Tag Archives: Morris Jesup

Friday Flashback #321

Reess Kennedy is a software engineer and tech entrepreneur.

As a sideline, the Staples High School Class of 2000 graduate studies innovation history — especially involving late 19th-century American entrepreneurs.

Think John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Plus Morris Ketchum Jesup.

Morris Jesup, and his very impressive mustache.

A September “Friday Flashback” on Jesup caught Reess’ eye. He read with interest that the founder of the Westport Library (and namesake of our town green) was also a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. (He also commissioned a 5-year anthropological expedition to Alaska and Siberia, which is why the northernmost piece of Greenland is named Cape Morris Jesup).

The next month Reess was at the New York museum’s American wing, exploring its labyrinth of oil paintings.

He found a work he remembered from college art history: “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” (George Caleb Bingham, 1845). A few days later, opening an old textbook to learn more about the work, he noticed a credit line: the “Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1933.”

“Fur Traders Descending the Missouri”

Digging into the Met’s database, he learned Jesup was associated with an astonishing 313 pieces of art: paintings, sculptures, decorative boxes, you name it.

He’s returned to the Met’s American Wing since then, proud of  the impact someone from his hometown had on the space.

Reess Kennedy, at the Met.

Reess adds: “Maybe it’s just getting older and appreciating everything more. Maybe it’s that I spend so much time on my small laptop screen nstead of in these grand galleries.

“But I also think it’s the deep lesson of the pandemic: We shouldn’t take for granted that we’ll always have permission to get our eyes inches from the brush strokes of these beautiful masterpieces. It’s such a wonderful gift.”

And how few people know that the donor is a long-ago Westporter, whose name we remember only for a bust in our library, and a bit of green space nearby.

BONUS FEATURE: Reess offers more information on Morris Jesup, his fund and the Met.

He offered significant financial support to Frederic Edwin Church, a Hartford-born artist whose work is featured in the American Gallery.

Jesup’s generosity helped Church produce his masterwork “The Parthenon.” It was bequeathed to the museum by Jesup’s wife.

Thanks too to Reess, for uncovering this great photo of Morris Jesup, and his dog:

(Pretty cool, right? To keep stories like these coming, please support “06880.” Click here to contribute.)

Morris Jesup at the Met

Friday Flashback #312

Morris Jesup was quite a guy.

In 1908 the successful businessman (his money came from selling railroad supplies) provided the funds for what is now the Westport Library. Located on  the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street) and Main Street, its original name was the Morris K. Jesup Memorial Library. (The “K” stood for Ketchum, another noted Westport name.)

He died just 4 months before its dedication, after donating both the land and $5,000 for construction.

Among his other accomplishments, Morris Jesup grew an amazing mustache.

The Library was not Jesup’s only gift. He was a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. He also commissioned a 5-year anthropological expedition to Alaska and Siberia.

Which is why today the northernmost piece of Greenland is named … Cape Morris Jesup.

Cape Morris Jesup on May 16, 1900.

Native Westporter Jeff Van Gelder has been following an on-line Yale University course, taught by noted American history professor David Blight.

He recently mentioned George Washington Carver, in passing. Van Gelder clicked on Wikipedia, to learn more about the agricultural scientist and inventor.

There — in a section titled “Tuskegee Institute” — Van Gelder read this:

Carver designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers. He called it a “Jesup wagon” after the New York financier and philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, who provided funding to support the program.

That led him further down the internet rabbit hole, to this:

(Booker T.) Washington directed his faculty to “take their teaching into the community.” Carver responded by designing a “movable school” that students built. The wagon was named for Morris K. Jesup, a New York financier who gave Washington the money to equip and operate the “movable school.”

The first movable school was a horse-drawn vehicle called a Jesup Agricultural Wagon. Later it was a mechanized truck, still called a Jesup Wagon, that carried agricultural exhibits to county fairs and community gatherings.

By 1930, the “Booker T. Washington Agricultural School on Wheels” carried a nurse, a home demonstration agent, an agricultural agent, and an architect to share the latest techniques with rural people. Later, community services were expanded, and educational films and lectures were circulated in local churches and schools. The “movable school” was the cornerstone of Tuskegee’s extension services and epitomized the Institute’s doctrines of self-sufficiency and self-improvement.

A “Jesup wagon.” (Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration)

“06880”‘s tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.” Including today — amazingly —  both the northernmost piece of land in Greenland, and George Washington Carver.

(To learn more about Morris Jesup, click here.)

(“06880” has a history of relying on reader support. Please click here to help.)

George Washington Carver




Photo Challenge #380

Plenty of “06880” readers remember Westport’s original library: a gift from Morris Jesup. Built in 1908 on the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street) and Main Street, its original name was the Morris K. Jesup Memorial Library. He died just 4 months before its dedication, after donating both the land and $5,000 for construction. (Today it’s just east of the downtown Starbucks; the coffee shop occupies part of a 1950s addition.)

Many other readers moved here after the Library moved across the street in 1986, onto landfill by the Saugatuck River. (The present library was “transformed” from the first building there; it reopened in 2019, a few months before COVID shut it down.)

No matter how long they’ve lived here though, more than 2 dozen readers knew that the “Open To All” sign shown in last week’s Photo Challenge was part of the lintel hanging over the main door to Jesup’s library. (Click here to see.)

It stopped serving as the entrance after that ’50s renovation, causing reader Suzanne Wilson to note the irony of “Open To All” over a closed door.

But she joins Bob Grant, Martin Gitlin, Jeff Jacobs, Lawrence Zlatin, Robert Mitchell, Katherine Golomb, Sandra Rothenberg, Richard Hyman, Cindy Zuckerbrod, David Sampson, Lois Himes, Scott Brodie, Rosalie Kaye, Stephen Axthelm, Andrew Colabella, Clark Thiemann, Michael Calise, Patty Gabal, Mary Annn Batsell, Linda Amos, Rindy Higgins, Pete Powell, Fred Cantor, Janice Strizever, Bruce Salvo, Jeanine Esposito and Barb Sherburne as Westporters who, at least occasionally, take their nose out of a book (or their ears off a cellphone), and look up at the architecture that surrounds us.

This week’s Photo Challenge is one of 2 similar images, sent a few days apart. So I know it’s not too obscure.

Bill Ryan sent one; here’s the other. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/John Richers)

Friday Flashback #133

As the Library races toward the June 23 grand opening of its Transformation Project — a full-throated, very cool reimagining of the space — this is a good time to remind Westporters that the current location between the Levitt Pavilion and Taylor Place is not its original home.

It was built in 1908, on the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street) and Main Street. Its original name was the Morris K. Jesup Memorial Library. He died just 4 months before its dedication, after donating both the land and $5,000 for construction.

The original library still stands, though an addition built just to the west hides its grandeur.

It included a very quiet reading room.

An addition in the 1950s — around the time Parker Harding Plaza was built — accommodated the booming demands of post-war Westport.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

The “new” library may not have worked particularly well at its current site — the former town dump — where it moved in 1986.

But the third time’s the charm. The “new new” one will blow you away.

Morris Jesup would be very proud.

Photo Challenge #168

In 1906, Westport got a library.

It was a gift from Morris Jesup. A successful businessman, whose money came from selling railroad supplies, he endowed the building on on the Post Road (then called State Street), near Main Street.

The cornerstone was laid in 1906. Michael Calise, Daine Silfen, Matt Murray. Michael Brennecke, Stephanie Ehrman, Rosalie Kaye, Lawrence Zlatin, Janice Strizever, Robert Mitchell, Bobbie Herman, Eva Lopez Reyman, Jonathan McClure, Seth Goltzer and Dede Fitch all recognized Lynn U. Miller’s image. To see last week’s photo challenge, click here.

The library grew, expanded west, then took over the 2nd floor. In 1986 it had outgrown its original home, and moved across the street, past Jesup Road and up the hill, to landfill that had once been the town dump.

The old library is home now to (among others) HSBC Bank, Starbucks and Freshii.

Today, the library is in the midst of another transformation. But none of it would have been possible without Jesup’s philanthropy.

The Westport Library was not Jesup’s only gift. He was a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. He also commissioned a 5-year anthropological expedition to Alaska and Siberia. The northernmost piece of land in the world, at the tip of Greenland, is named Cape Morris Jesup.

In 1908 — just before he died — he donated his old home as a parsonage for the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

This week’s photo challenge comes from Molly Alger. If you know where in Westport you’d find this Stonehenge-like formation, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

Moving Morris

This morning’s “06880” story — about Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion” photo project — noted that it’s the last exhibit in the Westport Library’s Great Hall before their transformation project begins.

The library will remain open during the renovation. But preparations are already underway.

Art throughout the building is being packed up and stored.

Next Friday, it’s Morris Jesup’s turn.

The iconic bust of the library’s founding patron will head to Town Hall, where he will chill out for the transformation duration.

From left: Carole Erger-Fass, Christine Timmons, Judy Auber Jahnel, Morris Jesup  and Kathie Motes Bennewitz. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Before he goes, the library invites fans to come by, and take your photo with the old guy. In the photo above, library staffers and town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz show how it’s done.

Photos can be shared on social media. Use the hashtag #Moving Morris.

He looks austere. But don’t be put off.

Morris Jesup is down for anything.

Friday Flashback #7

Earlier this week, I wrote about the exciting transformation plan for the Westport Library. If all goes well, the newest iteration of the library will be finished in 2019.

The Jesup Green building opened in 1986 (on the site of the former town landfill). A bit more than a decade later, it underwent its first renovation.

Westporters of a certain age think they remember the original library. Most of the stacks — and the famous art collection, and children’s section — were housed in the sterile Parker Harder building that now includes Starbucks, Freshii and HSBC Bank:


But the real first library — built in 1908, called the Jesup Library in honor of its benefactor Morris Jesup, and then in the 1950s incorporated as part of the “new” library — was located just east of that building. It sat on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street:


But our Friday Flashback digs even deeper than that.

Here’s what that 1908 “Jesup Library” replaced:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Seth Schachter via Bill Scheffler)

This view looks west, at the corner of the Post Road (left) and Main Street (right). You can see the outlines of the buildings that are there today, lining the left side of Main Street.

If you’ve got any Westport Library memories, we’d love to hear them. Click “Comments” below.

Party On With Morris Jesup!

Although the Westport Library is closing at noon today — and tomorrow’s “Designers Under 30” event has been postponed — the gala “Great Gatsby Party” is on. Doors — hopefully all shoveled out — open at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Morris Jesup — the library founder — is spending today getting his Roaring ’20s outfit ready. Here’s a start:

Morris Jesup, Westport Public Library

In other storm-related news, feel free to email interesting photos to “06880.” That will give you something to do, until the power goes out.

One more thought: Since when did blizzards start getting names? And if you had every name in the world to pick from, would you choose “Nemo”?

Morris And Me

Morris Jesup, founder of Westport Public Library

I’ve got 426 friends on Facebook.

Morris Jesup — who founded the Westport Public Library — has a Facebook page too.  He’s got 115 friends.

So someone who has been dead for 101 years has only 311 fewer friends than I do.  Pretty pathetic.

Then again, I have 21 followers on Twitter, and he has 0.

So far.