Tag Archives: Westport Historical Society

Young Education Director Teaches Old History

The Westport Historical Society works hard to make the past come alive in the present.

Though they offer many exciting programs for kids and teenagers, WHS staff and volunteers skew — well, not “historical” exactly, but certainly “older.”

Which is why everyone there eagerly welcomed Nicole Carpenter. In her first job after graduating from college, she’s embraced her new role — director of education and programs — with energy and joy.

And with a nod to Westport’s long legacy.

Nicole Carpenter, with a Westport Historical Society award.

“I’m passionate about history and art,” Carpenter says. “This town has a great blend of both. It’s fascinating to learn about the history, and all the artists and other people who lived here.”

The Brookfield, Vermont native attended Castleton University. She majored in art history and painting, with minors in history and business administration.

Then it was off to Syracuse University, where she earned a master’s in museum studies.

Last year, when Carpenter’s boyfriend landed a job as the Wilton Historical Society collections manager, his boss there recommended her for the Westport education role.

At the time, Carpenter knew little about Westport beyond its reputation as an artists’ and writers’ haven. But she used her research skills — online, and using actual books.

When she began work in September, Sven Selander — and many other Westporters — told her “tons of stories.”

Carpenter has found Westport to be “both similar to and different from the rest of New England.” It’s larger and more urban than her Vermont home. But residents in both places have “a deep appreciation of where they live.” Westporters, she says, “are really, really proud of their town.”

Among her many duties, she particularly enjoys leading school tours, and outreach programs like History on Wheels. The WHS recently sponsored a Colonial Family Fun Day. She also helped organize speakers for walking tours and the Danbury raid exhibit.

Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s Avery Place home — in a painting by famed local artist Stevan Dohanos. Nicole Carpenter loves the town’s artistic heritage — and its vibrant present.

Carpenter cites 2 particularly big accomplishments. One is the 3rd grade tour of Wheeler House involving students, teachers, administrators, curators and historians. “It’s so much fun to see kids discover their town’s history,” she says.

The other was the “Come Build Westport” Lego project in March. As children “constructed” Town Hall, National Hall and the WHS’ Wheeler House itself, they (and their parents) learned a lot about how the town grew.

Carpenter’s most recent project — undertaken with 7 high school interns — was the first-ever 1st grade tour.

She looks forward to 3 week-long camps this summer.

Then Carpenter begins planning for next year. She’s already an “old-timer.”

Though still a very young one.

The Historical Society That Rocks!

One of the most persistent urban suburban legends in Westport is that the Doors played a concert in the Staples High School auditorium.

Also the Animals, Yardbirds, Sly & the Family Stone and a host of other rock ‘n’ roll legends.

It’s all true.

To find out more, you can click here to read an “06880” story from 2014.

You can click here to download “The Real Rock & Roll High School,” Mark Smollin’s meticulously researched, fantastically illustrated and awe-inducing history of that remarkable era in Westport history.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society. “The High School That Rocked!” opens tomorrow (Friday, June 16, 6 p.m. reception). The exhibit runs through September 2.

The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” part of the exhibit’s stacks of wax.

The walls are filled with photos, posters, ticket stubs  and press clippings from and about those mid-’60s concerts. A record player sits near the entrance, with a stack of 45s; choose your favorite, and play it. (Kids: Ask your grandparents how!)

A screen plays clips from the “High School That Rocked,” the video that inspired this show. Staples Class of 1971 graduate Fred Cantor produced the documentary, with much younger (Class of 2014) filmmaker Casey Denton.

Cantor also curated this show, with ’70 Staples grad Mary Palmieri Gai.

Ironically, Cantor never saw any of those concerts. He still can’t figure out how he missed them.

Fifty years later, he’s made up for all that. He zeroed in on some of the most recognizable names — the Doors, Cream, Animals, Rascals, Yardbirds, and Westport’s own Remains — but also includes information about proms (the Blues Magoos played for the seniors, the Blues Project and Left Banke for the juniors), and Lester Lanin’s short-lived Nines Club discotheque (with groups like the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians).

Miggs Burroughs — who has his own rock ‘n’ roll stories — puts the finishing touches on the Westport Historical Society exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The exhibit pays homage to Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini — Staples students who had the vision (and audacity) to bring those bands to Westport — and to Cantor’s classmates Charlie Karp (Buddy Miles’ sideman), Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom still rock the music industry.

The Westport Historical Society usually highlights events like the Revolutionary War. This is quite a different show.

Then again, so were the ’60s at Staples.

(Other cultural venues are tying in to the WHS exhibit. The Westport Cinema Initiative screens the “High School That Rocked” video on Saturday, July 15 [4 p.m., Town Hall]. The Westport Library hosts a panel discussion on ’60s music on Monday, August 14. And the Levitt Pavilion may soon announce — well, stayed tuned for that one!)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. The copyrighted photo by Jeremy Ross is part of the “School That Rocked” exhibit.

Get Your Historic Home Preservation Tax Credits Here!

One of the constant themes on “06880” — not as popular as entitled drivers and parkers, but then what is? — is real estate.

Specifically: tearing down an old home, or preserving it.

There are valid arguments on both sides of the (picket) fence. But here’s something homeowners considering both options may not know:

Connecticut has a statewide Historic Preservation Office.

And a Historic Homes Rehabilitation Tax Credit program.

Normally, you’d have to dig to find that information. But on Saturday, May 20 (10 a.m. to 12 noon, Westport Historical Society), an architectural preservationist for the state will present a workshop on that important topic.

Alyssa Lozupone — whose office is part of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development — will discuss the application process. She’ll describe financial calculations, plus standards for work (including such now-that-I-think-of it questions like “Can I power wash the exterior?”).

Marc Lotti — a former member of Westport’s Historic District Commission — will be there too. He’ll discuss his very successful use of the program to restore his Kings Highway North home.

Marc Lotti’s historically preserved home.

Preservation can be more costly than other alternatives. But ours is one of the few states that offers tax credits for saving historic structures.

Of course, to take advantage you first have to know about them.

Now you do.

(Click here for more information on the May 20 event.)

The Rich History Of Westport’s Poorhouse

Did every old structure in Westport start somewhere else?

Saugatuck Congregational Church, the Birchwood Country Club clubhouse and Bedford Hall at the Westport Woman’s Club are 3 examples.

This coming Monday (May 1, 3 p.m.), Project Return takes the spotlight.

The North Compo Road home — a converted 8-bed farmhouse that since 1983 has housed scores of girls and young women from Westport and surrounding towns — will receive a historic significance plaque.

Project Return, on North Compo Road.

Turns out the building — sitting handsomely but unobtrusively between Little League fields and the Town Farm tennis courts — has quite a history.

It started out in what is now Playhouse Square, nearly 200 years ago.

In 1901 it became the town “poor house.”

More than a century later, it still serves folks in need.

Bob Weingarten — WHS house history chair — says the structure was built in 1824. A decade after that, it became part of the Kemper tannery. In 1930, that land became the Westport Country Playhouse.

In 1864, Charles Kemper Sr. moved it to property he bought from Samuel Gorham on North Compo.

The town of Westport purchased it in 1901, for use as an almshouse. At that point, by renting space in individual homes, we were spending more money on indigents than surrounding towns. Buying the entire farm, including the house of 13 rooms, for $2,750 could save us at least $1,000 a year.

“Town Poor House,” circled on a 1911 map.

In 1927, a man named Alfred Violet — the same person who gave his name to the road off Myrtle Avenue? — found sanitary conditions there “absolutely unbelievable.” Chimneys were crumbling; windows furnished “practically no protection at all against the weather … and the grounds have been used for the past years as a garbage dump.” Approximately 15 children lived there.

It’s uncertain how long the “town farm” operated as a poorhouse. The site was considered for a town garage. From 1975-83 it was rented to James Drought, a noted writer.

After he died, the house deteriorated. Kate McGraw — assistant superintendent of special education for the Westport school system — had the idea to use it as a residence for girls whose parents could not keep them at home.

Renovation $100,000. Many local organizations and individuals contributed funds, labor, materials and furniture.

1st Selectman Bill Seiden championed Project Return. 2nd Selectman Barbara Butler — later named town human services director — helped negotiate a $1-a-year lease.

That contract is still in effect. Project Return pays for all interior and exterior maintenance, and utilities. The town pays for tuition of each girl, while parents pay residential costs.

The safe, nurturing home has helped over 160 girls rebuild their lives. Project Return has evolved with the times — most recently last year, when the state stopped funding group homes for youth. Homes With Hope merged with the organization, ensuring a seamless transition.

Monday’s plaque presentation will include representatives of the town of Westport, Project Return and Homes With Hope, plus Kate McGraw’s daughter Sarah and 2 of James Drought’s children, Hank and Sarah.

It will be a fitting tribute to an important town structure — one that, like so many others, has ended up in a very different place than it began.

Literally.

High Point Road, One Brick At A Time

My parents moved to Westport in March of 1956. A blizzard prevented the truck from going up the driveway. The movers hauled just one bed inside, so my parents spent their first night in a barren bedroom.

My mother died in that same room almost a year ago.

This winter, my sisters and I sold her house. That ended 60 years of the Woog family on High Point Road.

It was quite a run.

I guess that qualified me for an email the other day from current High Point residents. The Westport Historical Society is building a Brickwalk, and my old street is going all in.

A special stone will say “High Point — The Best Road in Town,” with residents adding their own bricks engraved with the year they moved in.

I was honored to be asked. When she died, my mother had lived on High Point longer than anyone else.

The Woog brick will say “1956-2016.” But there’s no way that small rectangle can encompass 6 decades of life there.

High Point is the longest cul-de-sac road in town. Call me biased, but it’s also the best.

I was so fortunate to have grown up where and when I did. My parents — both in their early 30s — had no idea what High Point would become when they moved out of my grandparents’ house in New Rochelle, and up to this much smaller town.

Rod Serling and his family celebrating Christmas, at their High Point Road home.

They had a few friends here — including my father’s Antioch College pal, an already famous writer named Rod Serling. He and his wife Carol had just moved to High Point. There were plenty of building lots available, so my parents bought one.

The price — for an acre of land, and a new house — was $27,000.

As I grew up, so did High Point. My parents were among the first dozen or so families. Today there are 70.

I watched woods and fields turn into homes. Nearly each was unique, with its own design.

And nearly each had a kid my age.

My childhood — at least, my memory of it — was filled with endless days of bike riding, “hacking around,” and kickball at the cul-de-sac (we called it “the turnaround”).

At dinnertime in spring and summer, we’d wander into someone’s house. Someone’s mother would feed us. Then it was back outside, for more games.

When my parents chose High Point, they were only vaguely aware that the new high school being built on North Avenue was, basically, in the back yard of our neighbors across the street.

Having Staples so near was a formative experience. My friends and I played baseball, touch football and other sports on the high school fields. We watched as many football, basketball and baseball games as we could, in awe of the guys just a few years older. Once, we snuck into a dance in the cafeteria. (We did not last long.)

This aerial view from 1965 shows the separate buildings of Staples High School. Behind the athletic fields is High Point Road. My parents’ house is shown with an arrow.

There were enough kids on High Point to have an entire bus to ourselves (with, it should be noted, only 3 or 4 bus stops on the entire road).

But by 5th grade, my friends and I were independent enough to walk through Staples, across North Avenue and past Rippe’s farm, on our way to Burr Farms Elementary School.

We talked about nothing, and everything, on our way there and back. It was a suburban version of “Stand By Me,” and to this day I cherish those times.

The young families on our street grew up together. There were block parties every fall, carol sings at Christmas.

Every summer Saturday, Ray the Good Humor man made his rounds. High Point Road probably put his kids through college.

Spring and summer were also when — every Monday — one family opened their pool to the entire street. With 40 boys cannonballing, racing around the slippery deck and throwing balls at 40 girls’ heads, I’m amazed we all lived to tell the tale. I can’t imagine any family doing that today.

From the front, it was an average home on a wonderful road …

But that was High Point Road, back in the day. It was not all perfect, of course. Some of the older kids were a bit “Lord of the Flies”-ish (and the amount of misinformation they taught us about sex was staggering).

Behind closed doors, there was the same bad stuff that goes on anywhere (and everywhere).

But I would not have traded growing up on High Point Road for any place. As much as any street could, it formed me and made me who I am today.

… but the back yard was beautiful.

High Point Road has changed, of course. Many original houses are gone, replaced by much larger ones that could be on any Westport street. There are plenty of kids there now, but each has his or her personal bus stop. And I don’t think I’ve seen any gang of kids riding bikes since, well, we did it.

Still, it’s a wonderful road. The “new” residents have kept that neighborhood feel. There are social events. And they always welcomed — and looked out for — my mother.

Of course, you can’t put any of that on a brick.

So ours will just proudly say: “The Woog Family. Jim, Jo, Dan, Sue, Laurie. 1956-2016.”

And that says it all.

(Westport Historical Society bricks are available in sizes 4×8 and 8×8. They can include a custom logo, with a family row of 5 bricks for the price of 4. For more information, click here.)

Acorn Squash Soup Still Mmmmm Good — After 240 Years!

The Spotted Horse is not an old-fashioned place. It’s got a fresh menu, and a lively bar scene.

But it does call itself a “tavern.” It’s housed in a 215-year-old building.

And now it’s serving a dish from the Revolutionary War.

No, the acorn squash soup wasn’t made all those years ago. But it was popular then. And all the ingredients date from 1777.

The soup is tied in to the current Westport Historical Society exhibit. “The British Are Coming!” celebrates this month’s 240th anniversary of the Redcoats’ landing at Compo Beach.

(They were headed for Danbury, to burn an arsenal. We — well, some of our ancestors — surprised them along South Compo on the way north, then engaged them in a big battle on Compo Hill when they returned.)

As part of the exhibit, WHS board member Ed Hynes asked the restaurant to feature something from that period. They chose the soup.

Acorn squash was plentiful here then. Allspice — another key ingredient — was a popular import from the Caribbean.

Both Hynes and WHS immediate past president Ed Gerber have enjoyed the Spotted Horse soup. They call it “delicious.”

It will be featured all month.

At a 2017 — not, unfortunately, 1777 — price.

(For a full list of all “The British Are Coming!” events, click here. The exhibit runs through May 29.)

Acorn squash soup

School Daze

It’s midterm time at Staples High School — so how about a pop quiz for everyone?

The subject is “Westport schools.” The answers are below. No cheating though — and no Googling!

  1. How many students were in Staples’ first graduating class? And what was special about them?
  2. Edward T. Bedford provided the funds for Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High. But he also helped build another Westport school. Which was it?
  3. If you went looking for the old Burr Farms Elementary School, what would you find there today?
  4. True or false: The Doors, Eric  Clapton, Rascals and Rolling Stones all performed at Staples.
  5. Name 2 predecessors of Greens Farms Academy.
  6. If a sneaker brand was associated with Bedford Middle School, what would it be?
  7. A longtime principal of the original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street shares the same last name as the founder of one of Westport’s first private academies. What is that name?
  8. The 2nd principal of Staples High School has a parkway in Connecticut named for him. Who was he?
  9. Two  Staples High School athletic teams practiced in the basement of the old school, on Riverside Avenue. Which teams were they?
  10. Many decades ago, the Westport Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum. Why?
Edward T. Bedford is the benefactor of not 1, not 2, but 3 Westport schools.

Edward T. Bedford is the benefactor of not 1, not 2, but 3 Westport schools.

Before I give the answers, here’s the reason for today’s quiz:

On Sunday, January 29 (3 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts a reception for its new exhibit.

“Westport School Days: 1703-Present” offers a wide and fascinating look at the evolution of education here in town. From the first formal class (on “Green’s Farms Common”), through the growth of private academies and public schools, to today’s nationally renowned system, there’s a lot to learn.

Maps, photos and memorabilia — report cards! a bench from the original Adams Academy! — make for intriguing viewing.

Whether you went to school here or not — and whether you were an A student or spent all your time in the principal’s office — this is one exhibit not to be absent for.

And now, your test results:

  1. There were 6 students in Staples’ first graduating class. All were girls.
  2. Edward T. Bedford helped build both Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High — and also Greens Farms El.
  3. Burr Farms Elementary School is now the site of large homes, on Burr School Road. The athletic fields are still there, however.
  4. False. All of those acts actually did appear at Staples — except the Stones.
  5. Greens Farms Academy’s predecessors include Mrs. Bolton’s School and the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School.
  6. A sneaker brand associated with Bedford Middle School would be Nike. The school is built on the former site of Nike missile silos.
  7. Both the boys and girls rifle teams practiced in the basement of Staples High School, when it was on Riverside Avenue. There was a shooting range down there.
  8. Dorothy Adams was the longtime principal of Saugatuck Elementary School. Ebenezer Adams founded Adams Academy. Both buildings remain. Saugatuck is now elderly housing on Bridge Street; Adams Academy is a historic site on North Morningside Drive.
  9. The Wilbur Cross Parkway is named for Staples High’s 2nd principal. He went on to become a distinguished professor at Yale University — and the governor of Connecticut.
  10. The Board of Education rejected a proposal to add Spanish to the foreign language curriculum because they believed it would have little value for Westport students.

(For more information on the Westport Historical Society exhibit, click here.)

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue ...

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue …

... and the school today.(Photo/Julie Mombello)

… and the school today. (Photo/Julie Mombello)

Where Westport Meets The (Art) World

“06880” is not in the business of promoting upcoming art exhibits. There are too many worthy ones — how can I single out any?

But rules are made to be broken. Two upcoming events are well worth your time. Both have local roots — and are also of global interest.

“Westport to Cuba: Building Bridges” takes place at the Saugatuck Congregational Church on Friday, January 6 (5 to 8 p.m.). Over 50 large photos will be displayed, from the church’s mission trip last June. This is a great way to see one of the world’s most fascinating and quickly changing countries, through the eyes of 25 Staples High School students and 15 adult chaperones.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

The next day (Saturday, January 7, 12 to 4 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts an “Art to the Max, Now or Never” sale and celebration. It’s the last day of their exhibit about Max’s Art Supplies, the iconic downtown store that drew together Westport’s artists’ community, which in turn influenced American illustration.

Original art — from some of the over 70 famous artists and cartoonists in the show — will be on sale.

(PS: If you haven’t yet seen the exhibit, go! There’s a recreation of owner Shirley Mellor’s classic corner of the store, a replica of the famous clock — and a sampling of the amazing art displayed in Max’s window during the store’s fantastic 4-decade run.)

"Shirley's corner," at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

“Shirley’s corner,” at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

School Days Stuff Sought

If there’s one thing that connects every Westporter, it’s education.

Some of us went to school here. Others have kids in school now. All of us pay taxes to support our schools.

Next month, the Westport Historical Society opens an exhibit called “Westport School Days: 1703-Present.” It examines public and private schools — and through the centuries, there have been a lot more than anyone realizes.

The Cross Highway District School (above) was built in 1878.

The Cross Highway District School (above) was built in 1858.

It sounds very cool. But it won’t happen without our help.

The WHS needs photos. Buildings, class photos, teachers events — anything that shows the wide range of “education” through the years.

The Historical Society also wants school memorabilia: banners, decals, logowear, invitations to events, report cards, lunch boxes, whatever. If there’s a Westport schools connection, they want to see it.

Items can be dropped off at the WHS, across from Town Hall. Photos (JPEGs or scans) can be sent to rwmailbox@aol.com. Please provide as many details — names, dates, etc. — as possible.

The Historical Society also plans tours of Adams Academy on North Morningside Drive. Built in 1830 as the Greens Farms Congregational Church School, it was sold to Ebenezer Banks Adams 7 years later. He operated a private school, preparing students for college. Later, the one-room building was called the East Long Lots District School.

If you remember going to school there, the WHS would really like to hear from you.

So would the Guinness Book of World Records.

Adams Academy has stood on North Morningside for nearly 200 years.

Adams Academy has stood on North Morningside for nearly 200 years.

Photo Challenge #101

Most of us never hang out on the top floor of the Westport Historical Society.

But that didn’t stop Richard Stein, Edward Bloch, Nancy Hunter, Dan Herman and Michelle Saunders from knowing that last week’s photo challenge was shot from inside those very old windows.

The view — courtesy of Jo Shields — showed downtown, and the west bank of the Saugatuck River. Click here to see the image (and read all the wrong guesses).

Now here’s this week’s challenge:

photo-challenge-december-4-2016

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Click “Comments” below if you know where in Westport you’d find it.