When Life magazine went looking for a mom-and-pop business to epitomize community involvement for its July 5, 1963 issue, it found one in Westport.
That’s not unusual: At the time, Westport was bursting with Time/Life editors and writers, and advertising executives at all the top shops.
Achorn’s Pharmacy was actually one of many local sponsors for Little League teams. (Though as alert “06880” reader — and former Little League player — Fred Cantor, who found this gem, points out, it was actually a “pop-and-grandpop”: the Main Street drugstore was owned by Murray and Henry Bravin.)
The Life text explains that the sponsor didn’t get to see his team play, because as an important part of of the community he opens early and closes late. Achorn’s, it seems, symbolized pharmacists and pharmacies everywhere.
Nearly 6 decades later, Achorn’s is still a Westport institution (though now at Playhouse Square). And local businesses continue to support Little League, softball, and countless other sports and youth activities in town.
More likely, a Westport Woman’s Club member’s husband was a high-ranking Life Magazine staffer.
Whatever the reason, on August 11, 1947 America’s leading photo magazine featured the organization in a 2-page spread.
Describing the town of 8,258 just 45 minutes from Manhattan, Life said Westport “pleasantly combines the character of New England and the up-to-date bustle of a commuting population.”
Like most American towns, Life noted, Westport has a woman’s club. But ours had “little time for lectures, cards and teas.”
The Life magazine story included this photo of members of the Westport Woman’s Club.
Instead — already 40 years old — the Westport Woman’s Club had transformed our “once somnolent” town through good works: organizing and funding street signs, public drinking fountains, garbage collections and trash cans, playgrounds, sidewalks, street lights, hot lunches in schools, and lifesaving equipment and a pavilion at Compo Beach.
Now, Life said, the club was focused on a visiting nurse service, free milk for underprivileged children and a free dental clinic. They also provided over $1,000 in scholarships each year.
Life reported that Ann Jones, 18, won a $300 art scholarship from the Westport Woman’s Club.
With 693 members — but annual dues of only $3 — members relied on the Yankee Doodle Fair to fund those projects. The 1947 event raised $18,000, with attractions like a merry-go-round, dart games, pony rides, and a raffle with prizes including cars, washing machines, luggage, watches and cases of scotch.
The Yankee Doodle Fair, as shown in the August 11, 1947 issue of Life Magazine.
More than 70 years later, the Westport Woman’s Club — and Yankee Doodle Fair — are still going strong.
Which is more than can be said for Life magazine.
(Hat tip: Paul Ehrismann)
A caption for this Life magazine photo described children of Westport Woman’s Club members, playing on a sidewalk that the organization helped build.
The other day, alert “06880” reader Amy Leonard discovered an August 8, 1949 Life magazine. The cover promised an inside look into “Fairfield County: Country Home of Smart New Yorkers.”
Amy asked if I’d be interested. She knows me well.
Just a couple of years before Westport roared into a post-war baby boom ‘burb, Life portrayed our town — and the rest of the county — as a place most readers could only aspire to.
The country’s most popular magazine located us “between the sailboat-dotted waters of Long Island Sound and the woodsy border of New York State.” Our “scalloped shore line” offered “hundreds of miles of valuable waterfront property.”
The “electrified New Haven Railroad and high-speed Merritt Parkway” provided swift access to New York City. Our “rolling hills and leisurely life” attracted well-to-do, already successful commuters.
“Their existence is not utopian,” Life warned. Commuters’ days revolved around the 7:43 a.m. train to New York, and the 5:16 p.m. back. Taxes were high, “and servants expensive.”
But, the story continued, “for the New Yorkers who can, or think they can, afford a country home, Fairfield County is probably the best — and the newly fashionable — place to have it.”
They could, for example, pay $140 a year beyond the regular train fare. That got them a seat in the railroad club car: “an exclusive, air-conditioned arrangement for wealthy commuters who prefer not to ride in coaches.”
Enjoying card games, in the elite railroad club car.
Not everyone took the 7:43, of course. “Idea people” — artists and authors whose commuting schedule was not as rigorous as businessmen — had long lived here.
In fact, Life said, “there are probably more professional artists within a 25-mile radius of Westport than in any comparable spot in the U.S.” Just 4 years old, the Westport Artists Club already boasted 148 members.
This shows Westport artist Stevan Dohanos — a famed illustrator for Life’s competitor, the Saturday Evening Post — drawing a classic New England church in Easton.
The Life story ended with a few aspirational photos: a painted split rail fence, station wagon, old window pane and beagle, among them.
Described as “some of the items which commuters consider essential to a happy life in Fairfield County,” they distinguished “the transplanted New Yorker who has fled from the sameness of apartment life, and is now making his country place as similar to the one next door as he can.”
Life ceased weekly publication in 1972. What would a current story on Westport say and show?
Click “Comments,” to add your 2016 view.
The caption reads: “New arrival in Westport is James Donovan, a wealthy young (34) executive who bought his home two years ago. He is one of many such newcomers.” (No mention of his wife or kids, also in the picture.)
According to the caption, “The Westport Country Playhouse gives better than average plays, including tryouts of Broadway-bound shows.” This was an outdoor rehearsal of “The Time of Your Life.”
Life says commuters considered these “essential to a happy life in Fairfield County.”
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