Whenever a minister moves to a new church, there’s a story.
The story was particularly intriguing when Rev. Alison Patton came to Saugatuck Congregational Church.
It’s one of our oldest congregations. In fact, the meetinghouse was where Westport was founded — from parts of Norwalk, Fairfield and Weston — in 1835.
Even more intriguing: The new pastor did not actually have a church to preach and work in. It was closed for rebuilding, after a Thanksgiving fire that nearly burned it to the ground.
What impelled her to take on that challenge? What has she learned about Westport in the years since? Why is social justice so important to her church, and to her personally? What drives her interfaith work in Westport?
Those are some of the topics Rev. Patton and I discussed in the latest “06880” podcast. Now — thanks to the Westport Library– you can hear our conversation. Just click below.
Tonight marks the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht — the night the Nazis’ repressive policies toward Jews turned violent. At least 91 men, women and children were murdered; 1,000 synagogues were attacked and vandalized, with over 300 demolished, and at least 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed.
The number of eyewitnesses to those horrors is rapidly fading. But tonight, a special commemoration (Tuesday, Saugatuck Congregational Church, 7 p.m., in person and livestream) includes Ruth Zimbler. As a child, she watched her synagogue in Vienna burn.
Two days later, she and her 6-year-old brother escaped on the Kindertransport to the Netherlands. Her story — filled with love, hope and optimism — is a chance to hear from a survivor who was old enough to remember, and at 93 still young enough to tell her story.
The event will be moderated by Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld, professor of Germanic Studies at Fairfield University. Click here for the YouTube livestream link; click here for the Facebook link.
Co-sponsors include The Conservative Synagogue, Temple Israel, Federation for Jewish Philanthropy, and Merkaz Community High School for Judaic Studies.
Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center once again hosts the long-running institution. The winter market opens Thursday, November 18. It runs every Thursday (except Thanksgiving) through March 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
It’s open-air, throughout 3 greenhouses. Favorite summer vendors return, with high-quality locally grown or raised fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, milk, baked and prepared foods, plus handmade items.
WFM kicks off the season with a celebration. Bubble and Brew, and Parlor Pizza, will set up trucks outside the greenhouses. Staples graduate Luke Molina will play music. while Mae Farrell entertains youngsters in the Get Growing program with a nature-inspired craft.
A Riverside Avenue improvement project — involving demolition of the concrete roadwaym and reconstruction of the pavement — begins today.
Traffic on Riverside Avenue between Bridge Street and Saugatuck Avenue (the area of Viva Zapata and the Saugatuck Rowing Club) will be restricted to northbound (headed toward the Post Road) vehicles only. All southbound traffic will detour down Saugatuck Avenue to Charles Street.
During paving — planned for this Thursday and Friday — the road section will be closed to all but local traffic. All other traffic will be detoured around Charles Street and Saugatuck Avenue.
“Doubt: A Parable” — the thought-provoking play running now at the Westport Country Playhouse — has earned great praise.
But no one has mentioned that Kerstin Anderson — the woman playing the young nun — has a Westport connection. She’s the daughter of 1976 Staples High School graduate Ted Anderson, and the niece of longtime “06880” reader Britt Anderson.
Neither Ted nor Britt live in Westport now. But both were on hand opening night. They were proud of Kerstin — no “doubt”!
Kerstin Anderson and her aunt Britt Anderson, at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Saugatuck Congregational Church has been awarded a $50,000 Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program grant. Funds allow congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.
Rev. Alison Patton will begin her 3-month sabbatical in June. She will volunteer with a marine conservation program in the Maldives, and spend time with her family on a regenerative farm in Costa Rica.
Patton says, “I used to think I wanted to be a marine biologist. I now know I’m not a scientist; I am an admirer of the natural world in all its rich biodiversity. In the face of a worsening climate crisis and multiplying threats to biodiversity, I believe we are called to help craft a sustainable future for our planet. I am excited to use this time to take a deep dive into 2 biodiverse environments, to witness the impact of climate change, explore what’s being done to combat it and share some of that adventure with my family.”
Kim Mathias — moderator of Saugatuck’s Church Council — says the congregation will also benefit from this time of rest and renewal.
“Spending time outdoors during the pandemic and working on this grant application have fueled SCC’s interest in environmental issues,” she notes. “While Patton is away, the congregation will deepen its connection with our local ecosystem, exploring the beautiful coastal community of Westport and surrounding towns and digging deeper into the issues surrounding climate change. They look forward to renewing relationships with one another while learning how to better protect our coastal environment.”
Rev. Alison Patton
AAPI Westport was created in March 2021, following a rise in violence and racism against the Asian community. The mission of the group — which stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — is to foster a sense of belonging within the community, while increasing AAPI visibility and awareness throughout Westport and beyond.
The organizers — all mothers — hope to create an environment where their children feel proud of their heritage.
Speaking of sports: The Staples High School boys soccer team raised thousands of dollars for their program — and several thousand more for Bridgeport Central High School’s soccer team — at last night’s annual Quiz Night.
The winning trivia team — Jacob Greenberger, Jackson Hochhauser Spencer Levine, Murilo Moreno, Jaden Mueller and Caleb Tobias. plus Oliver Clachko, wrestler/lacrosse player Nick Augeri and lacrosse player/WWPT-FM sports director Max Udell — answered questions like “What was the first word spoken on the moon?” (“Houston”), what is the only mammal that can fly (bats), and what is the first game played in “Squid Game” (Red Light Green Light).
They also took first place last year during COVID, when Quiz Night was virtual. This year’s event — which drew about 150 participants — returned again to the Staples cafeteria.
Westport’s Thanksgiving Community Feast is a longstanding town — and interfaith — tradition.
It’s tough to commit to this year, as COVID lingers. But it’s too good to give up, even for one November.
Organizers want to continue the community spirit. And they remain committed to combatting food insecurity.
So they’re inviting households needing food support to request assistance by completing a confidential request form, or calling 203-666-9804. Requests will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-serve basis, through gift cards.
The Thanksgiving Feast Fund is managed by Saugatuck Congregational Church — longtime host of the in-person event — and made possible by community donations.
The event will include homemade cards from Coleytown Elementary School, pies from Temple Israel, and home-baked bread from Bedford Middle School.
Organizers hope people who have volunteered for past Thanksgiving Feasts — and those who have not, too! — will consider a financial contribution, to cover costs of gift cards and future Thanksgiving community gatherings.
Donations are welcome. Click here; then click on the green button, and choose “Thanksgiving Feast.”
Westport’s Community Thanksgiving Feast will look different this year.
I’ll admit I got a little breathless when I received a Sundance email headlined, “Visit Our New Store in Westport.”
Westport?! This catalog has served as my retail therapy vision board for years; the source of countless subtle, dog-eared “tips” I’ve left for my spouse re birthday and holiday gifts.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Robert Redford-stamped brand, think Millie Rae’s meets Anthropologie — high-end, carefully curated, bohemian-Southwest-y silver and gold jewelry, as well as clothes, shoes and housewares.
I can’t wait to see how they deck out their brick-and-mortar store on Main Street (the former Ann Taylor — it’s only their 18th retail location). Am I excited enough about it to get the free gift for booking an “early access appointment”?
Why yes, actually, I might be. If they do this right, I think it’s about as perfect a fit for Westport as any catalogue-come-to-life could be.
Tracy Rosen offers a shout-out for a local business.
The other afternoon, she and a friend went to Shearwater for coffee. But they close at 4 p.m.
They decided instead to have a glass of wine next door, at Ignazio’s Pizza.
“They couldn’t have been nicer!” Tracy says.
“They set up a table for us outside, and lit a wood-burning fire pit. They were so hospitable, just letting us sit there with our wine, never pushing us to order anything else. But their pizza smells amazing!”
An opening reception this Friday (May 14, 4 to 7 p.m.) showcases “A Glimpse Ahead.” The figurative exhibit focuses on summer, with artwork that includes swimmers, surfers, pool scenes and waterscapes. The aim is to create a sense of peace, relaxation and joy.
Among the artists: Westporter Dale Najarian. She contributes abstracted waterscapes on canvas and wood panel.
A few dozen Westporters celebrated Good Friday yesterday through a marking of the Stations of the Cross. The walk was a call to dismantle racism, and pursue racial justice.
“Give us eyes to see how the past has shaped the complex present,” said Rev. John Betit of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Participants stopped at several sites related to Black history in Westport. Christ & Holy Trinity, Saugatuck Congregational Church and the Westport Museum of History & Culture collaborated for the event.
After an initial prayer in the Christ & Holy Trinity courtyard, the group headed to the entrance of the church parking lot on Elm Street.
Rev. John Betis, at Christ & Holy Trinity Church: the first Station of the Cross. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)
They looked across at Bedford Square. In the 1940s, it was the back of a boarding house — accessible through an alley at 22 1/2 Main Street (later the entrance to Bobby Q’s) — that was the hub of a thriving Black community.
By 1949 though, it was considered a slum. The town would not grant permits for improvements. In December, residents asked the RTM to be considered for the affordable housing being built at Hales Court. They were denied.
In January 1950 — 8 days after a newspaper wondered what would happen if a fire broke out there — that is exactly what happened. Unable to obtain housing anywhere else in town, the Black community scattered — and disappeared forever.
Heading to the next Station of the Cross. (Photo courtesy of Christ & Holy Trinity Church)
The next station was the site of the former Ebenezer Coley general store, at the Main Street entrance to Parker Harding Plaza. The original outline of that saltbox building remains; it’s the former Remarkable Book Shop and (later) Talbots.
The river came up to the back of the store. Enslaved people loaded grain grown at the Coley farm onto ships bound for New York. There it was loaded onto larger ships, which sailed to the West Indies where it fed other enslaved Blacks.
The group then walked a few steps to the Museum of History & Culture. Ebenezer Coley’s son Michael owned the home at the corner of Avery Place and Myrtle Avenue. He managed the Coley store, and oversaw the enslaved people.
Bricks bear the names of over 240 enslaved and 20 free people of color, part of the parish of Greens Farms Congregational Church. They appear in the church log book as births, baptisms, marriages and deaths.
Owners brought their enslaved people into church for services, though they — and freemen — had to stand in the balcony above the sanctuary.
Bricks at the Westport Museum of History & Culture honor more than 200 Black men, women and children from the 18th and 19th centuries. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)
A short walk up Evergreen Avenue brought the group to the Saugatuck Church cemetery. Cyrus Brown — who, like many others affecte by racism and legal bias, went from being a landowner and farmer to a servant of the Gorham family — is buried there.
Brown’s relationship with the Gorhams was evidently strong. He is buried in the family’s plot, with a high quality headstone of his own.
A stop at Evergreen Cemetery. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)
After that final station, worshipers walked through the woods to the Saugatuck Church property. The labyrinth on the lawn provided space and time for final Good Friday reflections.
Walking through the woods, to Saugatuck Church. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)
A final stop at Saugatuck Church. (Photo/Bob Mitchell)
(Historical background provided by the Westport Museum for History & Culture.)
Frederica Brenneman — a pioneering Connecticut judge, longtime Westport resident and the inspiration for the popular TV series “Judging Amy” — died peacefully in Woodland Hills, California last month, after a long illness. She was 94.
In 1943, at the age of 16, the Ann Arbor, Michigan native left for Radcliffe College. She fell in love with the East Coast, and made it her home for the next 73 years.
In 1950 was accepted to the first class of women admitted to Harvard Law School. There she met her husband of 65 years, Russell Brenneman. They married in 1951 — the first married couple to graduate from Harvard Law.
Frederica (Freddie) Brenneman.
In 1967, the mother of 3 young children, Frederica was working as a law clerk to the Connecticut Legislature’s Judiciary Committee when the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark In Re Gault decision, held that children facing delinquency proceedings are entitled to due process of law — including the constitutional right to legal counsel. In the wake of this decision, Connecticut’s Juvenile Court doubled in size.
Frederica was appointed to the court, becoming the second female judge in state history. In 1978 she became a Superior Court judge.
Judge Brenneman was an influential figure in the field of juvenile justice, from its modern beginnings in 1967 and throughout her long career. She specialized in abuse and neglect cases, pushed for stronger legal protections for children, shaped clear statewide protocols and case law, trained countless judges, and educated caseworkers, attorneys, parents, and the public on court procedures. In 1979 she helped found Children in Placement, which monitors and supports children in Connecticut’s foster care system.
Over the years, Judge Brenneman and her work were recognized and honored by a wide range of organizations, including the Connecticut Bar Association, Radcliffe College, St. John’s University and Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, among others. In 2013 Harvard Law School lauded her, saying: “Venerable jurist and trailblazer, your distinguished contributions in the field of law as a passionate advocate for juvenile rights set an unparalleled standard for all graduates of Harvard Law School.”
Frederica (Freddie, to her friends) was a passionate lover of the arts, especially theater. She loved Tanglewood, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Broadway. She served as a deacon of South Congregational Church in Glastonbury, and Saugatuck Congregational Church.
Rev. Alison Patton says:
Freddie and her husband Russ were longtime Westport residents, and devoted members at Saugatuck Church. The bench next to our labyrinth was placed there in memory of Russ, 3 years ago.
Freddie inspired us all. As Judge Brenneman, she had an immeasurable positive impact on the lives of at-risk children in Connecticut. As Freddie, she gifted us at Saugatuck with her quick wit, clear thinking and abiding friendship. We miss her!
She was an avid traveler (Turkey and Tuscany were favorites) and an engaged alumna of both her undergraduate and graduate schools. From 1999 to 2005 Frederica served as advisor on the television drama, “Judging Amy,” which was inspired by her life and work, and which she co-created with her daughter Amy.
With her dignity, grace, humor and fierce intelligence, Frederica enjoyed a large and diverse circle of devoted friends, family and protégés, both within and outside the legal profession.
Frederica is survived by her sons Matthew and Andrew (Dr. Karen Cruz-Brenneman) and daughter Amy (Brad Silberling), and 5 grandchildren: Granger Brenneman, Charlotte and Bodhi Silberling, and Ava and Charles Brenneman.
This could be one of my favorite “old Westport” photos ever. And not just because it shows the spot where I live today.
Westport Country Playhouse public relations manager Pat Blaufuss found it in the archives. There is no photographer’s credit, but it’s dated 1969.
There’s the Playhouse, midway up the right side of the photo. (Click on or hover over to enlarge). It’s been modernized, but looks pretty much the same.
Saugatuck Congregational Church on the left has not changed much. Neither have the gas stations: the one that is now Quality just east of the church, and the (now) Mobil across the Post Road. The buildings with (among others) Winslow Park Animal Hospital were there then too (lower right).
But the rest of the area is unrecognizable.
The big Victorian at the top was the Pine Knoll Inn. It was demolished in the early 1980s, making way for Playhouse Square and the Playhouse Condominiums behind it.
The long rectangular building with a white facade directly opposite the gas pumps was a car wash. I’m not sure what the white building set back from the Post Road in the entrance to Pine Knoll was, though I dimly recall the original Viva Zapata’s restaurant being somewhere around there.
And the smaller white structure to the immediate right of the Quality (then Tydol, later Getty) gas station, on the Post Road?
Originally a Dairy Queen, in the 1960’s it became the Crest Drive-In. It was a classic hangout for Staples students, a place for guys to show off their cars and girls to get guys to pay for their burgers.
Eventually the Crest gave way to Sam Goody, Alphagraphics and Qdoba. Today it sits as empty as the lot behind it was, that day in 1969 when an unknown photographer took this time capsule shot.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to “06880” c/o Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)