Volunteers turned out in force on Wednesday to rework, repair and clear the Partrick Wetlands trails. The project was organized by Tony McDowell, Earthplace director, with help from Earthplace trustee and director of the former Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund Matthew Mandell.
The group included 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Deputy Chief Sam Arciola, firefighter Mike Acquino, and Jim Donaher and Chris Ventrella of Gault Family Companies. They used chain saws, brush cutters and shears to open up 3 paths that over the years had grown over.
The Partrick Wetland restoration crew.
Earthplace — deeded the property in 2007 by the PWPF — will mark the trails, and install interpretive signs and information.
Westport is lucky to have the Partrick Wetlands at all.
In 2001, a developer proposed building 31 houses on the 55-acre property. Neighbors in Westport and Norwalk formed the PWPF. They opposed the project, citing environmental concerns.
Partrick Wetlands scene. (Photo/Scott Smith)
It took over 5 years, but the advocates prevailed. An agreement deed-restricted 22 acres. Only 13 houses were built on 10 of the remaining acres, leaving the rest of the land undisturbed.
Back in 2009, these youngsters helped with the original trail creation.
The Partrick Wetlands is home to many species of birds and mammals. It is open daily until dusk, on Partrick Road just off Wilton Road.
That led him down the “06880” rabbit hole — and a story on fellow Staples alum Deej Webb’s documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in town.
That spurred him to write and post an essay on his philosophy-and-literature website — 2 of his passions, since he was a teenager.
And THAT led him to send these thoughts to “06880”:
Fitzgerald lived on South Compo Road, near what is now Longshore, in the summer of 1920. J. D. Salinger also lived on South Compo, from about 1950 to 1952.
I read a Salinger short story, and asked my mother, Nancy Hammond, about old Westport. She lived there from 1957 to 1997, and was involved in local politics.
When she arrived, Westport was home to the Famous Artists School, which purported to turn people into artists. Prominent artists like Norman Rockwell lent their names to the scam.
Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School’s faculty.
You would send in a sample of your work. They would write back, saying you had great potential, and should enroll in their school. Salesmen combed the country, recruiting gullible students. Ads filled the newspapers, Money rolled in.
It was so profitable that a Famous Writers School was also established in Westport, using the same template. Bennett Cerf of Random House was a founder. Prominent writers like Clifton Fadiman, Bruce Catton and Mignon Eberhart lent their names. By 1969 the stock price had risen from $5 to $40.
The next year, Jessica Mitford published an exposé, called “Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers,” in the Atlantic Monthly. An investigation was launched, the stock price fell, and in 1972 the Famous Writers School went bankrupt.
When J.D. Salinger moved to Westport, Famous Artists School had been going for 2 years. It’s likely that he heard about the school. In 1952 he published a short story about an art correspondence school, called “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”
When I was growing up in Westport, the phrase “Famous Artists” rang in my ears. The school rented space from Eddie Nash on Riverside Avenue. Since money was rolling in, they decided to build a new headquarters.
They chose my neighborhood as the site. Specifically, they selected an area we called the Gravel Pit. Now known as Partrick Wetlands, it’s between Partrick Road, Wilton Road, the Merritt Parkway and Newtown Turnpike.
According to rumor — spread by my mother, in countless phone conversations — Famous Artists School planned to build a large office, with a parking lot for 1,000 cars.
My mother banded together with other neighbors, and formed a group called Families for a Residential Westport.
A pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)
They referred to their opponents as the Boyd Group (or The Boyds). John Boyd was a prominent Westport lawyer, who favored business and development. One of his allies, Lu Villalon, ran the local newspaper, the Town Crier.
My parents were Republicans. So were the Boyds. The battle over Famous Artists wasn’t a Republican-Democratic battle, or a conservative-liberal one. It was a development battle, similar to those fought in thousands of American towns.
My mother’s group won the battle. Famous Artists never moved to my neighborhood. They built their new headquarters on Wilton Road, along the river.
Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.
The next development battle in Westport was over Cockenoe Island, where Northeast Utilities proposed building a power plant. Anti-development forces used the fledgling newspaper, the Westport News, to help rally support. The anti-development forces won, and the paper became the dominant one in town.
A third battle was fought over a dairy farm, Nyala, where Stauffer Chemical proposed building their headquarters. They won that fight.
Fortunately, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house is still standing. I plan to take a look on my next visit to Westport.
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