Norman Flint, a group of parents, students, administrators and others did a protest walk to demonstrate the dangers for students who must walk to the Riverside Avenue building. (Today it is Saugatuck Elementary School.)

RTM candidate Charles Ziff noted: “In many areas sidewalks don’t exist and where they did, they were in very poor condition  or overrun by shrubs.”

Bedford Junior High School, back in the day.

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Friday Flashback #337

Adam Stolpen moved to Westport with his parents in 1958, and has lived here on and off since then.

As he heard stories of impressive men and women during February’s Black History Month, he remembered Ernestine White. She is not a famous name — but she made an impact he has never forgotten.

Adam writes:

When I started 7th grade at Bedford Junior High on Riverside Avenue in 1959 we had most of our academic classes in the “new” building, which exists today as Saugatuck Elementary.

Our enrichment classes (such as mechanical drawing, metalwork and shop for the boys) were held in the adjacent old Stapes High School building, regrettably torn down and now replaced by an auditorium. Music classes were on the top floor of the Staples building, tucked under the rafters.

The original Staples High School. When it became part of Bedford Junior High in 1958, music classes were taught there.

Chorus was taught by Mrs. Ernestine White. She was the best teacher I have ever had and was, I believe, the only Black teacher in the school at that time.

She was tall, elegant and definitely the kindest, most caring and compassionate teacher I had in all my schooling. Her skill as an educator who somehow magically coaxed actual choral music out of rambunctious pre-teens was only surpassed by the self-awareness, respect and deference she awoke in her classes.

You had to earn her accolades, and you definitely had to deserve one of her hugs. It was a singular privilege to have been in her classes.

In May 1960 I was being Bar Mitzvah. My parents asked me to choose who I wanted to invite to my party, which would take place at our home. My request to invite one of my teachers who they had never met surprised them, but they offered no resistance.

I took the invitation to Mrs. White in school. The following day she asked me to stay after class. She said she would not be able to come, as Mr. White was still living in Washington for work.

She said it would not be appropriate to come alone. I asked if she had any other family around. She said her sister-in-law was in the area, so I invited her also.

Ernestine White, from the 1959 Staples yearbook. In addition to Bedford Junior High, she also taught at the high school.

Weeks later when I had my ceremony, Mrs. White and her sister-in-law listened as I sang my portions of the Torah. Immediately after my grandmother. there was my teacher to give me a big hug and congratulate me on my singing. It felt good; I knew I’d earned it.

At the party that afternoon, there were reactions I remember to this day. Eisenhower was president. The Civil Rights Act had not been passed; Dixiecrats controlled federal legislation, and it was only 5 years since Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat, and Emmett Till was murdered.

When my favorite teacher and her sister-in-law walked into the party, the room fell silent. My mother immediately walked over to the 2 ladies, who were clearly uncomfortable. My mother said how pleased she was to have them there, and ushered them over to the chair right next to my grandmother: the best seat in the house.

The room divided. I heard someone tell my mother that she wouldn’t stay at a party with a person of color. My mother replied that it was a shame she would be leaving, but Mrs. White was our guest too. It mattered to us that she felt welcomed.

It’s interesting that those who were nicest to Mrs. White turned out in later years to be those people I remained closest to, while those who scorned her were those I subsequently found reasons to avoid.

The party was wonderful, but I find that what I recall most vividly from that day was my teacher’s smile while sitting alongside my grandmother, both kibitzing away and as happy as if they were old friends.

I’m sure I was not the only student this marvelous woman encouraged in a positive way. I’ve often wondered what her career was like in the years after I left Bedford. She is an important part of Westport’s Black history.

Adam adds one final note:

By Monday morning word had spread at school that a teacher had attended a party. That day, in the crowded hallway passing between classes, and for the first and only time in my life, I faced prejudice.

Someone loudly yelled, “Adam Stolpen is a kike.” I never knew for certain who it was, and it never happened to me again, anywhere else.

But for that moment I experienced — in my safe place — what Mrs. White had to face daily in society.

Friday Flashback #316

In the 1960s and ’70s, Staples High School buzzed with educational innovation.

There were English courses in things like filmmaking, and an Alternatives program for students who learned in non-traditional ways. The Staples Governing Board gave students, teachers and administrators a powerful voice in nearly every aspect of school decision-making.

But radical new ideas were not limited to the high school.

In 1969, Eric Bosch was a 9th grader at Bedford Junior High (today, the building is Saugatuck Elementary School). Principal Ken Brummel had an idea: Allow teachers to teach any course they wanted, in any area that intrigued them.

Allow students to choose any courses they wanted, across all disciplines. There were no restrictions. If they wanted, they could take 7 classes of phys. ed.

And, oh yeah: Letter grades were optional. Every instructor could provide any type of evaluation they wanted: “Outstanding, Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory,” for example, or a written set of comments.

Eric Bosch’s course evaluation for “Nutrition.”

Students also graded themselves.

The “Modular Teaching Experiment” began that spring, for the final 6 weeks of the marking period.

The other day — more than 50 years later — Bosch found material from those experimental days.

He did not choose 7 periods of gym. Instead, he took:

  • “Nutrition,” (taught by Don DiGennaro)
  • “Tube Talk” (Edward Elendausky)
  • “Vampires Unlimited” (Annette Silverstone)
  • “Keeping up with the News” (Karley Higgins)
  • “Metalworking” (David Conrad_
  • “The Athlete” (Ray Comeau)
  • “Track” (Ed Hall).

Course description for “The Athlete,” taught by Ray Comeau.

Looking back, Bosch finds the 6-week session “mind blowing.” It was also — well, different.

When he was applying to Clark University 3 years later, an interviewer asked, “What the hell was going on with your 4th quarter in 8th grade?”

Eric Bosch’s 4th quarter report card included grades from traditional and experimental courses. “French was not my strong suit,” he says.

But, Bosch adds , he is “grateful that Westport’s teachers and administrators were willing to try new approaches to teaching. While some college admissions personnel might not have liked it, isn’t that the price you pay for being on the leading edge of anything?”

Early in his first year of college, Bosch recalls, he told his parents he was more prepared than many of his classmates.

The Bedford Experiment ended. But Westport schools — in particular, Staples — continued to innovate.

And what happened to Ken Brummel, the BJHS principal who pushed the envelope?

A few years later, he was named Westport’s superintendent of schools.

(“Friday Flashback” is one of “06880”‘s regular features. To help support your local blog, please click here.) 

Bedford Junior High School, back in the day.

Friday Flashback #314

A new school year has begun. Middle school students have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.

But shop class is not one of them.

For many years, Westport boys took wood shop, metal shop and mechanical drawing. Girls studied home economics (cooking and sewing).

Classes went coed in the 1970s. Ninth graders moved to Staples High School in 1983; middle schools replaced junior highs, and shop and home ec fell out of favor.

This Saturday Evening Post cover — drawn by Stevan Dohanos — is one reminder of those days.

The Westport artist used local boys — and Bedford Junior High (now Saugatuck Elementary School) — as models.

(Illustration courtesy of Anthony Dohanos)

Question Box: Answers #1

Last week, I introduced the “06880” Question Box.

It’s a chance to ask anything you’ve wondered about (with a Westport angle, of course). Questions can be current or historical, concrete or abstract, deep or shallow.

I’ll attempt to answer them. If I don’t have the answer, I’m sure other “06880” readers will.

You responded quickly. Here’s the first set of questions. And — where appropriate — the answers.


Who is Grace Salmon, and why is there a park named for her? (Arlene Yolles)

According to Woody Klein’s history of Westport, Grace King Salmon was a founding member of the Westport Woman’s Club.

The wife of Frederick Salmon — Connecticut state comptroller, and president of Westport Bank & Trust — she died in 1939. She left a trust in her own name to benefit the town.

Virginia Sherwood, Westport Garden Club chairman, applied for grants from the trust and other agenciees to design a park on 3 acres of Saugatuck River landfill across the river from where the Salmons lived (now the Assumption Church rectory).

It took several years to solve the site’s environmental problems. But the Garden Club developed Connecticut’s first park built on a former landfill, and won an award for its efforts.

Today, Grace K. Salmon Park is one of Westport’s hidden-in-plain-site treasures. It’s on Imperial Avenue near Baker Avenue — a few yards from the Westport Woman’s Club, which its namesake helped found.

The scene from Grace Salmon Park across the Saugatuck River, near where the Salmon family once lived. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)


When did the junior high system start in Westport? (Joyce Barnhart)

From its opening in 1884, and for the next 42 years, Staples High School included 7th through 9th graders.

In 1926, construction of a new “Bedford Junior High School” — aided, in large part, by a $145,000 gift from E.T. Bedford — was nearly complete. Situated across a field from the original Staples High School on Riverside (where the auditorium of what is now Saugatuck Elementary School now sits), the building (now Kings Highway Elementary) included an “unusually good” gymnasium, auditorium and stage — all of which would be shared by the high school.

The 18-acre plot between the schools was planned as a well-equipped “playground” (athletic fields) for students and adults.

So 1926 was when the first junior high — for 7th, 8th and 9th graders — opened in Westport. Long Lots followed in the early 1950s, Coleytown in 1965.

Kings HIghway Elementary School was originally Bedford Junior High. Fields separated it from the first Staples High. Look closely, and you can still see “Bedford” above the front door.


Who is “Bob”? This sign (below) has hung for years on the south side of New Creek Road, opposite Maple Lane, near the Greens Farms train station. (Bill Ryan)

(Photo/Bill Ryan)

Damned if I know. This question has been posed at least once on “06880,” to no avail. If any readers know who “Bob” is — and/or who put his sign high in that tree — click “Comments” below.


What’s the story with the Mercedes station wagon that’s been parked in the same spot for months on Myrtle Avenue, in front of Town Hall? (See photo below.)

The tracks around it from the street sweeper are clear evidence it has not moved. It’s covered in dust, still containing someone’s belongings. No tickets on the windshield, or other signs of official notice, just yards from Town Hall. (Michael Moore)

(Photo/Michael Moore)

Believe it or not, I’ve never noticed it — and I drive past Town Hall every day.

But hey, “06880” readers: If you’ve lost your Mercedes-Benz, we know where it is.


If Westport is located on the eastern side of Long Island Sound, why is it not named Eastport? (Ray Broady)

Well, first of all, Westport is north, south, east and west of a lot of things.

How we got our name in 1835 — when our town was officially incorporated, carved out of the towns of Norwalk, Wilton, Weston and Fairfield — has been a matter of dispute for nearly 200 years.

One theory is that it is a port west of Fairfield (our original European settlers came to what is now Greens Farms, from Fairfield).

Another theory is that because the new town was not named Saugatuck — a state representative claimed it sounded too much like “succotash” — the name “Westport” paid homage to that neighborhood, which was a port on the west side of the Saugatuck River.

Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural. The “port” was on the West bank of the Saugatuck River.


Why are Westport sidewalks not maintained, not ADA compliant, and not cleared of snow on a timely basis? Why are there no continuous sidewalks on Post Road? Why can’t I walk from Sylvan to Whole Foods? (Monica Buesser)

I asked Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich. He says:

“ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps with detectable warning pads are only required at roadways, not at driveways. The reason you see some sidewalks without ADA ramps at roadways, or with ramps that appear to be non-compliant with the current ADA regs, is that they may have not been replaced recently, and may have been constructed incorrectly, constructed to an earlier ADA standard, or constructed before the ADA regulations were made stricter. As we reconstruct sidewalks around town, we are correcting that situation by installing appropriate ramps where the ADA regs dictate.

“Currently residential properties are cleared of ice and snow by the town. There is no requirement for residential zoned properties to clear their sidewalks.  Commercial use properties are required to clear ice and snow from the front of their establishments within 24 hours.

“Having said that, with approximately 23 miles of residential sidewalks, it often takes us multiple days to clear all the sidewalks after a big storm, and if we have back to back storms we prioritize the roads first, then the parking lots, then the sidewalks. We appreciate residents helping us out any way they can during the winter, by clearing the walk in front of their property.”

A new sidewalk was on North Avenue last year. It’s now ADA-compliant. (Photo/Michael Fleming)


When will the 1-lane bridge on Bayberry Lane/White Birch Road go back to 2 lanes?

Another one for Public Works director Ratkiewich. He says:

“The Bayberry Lane bridge over the Aspetuck River is tied up in federal permitting right now with the Army Corps of Engineers. We hoped to go to construction this year, but due to the Army Corps’ backlog it appears we will bid this winter. and start construction in the spring of 2022.”


When did the Westport Fire Department move its headquarters from Church Lane, next to the old YMCA (now Bedford Square) to the current Post Road site? (Dorrie Thomas)

1982, says Chief Robert Yost.

I did not ask — but probably should have — if that was the same time they discontinued their Saturday noontime horn test. It could be heard all over town. Nor do I know when the Department stopped alerting volunteer firefighters to the location of a blaze by horns. The short/long codes could be found on the inside of telephone directories. Remember them?

Former Fire Department headquarters, on Church Lane. The YMCA is on the left.


Is water safe to drink from the tap? (Michelle Harmon)

I guess so. If it isn’t, I’m sure we would have heard about it by now.


The “Question Box” is open for more questions. Just email dwoog@optonline.net!

Remembering Charlie Lomnitzer

Charlie Lomnitzer — a Westport social studies teacher for 30 years– died last week, surrounded by loved ones at his longtime Black Rock home. He was 91.

The New York city native joined the US Army in 1946, age of 17. He was deployed to occupied Japan and served in the 24th Infantry Division, 34th Regiment, with the military police. Lomnitzer then continued to serve, as a Marine Corps as sergeant.

His respect for the military continued. He supported West Point athletes as a football season-ticket holder for 49 years, and was an honored member of its Five Star Club. He took interested students on tours of West Point too.

Lomnitzer earned a BS degree in social studies in 1960 from Southern Connecticut State University. He complete his 5th and 6th year studies of European and American History at Southern Connecticut State and Fairfield Universities.

Charlie Lomnitzer

He taught for 3 decades at Bedford Junior High School and Bedford Middle School.

As a member of First Church Congregational in Fairfield, Lomnitzer enjoyed meeting church friends while assembling monthly newsletters.

He was an avid walker, keeping fit with daily walks around St. Mary’s by the Sea.

He read several newspapers daily, and liked to discuss current events of any topic. He was a spirited sports fan, and loved traveling and cruising in Europe with his wife Beverly.

He was passionate too about cooking for the family. A favorite pastime was listening to the music of Frank Sinatra and big bands.

In addition to his wife of 60 years, Beverly, he is survived by his children, Charles L. Lomnitzer of New Bedford, Massachusetts; Lauren Novotny of Monroe, and Liesl Cugno of Stratford; 6 grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.

In his last year, Charlie Lomnitzer cared for by Masonicare Hospice-At-Home and by several caring aides from Companions & Homemakers. He developed individual relationships with each aide, in his own special way. His family is grateful for the hospice nurses and aides who lovingly cared for him.

A private memorial service takes place Friday (September 18, 12 p.m.) at First Church Congregational. He will receive full Military Honors on the front lawn of the church around 1 p.m.; all are welcome outside.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to First Church Congregational, 148 Fairfield Beach Road, Fairfield, CT 06824. Click here to sign the guest register.

Remembering Ken Brummel

Ken Brummel — who was named principal of Bedford Junior High School at just 28 years old, then served 12 years as Westport superintendent of schools — died last weekend at his home in Palm Springs, California. He was 77.

The Michigan State University graduate began his career as an English teacher in the Detroit school system.

Ken Brummel

Ken Brummel

After earning a master’s degree in secondary education from Harvard in 1959, he became a teacher and administrator in Glenbrook, Illinois. Ken joined the Westport school system in 1964, as principal of Bedford Junior High.

While superintendent of schools here, he was a strong advocate for student achievement and teacher preparedness. He received his doctorate from Columbia Teachers College in 1979.

After leaving Westport, Ken served as superintendent in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Orange County and Lancaster, California. He retired from education in 1992, and was involved in small business in Southern California.

Ken is survived by his wife, Josephine; their children Lisa, Beth and Peter, and 4 grandchildren. He is also survived by his long-time business partner, Darnell Harrison II. Burial will be private.


Former Westport art instructor Jim Wheeler began his Westport teaching career in 1964 — the same year as Ken. It was his 1st year teaching, and Ken’s 1st year as principal.

At the initial faculty meeting in September, Jim was astonished to see Ken introduce the entire staff — each one, by name.

Ken Brummel, playfully hiding behind a portrait of himself.

Ken Brummel, playfully hiding behind a portrait of himself.

“As an educator, Ken had no equal,” Jim says. “He was never satisfied with the status quo. He was forward thinking, and had the courage of his convictions and ideas.”

A prime example was what became knows as the “Bedford curriculum.” Each faculty member was encouraged to write a curriculum that would be integrated schoolwide, the last 2 weeks of school.

Some classes ran for half an hour; some for half a day. Students could use the blocks any way they chose. The only requirement was that they fill their time with classes.

“We were both congratulated and condemned by people across the country for giving kids that kind of power over their education,” Jim recalls.

“I will always be grateful to Ken for having had the opportunity to stand with him in an endeavor that shaped some of my views about the one-sided manner in which decisions regarding educational practices are made.”

Jim was also grateful for Ken’s love of a good time. The Brummels often threw parties. And, Jim says, “on more than one occasion Ken suggested to several of us that we should go to New York after school on a Friday. So off we went — to the consternation of our spouses.”

Ken Brummel this past Thanksgiving. He is flanked by his son Peter, and grandson Owen.

Ken Brummel this past Thanksgiving. He is flanked by his son Peter, and grandson Owen.

Elwood Betts Remembers The Hindenburg

Westport has no direct living links to the Titanic tragedy, 100 years ago last month.

But 86-year-old Elwood Betts remembers another disaster well.  75 years ago today the Hindenburg burned in a hellish fireball, as it attempted to dock with its mooring mast in New Jersey.

Just a few hours earlier, it had flown gracefully over Westport. Here is Elwood’s story.

May 6, 1937 was just another routine day. I was probably daydreaming about the last day of school. I would leave Westport for rustic Norwich, Vermont, to spend the summer on my grandfather’s farm. I’d drive the cows to pasture, feed the horse, and take him to the blacksmith shop. I’d carry a couple of bags of last year’s potatoes to pay the smith. Good potatoes would be a treat this time of year.

Elwood Betts today. The Evergreen Cemetery restoration is one of his many civic projects.

But in the back of my 11-year-old mind, there was the excitement of seeing photographs in Life magazine. Soldiers in Italy strutted in their stiff lockstep, and thousands of German youths gathered in the stadium saluting the Nazi swastika.

If my mind wandered as I sat in Mrs. Caswell’s 6th grade homeroom at Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall), it was jolted by the PA. Word came to go quickly into the playground, in the back of the school.

As we burst outdoors we saw the massive circle of the nose of the monstrous airship Hindenburg. It loomed directly toward us. Its altitude was so low, and the path so close to the edge of our playground, that we actually saw passengers lean out the gondola windows. We all waved frantically.

Above the roar of the engines, we were mesmerized by the huge swastika emblazoned on the tail fins.

The Hindenburg. It carried the only swastika ever to fly over the United States.

We soon were dismissed from school. We left exhilarated, having seen another great technological advance that was becoming the hallmark of the new Nazi Germany.

The next morning I rose very early. I biked downtown to Lamson’s Newsy Corner on Taylor Place (across from the Y), to pick up the morning newspapers to deliver on my regular route.

To my complete amazement, there were the now-famous pictures of the Hindenburg burning explosively as it docked at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. The scene of horror, as people jumped from the windows we had seen only the afternoon before, and running among sheets of flaming debris falling all around, will never leave me.

The New York Daily News sent a bundle of extra copies. They were distributed to each of us, to sell for 3 cents apiece. I went directly to Smitty’s Diner, next to the then-new post office.

I was a shy boy. But I surprised myself by bursting into the diner, shouting like I had seen in the movie newsreels, “Extra, extra! Hindenburg burns!

I sold all the papers immediately. Most people gave me a nickel — a 2-cent tip. I was rich.

On reflecting that 36 people died — in just 37 seconds — I was humbled thinking of my previous day’s exaltation at the mastery of Germany technology.

The disaster, as reported in the Westporter-Herald the following day.

The next fall, we had the privilege of having Al Scully — future first selectman of Westport — and Frank Kaeser as our social studies teachers at Bedford Junior High School. These gentlemen took pleasure in holding after-class arguments with us boys about the headlong fall of the rest of the world into the chaos of aggression and local wars.

One believe that the American continents should be isolated from the turmoil of the world, as Teddy Roosevelt had championed in another era. This was the position taken by most of this country at that time.

The other side felt we must prepare with urgency to meet the rapidly mounting aggressive advances of the militant regimes of Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. Thrown out was the challenge that we, the United States of America, should step in and eliminate the “plague” before it could completely overwhelm the world — perhaps including even ourselves — if we were not prepared.

To this day, the Hindenburg disaster of May 6, 1937, is held in my mind as the inflection point when my attention was diverted from dreaming of a future life as a country farmer, to the events leading to that day on July 4th, 1943, when I boarded a train to leave home.

I did not return for 3 1/2 years, after service in the United States Navy.

On that day in May, my view for the future was changed in entirely new directions.

God bless America.

(Click below for remarkable footage of the tragedy, with commentary by radio newsman Herbert Morrison.)

Those Were The Days

As the school year winds down, and Staples students complain about poor air conditioning or not being allowed to leave campus, it’s a good time to look at some memorabilia Marty Sagendorf recently found — and forwarded to “06880.”

Here’s a trip down memory lane, thanks to the Bedford Junior High (Class of 1957) and Staples (’60) grad.

On the left is Staples’ bell schedule from Marty’s sophomore year.  School started at 8:30 a.m., with a 10-minute homeroom.  In the last year that Staples was on Riverside Avenue  — now Saugatuck Elementary School — students had 4 minutes between classes.  Today, in the mammoth 3-story North Avenue building, they get 5.

In 1957-58, the school day ended at 2:33.  Today it’s 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 — 42 minutes longer.

The daily schedule (right side) was virtually the same each day.  Interestingly, despite a much smaller school population, there were 6 lunch periods of 25 minutes each (today it’s 3 periods, 30 minutes each).  Of course, the cafeteria was a lot smaller then too.

If you ever wondered what the inside of the original Staples — built in 1884, and still used in the 1950s as an “annex” to the 1936 building — looked like, here it is.

Moving clockwise from the upper left, we see the 3rd, 2nd, 1st floors and basement, respectively.  Yes, it was tiny.

Located approximately where the Saugatuck Elementary School auditorium is now, it was torn down in 1967.

The lower left and center left plans show the “new building” (now the central part of Saugatuck El).

Before the days of bumper stickers and decals, Staples students showed pride in their high school by affixing these signs to their license plates.

Ah, the Hall Patrol.  Ninth graders at Bedford Junior High School (now Kings Highway Elementary) took regular tours of duty, making sure the hallways stayed safe.  Marty stands proudly in the back row, 3rd from left.

The official Hall Patrol armband.  Now you know why you didn’t mess with the Hall Patrol.