Michael Gilbertie was busy on Facebook’s Westport pages recently. He posted photos of major fires from our past. There were 2 in the same Sconset Square (then called Sherwood Square) shopping center.
One was the Carousel Toy Store:
The other was the Paint Bucket:
(Photos courtesy of Michael Gilbertie)
Remarkably, it was the 2nd fire for Carousel. It had relocated to Sherwood Square after burning to the ground in Compo Acres Shopping Center (where Solidcore is now).
Those were not the only big blazes in local history. Others included the Klaff’s block on the Post Road (across from the downtown Starbucks); Westport Lanes bowling alley (today it’s BevMax), Long Lots Junior High School, and the furniture store on Main Street (now The Gap).
The worst fire in the past decade or so was the 2011 fire at Saugatuck Congregational Church. Heroic work by the Westport Fire Department, and neighboring towns — plus fireproofing, done a few years earlier — saved the building, where Westport’s town charter was born.
In fact, it’s the Fire Department’s ongoing work, including inspections and education — that have kept our town so safe since the 1970s.
“06880” is a blog by, for and about Westporters. But “Westporters” is a very broad concept.
Many folks who left long ago — even those who lived here only briefly — still consider themselves Westporters. A large number are avid “06880” fans.
One — a woman named Brenda — emailed me last weekend. She said:
I really enjoy this blog.
I spent my young years in Westport in the 1960’s, and have nostalgia for those days. I really miss it and dream about it. It seems so changed, but somehow the same in some ways.
A view any Westporter can relate to.
I grew up off of Main Street and then on Bridge Street. It was almost magical, even though they seemed like plain ordinary neighborhoods. The spooky abandoned houses on our street, the embalming fluid factory at the end of our road gave us kids major nightmares! And the beach, Big Top hamburgers, all of it is etched in my memory.
The book signings at The Remarkable Bookshop, Rico’s Hair Salon on Main, Carrols, the Carousel toy shop — I really wish I had stayed in Westport for my teen to college years. I visited several times when I lived in NYC in my 20’s. It was changing then, but still so much the same.
I would love to move back with my husband, but does it in any way resemble the Westport in our day? The magic in my mind of Westport is perhaps unrealistic from all of the comments I’ve read about how much it has changed.
Thanks for all of these memories.
Brenda is not the 1st person to ask such a question. It’s a great one — and not easy to answer. Here’s my attempt, in an email back to her:
Thanks, Brenda — much appreciated. We definitely grew up in a magical time, and you’ve nailed many important memories, places and events.
Remember Westport Bank & Trust? It's now Patagonia.
So is Westport the same? Yes and no. Some nice old homes have been torn down. Places like Welch’s Hardware, Remarkable and Selective Eye — the stores that made downtown so memorable and homey — are long gone; the chains that replaced them have sucked the soul out of Main Street.
Kids don’t ride their bikes all over town; they don’t walk to school; they don’t play running bases at the end of cul-de-sacs.
BUT — you hoped this was coming — many newcomers are as involved in Westport as our parents were. They are intelligent, creative, hard-working, and just as dedicated to making this a true community as previous generations. They’re doing good things for others, and having a great time in the process.
Our school system is in tremendous shape. I know Staples best — and with a dynamic principal, an outstanding staff, superb facilities and a remarkable student body, this could be the “best” Staples has ever been (however you measure such a thing). That’s really saying something. From everything I see and hear the middle schools and elementary schools are also highly regarded, and in excellent shape.
Despite being overbuilt (and over-banked), Westport remains an incredibly beautiful town. As Longshore celebrates its 50th anniversary as a municipal park; Compo retains its grace and allure; trees grow, leaves turn and snow falls — this really is a special place.
You didn’t say where you live now. But if you’re close by, I hope you can get to the Westport Historical Society on Saturday, March 6. From 1-4 p.m. there’s a party celebrating a very cool map and exhibit of “Main Street Memories.” It’s dedicated to the downtown of the 1960s. You’ll enjoy looking back — but you can also see Westport’s present, and envision our future.
I hope that helps. Thanks again for writing. I’d love to see you on March 6 — and, soon after, as a neighbor.
That’s my 2 cents. But I’m just one guy. I invite other Westporters — wherever in the world you live — to toss in your own thoughts. Click the “Comments” tab at the top or bottom of this post.
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