As Westport’s downtown renaissance continues, Seth Schachter sends some fascinating postcards from a far different era.
All 3 show “Fountain Square.” The Post Road (then called State Street)/Main Street intersection was as heavily trafficked — for its time — as it is today.
One of the main attractions was a fountain — actually, a horse trough. (“Trough Square” does not have quite the same ring.)
This 1906 view shows the view looking north on Main Street. The first few buildings on the left look similar to today. The Westporter Hotel (right) was replaced in 1923 by the YMCA.
The view below — also from 1906 — looks west on State Street, toward the Saugatuck River and Norwalk. The building in the center of the photo would soon be demolished for — as the postcard says — “the new Jesup Library.” It would be expanded in the 1950s toward the west.
In 1986 the Westport Public Library moved to its present site near Jesup Green; it was replaced by, among other tenants, Starbucks, Freshii and the recently closed Pop’TArt gallery.
In the scene below, similar to the first photo above — probably from the 1920s — the YMCA had already been built (right). A small park outside the library can be seen at the left. The Main Street streetscape is very recognizable.
A horse drinks contentedly from the trough.
And the street is just as rutted as it is now, a century later.
Over the years I’ve seen tons of photos of the Riverside Avenue/Wilton Road intersection, looking down and east from the Post Road hill.
But until I spotted this one — courtesy of Kathleen Kiska and Michael Tedesco — I’d never seen a view quite like this.
The wide, sharp shot — from 1914 — seems to capture turn-of-the-last-century Westport. A thriving business district existed right alongside residential neighborhoods. The little kid riding a bicycle looks straight out of Norman Rockwell.
But who was in charge of the roads? They look in even worse shape than they are today.
It’s official: Westport schools will open next month with a hybrid model.
Still to be determined: the elementary school schedule. Those students will still alternate between morning and afternoon sessions, but the original plan — to switch which youngsters are in which session every week — may not be utilized. The Board of Education put off a vote on the elementary schedule, pending a parent survey.
In related news: Coleytown Middle School will not be available to begin reopening until November 18. The first day for students will likely be after Thanksgiving.
Our rough roads are getting a bit better.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation has begun a milling and resurfacing project on 1.27 miles of the Post Road, from the Sherwood Island Connector to Maple Avenue.
Certain lanes will be closed from 7:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Work is expected to be done by August 31.
In the first 3 weeks of the project — part of the town’s Zero Food Waste Challenge goal of decreasing residential food waste by at least 25% — Westporters dropped off 2 tons of food at the transfer station.
The site was temporarily closed to enable Department of Public Works staff to assist with cleanup after Tropical Storm Isaias.
Food scrap recycling will resume at the transfer station on the Sherwood Island Connector this Saturday (August 22).
To get a food scrap recycling starter kit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Paparo family was the first to drop off food scraps for Sustainable Westport’s recycling project.
In other environmental news, Wakeman Town Farm is giving away its precious Brown Gold. The all-natural compost/fertilizer is rich in nutrients from WTF’s organic gardens, select organic veggie scraps, and animal manure.
In other words, it’s really good s—.
It’s also free. Just BYOB (bag or bucket), and haul away a load for your fall garden. It’s outside the red barn at 134 Cross Highway.
Wakeman Town Farm’s Brown Gold. BYOB (bag or bucket).
MoCA Westport is selling messenger bags, as a fundraiser.
But these are not glorified grocery bags, with “MoCA” stamped somewhere.
Made of high-quality material and featuring digitally printed artwork, they feature 10 local artists: Trace Burroughs, Yvonne Claveloux, Bethany Czarnecki, Susan Fehlinger, Jana Ireijo, Amy Kaplan, Susan Leggitt, Fruma Markowitz, Dale Najarian and Jay Petrow.
The bags are $200 each. But the opportunity to carry a handsome bag with great art, everywhere you go — while supporting an important Westport institution — is priceless. Click here to see all 10 bags, and purchase (at least) one.
The bag designed by Yvonne Claveloux.
And finally … on August 18, 1920 — exactly 100 years ago today — Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. It was the 36th (and final) state needed, to ensure that women had the right to vote. Less than 3 months later, 26 million women were eligible to vote for the first time in a presidential election.
Every Photo Challenge has a back story. I wish I knew the one behind last week’s.
Downtown, a block of Post Road stores between Myrtle Avenue and Anthropologie (the old YMCA) seems to cut off access to Church Lane, and with it the Spotted Horse restaurant and the shops and galleries of Bedford Square.
Unless, that is, you know the “secret” short cut. A narrow alley slices alongside Urban Outfitters, connecting the 2 streets.
What’s more, the passageway is enlivened by some cool art. Most Westporters don’t know it’s there. But Tom Ryan, Andrew Colabella, Michael Calise, Stacie Curran and Seth Braunstein all identified it through Molly Alger’s reminiscent-of-an-island-somewhere photo. (Click here to see.)
How did the alley get there? Was it planned, or an accident? Who created the art — and was it sponsored or guerrilla? If you know the back story to this hidden downtown gem, let us know!
ProTip: There’s another shortcut between the Post Road and Church Lane too, just east of the alley: the parking garage. You can’t drive through anymore, but you can still walk it.
This week’s Photo Challenge is not exactly a shortcut. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.
The Post Road sure has changed in the century or so since this photo was taken.
Yet 100 years or so later, much of it still looks familiar.
Click on or hover over to enlarge.
In this west-looking view — provided by alert reader/amateur historian Mary Gai — we see the road median, beginning about where the new retail/ residential/office complex is at the foot of Long Lots Road.
Further along on the right is the current site of New Country Toyota, and other buildings that still remain.
At the crest of the hill, on the south (left) is Sakura’s predecessor. Cumberland Farms, Calise’s, a lumber store, small shopping center, Citgo and more have taken over the rest of that side — but the topography is the same. It’s easy to visualize what the Post Road (State Street/US 1) looked like then.
It’s much harder to imagine the almost total lack of traffic.
Last Saturday’s traffic was INSANE. In late afternoon, it took one “06880” reader half an hour to travel from McDonald’s to downtown. Another spent 40 minutes getting from the Post Road to the train station.
Side roads were no better. Cars backed up on Cross Highway from Weston Road all the way to Bayberry Lane.
This was a particularly bad Thanksgiving weekend mess. But more and more, it’s the norm.
An alert “06880” who asked to be identified as GS has had enough. He writes:
I’ve lived in town a long time. I’ve seen the traffic get worse and worse.
You can’t get from here to there anymore. I envision a not-too-distant future in which our property values go down, because traffic has become what Westport is best known for.
One familiar scene …
Anyone who was on the road last Saturday around 6 p.m. can attest: You could have gotten where you were going faster walking than driving.
Do you commute to and from New York by car? It used to be that once you got past Stamford, you were home free. Now you spend 20 minutes just between exits 40 and 41 on the Merritt.
If you’re on I-95 and get off at Exit 17, you’re dead in the water. If you continue on to 18, there is a 5-minute backup on the exit ramp.
Heading from Cross Highway toward Exit 42 at the wrong time of day? That’s a joke. I could go on and on.
For starters, there has to be an immediate ban on development. More people equals more cars.
Then you have to systematically examine the traffic patterns of every intersection, and the timing of every light. Yes, I’m sorry, you will need to replace some of those stop signs with traffic lights.
A few traffic officers stationed in the right places at the right times of day would provide some relief.
We need a plan, and it has to start with limiting new buildings.
Maybe we need to form a special commission. Or perhaps appoint a traffic czar.
Whatever we decide, we have to do something. Traffic in Westport has reached a crucial point.
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