The first moon landing. Woodstock. Chappaquiddick. The Mets.
All year long, Americans have celebrated the 50th anniversary of historic evenets.
Locally, 1969 was an important year too. But most Westporters have forgotten a battle that — if lost — would have irrevocably changed this town.
Joe Schachter still remembers the fight to save Cockenoe Island from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant. (You read that right. Click here for full details.)
Joe — a member of the “Cockenoe 50th Commemorative” group, along with Betty Lou Cummings, Miggs Burroughs and Jo Fox Brosious (honorary) — writes:
1969 marked the end of a townwide, all-consuming effort to stop installation of an industrial-size nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island. The huge, 14-story complex — just a mile or so off Compo Beach — would have transformed our pristine view; stopped access to the island’s trails, beaches and boating anchorages, and forever altered this part of Long Island Sound.
The 2-year “Save Cockenoe Island” battle “involved more residents in a local action than ever before– or since,” says Jo Fox Brosious, then-editor of the Westport News. Her leadership, editorials and articles led the battle.
Victory meant that families who might have considered leaving Westport if the nuclear plant had been built did not have to make that choice. Nor did thousands who moved to Westport since, but might not even have considered it, had the plant been erected.
That critical 1967-69 effort followed an earlier battle by Westporters that took place about 250 years ago, and also shaped today’s Westport. Note these parallels:
- In 1777, Westport farmers rose up as “Minutemen” to battle British efforts to stop formation of the new republic that, centuries later, provides today’s envied way of life.
- In 1967 Westport residents rose up again, to battle an ominous nuclear presence on Cockenoe — avoiding a specter that could have decimated our way of life.
- The 1777 British troops who burned their way up to Danbury were engaged by Minutemen as they returned to their waiting ships, seen anchored from Compo Beach.
- The 1967 Westporters stopped a potentially despoiled view from Compo Beach, and prevented loss of access to Cockenoe’s swimming, clamming and fishing grounds.
- Today’s residents see reminders of our patriots’ 1777 battles as we pass the Minuteman Monument, or see a pair of cannons on South Beach — each commemorating an event about 250 years ago.
But our town has yet to officially recognize an existential episode of only 50 years ago by designating even one similar lasting object to commemorate this critical achievement.
Indeed, most Westporters under age 60 don’t have even one first-hand memory of an all-out battle that preserved the character of our precious community.
To prevent this clash from disappearing from the pages of our town’s history, members of the 1967-69 “Save Cockenoe Island” original leadership commemorated that battle every 10th anniversary year with events, press releases and boat parades, right through to the 40th in 2009.
2019 is its 50th commemorative year. Those remaining few who were part of that pivotal battle will not be around much longer to remind youngsters and newcomers how their predecessors protected this community for them.
Now we leave it to them to preserve the sparkle of this historic contribution to our town’s brilliantly shining light.