Tag Archives: Stauffer Chemical

Photo Challenge #236

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.

do know where this week’s Photo Challenge is. If you do too, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Gene Borio)

Jim Hammond, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Famous Writers And The Westport History Rabbit Hole

Jim Hammond grew up in Westport. He graduated from Staples High School in 1979, but has not been back for a long time.

Jim Hammond

A few weeks ago, he heard about the controversy surrounding TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest.

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.

JD Salinger

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.

And maybe I’ll visit Partrick Wetlands too.

Water Under The Bridge?

Save the Children‘s possible move out of its Wilton Road headquarters has generated plenty of headlines.

And you’d have to be living, brain dead, under a very large rock to not know that the Westport Y‘s move 2 miles up that same Wilton Road has caused considerable agita in town.

Why, then, has the proposed relocation of Westport’s largest employer — and biggest taxpayer — been met with a thunderous round of “meh”?

Bridgewater logoBridgewater Associates employs 1,200 people. It pays $500,000 a year in taxes. In 5 years, though, they hope to take all those workers — and tax dollars — down I-95 to Stamford.

(Then again, maybe not. On Monday the CT Mirror posted a long story describing opposition to the 750,000-square foot headquarters — “smack in the middle of a high-risk flood zone.”

(Plus, some folks are atwitter that Bridgewater will receive $115 million in state assistance to ease the move. The firm has $130 billion under management. And CEO Ray Dallio — worth $10 billion himself — is one of the world’s richest men, according to Forbes magazine.)

Oh, did I mention that Bridgewater Associations is not just “a” hedge fund. It is, according to CNN Money, the largest hedge fund.

On the planet.

Whoa! So not only is Bridgewater Westport’s largest employer and taxpayer — it’s also the mother of all hedge funds.

This guy does not work at Bridgewater Associates. At least, I don't think he does.

This guy does not work at Bridgewater Associates. At least, I don’t think he does.

Yet when was the last time you heard anyone say anything about them leaving?

Or, in fact, the last time someone said something about the fact that they’re even here?

I understand hedge funds are somewhat secretive. But think of the big corporations we’ve had in Westport.

Everyone knows Save the Children. Its predecessor, Famous Artists Schools, was also world-famous. (Okay, they had to get their name out there. Their customers were people paying a few dollars to learn to draw and write, not fabulously wealthy customers hoping to become even fabulously wealthier.)

But when Marketing Corporation of America — the world’s largest marketing firm, at the time — was headquartered on Riverside Avenue, everyone in town sure knew they were here.

Tauck logo 2 We knew Tauck Tours was here too. They’re the company that invented the group travel industry, then modernized it with high-end, worldwide itineraries.

Same with Stauffer Chemical, which made (hey, someone had to) herbicides for corn and rice.

And before that, Embalmers’ Supply Company — yes, the largest in the world — called Westport home.

All of those businesses — big, robust, important — were integral parts of Westport. As corporations, they were good neighbors. As human beings, the men and women who worked there were our neighbors.

But Bridgewater has been virtually invisible. Scattered in 5 locations — the 2 biggest sites are the old Glendinning building on Weston Road (very convenient to scooting on and off the Merritt Parkway) and Nyala Farm (ditto for 95) — it was easy for the hard-working, high-rolling hedge fund men and women to have little to do with Westport life.

Bridgewater Associates' Weston Road headquarters.

Bridgewater Associates’ Weston Road headquarters.

When Bridgewater leaves Westport, 5 or so years from now, we’ll miss their tax dollars.

But I don’t know that we’ll miss them. Because, really, were they ever really here?