Tag Archives: Edward T. Bedford

Edward T. Bedford’s Legacy: Westport Y Turns 100

In 1864, Edward T. Bedford was 15 years old. He stood outside the Westport Hotel — a wooden building on the corner of State Street (the Post Road) and Main Street — watching men play pool. He could not go inside, “on account of the saloon.”

Edward T. Bedford.

Decades later, Bedford was a wealthy man. He had become a broker of lubricating oils for railroads, and helped chemist Robert Chesebrough sell his new product, Vaseline. He was a director of Standard Oil, and associated with many other very successful companies.

He still lived in Greens Farms, where he was born. Recalling his years outside the Westport Hotel — and knowing the town needed “some place for boys and young men to congregate” — he announced in 1919 plans for a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

He had a perfect place, too: The Westport Hotel. It was the same spot, in the heart of town, where half a century earlier he’d been denied entrance.

Bedford spent $150,000 on the Tudor-style building. It would be a place to exercise one’s body, and mind. It included reading and writing rooms, bowling alleys, a gymnasium — and of course, pool tables. (Bedford also financed a new firehouse next door on Church Lane, designed in the same Tudor style.)

The Westport YMCA.

The Westporter-Herald called the YMCA dedication on September 5, 1923 “second to none in the history of the town. Not since the day of the official opening of Westport’s new bridge over the Saugatuck River has there been anywhere near as great a gathering as notables, both local and out of town.”

The Bedford building lobby.

Connecticut Governor Charles E. Templeton was there. He pointed to Bedford, noting that while he did not have “the opportunities the young men of today … he didn’t smoke or wile his hours away; he didn’t stay up until midnight, not at all, but instead went to bed early and then was fresh for the tasks of the day to follow.”

Much has happened in the 100 years since. Several years after it opened, Bedford donated a pool. During World War II, boys walked the short distance from Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School) to learn how to jump off flaming ships into the sea.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

In 1944, Y leaders searching for space for a day camp for boys found 30 acres of woods and fields along the Saugatuck River, near the new Merritt Parkway’s Exit 41.

Frederick T. Bedford — Edward’s son — said that his Bedford Fund would pay half the purchase price, if the town raised the other half. Within a few weeks Y leaders had collected $10,000. The Bedford Fund matched it.

Camp Bedford opened. At Frederick Bedford’s request in 1946, the name was changed to Mahackeno.

In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

As Westport grew in the post-war years, so did the YMCA. The downtown building became an unofficial teen center, hosting everything from the Downshifters hot rod club to Mrs. Comer’s ballroom dance classes. (Y membership was eventually open to girls, too — as well as families, and senior citizens.)

In the 1970s and ’80s the Y added a new pool. Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren and Ruth Bedford — granddaughters of the founder — provided $200,000 through the Bedford Fund to acquire the fire station, and convert it into a 2-story fitness center. (The brass pole stayed.)

There were squash courts, and other games upstairs. (Paul Newman was an avid badminton player.)

But the downtown quarters grew cramped. Y directors looked for new space, in places like the Baron’s South property. A protracted battle — legal, political, even involving the character of downtown and the Y’s responsibility to it — eventually ended.

The YMCA built a 54,000-square foot full-service facility — “The Bedford Family Center” — on a portion of its Mahackeno property. It opened in 2014, thanks in part to financial support from Lucie McKinney and Briggs Cunningham III — Edward T. Bedford’s great-grandchildren.

The Bedford Family Center, 2014.

Helping guide the construction process as members of the Y’s governing boards were 2 of Lucie’s children, John McKinney and Libby McKinney Tritschler. They’re the 5th generation Bedford’s involved with the organization.

Since then, the Y has added a gymnastics center, and more fitness rooms. They’ve upgraded nearby Camp Mahackeno. And they were stunned to receive a $40 million endowment from the estate of Ruth Bedford.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA — today’s official name — used a portion of the bequest to establish the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, to continue developing youth, promoting healthy living and fostering social responsibility.

All of which is a long way of saying: Happy 100th anniversary, Westport Y!

Officials have planned a year of celebrations. Highlights include:

Share Your Stories: Members and the community are invited to share Y stories, memories and photos. They’ll be featured on the anniversary web page.

100 Faces of My Y”: a project for youth to create self-portraits in the medium of their choice, for display in and around the facilities.

Healthy Kids Day (April 29): a free initiative celebrated at Ys across the country. with fun activities, healthy snack demos, food trucks, sports lessons, games, art, and free t-shirts for the first 200 children.

The 7th Annual Golf Tournament (May 22, Aspetuck Valley Country Club, Weston): A fundraiser for the Y’s financial assistance program.

100-Year Anniversary Gala (“Sneaker Ball,” October 6, Mahackeno Outdoor Center): Donations and sponsors will fund financial assistance to under-resourced families and those in need. In 2022, $746,000 was awarded to over 400 families.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA is no longer limited to young Christian men.

The world has changed since Edward T. Bedford stood outside a hotel — and then bought it, to build both a building and a legacy.

If the next 100 years are anything like the last, our Y will continue to grow, evolve — and impact countless lives.

A relic from the Y’s downtown days. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

School Daze

It’s midterm time at Staples High School — so how about a pop quiz for everyone?

The subject is “Westport schools.” The answers are below. No cheating though — and no Googling!

  1. How many students were in Staples’ first graduating class? And what was special about them?
  2. Edward T. Bedford provided the funds for Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High. But he also helped build another Westport school. Which was it?
  3. If you went looking for the old Burr Farms Elementary School, what would you find there today?
  4. True or false: The Doors, Eric  Clapton, Rascals and Rolling Stones all performed at Staples.
  5. Name 2 predecessors of Greens Farms Academy.
  6. If a sneaker brand was associated with Bedford Middle School, what would it be?
  7. A longtime principal of the original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street shares the same last name as the founder of one of Westport’s first private academies. What is that name?
  8. The 2nd principal of Staples High School has a parkway in Connecticut named for him. Who was he?
  9. Two  Staples High School athletic teams practiced in the basement of the old school, on Riverside Avenue. Which teams were they?
  10. Many decades ago, the Westport Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum. Why?
Edward T. Bedford is the benefactor of not 1, not 2, but 3 Westport schools.

Edward T. Bedford is the benefactor of not 1, not 2, but 3 Westport schools.

Before I give the answers, here’s the reason for today’s quiz:

On Sunday, January 29 (3 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts a reception for its new exhibit.

“Westport School Days: 1703-Present” offers a wide and fascinating look at the evolution of education here in town. From the first formal class (on “Green’s Farms Common”), through the growth of private academies and public schools, to today’s nationally renowned system, there’s a lot to learn.

Maps, photos and memorabilia — report cards! a bench from the original Adams Academy! — make for intriguing viewing.

Whether you went to school here or not — and whether you were an A student or spent all your time in the principal’s office — this is one exhibit not to be absent for.

And now, your test results:

  1. There were 6 students in Staples’ first graduating class. All were girls.
  2. Edward T. Bedford helped build both Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High — and also Greens Farms El.
  3. Burr Farms Elementary School is now the site of large homes, on Burr School Road. The athletic fields are still there, however.
  4. False. All of those acts actually did appear at Staples — except the Stones.
  5. Greens Farms Academy’s predecessors include Mrs. Bolton’s School and the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School.
  6. A sneaker brand associated with Bedford Middle School would be Nike. The school is built on the former site of Nike missile silos.
  7. Both the boys and girls rifle teams practiced in the basement of Staples High School, when it was on Riverside Avenue. There was a shooting range down there.
  8. Dorothy Adams was the longtime principal of Saugatuck Elementary School. Ebenezer Adams founded Adams Academy. Both buildings remain. Saugatuck is now elderly housing on Bridge Street; Adams Academy is a historic site on North Morningside Drive.
  9. The Wilbur Cross Parkway is named for Staples High’s 2nd principal. He went on to become a distinguished professor at Yale University — and the governor of Connecticut.
  10. The Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum because they believed it would have little value for Westport students.

(For more information on the Westport Historical Society exhibit, click here.)

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue ...

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue …

... and the school today.(Photo/Julie Mombello)

… and the school today. (Photo/Julie Mombello)

E.T. Bedford’s Horse Track

The Bedfords — for a century one of Westport’s foremost families — have been in the news a lot this year.

Ruth Bedford — who died at 99 in June of 2014 — left $40 million to the Westport Family YMCA, Norwalk Hospital, and Foxcroft School in Virginia. That’s $40 million each.

And the Bedford estate — at 66 Beachside Avenue — is now slated for demolition. So is the family’s 2-story house at 225 Green’s Farms Road, opposite the Nyala Farms office complex.

Alert “06880” reader Neil Brickley has long been interested in the Bedfords. Growing up in Westport, he often heard of their wealth and generosity.

Neil is an engineer. He loves examining aerial photos of old Westport to figure out what went where — before, say, I-95 came through. Comments on “06880” about the Bedfords’ land-holdings piqued his interest.

He was particularly intrigued by this 1934 aerial shot, showing a horse track smack in the middle of Green’s Farms.

1934 aerial photo Wynfromere track

To get oriented: Green’s Farms Elementary School is in the upper right corner. At the upper left, Hillspoint Road runs into the Post Road (McDonald’s would be there today.) Center Street and Prospect Road meet Greens Farms Road at the bottom of the photo.

Neil found that the track encompasses over 10 acres.

However, he was thrown off by a photo in Woody Klein’s history of Westport. A caption of Edward T. Bedford — Ruth’s grandfather, and a director of Standard Oil, the founder of the Westport Y and namesake of Bedford Middle School — is shown riding his horse, Diplomat, over a track “on the spacious grounds of his home on Beachside Avenue.”

Edward T. Bedford

Edward T. Bedford

Neil saw no signs of the track on the aerial photos of Beachside. It’s hard to envision now — with I-95 in the way — but Bedford’s property extended northward, from Beachside Avenue to Nyala Farm and on into the West Parish area.

In fact, there’s a Bedford Drive off West Parish that could have been the south entrance to the track.

The track was called “Winfromere” — believed to be a reference to the term “win from here.” Today, Wynfromere Lane is just north of Bedford Drive.

Neil then found “taking maps” for the Sherwood Island Connector. To build it, they took the property that included the  Wynfromere horse track. The owner was indeed Frederick T. Bedford.

Neil was surprised to see enormous on/off cloverleaf entrances and exits proposed from Greens Farms Road — called “Shore Road” on the taking maps — to the connector. Bedford owned a large swath of land from the railroad tracks up to Hillandale Road. Neil surmises it went only that far because he had previously given the portion at the Post Road for the state police barracks (now Walgreens).

Neil noted the enormous amount of property owned by the Bedfords on Beachside Avenue too, as well as in the Morningside-Clapboard Hill area.

Now, about that story that E.T. Bedford also had a landing strip on his Beachside estate…

Westport Y: Suddenly $40 Million Richer

A capital campaign for a new Westport Weston YMCA  fell short of its goal earlier this decade. So the Mahackeno facility — called the Bedford Family Center — was broken into 2 phases.

Phase I opened last fall, with an airy fitness center, gleaming new pool, well-lit exercise rooms, nice new gym and a much-needed child’s play space. The site was purchased decades ago — with the generous help of Frederick T. Bedford, Ruth’s father.

The new YMCA -- known as the Bedford Family Center -- at Mahackeno.

The new YMCA — known as the Bedford Family Center — at Mahackeno.

But the new Y lacks other amenities, like childcare, gymnastics and racquetball. And the locker rooms are badly cramped. Y officials promised they’d be added some vague time later, during Phase II.

Phase II suddenly seems a lot closer to reality.

The Y announced today that it has received $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford. The last surviving granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford — a director of Standard Oil and founder of the Westport Y, among many other philanthropic projects — died last June, at 99.

Norwalk Hospital logoYet this is not Ruth Bedford’s only astonishing gift. She also left $40 million to Norwalk Hospital. She loved that institution too — and volunteered there, logging almost 17,000 hours in the gift shop, over 5 decades. (A previous gift from E.T. Bedford, decades ago, enabled the hospital to double its patient capacity.)

But wait! There’s more! Another $40 million bequest — believed to be the largest ever to an all-girls’ school — went to Foxcroft, a tiny private girls school in Virginia that was Bedford’s alma mater.

The Y’s plans for the fallen-from-the-sky money are not yet set.

Officials say they will use it for “current and future capital development needs” — perhaps including new locker rooms? — and “to endow programs for wellness and youth in a way that honors the tradition of the Bedford family legacy.”

For nearly a century, that legacy has enriched Westport. It continues to do so, even after death.

One Last Look Back

The Kemper-Gunn House has moved. The old YMCA Bedford building begins renovations soon, becoming an anchor of the new Bedford Square.

But Westporters can’t stop looking back.

Alert “06880” reader Jonathan Rohner sent this fascinating postcard showing the Y and the Westport Bank and Trust building (today it’s Patagonia):

YMCA and bank in 1920s or so

I love the cars — all looking the same — parked or driving haphazardly on the trolley-tracked Post Road.

I love the elm trees framing the Bedford building, and how peaceful downtown looked.

Equally alert “06880” reader Scott Smith contributed this photo, from a decade or so later:

YMCA witih old cars

I love the hand-colored blue sky. The bike leaning casually against the tree on the left.

And check out the front-in parking job of those cars in front of the Y. That would never fly today.

I was especially intrigued by another image Scott sent. This one shows the Westport Hotel. The area was called Hotel Square. Westport Bank and Trust had not yet been built:

Westport Hotel - site of old Y

The hotel had a pool room. Youngsters were not permitted inside. Edward T. Bedford vowed to give them a place. In 1923, he built the YMCA.

The rest is history.

And now, a new chapter has begun.


All The Westport News, Back When You Really Could Read All About It

In 2014, the hand-wringing goes, no one has any privacy. Between social media, computer cookies and people’s voracious appetite to tell (and hear) all, everyone knows what everyone else is up to. Ah, for the good ol’ days.

Presumably, those days were not 1935.

Back then, people really knew each other’s business. And that business — who applied for a marriage license or mortgage, who visited whose home or went where, who inherited money (and how much) — has been preserved for nearly a century.

An old-fashioned technology — newspaper — has given us an up-close-and-very personal look into the Westport of 8 decades ago. The population was just over 6,000 — it’s 4 times larger today — but the Westporter-Herald published twice a week.

Page 1 on Friday, November 8, 1935. Don't worry if you can't read all 37 stories; I've picked out my favorites below.

Page 1 on Friday, November 8, 1935. Don’t worry if you can’t read all 37 stories; I’ve picked out my favorites below.

Every Tuesday and Friday, on enormous pages and in very small type, it described the (relatively) big stories of the day. Two days before Friday, November 8 for example, the Town Plan commission discussed widening Church Lane, “now a very narrow and dangerous thoroughfare for traffic in both directions.”

They also “approved the location for the new high school,” though no further mention was made of that momentous decision. (It turned out to be the location of the current Saugatuck Elementary School on Riverside Avenue. The “modern” school complemented a nearby 1884 building, which stood for another 32 years.)

But it’s the smaller stories — there were an amazing 37 of them on Page 1 alone — that truly tell the tale of a supposedly sleepy small town in which a lot went on.

John Gault — secretary of L.H. Gault and Son, former 2nd selectman and Board of Finance member — died at home. The death of his wife several years earlier “rested heavily on the deceased and friends say it was a blow from which he never recovered.”

Another death — that of Broadway actor Moffat Johnston — was honored with a funeral at Christ Episcopal Church. Among the attendees: Lillian and Dorothy Gish.

A close-up of the top half of Page 1.

A close-up of the top half of Page 1.

Rev. H. H. Mower, pastor of the Westport M.E. Church, escaped serious injury Wednesday afternoon in “an unusual automobile accident.” Turning onto Elm Street from Main Street, he struck the embankment on property owned by Miss Jennie Thorpe, crashed through a wooden fence and “dropped down ten feet to land on the top of a roadster owned by Joseph Picard, employed at the A.P.”

Westporters drove at least as poorly then as they do know. Police reported 125 arrests in October, mostly for automobile violations. There were 26 arrests for speeding, 31 for passing red lights, and 29 for violating “the town parking ordinance.”

(Perhaps one of those parking violations came at the corner of the Boston Post Road and Cedar Street, where Anthony Ralph Migliarese had just applied for a liquor permit. That tavern stood for many years. Today it’s our parking-impaired Starbucks.)

A judge upheld a $3,000 award given to Viola I. Plant of Richmondville Avenue. Her husband, the late James G. Plant, was a “gateman and watchman” at Longshore who drowned when “an automobile he was operating for one of the club members went over the wall into the yacht basin.”

Armistice Day was going to be observed “quite extensively” on Monday. Most offices would be closed, but stores would be open for “business as usual.” There would be “no work on relief projects.”

Speaking of relief efforts: The Relief Office was moving to new quarters. You'd think that would be bigger news.

Speaking of relief efforts: The Relief Office was moving to new quarters. You’d think that would be bigger news.

Readers learned too that Captain and Mrs. Increase A. Parsell had “closed their home in Greens Farms and have left for DeLand, Florida where they will spend the winter at their home, in the sunny south.”

Miss Betty Meszaros was operated on at Norwalk Hospital for appendicitis, by Dr. H.S. Phillips.

Mrs. Julia Kish, Turkey Hill road, broke several ribs “in a fall down the cellar stairs yesterday morning.” She was now resting comfortably at Bridgeport hospital.

Mr. and Mrs. Fred Fable were guests of Mrs. Fable’s father in Willington, Connecticut the day before. Mrs. George R. Miller and Mrs. R.D. Murphy spent Tuesday in New York city as the guest of Mrs. Cara Maisch. Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Lexen spent the night before in New York city, where they attended the automobile show at Grand Central Palace and took in Hollywood Restaurant review.

More news from Page 1, on November 8, 1935.

More news from Page 1, on November 8, 1935.

That’s just a small part of Page 1. The other 13 pages are filled with other news — social, sports, and everything else you’d want to know about everyone else in town.

Including the fact that Mrs. Mary Ann Dingee Bedford — widow of the late Edward T. Bedford — left an estate totaling $580,779. Her 4 children (all named) inherited $102,359 each.

At that time, the Westporter-Herald cost 5 cents. Ads touted steaks for 39 cents a pound, fur coats for $44, and a new Chevrolet (with “shockproof steering”) for $495.

Mrs. Bedford had some serious money. And — along with Rev. Mower’s accident, Betty Meszaros’ appendix, and everything else that had happened during the previous 3 days — every person in Westport knew all about it.

(Hat tip to Sarah Hickson, for providing copies of the 1935 Westporter-Herald. Workers renovating her house found them, stuffed as insulation between walls.)


Remembering Lucie Cunningham McKinney

Lucie Cunningham McKinney — a longtime resident of Greens Farms, who followed her family’s great tradition of philanthropy and civic involvement — died Saturday night, of complications from cancer. She was 80 years old.

Lucie Cunningham McKinney

Lucie Cunningham McKinney

She was the great-granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford, a director of Standard Oil, founder of the Westport YMCA and the namesake of Bedford Middle School; the daughter of Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren (who died 2 years ago at 104) and Briggs Cunningham (victorious World Cup skipper, Le Mans race car driver and heir to the Procter & Gamble fortune); the widow of US Congressman Stewart McKinney, and mother of 5, including State Senate Minority Leader and current Republican gubernatorial candidate John P. McKinney.

First Selectman Jim Marpe called Lucie Cunningham McKinney “a valued citizen in our community.” He added:

I salute her activist role in working with people with AIDS following the death of her husband, former Congressman Stewart McKinney, from that disease in 1987.

She was also a strong proponent of protecting the environment as well as a major supporter of her church. As a member of the Bedford family, Lucie McKinney continued a 100-year tradition of the Bedford family providing major support to the Westport Woman’s Club, the Family Y and Norwalk Hospital. On behalf of the Town of Westport, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family.

For all her wealth and good fortune, Lucie McKinney was not immune to life’s misfortunes. She spoke openly of a daughter’s drug addiction and rehabilitation, and the day after her husband died of AIDS, she started a foundation to help victims of the disease.

Though Stewart McKinney was elected 9 times to Congress she remained in Connecticut, raising their 5 children.

“I was very proud to be Mrs. Stewart McKinney,” she said. “I adored the campaigns. I hated the social junk.”

In an interview with the Associated Press in 1987, she said, “Nothing has ever been an embarrassment to my family. If you can turn a bad situation into a good one,  why not do it?”

Lucie Cunningham McKinney, enjoying a car show at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Lucie Cunningham McKinney, enjoying a car show at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

The Westport Y, 90 Years Young

The Westport Family Y has changed a lot in 90 years — including its name. It’s no longer the “Young Men’s Christian Association.” So even though the Y’s actual 90th anniversary was last Thursday, officials did not plan a public birthday bash.

It was also Rosh Hashanah.

The 90th anniversary will be celebrated instead on Wednesday, September 18 (4 p.m.), with a street party on Church Lane.

Scott Smith — the Y’s communications director (a position that did not exist for most of the Y’s history) — passed along some tidbits from opening day.

The Westporter-Herald called September 5, 1923 “second to none in the history of the town. Not since the day of the official opening of Westport’s new bridge over the Saugatuck River has there been anywhere near as great a gathering as notables, both local and out of town.”

The YMCA's Bedford Building, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street.

The YMCA’s Bedford Building, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street.

Connecticut Governor Charles E. Templeton was there. So was Edward T. Bedford, the donor of “this new and handsome Y.M.C.A. building.”

Bedford described how, as a 15-year-old, he stood outside the old Westport Hotel, watching games of pool inside. He could not go inside, “on account of the saloon.”

Years later — a wealthy man, as a director of Standard Oil — he felt honored to fill “the need of some place for boys and young men to congregate.” His “new and handsome” YMCA stood at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street — the exact site of the former Westport Hotel.

The Bedford Building lobby in 1923. Not much has changed in 90 years.

The Bedford Building lobby in 1923. Not much has changed in 90 years.

The new building featured bowling alleys, billiard tables, a gymnasium and reading room. It would be a place to exercise one’s body, and mind.

Governor Templeton noted that Bedford did not have “the opportunities the young men of today have. (However), he didn’t smoke or wile his hours away; he didn’t stay up until midnight, not at all, but instead went to bed early and then was fresh for the tasks of the day to follow.”

Bedford’s work ethic, the governor implied, would be a good model for all the young people enjoying the new YMCA to follow.

Presumably, this advice remains true today — 90 years later. Even if the Westport Family Y serves more than “young men.” More than “Christians.”

And plans to celebrate its next big anniversary in yet another “new and handsome” building.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

Naked At The Y

Back in the day — the day when ladies were admitted to the Westport Y only after ringing the doorbell at a small entrance on Main Street (and even then they were allowed only into a small knitting room) — men swam naked in the pool.

It took a while to break the habit, after women received full membership.  Men routinely walked out of the locker room nude.  Their saunters were interrupted by females, who were no doubt delighted surprised at the perks their new membership brought.

That’s the kind of tale that gets told at Ambassador Club meetings.

Once a year, the Westport Weston Family Y honors its Ambassadors — anyone who has been a Y member for 25 years or more — with a lunch.  The food is one draw, but story-swapping is much more important.

The original Westport YMCA -- now called the Bedford Building.

This year’s event — the 4th annual — is set for Thursday (Sept. 16), 12 noon in the Bedford Room.  (Many Ambassadors remember when that room — in the building of the same name — was the true center of the Y.  Some may even remember Edward T. Bedford, the local philanthropist who founded the Y in 1923.)

The luncheon draws around 100 people a year — men and women.

All are fully clothed.

(If you have been a member of the Y — any Y, actually — for at least 25 years, and want to attend the lunch, contact Joan Vitali by phone at 203-226-8981, ext. 178, or email:  jvitali@westporty.org.)