John Kantor is my source for all sailing-related news.
The other day, the Longshore Sailing School founder — a native Westporter who grew up by and on the water — sent a link to the Sailing News’ “Scuttlebutt” website.
The site featured the back story to this month’s photo in the Ultimate Sailing calendar. It showed sailors bundled against the cold off the coast of Italy, on a 12 Metre called Nyala.
The November 2020 Ultimate Sailing calendar photo, by Carlo Borlenghi.
A South African reader wondered why “an active yacht in Italy was named after an antelope found in the game reserves of his region.”
Nyala was built for Frederick T. Bedford of Westport, Connecticut. His father, Edward T. Bedford, was a director of the original Standard Oil who established a large family farm in then-rural Westport in 1910.
Frederick, who was also an industrialist, named the farm “Nyala” for the antelope he had seen while on safari in Africa. Later, the name would be used for the Olin Stephens-designed 1938 12 Metre. Like the wooden twelve, the 52-acre farm remains a going concern where the last family member resided until 2014.
Nyala Farm (Robert Vickrey painting, courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)
I’m not sure that’s true. Nyala ceased to be a working dairy farm long ago. The property just off I-95 Exit 18 became Westport’s first office park in the 1970s, when Stauffer Chemical Company moved in (and, thanks to progressive land-use policies, kept much of it as rolling hills and meadows).
Nyala Farm (Photo/Patricia McMahon)
The main tenant today is Bridgewater Associates. None of the Bedford descendants lived there. They had their own large estates on nearby Beachside Avenue.
The Nyala Farms office complex. Much of it is hidden from view, on nearby I-95, Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector.
Built of the finest hardwoods at the famous Henry Nevins yard (City Island, NY), Nyala carried the unique identifier 12-US-12 (ie. the 12th 12 meter in the USA).
Several sources note that she was a wedding present by F.T. Bedford to his daughter, Lynn (Lucie) Bedford (aka LuLu) and new son-in-law, Briggs Cunningham (yes, that Cunningham – winning 1958 America’s Cup skipper on Columbia).
It’s also reported that FT and Briggs had previously owned an 8 Metre together (late 1920s), and Briggs is said to have credited his wife-to-be with teaching him to sail (Stars) at Pequot Yacht Club, so maybe a 12 Metre for them to campaign together is not as surprising a wedding gift as we might, at first, be tempted to surmise!
As an aside, there are at least a couple of 6 Metres still sailing that are named for Mrs. Cunningham (Lucie and LuLu) which Briggs had raced to good effect.
John Kantor did not know the back story to the Nyala name. But he knows the farm. And, he says, “I knew Briggs Cunningham. I knew the boat. But I had no idea how all the names interconnected.”
Briggs Cunningham II was also a race car driver. That’s how he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
(Click here for the full Sailing News Scuttlebutt story.)
A.E. Hotchner — the author and philanthropist who died on Saturday at 102 — was a true Westporter. He moved here in 1953, and — with fellow resident Paul Newman — helped create both Newman’s Own foundation and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Many Westporters knew him through his other passion: tennis.
In 1986, he wrote a piece about our town for the New York Times. “06880” reader Dick Seclow received it from a friend, and sent it along. Thirty-three years ago, Hotchner said:
WHEN I first came to Westport in the 50’s, it was referred to as ”going to the country.” I rented a primitive little cabin for $300 for the summer, and as far as I was concerned, confined as I had been for most of my young life to the unforgiving streets of St. Louis and New York, Westport was indeed ”country.”
There were shops run by stonemasons and welders and old-fashioned hardware stores with bins of nails that were sold by the scoopful. Greenberg’s on Main Street sold ”notions” (a wonderful word that has gone the way of the pterodactyl), and on Main Street, too, there was a butcher shop where sides of beef hung on hooks and the butcher wore a straw boater, and a fish store that sold fish that had been unloaded from fishing boats that very morning. There was even a blacksmith who would make a grate for you in his forge that would precisely fit your fireplace.
Main Street in 1962 — nearly a decade after A.E. Hotchner moved to Westport.
On the Post Road was Rippe’s vegetable stand, bins heaped with vegetables grown on farmland behind the stand, and crisp apples picked from Rippe’s own orchards. In fact, Rippe operated an old-fashioned cider mill in full view, and the foamy, amber juice that spilled down the trough was sold to the customers right on the spot. I once bought a wooden barrel full of Rippe’s cider, deceived by the barrel’s compact shape into severely underestimating the quantity of its contents. As Thanksgiving gave way to the wintry gusts of December, the spigot of the barrel unceasingly yielded its golden contents that imperceptibly matured, climaxing in a drunken Christmas revel.
After a few years, I forsook my cabin (with some regret) for a grand, Normandy house that I couldn’t afford and still can’t afford. It was straddled by a wheat field on one side and a meadow on the other that yielded fraises de bois if you were willing to crawl along the ground, searching for the tiny, red fruit hidden under the leaves of the plant. I did, on the conviction that whatever you had to do to obtain a bowl of freshly picked fraises de bois was well worth the crawling.
But of all the country pleasures of Westport, none for me was greater than watching the vast herd of black and white Guernsey cows grazing on the emerald pastures of the Nyala Farm, which was located in the Greens Farms section of town, adjacent to the turnpike exit, so that as I arrived on Friday, the woes of the past New York week clinging to me, the first thing I saw as I hit Westport was this Turner landscape filled with magnificent Guernsey cattle.
Nyala Farm (Robert Vickrey painting, courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)
The farmhouse, constructed of old New England stone, strongly evoked an English countryside in the cows’ native Guernsey. And every morning, Mike Ferris of the Ferris Dairy delivered a couple of quarts of Guernsey milk, a thick layer of cream extending all the way down the neck and into the shoulder of the bottle. No milk ever tasted like that before or since.
I can’t tell you precisely when the country started to go out of Westport. It didn’t happen just like that, but one after the other, Greenberg’s notions, the authentic hardware stores, the shop of the stonemason, the smithy, the butcher shop and the fishmonger were replaced by Ann Taylor, Laura Ashley, Aca Joe and the Banana Republic. Rippe’s vegetable stand and the fertile, verdant fields that had grown the cauliflower, tomatoes, corn and strawberries, became a packed enclave of condominiums.
But the day I knew the country had irrevocably gone out of Westport was when I made that turn off the turnpike from New York, expecting as always to be solaced by the balming sight of that lovely Guernsey herd, but the herd had vanished – not a single Guernsey cow, a herd that had been grazing that lush, hilly meadow only a week before. Nyala Farms had been bought out by the Stouffer [sic — Stauffer] Chemical Company, and the building where once the Guernseys had been quartered and milked and calved was now occupied by people engaged in the business of dispensing chemicals, many of them, I was sure, antipathetic to the very meadows where the Guernseys once roamed. And, of course, Mike Ferris never came to our door again.
The Nyala Farm office complex. Its 2020 tenants include the Bridgewater hedge fund.
In what I can only think of now as a gesture of angry defiance, I plowed under my wheat field and built a tennis court on the meadow that had nurtured the shy fraises de bois. It was all over, wasn’t it, so why not the coup de grace? The hell with it. Westport had become an extension of New York. Main Street was riddled with Madison Avenue shops. Burger King, Beefsteak Charlie’s, Shoe Town, Waldenbooks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hallmark Cards, Sam Goody – name it, it was here or on the way. Real-estate developers outnumbered the gypsy moths.
I never again referred to Westport as ”going to the country.”
Never, that is, until Murray McMurray came into my life. I don’t know who suggested that he get in touch with me, but I am forever indebted to my anonymous benefactor. Murray McMurray sent me a letter and a brochure from his hatchery in Webster City, Iowa. On the cover of the brochure were two of the most exotic chickens I had ever laid eyes on, identified as Dark Brahmas, and on the inside cover was a picture of Murray himself, with a Black Giant hen sitting on his shoulder.
Until that moment, apart from a restaurant menu, I had never thought much about chickens, one way or another. But as I marveled over the grace and beauty of what Murray called his Rarest of Rare Breeds -huge, plump Cochins with thick feathers all the way down their legs and feet to the ground, Crevecoeurs native to Normandy, Silver Gray Dorkings bred by the Romans and brought by them to Britain, Phoenix and Yokohamas, ancient breeds that roam Japan’s Imperial Gardens, graceful, long-tailed Sumatras indigenous to the island of Sumatra, cinnamon-colored Cubalayas from Cuba, a very rare breed, La Fleche, from France, Chanteclers, natives of Quebec – page after page of beauties that I’m sure Frank Perdue wouldn’t recognize.
A Westport chicken coop — though not A.E. Hotchner’s.
A local carpenter built a little henhouse for me and I sent away for the Sears Farm Catalogue, from which I ordered a cluster of nest units in which my rarest of rare could lay their eggs, a feeder, a waterer, buckets, scoops and all the other wonderful paraphernalia that a chicken fancier needs. I sent my order to Murray McMurray and awaited the arrival of my day-old chicks.
Murray McMurray has indeed put the country back into Westport for me. Those baby chicks have grown into the most wondrous creatures you can imagine. What do I care if Roy Rogers is building a wretched, fast-food outlet on the nearby Post Road, when I can go out in the henhouse in the morning and take a couple of warm eggs from under an obliging Lakenvelder or Dominique for my breakfast? Last Easter, my son didn’t have to dye any eggs because the Araucanas lay turquoise, blue and green eggs. And for the information of misguided jokers, the Polish hens are not dumb clucks but very austere ladies who wear large round bonnets of feathers.
I wake in the morning now to the muted sound of a Cochin rooster’s strutful cry. I know I’m in the country. No mistaking it.
(Click here for the link to the story in the Times‘ archives.)
The name is no coincidence. The Nyala sailboat was commissioned by F.T. Bedford, president of the Standard Oil Corporation. She was given as a wedding present to his daughter Lucy and her new husband, Briggs Cunningham.
(He is credited with inventing the “Cunningham hole,” still used today to provide luff tension in a mainsail.)
After restoration in 1996, Nyala attended the 2001 Jubilee regatta in Cowes, off the UK. She won the 12-Metre Worlds in Barcelona in 2014.
Nyala had already secured the 2019 championship, before yesterday’s final day of racing.
She didn’t have to sail. But Patrizio Bertelli took her out anyway. Nyala posted her 8th victory in 9 races.
Next up: This weekend’s New York Yacht Club 175th Anniversary Regatta.
I wouldn’t call last week’s Photo Challenge a curveball.
But the handsome house shot by Peter Barlow (click here to see) is definitely not where “06880” readers thought it was.
Guesses included Baron’s South, Bridge Street, Main Street, Long Lots Road, Riverside Avenue and the Saugatuck Congregational Church parsonage.
It could have been any of those places. All are admired for maintaining a decent number of historic homes, despite the teardown epidemic.
But the Queen Anne structure is on the old Nyala Farm property. That’s the office complex between the Sherwood Island connector and Greens Farms Road, not far from I-95 exit 18.
It took a while. Finally, Kieran O’Keefe, Morley Boyd, Susan Lloyd and Michael Calise checked in with the correct answer. Susan noted that the house was where the dairy manager lived; Michael said it was the home of the Horace Lanute family.
Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten added this:
The house was built by George Fairchild, Sr. in 1879 from land he purchased from Frederick Sherwood in 1864. After a few other owners, Edward T. Bedford purchased it in 1913. It was used as the herdsman house. It passed to Frederick T. Bedford in 1931. During World War II the house was occupied by Ruth Bedford Foster. It was purchased by Stauffer Chemical company in 1970, and used as a corporate guest house. Now it is part of the Nyala Farms property.
Not long after, Eve Potts added:
That house was slated to be demolished, way back when I was chairman of the Historic District Commission. I made an appointment with the powers that be at Stauffer, who owned the property, and pleaded with them to save the historic house. The reason given for the demolition was that the fire chief felt it was too close to the main building for safety’s sake. Stauffer agreed not to demolish the house. They restored and refurbished it, and used it as a guest house for visitors.
“It’s in pretty clear sight from Greens Farms Road — at least in winter, when there’s less foliage,” Barlow says. “It’s near the main gate to Bridgewater.”
Nyala Farm was once a working farm. In the 1970s — after intense zoning battles — it became the site of Westport’s first international corporate headquarters.
Stauffer — the now-defunct chemical company –built the complex. The main tenant is now Bridgewater. Through herbicides and hedge funds — and thanks to a very strong, Greens Farms Association-driven zoning agreement — the house has remained.
“I think this is an easy puzzle,” Barlow says. “But somehow people just drive past this house without noticing.”
He’s right. I’ve lived here all my life. I saw cows get milked at Nyala Farm. But I never knew that house was there.
I do know where this week’s Photo Challenge is. If you do too, click “Comments” below.
We admire its vast, open meadows. We marvel at its ever-changing beauty. We take almost as many photos of its iconic well as we do of the cannons at Compo.
We don’t even mind that the enormous expanse of land tucked between Greens Farms Road, the Sherwood Island Connector and I-95 is an office park — one of 2 Westport headquarters for hedge fund titan Bridgewater.
We don’t mind, because we don’t see it.
What many people may not know is that Nyala Farm is not a cute, throwback name. Back in the day, it was an actual, working dairy farm.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)
Generations of Westporters took field trips there. They learned that all 52 acres were bought in 1910 by E.T. Bedford.
His son, Frederick T. Bedford, named the farm in honor of the beautiful nyala (antelope) he’d seen on an African safari.
In 1970, Stauffer Chemical developed their world headquarters there. It was Westport’s first corporate office park.
That put an end to scenes like this:
(Robert Vickrey painting, courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)
The cows and sleds are gone. But the well — and the memories — remain.
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