Tag Archives: Westport Historical Society

Westport Historical Society May Soon Be History

Last month, the Westport Arts Center unveiled its new name.

It moved from Riverside Avenue to the Norwalk border — and rebranded itself as MoCA Westport. (As in “Museum of Contemporary Art.”)

It’s not the only longtime Westport institution to shed its well-known name.

Sometime soon, the Westport Historical Society will be known as the “Westport Museum for History and Culture.”

Extremely alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor spotted the change in an intriguing way. The official state website’s Film, TV & Digital Media page has a section devoted to “Producing in Connecticut.”

The listing for “Westport Historical Society & Museum” — interestingly, the “& Museum” appears nowhere on the WHS’ own website or logo — says simply, “Soon to be renamed Westport Museum for History & Culture.”

Someone at the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development knows something the rest of Westport does not.

I emailed WHS — er, WMHC — executive director Ramin Ganeshram for comment. When is it happening? I asked. What are the reasons?

She was at a conference in Philadelphia, but got right back to me.

“We will be issuing a formal press release prior to our September 28 benefit
when it will be announced, and would be happy to fully comment at that time,” she said. “May I ask how you came to know the same?”

I sent her the CT.gov link.

“Thanks!” she replied. “Happy to discuss in detail with formal announcement. ”

I guess that’s all we’ll know until then. Stay tuned for that historic moment.

Westport Historical Society, on Avery Place.

First Light Shines On Westport

Outside, it’s chilly and rainy.

But inside the Westport Historical Society and TD Bank, it’s warm and inviting.

The town’s first First Light — organized by the WHS, after First Night ended its 24-year run — drew many families with young kids.

First Light activities included face painting …

They enjoyed face and henna painting, Disney and Pixar movie shorts, popcorn  and more.

and coloring.

The rain did not stop the outdoor activities either: horse-drawn carriage rides, and a bonfire on Veterans Green.

A bonfire on Veterans Green illuminates both the Doughboy statue and the Town Hall Christmas tree.

First Light continues through 9 p.m.

It may be the start of a new tradition.

But it’s definitely the only time we’ll ever ring in 2019.

First Night Dims — But First Light Shines On New Year’s Eve

Last month, First Night organizers announced the cancellation of this year’s New Year’s Eve festivities. Economics, changing entertainment options and an aging board all contributed to the demise of the 20+-year tradition.

But not everyone got the word.

On Saturday, December 15, the  Westport Historical Society held its final “Holly Day” celebration. As kids lined up for horse-drawn carriage rides and Santa’s lap, parents asked if they could buy First Night buttons. For years, the WHS had sold them there.

Horse-drawn sleighs were a feature of First Night. They’ll be back at First Light.

Giving the news that First Night was over saddened WHS executive director Ramin Ganeshram and her staff. “It was a beloved event,” she says. “Organizers made sure there was something for everything.”

That night, she asked WHS employees whether the Avery Place institution should offer a New Year’s Eve celebration for the town.

“NO! ” replied the staff, exhausted after weeks of their own holiday events.

But on Monday morning, director of operations Alicia D’Anna told Ganeshram she had a change of heart. She and her husband had talked. They wanted the WHS to do something after all.

In a local version of a Christmas miracle, the Historical Society took just a few days to develop Westport’s newest tradition: First Light.

It includes many favorite First Night activities, including performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, a digital caricaturist, a henna artist, and food trucks.

Plus a big bonfire right next door to WHS, on Veterans Green.

The WHS crew worked like Santa’s elves to get everything in place. They had help from many folks at Town Hall. Ganeshram singled out First Selectman Jim Marpe, for going “above and beyond” to make things happen.

TD Bank stepped up big time too, offering a venue for events that don’t fit in the cute but cramped WHS Wheeler House headquarters.

So First Night is gone. But First Light — at first just a flicker — has now grown into a full New Year’s Eve flame.

(First Light is set for 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, December 31. Buttons are $10 online, $15 at the door; children under 2 go free. Click here to purchase buttons, and for more information.)

What’s Your Immigrant Story?

Unless you’re an original Pequot*, every Westporter is an immigrant.

Each of us has a story about how our family got to this country.

Tomorrow — and twice more next month — you can tell yours.

As part of this year’s WestportREADS — the selection is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, an award-winning novel about 2 refugees who find life and love on the run — the Westport Library and Westport Historical Society are collaborating on an exhibit.

“Liberty to Set Down: Immigrants and Migrants in Westport, Connecticut” will be displayed at the WHS from January 23 to June 30.

But to do that, they need us to provide stories, pictures and artifacts.

They’ll be collected — and images and physical objects can be scanned — tomorrow (Thursday, December 27) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Historical Society on Avery Place.

The other dates are Saturday, January 12 (11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Westport Library) and Wednesday, January 16 (10 a.m. to noon, Senior Center).

Everyone has a story. Don’t miss this opportunity to share yours!

* And even then, you came from Siberia.

Mystery Object #13

Cheese triers (or cheese corers) were invented in the 19th century. They have one purpose: to see if a wheel of cheese was properly aged.

The tool extracts a small, round sample from the center of a wheel of cheese. After testing, the sample is inserted back into the wheel. A seal forms, so the cheese can continue aging if necessary.

Cheese triers have remained relatively unchanged over the years. They continue to be used today by cheese makers and buyers.

Cheese trier

This was the Westport Historical Society’s most recent mystery object. It’s part of their ongoing “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit. Every 2 weeks, the WHS displays something new. If you stop in and identify it, you can win something from the gift shop.

Unfortunately, no one knew what a cheese trier. I guess we just gotta “try” harder.

Check Out These Decked-Out Holiday Houses

It’s one of the most interesting — and oldest — places in Westport. I’ve lived here my whole life, yet never been inside.

Adams Academy — the low-slung yellow building on North Morningside — was the spectacularly named Ebenezer Adams’ private school from 1837 to 1867. He taught over 600 students — including (rare for the time) girls. Most of the graduates — male only, of course 😦 — went on to Yale.

After Adams sold his academy, it served as a public school, town park, home for the  needy and town offices.

Now restored, it’s back to a 19th century schoolroom.

Adams Academy (Photo/Michael Mombello)

It’s rarely open. But next Sunday (December 9), it’s one of 5 stops on the Westport Historical Society’s 32nd annual Holiday House Tour. Ebenezer and his daughter — well, WHS volunteers dressed as them — will be there to greet guests.

The tour offers a peek inside some of Westport’s most historic structures. It combines our natural voyeurism curiosity with our intrigue in our past — and our love for New England-style holiday decorations.

Each stop on the self-guided tour includes WHS docents, explaining how people of the period celebrated Christmas and New Year’s. Halls (and more) will be decked with boughs of holly (and much more).

The event begins at the Historical Society’s own Wheeler House home on Avery Place. Built in 1795, then remodeled in the 1800s in Italianate style, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s Avery Place home — in a painting by famed local artist Stevan Dohanos.

Wheeler House — dressed in Victorian splendor — is complemented by the only octagonal-roof cobblestone barn in Connecticut. It will be open too, showcasing the fantastic, intricate wintertime train set that for years thrilled shoppers at Swezey’s Jewelers on Main Street.

The  Goodsell-Grumman Toll House dates back to 1760. It originally stood on Catamount Road, but when a private highway — Easton Road — was built in 1817, it was moved to its present location there. It’s one of the few remaining saltbox-style homes in Westport.

The Goodsell-Grumman Toll House on Easton Road. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

Two other Holiday House tour homes are in Southport. A 1673 (!) colonial saltbox — one of the oldest still standing in Fairfield — features an original entryway staircase, exposed beams and massive fireplaces.

The John Osborne House, Kings Highway West in Southport. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

A converted barn, built in 1705, has original framing and reclaimed period wood for all walls and floors. This house sits atop a burial ground from the Great Swamp War. In the 1940s, it was used as an artists’ studio.

The Osborne Barn, Oxford Road, Southport. (Photo/Michael Mombello)

There’s a lot going on this season. It’s not easy to fit a House Tour into your schedule.

But there’s no better way to get in the old-time holiday mood.

Just ask Ebenezer Adams.

(The Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour takes place Sunday, December 9, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

Name That Tree!

I guess we shouldn’t call it a “Christmas” tree.

A press release from the Selectman’s Office notes only that the town’s “annual tree lighting” ceremony will take place at Town Hall this Thursday (November 29, 5 p.m.).

Of course, the tree to be lit is a fir tree. You connect the dots.

It’s a fun, festive, kid-friendly event. The Staples High School Orphenians sing “seasonal” songs.

First Selectman Jim Marpe — and a bunch of little kids — lit the tree in front of Town Hall last year. Then came photo opps.

Speaking of Town Hall trees, this year the “Heritage Tree” — a longtime fixture in the building’s lobby — moves across Myrtle Avenue to the Westport Historical Society.

Each year, local artists add ornaments (yes, it’s that kind of tree). Past contributors include Mel Casson, Randy Enos, Stevan Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Leonard Everett Fisher, Jean Woodham and Hilda Kraus.

This year’s ornament comes courtesy of Victoria Kann. The author/illustrator of the popular “Pinkalicious” book series is a longtime Westporter.

Kids can help decorate the Heritage Tree this Saturday (December 1, 1 p.m.). Kann will read from one of her holiday-themed books (and sign them). Snacks will be served too.

The Heritage Tree — shown last year in the Town Hall lobby — moves across the street to the Westport Historical Society.

The next day — Sunday, December 2 — another tree lighting takes place. It’s at the Saugatuck Center plaza, between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk. Everyone is asked to bring unwrapped toys for children 10 and under. Al’s Angels wrap and deliver them to needy kids.

It’s set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Santa arrives at 5:15 — so I’m on safe ground calling this an actual “Christmas” tree lighting.

And the 28th annual Tree of Light ceremony will be held Thursday, December 6, at 6:30 p.m. It honors the memories of family members and friends who have died.

The site is Saugatuck Congregational Church. So, yeah: That’s a Christmas tree lighting too.

We’re All Immigrants. Westport Historical Society Wants To Know How We Got Here.

We may not realize it. But Westport — like America — is a land of immigrants.

From the Bankside Farmers of 1648 to the Irish in the mid-1800s and the Italians a few decades later, then to the many international executives and their families we’ve welcomed recently, our town has served as more than just a home.

Whether for economic or education opportunity, or religious freedom — and yes, we are very different from neighboring suburbs when it comes to the latter — Westport has promised freedom, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness to many, for many years.

In January, the Westport Historical Society installs a new exhibit: “Liberty to Set Down: Migrants and Immigrants in Westport.”

In the 1920s — when Italian immigrants made Saugatuck a thriving community — Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

To make the new exhibit work, the WHS needs your help.

You can:

  • Share your family’s immigration story. Whether your people settled here in the 1700s or you arrived just last week, tell how they or you came to Westport.
  • Loan artifacts or photos that represent your family heritage. They’ll be displayed as part of the exhibit.
  • Participate in a video oral history project. Describe a highlight of your or your family’s story, as part of an online exhibit that will live on the WHS website.

The exhibit runs from January through June. It launches in conjunction with the Westport Library’s WestportREADS book selection. “Exit West” follows the plight of a couple forced to flee their war-torn homeland.

To participate in the Historical  Society’s exhibit, email info@westporthistory.org, or contact them via Facebook or Instagram (@westporthistory).

Mystery Object #12

Westport leads the nation in nail salons per capita.*

But our obsession with nails is not new.

Back in the 1890s, Westporters may not have had 27,915 salons to choose from. But they did have Victorian Nail Buffers.

The wooden blocks were finished with felt, covered with leather chamois, then topped with a sterling silver filigreed handle. They gave nails pleasing shines.

Victorian nail buffer

I didn’t know any of this. Neither did you (I’m sure).

But Laura Mozier knew what a Victorian Nail Buffer was. That’s why she’s the winner in the most recent Westport Historical Society Mystery Object contest.

It’s part of their ongoing “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit. Every 2 weeks, the WHS displays something new. If you stop in and identify it, you — like Laura — can win something from the gift shop.

There are plenty of good items to choose from. Though they don’t carry gift certificates to nail salons.

*#FakeNews. But close.

Mystery Object #11

What do the Westport Historical Society, Main Street and zits have in common?

From the mid-1960s through the ’80s, the Vacutex Blackhead Extractor was manufactured by the Ballco Products Company. Run by Karl Eweson and his wife Ulla Eweson, located at the rear of 191 Main Street, the mail-order business sold a tool that claimed to “remove any blackhead if used accordingly.”

The Blackhead Extractor was the most recent Historical Society “mystery object.” Part of their ongoing “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit, every 2 weeks they display something new. If you stop in and identify it, you can win something from the gift shop.

No one knew what the Blackhead Extractor was.

Dermatologists throughout Westport rejoice.