Posted onJune 9, 2010|Comments Off on The Baldwin Family Returns
It started with a Google alert.
A grandson of Herbert Baldwin is notified every time his grandfather’s name appears in cyberspace. In February, he learned of an “06880” post about Westport’s upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of the purchase of Longshore.
Baldwin — who in 1960 was serving the 2nd of his 5 terms as 1st selectman — was instrumental in getting the RTM and Board of Finance to approve $1.9 million to buy financially ailing Longshore Country Club, before it could be sold to a residential home developer.
This afternoon Westport celebrated that historic event with a gathering at — of course — Longshore, following the Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing.
Wendy Baldwin holds Herb Baldwin's license plate. It is from 1956 -- the year she was born.
Wendy Baldwin — Herb’s granddaughter — was there. She smiled brightly as she recalled her grandfather. She enjoyed the day immensely — but that’s not the only reason she and other family members traveled here from across the country.
Her father — Herb Baldwin Jr. — died last year, at 88. For several months the family tried to figure out the best time to gather in Westport, so he could be buried here.
Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing is always a nice affair. Folks play, socialize, eat, drink, and raise funds for over 30 local charities.
Nice — but hardly blog-worthy.
This year’s event (Wednesday, June 9) is different. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore, then-1st selectman Herb Baldwin will be feted.
But this is no hollow let’s-thank-a-dead-guy thought. Several relatives — including Baldwin’s daughter Phyllis, and 3 grandchildren — are coming from as far away as Indianapolis and Menlo Park, California.
Some will play in the golf tournament. All will join in the 4 p.m. ceremony that will look back on Baldwin’s role in those lightning-quick 18 days, when Westport raced from “wow, Longshore Country Club is on the market” to a signed, $1.9 million contract to buy all 169 acres.
Allen Raymond — current town historian, and past member of Baldwin’s kitchen cabinet that helped seal the deal — will be there too.
So who was Herb Baldwin?
He arrived in Westport soon after serving in World War I. In the same year he got married — seems like he always moved quickly — he bought 20 acres of Bayberry Lane land.
With no experience — and no capital behind him — he planted a thousand apple trees, and hundreds of rows of vegetables.
Four years later, he cleared $123.
He soon became a successful apple grower. But he found time for plenty of volunteer work too.
He chaired both the Westport and state YMCAs, and served on the national Y council.
He taught Sunday school at Saugatuck Congregational Church, then became deacon emeritus, chairman of the state Congregational organization and a national commiteeman. When the church moved — on logs — across the Post Road to its present location, Baldwin was on the engineering committee.
He entered politics in 1919, as a member of the Board of Tax Review. He remained on it for 17 years, and was elected chairman. He was a deputy judge of the Town Court, until laymen were barred from serving.
He spent 18 years in Hartford as a state assemblyman and senator, eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee. Back in Westport, he was selected as the 2nd moderator ever of the RTM.
Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early '70s. Also in the front row, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney. Rear (from left): Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Brummel; unidentified; Board of Education member Merald Lue.
When 1st selectman became a full-time position in 1957, Baldwin was elected. Early in his tenure he eliminated 28 sources of raw drainage from the Saugatuck River; soon, fish returned. Roads in Saugatuck Shores were raised, preventing flooding. Two new schools were built.
When Longshore was put on the market — in an area zoned for 1-acre housing — Baldwin shepherded the town’s purchase plan through both the RTM and Board of Finance. Instantly, Westport was the 1st town in the country to own a country club.
Later in his 5 terms as 1st selectman he championed DDD zoning, allowing businesses like Glendinning (off Weston Road) and Stauffer (Nyala Farms) to build in residentially zoned areas. Some Westporters opposed the moves — though the buildings were as discreet as offices could be, and the tax rolls benefited handsomely.
Baldwin Parking Lot — named for him — off Elm Street alleviated downtown parking problems (though several old homes were demolished in the process).
Baldwin retired in 1967, age 73. In retirement he played bridge, backgammon, chess — and golf. (He stopped in his early 90s — because his clubs were stolen out of his car trunk.)
In 1986 — for one of my 1st “Woog’s World” columns — I interviewed the-92-year-old Baldwin. I asked him to sum up his life.
“May and I are as lucky as the devil,” he said, referring to his wife of (then) 67 years.
“We’ve got our health, our family, and we’ve been able to serve our community for 67 years. What else could anybody want?”
Well, how about being remembered a quarter-century later for your role in preserving a property that has since become the most beloved purchase in our 175 year history?
(Wednesday’s golf tournament begins at 8:30 a.m.; tennis follows at 9 a.m. Both events are at Longshore.)
As most of Westport knows by now, Herb Baldwin was a major force in the town’s 1960 purchase of Longshore. In just 18 days, Baldwin — the first selectman — persuaded the Board of Finance and RTM to pay $1.9 million for the 169-acre property.
If you don’t know that history, you must be hiding under a rock.
Perhaps it’s the rock — boulder, actually — tucked under the fir trees separating Longshore’s 1st tee and 18th green. The boulder — and a plaque commemorating the event — were installed 25 or so years ago. Over time, the boulder has nearly vanished from sight.
Tomorrow (Thursday) at 10 a.m., Baldwin’s boulder will be moved to a more prominent spot. The new location — just 25 feet away, at the corner of the roadway next to the 1st tee — is actually the intersection of Julian Brodie and (ta da!) Herb Baldwin Drives.
Baldwin is long gone, but Allen Raymond — a member of his kitchen cabinet, and another important figure in the purchase of Longshore — hopes to be on hand.
Rotary Club members will be there too. That’s also appropriate: Baldwin will be honored at the Rotary’s June 9 golf and tennis outing, and at an invitation-only “Friends of Longshore” celebration later that day. Members of the Baldwin family expect to attend.
Just think — in only 18 days, perhaps the biggest land acquisition in Westport history went from idea to completion.
Let’s hope the front-end loader has as easy a time hefting the Baldwin boulder.
The Inn at Longshore back in the day. Much has changed since this undated photo was taken -- and much has not.
Few Westporters realize that our town jewel camethisclose to being something else entirely. In early 1960, the 169-acre property — the privately owned Longshore Beach and Country Club, with a golf course, tennis courts, pools, marina, inn/restaurant and play areas — came up for sale.
The typical Westport response — build houses! — was strongly considered. But First Selectman Herb Baldwin and his kitchen cabinet decided to make a bid, on behalf of the town.
They had to act quickly. In just 18 days they put together a $1.9 million package — then earned approval from the Board of Finance and RTM. The latter vote was 38-0. (The RTM doesn’t even name bridges or approve jUNe Day unanimously.)
A month and a half later — on May 28, 1960 — Longshore Club Park opened to the public. It’s gone through plenty of changes — it took several owners to get the Inn right; the golf course and tennis courts have been revamped; a much-loved but rickety apartment building was torn down; a sailing school and rental shop now flourishes; some trees have been cut down, others planted; the swimming pool was renovated; a handsome entryway was built; an ice skating rink was added, and the way-cool (but decorative only) lighthouse is long gone — but everyone and everything else has changed in 50 years too. (Except the Quonset hut behind the Boat Locker on the Post Road.)
Longshore is a photographer's delight, at all hours of the day and in every season of the year.
To mark the occasion, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff has appointed a 50th anniversary committee. We (full disclosure: I’m on it) will celebrate the milestone appropriately — through public ceremonies, exhibits, a website and publications. We have started collecting materials, and despite the early stage we can tell it’s going to be a very cool project. At the 1st meeting, we saw memorabilia ranging from towels from the old private country club, to 1920s aerial photos showing just a rough 3-hole golf course near the Inn.
Westporters will learn much about Longshore over the coming year. It looks like the celebration will culminate with a grand event on May 28, 2011, honoring the end of the public park’s golden anniversary.
Hall & Oates will not appear. (If you don’t understand that reference, read the history of Longshore — whenever it comes out.)
“06880” will report back, from time to time, on Longshore’s 50th. Meanwhile, the next time you drive past the park — or into it — look around. Enjoy the spectacular view.
And think what this town would be like if — 50 years ago this winter — our civic leaders had decided that $1.9 million was just too much to pay for 169 acres of land.
In the mid-1960s, the Westport Recreation Commission's youth soccer program played games at Longshore. The field -- now the site of the Inn parking lot, and several tennis courts -- sloped appreciably upward. This shot looks toward the golf course; the Inn would be on the left.
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