Tag Archives: Westport Historical Society

Drew Friedman: One In Half A Million

Drew Friedman was a pillar of downtown Westport. A major landowner, a founder of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and landlord of restaurants like Onion Alley, Bobby Q’s and Acqua, he influenced much of Main Street.

His holdings once included the original Westport Public Library building on the Post Road between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now Starbucks and Freshii). He also owned Post Road property beyond downtown. And was a presence in Weston too, as the owner of Cobb’s Mill Inn.

He died in February 2016, at 86.

Drew Friedman and his wife Laura Papallo Friedman, at Cobb’s Mill Inn. (Photo/Patricia Gay)

Now Friedman is back in the news.

In his will, he left $500,000 to set up a “Drew Friedman Community Arts Center.”

But it’s not a place.

It’s a foundation.

Friedman’s former business partner Nick Visconti asked artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs — whose “Tunnel Vision” project is installed next to and across from some of Friedman’s former properties — and Visconti’s sister Louise Fusco to join him on the foundation board.

Their mission is to give $50,000 a year to one or more worthy artists and/or arts organizations and activities in Westport or Weston.

Nick Visconti, MIggs Burroughs and Louise Fusco announce the fulfillment of Drew Friedman’s dream.

So far, money has gone to Homes With Hope, CLASP Homes, the Westport Arts Center and Westport Historical Society. It will help fund art classes and activities for under-served students and young adults. This spring, an art exhibit will showcase all their work.

In addition, the foundation will award 2 scholarships, of $7,500 each, so high school students with need can attend an arts college, or art classes at a community college.

A special gala at the Westport Woman’s Club on May 17 will celebrate the arts program — and artists’ — great accomplishments.

Though not an artist himself, Friedman married one. His wife Bobbie created memorable works of art on canvas, and in clay and bronze, in a beautiful studio he built at their Westport home.

Now Bobby Q’s, Acqua and Cobb’s Mill are all gone.

So are Drew and Bobbie Friedman.

But thanks to his generosity and foresight, the arts — and artists — in Westport and Weston will live on for years.

(Candidates for Drew Friedman Community Arts Center scholarships should click here for more information.)

Pic Of The Day #221

Remarkable guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Historic Homes, Modern Videos

Westport’s first schoolhouse was built in 1812. With YouTube still 2 centuries in the future, you’d figure kids would have had few distractions, and could pay attention to the teacher.

On the other hand, with 37 students in one class, youngsters probably found other ways to goof off.

That first schoolhouse is now a private home. It — and 6 others — are featured on the Westport Historical Society’s upcoming Holiday House Tour (Sunday, December 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

The WHS honors the past — but its other foot is planted firmly in the present. So they’ve taken to YouTube to promote this annual fun fundraiser.

The video below offers tidbits about that original schoolhouse. (It’s also the location of what may be Westport’s first swimming pool. Who knew?)

This one shows a Cross Highway home, dating back to 1764. A century and a half later — which is more than a century ago — it was owned by George Hand Wright, a renowned artist and one of the founders of Westport’s “arts colony.”

This quick video only hints at the wonders of “Duck Haven.” It doesn’t show where it is — but we all drive past it often. We see the front from one direction, the back from another. And we all wonder what’s inside.

On December 10, you can explore the interiors of all 3 houses — and 4 more.

They’re all worth touring. It’s a chance to see Westport’s historic past, decorated beautifully for the 2017 holidays.

(Click here for more information, and tickets.)

Holiday House Tour Is Truly Historic

They said it couldn’t be done: Set up a Holiday House Tour of only historic houses in Westport.

Ed Gerber did it.

For this year’s 31st annual event, the Westport Historical Society past president identified 7 great homes. Then he got the owners to open them for 5 hours on Sunday, December 10 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), so that history (and real estate) buffs could tour them.

(Gerber also makes sure they’re decorated festively. Holiday decor is a big draw each year.)

Six were built before 1850. Five of the homes are historic landmarks. The one that is not technically historic — unless you think, at 51 years old, it qualifies — is a saltbox reproduction done so well, you’d think it’s stood since Revolutionary times.

This saltbox was built in 1966. It sure doesn’t look that young.

One of the homes is Gerber’s own — a beauty on Cross Highway we all admire often. What, you thought the co-chair of a Westport Historical Society fundraiser would live in a modern McMansion?

Ed Gerber’s historic home.

Homes on the tour include:

  • “Duck Haven,” a  house and cottage on the Saugatuck River adjacent to the historic low-tide crossing point
  • A 1760s saltbox remodeled 15o years later — in 1910! — in Colonial Revival style
  • An early Colonial updated in the 1880s in the fashionable Italianate style, whose owners uncovered an original back staircase
  • The “David Judah House,” circa 1760, whose current owner meticulously preserved every nail, piece of timber and window
  • Westport’s 2nd-oldest school building, now a handsome home
  • That reproduction saltbox, built in 1966 and looking very historic
  • An adaptive reuse of an old barn into a residence.

A former barn, now a residence.

Gerber says, “Whenever you research historic houses, you find interesting links.” This time, he learned that 4 of the 7 residences were once owned by noted artists: John Held, master Jazz Age illustrator; painter Caroline Bean; landscape master Ossip Linde, and George Hand Wright, often called “the dean of Westport artists.”

Speaking of links, how about this: Miggs Burroughs — heir to that arts colony legacy pioneered by Wright — photographed all 7 doorways on this year’s Holiday House Tour.

He combined them all in a poster and logo, for “Holiday Doors of Westport.”

Be sure to register now, so you can see what’s behind those historic doors.

(The Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour is Sunday, December 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $50 for members and $60 for non-members in advance; $70 on the day of the tour. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here; go to the WHS at 25 Avery Place, or call 203-222-1424.)

(Photo collage/Miggs Burroughs)

Pics Of The Day #198

3 views: Westport Historical Society

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

(Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

“06880 + 50”: Mike Greenberg’s Vision

The Westport Historical Society‘s new “06880 + 50” exhibit — visions of Westport in 2067 — is fun. It’s thought-provoking. It’s clever.

Over a dozen local architects contributed ideas. From a reimagined river to out-of-the-way parking for driverless cars, it’s more focused on what’s really possible than an idealistic Jetsons world.

Many of the concepts deal with downtown. One firm took a different approach.

Michael Greenberg & Associates built on their founder’s lifelong association with Westport. The Staples High School graduate grew up in a town filled with artists and other creative people. He believes Westport remains a community that embraces “progressive change,” committed to taking care of the planet both environmentally and socially.

A map of Westport — circa 2067 — shows only arterial roads (white) remaining. The rest of the town is broken up into relatively self-sufficient “quadrants.” Click on or hover over to enlarge.

He’s seen builders embrace the “bigger is better” model, but believes it will end. Single family homes on 1- and 2-acre lots, with driveways, pools and manicured lawns, are environmentally wasteful, Greenberg says.

That lifestyle has created isolation, and a disconnect not only to nature but to each other, he adds.

So Greenberg — who reveres barn and antique materials — envisions a Westport that goes back to its roots. He imagines smaller homes, surrounded by open space, community farms, and places to care for the elderly and young.

These “new villages” will develop, he thinks, as millennials (and the generations that follow) realize the importance of downsizing and living responsibly.

A rough sketch of one quadrant. It is bounded by Roseville Road, Long Lots Road, North Avenue and Cross Highway. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the WHS exhibit, Greenberg explains, “the smart and concerned folks of Westport” will establish a new “Farm Zone.” New homes — on the edges of main roads — will surround working farms.

Everyone will pitch in to help traditional farmers. Produce would be available at indoor/outdoor markets. Greenhouses would further support independent sustainability.

Some historic homes will be repurposed to house farm workers and town employees. Others will be retrofitted for day care, crafts and lecture halls.

Main roads will be kept, but “infill” roads — all our lanes and cul-de-sacs — will be eliminated. Pedestrian and bike trails will take their place.

Housing will be clustered in new “quadrants.” Higher density of units and elimination of secondary roads will dramatically increase open space, used for recreation, biking and hiking trails and sculpture gardens. Kids could play — and get dirty.

New homes — modular, for ease of construction and minimization of waste — will emphasize efficiency and quality, not size.

Mike Greenberg’s houses, as shown in the Westport Historical Society’s “06880 + 50” exhibit.

Power comes from solar, wind, geothermal “and sources not yet invented.”

Greenberg created a sample “quadrant,” now mounted on the WHS exhibit wall. It’s bounded by the post Road, Long Lots, North Avenue, Roseville Road and Cross Highway.

“As a citizen of the planet, I am excited that the way we live now will not be the way we live in the future,” says Greenberg.

“The people of Westport will be leaders in making this concept into a reality.

“Now is the time to meld the past with our future. We have to move away from this wasteful, unhealthy present. We have to move as if our lives depend on it — because they do.”

A more detailed view of the Roseville/Long Lots/North Avenue/Cross Highway quadrant (above). Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Selectman Candidates Truly Serve The Public

Political candidates often talk about “serving the public.”

This Friday (October 13, 6 p.m., Design Within Reach), all 4 first selectman candidates — and the 2 who are running for 2nd selectman — will absolutely do that.

They’re celebrity bartenders at the Westport Historical Society‘s “Tomorrow’s History Gala.”

The event — which coincides with the current “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport in Fifty Years” exhibit — includes our current and (possibly) future leaders serving past, present and future-style cocktails.

The old-time drink: an Old Fashioned (naturally).

The present drink: draft beer from Veracious Brewing Company.

The future drink: the Miggs. It’s blue and it glows — and is named for one of the WHS’ favorite volunteers, Miggs Burroughs.

Also on tap: a Prosecco bar (including the very rare 130th anniversary Cuvee), live music, an auction and (of course) fortune telling.

In addition to the political celebrities, other famous names will be at the gala: Melissa Joan Hart and Cynthia Gibbs, for example. Photographer Larry Silver is the guest of honor. Retiring executive director Sue Gold will be feted too.

But they won’t be serving drinks.

Only the candidates will “mix” politics, history and fun.

(For ticket information, click here.)

Unsung Hero #18

In 2004, Susan Gold joined the Westport Historical Society as education director. She became executive director in 2007.

After 10 years, she’s leaving that post. Her legacy is an organization that does great work, has made an important mark in town — and is filled with her friends and admirers.

History and non-profits are just 2 of Gold’s passions.

The Ithaca College grad (with master’s from Cornell University) is an avid swimmer, hiker and kayaker. (She’s probably the reason the WHS sponsored a kayak tour out to Cockenoe Island.)

Gold has run 14 marathons — including a personal best of 3:09 in the prestigious New York event. She’s won numerous age group races, at a variety of distances.

WHS board member Leigh Gage calls Gold “a bundle of energy. She gets up at 5 a.m.  to run and do qigong. Many evenings after work, she teaches yoga or qigong.” Many of her classes are free — she asks only for donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Susan Gold, in a typical pose.

A Rotarian, Sue volunteers often at events like Lobsterfest. (That figures: She’s a pescatarian — and an avid Westport Farmers’ Market greens shopper. She usually returns to the office with gifts for the staff.)

Historical Society directors will miss the annual January luncheon. Gold cooked a vegan meal for the entire board. It was one more way to give back.

Past president Joan Andrews calls Gold “dedicated, resourceful, and a tireless promoter of all things related to WHS — especially children’s programs, fundraising events and exhibits. She has served us as our gracious and smiling face to the community, and will be sorely missed by us all.”

Former president Ed Gerber adds, “Very effectively, Susan told me of the work of the WHS, and how she thought I could help based on my enthusiasm for history and historic preservation. She reeled me in, and I thank her for it!”

Gold’s daughter Rachel has 2 children. They live in Washington. She looks forward in retirement to visiting them often.

She has another daughter, Hannah — and her son David lives in Central America. She’ll visit both too.

Susan Gold may soon be WHS “history.” But — like the most important parts of who we are — she will be well remembered.

Unsung Hero #17

If you’ve been in Westport for any length of time, you’ve probably heard — and met — Jo Fuchs Luscombe.

She’s been involved in every aspect of life here — politics, education, community service. If it needs doing, Jo has done it.

But how many people know her back story?

A Dallas native, she was just a year old when her father — an oilman — moved the family to Venezuela. Jo grew up speaking Spanish — and gaining an important, real-world view of life.

She went to boarding school and college in Texas, headed to Katherine Gibbs secretarial school, got married at 19 and had a child at 20.

Jo Fuchs Luscombe

Her husband was in oil too, so they headed to Libya. Jo learned Italian there, and was once more immersed in a very different culture.

In 1969, the family moved back to the US. Her boys were 13 and 10.

In her mid-30s, Jo and her husband divorced. Encouraged by Rev. Dana Forrest Kennedy, she threw herself into every aspect Christ & Holy Trinity Church. She became president of the Women’s Guild, served on the vestry, and ran fundraisers.

She got interested too in the Westport Historical Society. Jo was a driving force behind the acquisition and restoration of Wheeler House — owned at the time by her church — as the organization’s headquarters.

In 1980, Jo was asked to fill out an unexpired term on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Public speaking did not come easily. But — as with everything else in her life — she worked to master it.

She won a full term on her own, then was appointed to the vacant post of 3rd selectman.

In 1986, Jo headed up her friend and fellow Westporter Julie Belaga’s campaign for governor.

Jo’s next step was the state House of Representatives. She served 5 terms — from 1987 to ’97 — and rose to Republican minority whip.

Retirement from state politics did not slow her down. As a member of Westport’s School Building Committee, she helped oversee 5 major construction and renovation projects (including the new Staples High School).

Jo Fuchs Luscombe (Photo courtesy of Westport Woman’s Club)

Remarriage did not slow her down either. Jo has been president of the Westport Woman’s Club (where she helped run major events like the art show), and is active in Westport Rotary, Greens Farms Garden club, and countless others.

As a longtime Westport Family YMCA board member, she helped shepherd the new building on its long, torturous journey from downtown to Mahackeno.

Her husband John says there is one reason she accomplishes so much: “She doesn’t sleep.”

There’s one more thing: Jo Fuchs Luscombe is one of the nicest, most always-smiling people you’ll ever meet.

Congratulations, Jo. And thanks from all of us, for all you’ve done in so many ways.

(Hat tip: Bobbie Herman)

Historical Society’s New Exhibit Looks Forward — Not Back

Since 1889, the Westport Historical Society has focused on our town’s past.

From now through the end of 2017, it’s looking ahead.

Specifically, to 2067.

06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” is not as outlandish as it seems. The Historical Society’s exhibit — local architects’ ideas about this place, half a century from now — includes intriguing aspects, like what we’ll do with parking lots once we move around in driverless cars.

This contribution — from Roger Ferris + Partners — focuses on the Saugatuck River. In the future, it could be a unifying element between the east and west banks. New buildings, parks and community features will be constructed on both sides — and the river itself will be revitalized.

But there are some back-to-the-future elements too. One contribution, for example, envisions neighborhoods filled with clustered housing, walking paths, open space and farms providing much of the food — a way of life that Westporters centuries ago might recognize.

The intriguing exhibit had its genesis last year. Andrew Bentley — a member of the WHS advisory board, and a man committed as much to the future as the past — wondered what would happen if the organization cast its eye beyond old houses, toward new ones.

The WHS asked 40 architects who live or work in Westport to submit ideas about what this place will look like 50 years from now.

Andrew Bentley

Bentley chose 50 years because it is the Goldlilocks of futurism. Ten years from now, we’ll still have single family Colonial homes. A hundred years may bring Jetsons-style stuff.

Five decades, Bentley says, is “the sweet spot. Architects can release their inhibitions, without being crazy.”

More than a dozen responded. The request was open-ended — and so are the concepts.

Mounted on the WHS walls, they range from a full town plan, to a school design, to new street lamps.

They include a beautiful S-shaped pavilion and park behind Main Street, in space freed up by new modes of transportation. There’s a high-speed ferry terminal, linking the Saugatuck River with New York.

Homes may be made of innovative materials. One way to avoid teardowns is building houses using modular pieces, like Legos. Instead of demolishing entire structures, they could be modernized by replacing outmoded parts.

Some projections are practical. Others are fanciful. All are worth seeing.

Architect Robert Cohen drew this bridge. He foresees it linking 2 Coleytown gems: the Newman Poses Preserve and Blau Gardens.

Each contributor has been invited to present an hour-long “brown bag talk” about their visions, with Q-and-As to follow. They’ll be scheduled weekly, throughout the fall.

Bentley hopes that the exhibit spurs attendees into thinking about what Westport can be.

At the same time, he says, it will help us appreciate the talents and visions of the architects currently living and working here.

This is a very intriguing and enterprising project.

And perhaps — say, 50 years from now — the Westport Historical Society can revisit it, with a retrospective of what the town thought 2067 might look like, way back in that crazy year of 2017.

(The “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” opening reception is this Friday, September 22, 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 31. For more information, click here.)