The year was 1803. Thomas Jefferson was in the White House. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States.
And — nearly 180 years ago — Westport did not even have a legitimate Main Street.
The other day, Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther were in the Westport Library, researching our town’s stone bridges. They stumbled on a remarkable map — one that even they, despite their years as diligent historians, had never seen.
They note that while Elm Street and Avery Place are connected close to the river, Main Street is still just a “proposed road” (outlined with dashes, left side of the map).
Myrtle Avenue was part of the “King’s Highway.” There were just a scattering of houses throughout the area.
The forerunner of what later became the Westport Hotel — at the corner of State Street (Post Road) and Main Street — was called the Nichols Hotel.
That makes sense. The village on the map was still “Saugatuck.” It would not become “Westport” until 1835.
That’s another 32 years, 4 presidents, and 7 states admitted to the union later.
(“06880” has been around far fewer years than Westport. But since our founding in 2009, we’ve never missed a day of posting. Please click here to help us continue our work. Thank you!)
First Selectwoman Jen Tooker delivers her first Thanksgiving message to Westport:
“I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving, as well as a Happy Hanukkah for those celebrating.
“Westport has much to be thankful for. As we emerge from a global pandemic, we are grateful for our first responders, our town employees and staff, our teachers, colleagues and friends, and the numerous volunteers who gave unselfishly of their time, talents and resources. Most importantly, we are grateful for each other, and how we came together as a community to lift up, to help and to inspire during challenging times. Westporters are truly resilient!
“We are also keenly aware that there are those among us who need additional care and concern, especially during holidays. Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Let us remember that, as much has been given, much will be expected…and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips and shows itself in deeds.’”
“And so, at this Thanksgiving and for the days to come, I ask that we both reflect and act; to give of ourselves in word and deed; to express our appreciation for all that we do have, and to make simple acts of kindness the norm, not the trend.
“On a personal note, my sincerest hope is that you enjoy your Thanksgiving and upcoming Holidays with friends and families, and that you have the opportunity to be thankful for the simple blessings we all share. Thank you.”
Jen Tooker is thankful to celebrate Thanksgiving with her husband Mo and her father, Bob “Pops” Salmon.
Since summer, a Mercedes sedan was parked on Myrtle Avenue, in the closest spot to the front exit from Town Hall.
It’s been there ever since.
Alert Westporters wondered what’s up. Dust settled on the car. Street cleaners swept around it, giving it a distinctive border.
Summer turned into fall. Leaves turned and fell. Frost arrived.
Still the car sat there.
The car, last summer. (Photo/Michael Moore)
We may now have an answer — of sorts.
A two-page letter has been taped to the rear window.
“Congratulations,” it begins. “you are now standing next to Hank the Tank.”
The note tells the story of the car — nicknamed, clearly, “Hank the Tank.”
It belonged to a mother who chauffeured her daughter to school and sports.
When the teenage girl inherited the car, it went to the dump and Dunkin’ Donuts. the beach and concerts. It got a speeding ticket on North Avenue.
It carried the driver’s many friends on every road in Westport. Lots of their stuff still sits in Hank the Tank.
Page 1 of the letter …
The girl who drove the car has moved on to college, the letter explains. But “saying goodbye to Hank the Tank is difficult,” the letter continues. “Some people have a harder time letting go than others.”
… and page 2.
But, the note concludes, Hank the Tank will soon be gone.
it will be less of a bother than it is, taking up a Myrtle Avenue parking space for many months.
It will continue to be useful, however.
Hank the Tank is being donated to the Westport Fire Department. It will be used for drills and education.
There’s always a story behind the story. Thanks, Hank the Tank, for sharing yours. (Hat tip: Svea Vocke)
Who is Grace Salmon, and why is there a park named for her? (Arlene Yolles)
According to Woody Klein’s history of Westport, Grace King Salmon was a founding member of the Westport Woman’s Club.
The wife of Frederick Salmon — Connecticut state comptroller, and president of Westport Bank & Trust — she died in 1939. She left a trust in her own name to benefit the town.
Virginia Sherwood, Westport Garden Club chairman, applied for grants from the trust and other agenciees to design a park on 3 acres of Saugatuck River landfill across the river from where the Salmons lived (now the Assumption Church rectory).
It took several years to solve the site’s environmental problems. But the Garden Club developed Connecticut’s first park built on a former landfill, and won an award for its efforts.
Today, Grace K. Salmon Park is one of Westport’s hidden-in-plain-site treasures. It’s on Imperial Avenue near Baker Avenue — a few yards from the Westport Woman’s Club, which its namesake helped found.
The scene from Grace Salmon Park across the Saugatuck River, near where the Salmon family once lived. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)
When did the junior high system start in Westport? (Joyce Barnhart)
From its opening in 1884, and for the next 42 years, Staples High School included 7th through 9th graders.
In 1926, construction of a new “Bedford Junior High School” — aided, in large part, by a $145,000 gift from E.T. Bedford — was nearly complete. Situated across a field from the original Staples High School on Riverside (where the auditorium of what is now Saugatuck Elementary School now sits), the building (now Kings Highway Elementary) included an “unusually good” gymnasium, auditorium and stage — all of which would be shared by the high school.
The 18-acre plot between the schools was planned as a well-equipped “playground” (athletic fields) for students and adults.
So 1926 was when the first junior high — for 7th, 8th and 9th graders — opened in Westport. Long Lots followed in the early 1950s, Coleytown in 1965.
Kings HIghway Elementary School was originally Bedford Junior High. Fields separated it from the first Staples High. Look closely, and you can still see “Bedford” above the front door.
What’s the story with the Mercedes station wagon that’s been parked in the same spot for months on Myrtle Avenue, in front of Town Hall? (See photo below.)
The tracks around it from the street sweeper are clear evidence it has not moved. It’s covered in dust, still containing someone’s belongings. No tickets on the windshield, or other signs of official notice, just yards from Town Hall. (Michael Moore)
Believe it or not, I’ve never noticed it — and I drive past Town Hall every day.
But hey, “06880” readers: If you’ve lost your Mercedes-Benz, we know where it is.
If Westport is located on the eastern side of Long Island Sound, why is it not named Eastport? (Ray Broady)
Well, first of all, Westport is north, south, east and west of a lot of things.
How we got our name in 1835 — when our town was officially incorporated, carved out of the towns of Norwalk, Wilton, Weston and Fairfield — has been a matter of dispute for nearly 200 years.
One theory is that it is a port west of Fairfield (our original European settlers came to what is now Greens Farms, from Fairfield).
Another theory is that because the new town was not named Saugatuck — a state representative claimed it sounded too much like “succotash” — the name “Westport” paid homage to that neighborhood, which was a port on the west side of the Saugatuck River.
Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural. The “port” was on the West bank of the Saugatuck River.
Why are Westport sidewalks not maintained, not ADA compliant, and not cleared of snow on a timely basis? Why are there no continuous sidewalks on Post Road? Why can’t I walk from Sylvan to Whole Foods? (Monica Buesser)
I asked Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich. He says:
“ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps with detectable warning pads are only required at roadways, not at driveways. The reason you see some sidewalks without ADA ramps at roadways, or with ramps that appear to be non-compliant with the current ADA regs, is that they may have not been replaced recently, and may have been constructed incorrectly, constructed to an earlier ADA standard, or constructed before the ADA regulations were made stricter. As we reconstruct sidewalks around town, we are correcting that situation by installing appropriate ramps where the ADA regs dictate.
“Currently residential properties are cleared of ice and snow by the town. There is no requirement for residential zoned properties to clear their sidewalks. Commercial use properties are required to clear ice and snow from the front of their establishments within 24 hours.
“Having said that, with approximately 23 miles of residential sidewalks, it often takes us multiple days to clear all the sidewalks after a big storm, and if we have back to back storms we prioritize the roads first, then the parking lots, then the sidewalks. We appreciate residents helping us out any way they can during the winter, by clearing the walk in front of their property.”
A new sidewalk was on North Avenue last year. It’s now ADA-compliant. (Photo/Michael Fleming)
When will the 1-lane bridge on Bayberry Lane/White Birch Road go back to 2 lanes?
Another one for Public Works director Ratkiewich. He says:
“The Bayberry Lane bridge over the Aspetuck River is tied up in federal permitting right now with the Army Corps of Engineers. We hoped to go to construction this year, but due to the Army Corps’ backlog it appears we will bid this winter. and start construction in the spring of 2022.”
When did the Westport Fire Department move its headquarters from Church Lane, next to the old YMCA (now Bedford Square) to the current Post Road site? (Dorrie Thomas)
1982, says Chief Robert Yost.
I did not ask — but probably should have — if that was the same time they discontinued their Saturday noontime horn test. It could be heard all over town. Nor do I know when the Department stopped alerting volunteer firefighters to the location of a blaze by horns. The short/long codes could be found on the inside of telephone directories. Remember them?
Former Fire Department headquarters, on Church Lane. The YMCA is on the left.
Over the years, “06880” has reported on too many tree removal stories.
This is not one of those.
Over the past months, there’s been an effort in town to improve the intersections and cross streets on Myrtle Avenue.
One victim of this modernization project was to be the island in front of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, by Sconset Square. The plan was to remove everything, to form a “T” intersection.
The site is lovely. It’s also historic.
It’s where the Disbrow Tavern was located, back in the 1700s. George Washington is said to have had some ale there, and maybe even a room for the night.
The original Myrtle Avenue traffic island was much larger. (Photo courtesy of Morley Boyd)
A tree sat on the island for centuries, until the 1960s. It was removed in an earlier modernization project.
Church members took it upon themselves to inform the town of the site’s history and beauty, and the utility of the island and tree.
In the mid-’60s, parishioners planted what they called the new “Trinity tree.”
Fifty years later, that history has been forgotten by — or is unknown to — many Westporters. Construction has decreased the size of the island, and damaged the roots. All of that endangered the Trinity tree.
Some area residents and members of the Planning & Zoning Commission worked through a variety of town agencies to save the tree, and the island.
Over the last couple of weeks, a contractor hired by the town has loosened the soil, injected it with mulch and nutrients, trimmed the branches — and removed campaign signs.
The tree, after trimming last week. (Photo/Chip Stephens)
Thanks to tree warden Bruce Lindsay and others, the Trinity tree now has a good chance of adorning, and shading, the island for another 50 years.
That is, if people don’t tramp on the island and its roots, while putting up signs.
Lindsay placed 4 small signs on the island, asking people to stay off and give the tree a chance.
A campaign sign appeared this morning. Town officials say they’ll remove them, as long as the tree is convalescing.
This is not about politics. It’s just about common sense.
And the history and beauty of a downtown tree we all love, admire and respect.
Estelle Margolis — an artist, political activist and longtime figure on the Post Road bridge, who was also energized by bringing her diverse Myrtle Avenue neighborhood together — died last week. She was 92.
In 2010, her then-17-year-old grandson Jonah Newman had an assignment for his American Protest Literature class in California: find people who had been politically active. He wrote about his grandmother Estelle, and her equally passionate husband Manny. He died in 2011, age 86. Here is part of what Jonah wrote:
As far back as I can remember, Emanuel and Estelle Margolis — my maternal grandparents — have been a part of my life. Every year my parents, my brothers and I join the rest of the Margolis clan at my grandparents’ home in Westport, Connecticut to celebrate Passover.
Emanuel Margolis and Estelle Thompson (“Papa” and “Buba” respectively) were both born in New York City in 1926. The house occupies a special place in my heart — like its own timeless world it remains the same every year, as comfortingly consistent as the presence of the two people who have lived there for five decades.
Perhaps it is because I have known my grandparents for my whole life that until recently, I had rarely thought about their rich backgrounds as political activists. I discovered that my grandparents, who participated in many of the key social and political movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, are the very definition of living history.
Estelle Margolis was 87 during this 2014 protest on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (Photo/Robert Baldrich)
Buba was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. Her family was hit hard by the Great Depression; her father often had trouble finding jobs and making ends meet. She was artistic, participating in arts, theater, and music programs at school.
She never went to college but was admitted to the graduate School of Architecture at Yale and graduated in 1955. Her drawing talent was strong, and as a young woman she made a living out of art and architecture. Her political activism began when she was an adolescent and continued throughout her life.
Her career as an activist began much earlier than Papa’s. At 12 she picketed outside Alexander’s Department Store in the Bronx in an attempt to get people to boycott Japanese silk after the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Throughout her life, Buba has employed several diverse methods — including picketing, art and hands-on involvement — and has drawn from her innate empathy to protest war, discrimination and economic inequality.
Over many years since then, the anti-war message has been consistently important. She says: “It overwhelms me with the thought of the devastating damage that has been done…What sense are we making out of the policy that keeps throwing young kids to their deaths?”
Buba’s sympathy may stem from her maternal instincts (she has 5 children and 10 grandchildren), and shows the simple human compassion that motivates her continued struggle against war. She was active in her criticism of the Vietnam War during the 1960’s and 70’s, and has protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the late 1980s, Sen. Jesse Helms attacked the National Endowment for the Arts. Estelle Margolis responded with this painting.
Since 2005, Buba has helped lead a weekly vigil on a Westport bridge to protest the war in Iraq. Her signs at these present-day rallies say what they have said for decades: “Support The Troops, Bring Them Home.”
One of Buba’s natural skills has proved to be a lifelong tool for her activism. “I’ve been very lucky all my life because I know how to draw,” she says. Lucky is an understatement; in the late 1940’s Buba worked as an assistant to legendary artist Ben Shahn. In 1946, Buba and Shahn worked on an enormous collection of political leaflets and posters to support Democratic candidates across the country. “We created a leaflet for every single candidate,” she recalls.
But there are risks to political activism. In 1947, when she taught union organizing to black and white students at the desegregated Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, angry vigilantes drove by, shouting and shooting at the building.
Even the government was an occasional threat. Buba says the FBI planted spies in the meetings of activist organizations at the school.
In 1970, Buba and a group of women protesting the Vietnam War by picketing in the middle of a busy street were almost run over by an angry truck driver. The women were arrested for obstructing traffic, but Papa used his legal skills to keep them out of prison.
Driven by her human empathy and making full use of her artistic talents, Buba continues to be a potent voice of protest. Although both she and Papa believe the world needs changing, they also believe that the world is inherently beautiful.
Papa and Buba fervently believe America and the world are fundamentally good. We just need to fight to keep them that way.
(Click here to read Jonah’s full story — including much more about his grandfather, Manny. And click here to read an “06880” story from 2014, about how Estelle brought her Myrtle Avenue neighborhood together. A graveside service is set for today, Monday, March 4, 1 p.m. at Willowbrook Cemetery. Hat tip: Larry Weisman)
Estelle Margolis (center), surrounded by Myrtle Avenue neighbors. (Photo/Rondi Charleston)
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