The River of Names was created to bring Westport together.
Unfortunately, over the past few days it’s become a symbol of division.
The motives of organizations and individuals — and their reputations — have been questioned, maligned and impugned. Fingers have been pointed (and middle fingers raised), by folks who always worked together — and always should.
The time has come to put all that vitriol aside. Sure, it’s the holiday season. But it’s also the right thing to do.
The River of Names, when it hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.
The River of Names is clearly a beloved, integral part of Westport. It means a lot to many people — those who contributed to it, or whose families did. Those who bought tiles in loved ones’ memories. (And not just “historical” tiles. Hundreds of others simply bear names and dates.)
It is, quite simply, an important piece of our town.
But it’s not a perfect one.
A number of people and groups have worked behind the scenes to seek a resolution to the tile mural situation. Several themes have emerged:
The Westport Library seems willing to extend the storage lease, while discussions about a solution continue.
There may be places in the Library where it could be rehung — for example, the Komansky Room — with structural improvements.
If the Library is not a feasible spot, other places — Town Hall or the Main Street pedestrian tunnel, perhaps — might work.
Because of its construction, it’s unfeasible to cut the mural. Its “river-like” theme mirrors Westport history — but it’s incomplete. More information and details, more nuance, a more modern interpretation of that history is crucial. Residents and visitors alike must understand where our town came from, so we can appreciate — and make it better — today and tomorrow.
Wherever it goes, the River of Names needs to be put in context. It was a work of an earlier time — a snapshot of some historical moments.
Many other moments were omitted. We’ve learned of more, and our views of our history have changed, in the years since.
The time is ripe to add supplementary and interpretive material. It can be done in many ways, using old-fashioned tiles or new technology.
The “River of Names 2.0” could even be a fantastic new fundraiser for the Westport Library.
Let’s turn the corner on the River of Names controversy. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
We’re all on the same page. Let’s all work together — the Library, Westport Museum for History & Culture, TEAM Westport, Westport Arts Advisory Council, other town organizations, and individuals on all sides of the debate — to find a solution.
Please add your positive thoughts to the “Comments” section.
That’s right: Only constructive, positive comments will be allowed. No name-calling, shaming or negativity at all. Thank you.
When the Westport Library asked the Westport History for Museum & Culture for advice on the “River of Names” mural, the Museum cited a number of what they called “historical inaccuracies, inaccurate representations, and perhaps most importantly glaring omissions of fact based on idealized Euro-centric views of the past.”
Dorothy Curran disagrees.
She wrote and helped publish an art historical catalogue that accompanied the tile mural, and upon which the Museum based much of its criticism. Offering a fascinating (though of course incomplete) tour of local history, Dorothy writes:
In October 2021, the Westport Library, seeking not to return the “River of Names” historical bas-relief ceramic donor tile mural to the Library interior, asked Ramin Ganeshram, executive director of the Westport Museum for History & Culture, for a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion opinion on the mural’s content.
Ramin, along with WMHC colleague Cheryl Bliss, focused not on the mural itself, but on “River of Names: An Historical Tile Mural at the Westport Public Library” —my accompanying art historical catalogue. As a then RTM-appointed Library trustee, I donated my time writing it and raising another $25,000 to pay for photography, graphic design, printing, binding and shipping of 5,000 copies.
The aim was for a portable “art docent tour” of the mural, and a long-term book sale revenue stream for the Library. (If you need last-minute holiday gifts, the beautifully printed and bound volumes still sell, for $5 or less, at the Westport Book Shop. All proceeds benefit the Westport Library.)
Here are my reactions to the DEI report:
Tile #1,1637 Puritans & Pequots end Swamp War; Puritans plan settlement
The Westport Museum of History & Culture says that
The Pequot War of 1636-1638 began as a colonial Puritan response to the alleged murders of English colonists by Pequots. Rival tribes joined the Puritan initiative, but were horrified by English tactics. Puritans attacked and burned the Pequot village in Mystic, massacring most of the tribe’s women, children and elderly. Surviving Pequots sought to migrate west, but the English followed. The final battle — the Fairfield Swamp Fight in 1637, near what today is I-95 Exit 19 — was devastating. But thanks to intervention by Thomas Stanton, who spoke Algonquian, a massacre was avoided. For a very brief overview of a very complex series of events, here is a link with footnotes and bibliography for deeper study: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pequot_War
Why was this event included in the River of Names? Because following the Pequots across Connecticut was how Roger Ludlowe discovered Fairfield’s lovely salt meadows and decided to move his settlers from Windsor’s flood-prone Connecticut River banks to Fairfield. Westport later formed from parts of Fairfield and Norwalk. Neither the caption nor the catalogue’s summary provide the full story, but together they certainly inspire curiosity.
Tile #2,1648 Pequannock Tribe agrees to sell “Machamux” to the five “Bankside” farmers
Yes, the concept of “selling” land to the English colonists was alien to migratory Native American tribes, but colonial records do document acceptance of the English purchase offer and remuneration. As for the Native Americans’ skin color, it is darker than the English, but not as deep as exhibit model photographs provided by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. When I first saw this tile, I remarked to artist Marion Grebow; “They look like ghosts.” She smiled, knowingly. Very aware of how local Native Americans were ravaged by European diseases and warfare, she was making an artistic statement.
Tile #7, 1705 John Cable builds tidal mill, produces corn flour for emerging West Indies trade and Tile # 10, 1775 E. (Ebenezer) Coley builds saltbox home, shop and wharf; Tile #13, 1790 E. (Ebenezer) Jesup Builds Wharf on Saugatuck’s east Bank
Under British colonial rule, trade by its American colonies was restricted to England, and exports, to raw materials like lumber, in exchange for English finished goods. But thanks to lax enforcement, many locals became maritime commerce entrepreneurs (aka black-market bootleggers), trading products like corn meal for Caribbean molasses and rum. After 1763, increased enforcement helped precipitate the American Revolution. Yes, there were slaves in Puritan Connecticut, including enslaved Pequot survivors, but what now is Westport never was a hub for the larger transatlantic “triangular trade,” involving larger ships, sailing to Africa.
Tile #11,1756, 1775, 1780, 1789 George Washington’s diaries record four trips through town, including an overnight stay at Marvin’s Tavern
You complain that in 1789, when Washington stayed overnight at Marvin’s Tavern: “The wall features other details of historical inaccuracy such as… Washington’s visit to Marvin Tavern in 1789… As a point of fact, Washington only rode white horses, however he would have been travelling by carriage during this presidential tour. Further, in 1789 he was President and made a point of wearing civilian clothing—not his Continental Army uniform as portrayed on the tile.”
In my catalogue discussion of Tile #11, I wrote: “By November, 1789, in reality, Washington was the first President of the 13 United States, a national icon, weary of war and no longer in military attire. Literal reality, however, is not Grebow’s primary concern. Instead, by returning Trumbull’s image of Washington, the Yorktown victor, the archetypal American Revolutionary War hero, to Marvin’s Inn in 1789, Grebow expresses completion of a cycle. Among the people who welcomed him back in 1789 were some who first greeted him in 1775, before the war began, some who suffered loss of life and property in 1777 when the war arrived here, and some who witnessed his 1780 meeting here with the French to end the war. While few if any were present at Yorktown when the fulfillment of this vision was realized, his victory there validated the personal and political dreams and values he epitomized and they shared. Grebow’s Washington, by extending a greeting with the same hand he refused to a British general, offers both a politically powerful and profoundly human statement. Grebow’s Washington, like the one we all revere, transcends the limits of space and time.”
P.S. Washington notes in his diary that he was less than pleased with his stay at Marvin’s Inn, which makes his gesture even more gracious.
Tile #17,1810 Catherine Burr Sherwood, farm wife & mother of ten, including triplet sea captains
Commemorating the birth of the Sherwood triplets during a heavy snowstorm, this tile illuminates the vital, often overlooked impact of women in local colonial history, including building and maintaining families with very little medical assistance. In fact, at about the same time that Catherine Burr Sherwood gave birth to her eighth, ninth and tenth children (the triplets), her sister-in-law died in childbirth, so the family then had 11 to raise. The later maritime careers of the 3 triplets are a topic for separate study.
Tile #19, 1832Saugatuck Congregational Church and Saugatuck Fire Co. established
Well into the 19th century, Puritan governance practices persisted in Connecticut. For example, new towns first needed a new seat of government: a Congregational church, with selectmen presiding. Only after the Saugatuck Church’s 1832 completion could Westport petition the state for a town charter. Likewise, forming the SaugatuckFire Co. ended emergency dependence on Norwalk and Fairfield. The scope, limits and flaws of the 1818 Connecticut Constitution are topics for separate study.
Tile #18, 1814 Saugatuck Manufacturing Co. makes cotton yarn at Richmondville Ave. site and Tile #20, 1835 R.H. Haight’s tannery, later Kemper Tannery, makes leather hat bands
British rule forbade American colonial manufacturing, forcing Americans to buy British finished goods, at Britain’s prices. After American manufacturing began, the British War of 1812 coastal shipping blockade caused such severe economic hardship that Connecticut briefly considered secession from the new union. Happily, the war ended.
That era’s Connecticut manufacturers (and families, for supplemental income) relied on labor by children, immigrants, apprentices and indentured servants for success. Most children, like their parents, attained only an elementary education, but received training in other skills needed for farm and household management.
Neither tile can begin to probe the era’s labor practices, but each can inspire curiosity to learn more.
Tile #24,1852 First Bank
You are correct that: “Descriptions of the building of the Westport Bank by Horace Staples and later refurbishment of the property at large (National Hall) on tile #24 (Curran) fails to indicate that the National Hall portion of the building referred to the 2nd floor where a theater was located. Minstrel shows, caricaturizing African Americans, were a popular attraction at this theater.”
That’s asking a lot of an already crowded 6″x4″ tile.
Tile #25,1840’s, 1850’s & 1860’s Emerging diversity of religious worship
Though this tile depicts a “diversity of religions,” groups assessing the River of Names say that it presents a very Christian-centric view of Westport’s history. There are no tiles for other religions.
In mid-19th century Westport, where the 1832 Saugatuck Congregational Church was the seat of government, one way to observe emerging diversity was construction of churches by other denominations: Episcopalian, Methodist and Catholic. Yes, other religious congregations existed then, but were not in construction mode. A 6″x8″tile can only prompt curiosity to learn more.
Tile #35,1899 First autos on Post Road
Your complaint: “The tile #35 (Curran) referring to the first automobiles in the town misses the opportunity to talk about the Toquet Motor Company here in Westport which produce a motor car earlier than Ford.”
As my catalogue states, #35 depicts an eyewitness account by local historian Edward Coley Birge, astonished at being passed on the Post Road by a “self-propelled open buggy,” likely a Stanley Steamer. Discussing Toquet Motor Company was not a fit for this tile. That does not make it historically inaccurate, Euro-centric or exclusive.
Tile #49,1947 Lucille Lortel founds the White Barn Theatre
Yes, Lucille (not “Louise”) Lortel protected, nurtured and paid talented actors, writers, composers and designers. Agreed that not much can be said on a 6″x8″ tile about the “the opportunity she gave to the Black performers in the era of segregation.” Likewise, not much could be said here about her equally important role in continuing to employ “unemployable” McCarthy-era black-listed writers and actors. But naming her and the White Barn on a tile is a start.
Tile #68,1980 Westport Historical Society, established 1889, acquires its home, Wheeler House, built 1795
Your complaint: “The information about Westport Museum (Westport Historical Society) on tiles #68 (Curran) is inaccurate. The original building on this site was a 2nd period colonial style, like the building currently across the street. The ocular windows in the current structure are not unique as stated—two other Italianate houses on Main Street feature them.”
In fact, the 12″x12″ River of Names tile #79 makes no such statement. My catalogue does refer to the original structure (still inside the Bradley-Wheeler house) as probably a saltbox. Agreed that ocular windows per se are not a unique feature of Italianate architecture.
P.S. What does this discussion of architectural detail have to do with diversity, equity and inclusion?
Tile #79, 1996 Bradley-Wheeler Museum restored
You complain that: “The tile referring to the Bradley Wheeler barn refers to the statues on our property as sculptures—they are, in fact, miniature golf statues, made for use on a private miniature golf course. They are not sculptures.”
Tile #79 makes no such statement. My catalogue does call them sculptures, mostly because they are free-standing folk art created by famous, fun-loving Westport artists, whose major commissions included work at Disney World. The Einsel valentines to each other were remarkable.
Re: your comment that “The description refers to the towns “diverse cultural heritage” although there is virtually no representation of non-Europeans on the picture tiles of the River of Names Wall.”
The mural’s 84 picture tiles, ranging in size from 6″x4″ to 12″x12,” and covering over 350 years, offer only a glimpse of our history. My catalogue merely enriches that glimpse. In no way does that mean that this peek at our history is, in your language, “whitewashed.”
Diverse cultural heritage means many things. New England’s Puritan colonists were British subjects. Many River of Names tiles depict no people at all; instead, they show architecture and boats extending British tradition. Collectively, that makes our depiction of New England colonial history not so much “Euro-centric” as Anglo-centric. Over time, our town, state and country have grown and evolved. Today, looking back at the long, imperfect arc of our dynamic cumulative history, warts and all, I think most Westporters simply would call it “American.”
The Westport Library board of trustees has issued a statement regarding the River of Names mural. They say:
In recent days, we have listened to, heard, and read the comments from some members of the community regarding the decision of The Westport Library Board of Trustees to not reinstall the River of Names tile wall at The Westport Library.
To address the concerns raised and to avoid any misunderstandings, below is a timeline of the River of Names project:
The River of Names was a fundraising effort for a Library Capital Renovation project in the late 1990s (1997-98). Contributions ranging from $100 to $1,500 were sought. Former Second Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings and Dorothy Curran, a trustee of the Library Board at that time, co-chaired and graciously led the effort.
Marion Grebow of Grebow Tile Fundraising Murals was contracted to create the tiles, which were installed onto a reinforced, interior wall on the Library’s Riverwalk Level. Thus, due to how they were adhered, tiles cannot be separated without causing damage. The entire wall is approximately 26 feet long and 6 feet tall and weighs nearly 6,000 pounds.
The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.
Plans for the Library’s 2017-19 Transformation Project called for the removal of the interior wall that held the River of Names and other walls on the Riverwalk Level to create a more open, light-filled enclosure that allowed for greater use of the space and views of the Saugatuck River. A space on the second floor was designated in the plans for the tile wall.
Prior to start of construction, the Library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a leading art storage and logistics firm, to remove the River of Names tile wall. The wall was professionally disassembled into sections, at considerable expense to the Library, in order to remove it safely.
Prior to removal, the tile wall and the individual tiles were each professionally and meticulously photographed for posterity and preservation.
Since the transformation build started, the River of Names has been in climate-controlled storage at the Crozier facility, at the Library’s expense.
To make sure future generations are aware of the project, the Library created a dynamic River of Names digital platform that showcases the tile wall in its entirety. It is available on the Library’s homepage.
As part of the original design for the Transformation Project, the tile wall was to be reinstalled in the renovated space on the upper level, outside the Children’s Library. It would have been mounted and wrapped around a corner, where patrons could see it and enjoy it for many years. This location was unequivocally rejected by the individuals involved in the original development of the tile wall because it wrapped around a corner.
(From left): Former 2nd Selectwoman Betty Lou Cummings, tile artist Marion Grebow and historian Dorothy Curran. All were involved in the River of Names project.
Upon the rejection of the proposed location, the builder, along with the trustees, re-analyzed the design and determined that there was no other suitable location in the building to re-hang the tile wall, according to the requirements provided by the individuals involved in the River of Names original development.
At that time, and for several years afterward, we explored, in earnest, both public and private locations in town to re-hang the River of Names on a reinforced wall. While one location was potentially identified, the funding to prep the space and reinstall did not exist.
The Library honors the donors whose names were recorded on the tile wall. Their names are listed on the new donor wall located at the main entrance that was designed as part of the recent Transformation Project.
In September 2019, the Library Board met and decided unanimously to keep the tile wall in storage, and cover the storage fees, hoping another location could be found. The Board informally discussed that paying to store the wall for an additional three years was reasonable.
The Westport Library (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
In October 2021, as the town was reviewing its public art collection, the Board asked the Library staff to contact community partners to obtain their points of view on the River of Names. The staff reached out to representatives of the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. These organizations independently expressed concerns about historical inaccuracies and the lack of representation of diverse people who played a significant role in Westport’s history. These opinions have been shared publicly.
The Library’s Board of Trustees confirmed the decision to not reinstall the River of Names. The decision was made after years of thoughtful discussions, looking at multiple points of view and consideration of numerous factors.
In April 2022, members of the Board met with Dorothy Curran and Betty Lou Cummings and informed them that there was no place to reinstall the wall at the Library and reminded them that they were welcome to have it. The Library offered to pay storage through the end of the year, or longer, if they needed additional time.
The Library has offered and remains open to transfer ownership of the River of Names to any responsible party who demonstrates a reasonable interest.
The decision not to reinstall the tile wall was one made by the Library’s Board of Trustees and the Board alone. We appreciate that not everyone agrees with the board’s conclusion, and we understood that it might not be universally popular, but it was made in good faith based on the mission and values of the Library.
We love Westport for many reasons, and one of the things we cherish most is that Westporters are passionate and engaged. We believe that reasonable people can disagree, at times strongly, on an issue, and we support that conversation. In fact, it aligns with the Library’s stated commitment to empower the individual and strengthen the community through dynamic interaction and the lively exchange of ideas.
The Board advocates for civil conversations that are respectful and topical, not derogatory, or personal. We ask that varying points of view be shared respectfully and for the ongoing discussion to be one of learning, sharing, decency, courtesy, and growth.
We are grateful for our continued partnerships with the Town’s Art Advisory Council, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Museum for History and Culture. The Westport Library looks forward to continuing to work on our shared interests with the goals of enriching the lives of the residents of Westport and beyond. It is unfortunate that through this recent discourse, these organizations are being attacked for a decision the Library’s Board of Trustees made regarding the tile wall.
The motto of the Library is “open to all” — and we truly see it that way. That is not only those who agree with this decision or those who will disagree with a future decision. The Library is for everyone, a gathering space and a community resource. We are thankful to all who have reached out to share their thoughts constructively. Please know we have listened and regarded every opinion. And we look forward to sharing this community space — in the days, weeks, and years to come.
People who live in glass houses — or those built by slave owners — should not throw stones.
Fred Cantor is a longtime Westporter. and a Staples High School Class of 1971 graduate. Passionate about local history, he co-curated a 2017 exhibit — “The High School That Rocked!” at the then-Westport Historical Society.
Quite frankly, it seems that the Museum has failed in a material way to practice what it preaches.
The inconsistency seems to be blatant with the way the WMHC criticizes the omission of information about Ebenezer Coley on the tile wall — which clearly was never meant to be a comprehensive history of Westport — and then the way the Museum omits or otherwise buries the same information on its own website.
The section of the WMHC letter to the Westport Library re Ebenezer Coley states:
With respect to the tile #7 (Curran) 1705 — Tidal mill for emerging West Indies trade; 1775 — Coley Store; Tile #13 (Curran) 1790 E. (Ebenezer) Jesup Builds Wharf on Saugatuck’s east Bank; Tile # 10 (Curran) 1775 E. (Ebenezer) Coley builds saltbox home, shop and wharf. The West Indies trade specifically refers to the Transatlantic Slave Trade in which local farmers and millers produced goods to sell to West Indian slave plantations. These plantations provided the greatest source of income for men like Coley and Jesup — who were among those who owned the greatest number of enslaved people in the town.
The WMHC’s headquarters — the Bradley-Wheeler house — happens to have been built by Ebenezer Coley. But visitors to the Museum’s website would have no clue of that unless they clicked through a number of links.
The primary “About WM link” on the WMHC site offers only the following background information on the Bradley-Wheeler House
The FAQ link on the site states simply: “Our headquarters building was originally a 5-bay Colonial House built around 1795.” Two more sentences follow re the structure (with no mention of Ebenezer Coley).
Visitors to the WMHC site will only become aware of the Coley family connection to the Museum headquarters and the Coley family’s involvement in slavery if they manage to reach the “Westport Driving Tour” portion of the site, and then click on the icons for the Bradley-Wheeler House and Coley’s Saugatuck Store.
Even then, there is still not all of the information the WMHC criticized the River of Names mural for omitting — most notably that “These plantations provided the greatest source of income for men like Coley and Jesup — who were among those who owned the greatest number of enslaved people in the town.”
It strikes me as very harsh to criticize the River of Names mural — which again, was never meant to be a comprehensive history of Westport — for failing to include all of the Coley family background when a) the WMHC website seemingly fails to do so as well and b) the family background that is included is almost treated like disclosures that are buried in small print in certain ads we are all familiar with.
I wrote 2 emails in the past 2 days to Museum executive cirector Ramin Ganeshram. One stated in part: “Why not disclose up front in the ‘About WM’ section — where you have a write-up about the Bradley-Wheeler House — the fact that the WMHC’s headquarters have such a close connection to the history of slavery in America? Wouldn’t such a disclosure be precisely in sync with the mission statement the WMHC emphasizes on its home page?”
If I had included the Westport Museum for History & Culture’s 1,600-word, October 2021 letter to Library director Bill Harmer, it would have been even longer.
Here is what Museum director Ranim Ganeshram and chairperson, history educator and archivist Cheryl Bliss wrote then, as the Library was discussing next steps for the mural.
They note in detail “historical inaccuracies, inaccurate representations, and
perhaps most importantly glaring omissions of fact based on idealized Euro-centric views of the past.”
They recommended re-installation of the mural with replacement of tiles that “demonstrate history accurately.”
If the panels were not replaced, the report said that “extensive wall labels and text panels should accompany it to point out and counteract the errors and misconceptions it represents. The wall could be an object lesson about how the viewpoints of the era in which it was created was an informing factor in this Eurocentric view. Correction of the history on the digital site should follow the same format.”
Myself, Cheryl Bliss (chairperson, history educator and archivist), and various researchers here at Westport Museum have reviewed the Westport Library’s River of Names Tile Wall per your concerns in anticipation of its potential re-installation. It is our opinion that the wall is rife with historical inaccuracy and a myopic view of history that will be hurtful and unwelcoming to modern viewers. The details of our assessment follow.
It must first be said that projects like the Westport Library’s River of Names which endeavor to use “non-traditional” methods—in this case an art installation—to teach local history enter the realm of Public History defined by the National Council on Public History as “history beyond the walls of a traditional classroom.”
Those practicing Public History–Public Historians–span fields and disciplines and may include teachers, librarians, museum professionals, artists and many others. However, regardless of the professional discipline from which public historians may originate, they are called upon to apply rigorous methods to ensure the history presented is accurate: “In terms of intellectual approach, the theory and methodology of public history remain firmly in the discipline of history, and all good public history rests on sound scholarship.”
In the opinion of Westport Museum, The River of Names Tile Wall, does not meet the standard of sound scholarship. The Wall features historical inaccuracies, inaccurate representations, and perhaps most importantly glaring omissions of fact based on idealized Euro-centric views of the past.
Beginning with tile numbered 1 in River of Names: A History of Westport, CT 1637-1998 in bas-relief ceramic tile donor mural catalog by Dorothy Curran: 1637–Puritans and Pequots End The Swamp War.
This is an entirely misleading tile and description. There was not simply an end to the Pequot War but rather a complete massacre of native people by European colonists. The implication within the description is that “peace-loving Pequannock” were supporters of the Puritan colonists who had driven and massacred members of fellow tribes. There is no historical River of Names Historical Accuracy proof of this. Rather tribal oral history and European written history indicates that the tribespeople of the various tribes of what would become Westport (Paugusset-Sasqua-Aspetuck-Pequannok) supported the Pequot in the fight. When the Europeans prevailed, native men were slaughtered, and the women and children enslaved. The rosy view of this event is both inaccurate and extremely insensitive to the remaining tribal people in the area. The flimsy explanation that native men are depicted as white because they are “ghosts” is a paltry excuse for lack of care in the depiction of non-white individuals.
Tile #2 (Curran) entitled: 1648: Pequannock Tribe agrees to sell “Machamux” to the five “Bank-side” farmers” This persistent myth that local tribes “sold” their property to Europeans has been widely discounted by scholars of native history, colonial history, and legal history. Research into land transactions between natives and Europeans indicate that native individuals–who did not operate within Western legal constructs–were not always aware of the nature of the “contracts” to which they agreed. This simplistic representation belies a long, legally documented history of betrayal and violence of and toward native people in the area for the purpose of taking their land. Again, the indigenous people are depicted as white.
With respect to the tile #7 (Curran) 1705—Tidal mill for emerging West Indies trade; 1775—Coley Store; Tile #13 (Curran) 1790 E. (Ebenezer) Jesup Builds Wharf on Saugatuck’s east Bank; Tile # 10 (Curran) 1775 E. (Ebenezer) Coley builds saltbox home, shop and wharf. The West Indies trade specifically refers to the Transatlantic Slave Trade in which local farmers and millers produced goods to sell to West Indian slave plantations. These plantations provided the greatest source of income for men like Coley and Jesup—who were among those who owned the greatest number of enslaved people in the town. This is not indicated anywhere on the wall or the write up. Last, the Coley store was not a residence as depicted in the tile and in the tile’s description,
Tile #17 (Curran) 1810 tile referring to the Captains Sherwood (triplets) also omits that the triplets conducted regular business with the American Southern Slave plantations after the end of slavery in the British West Indies. The reference to the 1814 Saugatuck Manufacturing Company focusing on cotton twine and cotton goods fails to consider that cotton from Southern Slave
plantations, came into Westport on trading vessels. Without this product of slavery mills such as this one would not have prospered.
The description of Tile #19 (Curran) 1832 founding of Saugatuck Congregational Church refers to the1818 Connecticut Constitution—but does not make it clear that this document was created in part to disenfranchise non-white voters specifically and legally by including a race requirement. This was a specific response to the enfranchisement of formerly enslaved men emancipated during Connecticut’s Gradual Abolition (1784-1848).
Tiles #18 & #20 ( about the Kemper Tannery and Saugatuck Manufacturing Company do not indicate that immigrants and child laborers were employed at this site while “1840’s, 1850’s & 1860’sEmerging diversity of religious worship” only refers to Christian religious institutions. The write up about Louise Lortel omits what is perhaps considered her greatest legacy—the opportunity she gave to the Black performers in the era of segregation. The description refers to the towns “diverse cultural heritage” although there is virtually no representation of non-Europeans on the picture tiles of the River of Names Wall.
Descriptions of the building of the Westport Bank by Horace Staples and later refurbishment of the property at large (National Hall) on tile #24 (Curran) fails to indicate that the National Hall portion of the building referred to the 2nd floor where a theater was located. Minstrel shows, caricaturizing African Americans, were a popular attraction at this theater. The wall features other details of historical inaccuracy such as the tile depicting Washington’s visit to Marvin Tavern in 1789 on tile #11 (Curran). As a point of fact, Washington only rode white horses, however he would have been travelling by carriage during this presidential tour. Further, in 1789 he was President and made a point of wearing civilian clothing—not his Continental Army uniform as portrayed on the tile.
The tile #35 (Curran) referring to the first automobiles in the town misses the opportunity to talk about the Toquet Motor Company here in Westport which produce a motor car earlier than Ford.
The information about Westport Museum (Westport Historical Society) on tiles #68 (Curran) is inaccurate. The original building on this site was a 2nd period colonial style, like the building currently across the street. The ocular windows in the current structure are not unique as stated—two other Italianate houses on Main Street feature them. The tile referring to the Bradley Wheeler barn refers to the statues on our property as sculptures—they are, in fact, miniature golf statues, made for use on a private miniature golf course. They are not sculptures.
In conclusion, the River of Names represent a singular view of history, that is an exemplar of the time in which it was produced: A time in which a Eurocentric lens of the past, devoid of the complexity of the eras it purports to depict was acceptable. The omission of provable facts that could offer context to the actual history was the norm for the time the River was installed but it is inappropriate given the call upon public historians to present a holistic and accurate view of history.
We have no doubt that those who worked on this project when it was installed did the best they could, given the level of their research skills and the information that was available to them. Further, the way the tiles are presented was, no doubt, acceptable at the time they were made.
Certainly no one is at fault for being a product of their own era and viewing the world through that lens. However, as is often the case as time marches on, new information and new viewpoints come to light. When historical data makes it clear that a misrepresentation of fact has occurred it is the obligation of any institution engaging in public history to correct those errors.
Most of all, and perhaps most importantly, the singular view of history represented on these tiles present a one-note image of the town that has never been true. The wall effectively erases indigenous people, African Americans, Jews, and others who were part of the story—from the beginning—even when that story was not pretty. It is hurtful and diminishing to our diverse citizenry—both within Westport and visitors from outside of the town—to see a proudly whitewashed display of this kind without explanation.
Within our field of public history there is constant discussion about how to deal with monuments, statues, history books, panels and other items that have since proven to be false in their information or offensive in their presentation. It is our opinion that should the River of Names be re-installed, the tiles that represent history should be replaced entirely with ones that demonstrate history accurately. Should the panels not be replaced, extensive wall labels and text panels should accompany it to point out and counteract the errors and misconceptions it represents. The wall could be an object lesson about how the viewpoints of the era in which it was created was an informing factor in this Eurocentric view. Correction of the history on the digital site should follow the same format.
Last, we suggest that you might want to contact Dr. Matthew Warshauer in the History Department of Central Connecticut State University. He has done extensive work around revealing hidden and erased histories, particularly as it relates to non-European populations in Connecticut. I believe he may be best placed to give advice on this matter. Should you choose to contact Dr. Warshauer please feel free to share this assessment with him.
Ramin Ganeshram Cheryl Bliss
Executive Director Chairperso
Several trees came down, all over town. Jo Shields reports says that one, on North Avenue south of Charcoal Hill, took down power lines.
A Fire Department truck waited an hour and a half for Eversource crews to arrive. (She was told they were working on Newtown Turnpike lines.)
Power lines down on North Avenue. (Photo/Jo Shields)
Traffic was diverted, but turning around was not easy on the northern curve. It was especially tough for an 18-wheeler hauling vintage cars. It had to back down North Avenue for a third of a mile. Meanwhile, cars tried to get around it — despite the closed road ahead.
Jo directed traffic by Coleytown Elementary School, helping the truck make it down the road.
An 18-wheeler backed carefully down North Avenue, until it reached Easton Road (shown here). (Photo/Jo Shields)
But the Westport Library’s 2023 VersoFest will have a strong Rolling Stones presence. Record producer Steve Lillywhite — whose credits include not only “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band ever,” but also U2, the Dave Matthew Band, Phish, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, the Psychedelic Furs, XTC, Morrissey, the Pogues, Guster, the Killers and more — has just been signed as a headliner.
Last spring’s inaugural VersoFest was a smash. The 2nd annual music and media conference and festival will draw even more media creators, artists and fans to the Trefz Forum, and meeting rooms throughout the Library.
Lillywhite’s April 1 appearance will include a conversation with Chris Frantz, the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club drummer, and a Sturges Highway resident.
Lillywhite began as a staff producer with Island Records. With great success in pioneering recording ethos and technique (and popular sales), Lillywhite was made a Commander of the Order of The British Empire for his contributions to music in 2012.
VersoFest is set for March 30-April 2. Many more artists and contributors will be announced soon.
The Westport Police have released arrest reports for the November 24-30 period.
Four people were detained in custody. One was charged with possession of child pornography; one with failure to appear; one with both operating a motor vehicle under suspension and failure to keep plates readable, and a fourth with operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, operating a motor vehicle under suspension, operating an unregistered vehicle, and improper stopping or turning.
The following citations were issued:
Traveling unreasonably fast: 8
Operating an unregistered motor vehicle: 6
Misuse of plates: 4
Operating a motor vehicle without a license: 3
Stop sign violation: 3
Insurance fails to meet minimum requirements: 2
Following too closely: 1
Failure to obey traffic control signal: 1
Violation of any traffic commission regulation 1
Driving with an out-of-state license after 30 days: 1.
Historical plaques from the Westport Museum for History & Culture honor the heritage of over 470 local homes.
The latest is for the longest known continuously operating store.
Old Mill Grocery & Deli has served the neighborhood (and beyond) since 1919, when it was built by Harry F. Sherwood. He hired Sylvester and Florence Young to operate it; in 1927, they bought from him.
In 1929, the Youngs sold ½ interest in the store to Kenneth Montgomery. Both families operated the market until 1937, when the Youngs sold their half interest to Mabel Montgomery.
She died in 1960; he son Kenneth ran the store until his death in 1985. The next year, it was transferred to Old Mill Associates. Several owners followed, and the name changed to Elvira’s and then Joey’s by the Shore. The current owner — as of last year — is Soundview Empowerment Alliance (SEA) Inc.
Bob Weingarten (far right), house historian and plaque coordinator at the Westport Museum for History & Culture, presents the sign to founding members of the non-profit that rescued and preserved the community market. From left: Chris Tait, Tom Febbraio, Jim Hood, Emil Zobl, Ian Warburg. In front: Koda.
Westport will be well represented at “Layers Revealed” — the new exhibit at Norwalk Art Space.
Photographer Jerri Graham and artist Melissa Newman are in the show, which explores “all of life’s intricacies and complexities.”
“Slowly, the layers of our lives are revealed and once they are, we fully come through,” Graham says. Through “each frame of the camera,” she aims to highlight “a fraction of a second of a life that will be lived for a time unknown. Within these fractionated layers, we find our lives and ourselves.”
“Layers Revealed” encourages viewers to explore the many cycles and layers of humanity, nature, beauty, creation and decay.
At the opening reception December 15 (6 to 8 p.m, 455 West Avenue, Norwalk), Graham will take portrait photos at a pop-up space.
She’ll also host 3 portrait photo sessions (December 18, 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.; January 8 (10 a.m. to noon) and January 15 (noon to 2:30 p.m.). Book sessions at 203-252-2840; donations are accepted. Students ages 13 to 18 who are interested in helping Graham (and learning about lighting, composition and more) can apply here.
On January 15 (3 p.m.), Graham will give a talk. On January 28 (11 a.m.), Newman — who is also a vocalist — will join guitarist Tony
Lombardozzi for a jazz brunch performance at The Norwalk Art Space.
Also nearby: The Mark Twain Library Art Show celebrates its 50th — that is, golden — anniversary with an event about gold.
“Gleam, Gossip & Gold: Love and Loss in American Art” is the title of the December 8 (7:30 p.m., in-person and Zoom) presentation. Westport art Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank will discuss the “untold dramas behind American art objects that were crafted in the precious metal.”
Frank is the former chief curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, and senior associate curator of American paintings and sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery. Her Ph.D. in the history of art is from Yale.
Restaurant Week returns! In fact, it’s “Restaurant 2 Weeks.”
The popular Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event begins tomorrow (Sunday, September 25). It runs through October 9. Part of an “Eat Local” campaign, it follows the successful Slice of Saugatuck Festival.
This year, 21 restaurants all over town offer prix fixe meals, in a wide range of cuisines and prices. Each eatery sets their own prices and hours.
Here are the participating restaurants. “L” means lunch; “D” is for dinner; “B” for brunch. Click a link where applicable for menus (some are pending — click here for the most up-to-date information).
A GoFundMe page has been set up, to help with the education of the children of Mark Blake, the popular and long-serving Westport and Weston Emergency Medical Service supervisor and volunteer, who died Tuesday of complications from COVID. Click here to donate.
Robin Frank writes: “In anticipation of Halloween, let’s remember the dead by investigating art’s historic role in celebrating and memorializing loss.
“Join me for a free lecture called “Hauntings: Death and Desire in American Art” (October 6, 7 p.m., at Museum for History & Culture). Artists of all generations have made the absent present through haunting imagery, ranging from the seductive to the spectral, from portraits to seemingly haunted domestic spaces immortalizing intimate and moving stories.”
Click here for more information, and registration.
Sorelle Gallery’s next exhibition — “Cosmic Botany” — features artist Roger Mudre.
His work is inspired by patterns of nature, and the circle as the perfect form. Titling each painting after plants, he draws upon “microscopic worlds, cellular growth, auras, the cosmos, and places unseen, only imagined.”
The exhibit runs October 1 through 23. An opening reception and artist meet-and-greet is set for October 1 (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.). Click here for more information.
Hidden around town are 18 pieces of art, all inspired by town monuments, buildings and more that are part of the bicentennial quilt.
It’s part of a display in the Westport Museum of History & Culture. The show — in conjunction with MoCA Westport and CAMP Gallery — features textiles and other quilt-inspired artifacts. The hunt runs through August 20. Click here for details. (Hat tip: Dave Matlow)
1st Selectwoman and Police Chief Foti Koskinas hunt for clues. (Photo/Dave Matlow)
When Cary Pierce was a student at Staples High School, he got his first big break.
Hall & Oates failed to appear for a 1985 concert at Longshore — to be fair, they never signed a contract — so Cary’s band, Pseudo Blue, entertained instead. (Click here to read all about that strange day in Westport history.)
Cary went on to graduate from Staples in 1987. He kept playing guitar, and singing.
For nearly 35 years, Cary and his Southern Methodist University classmate Jack O’Neill have fronted Jackopierce. The band has shared stages with Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Matchbox Twenty and Widespread Panic. They’ve performed in clubs and at colleges across America — and before 500,000 people at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Next Monday (August 15, 6 p.m.), Jackopierce comes to Milestone restaurant in Georgetown. The venue is small, so tickets will go quickly. Click here to purchase, and for more information.
No word on whether Hall & Oates will sit in too.
Jackopierce: Cary Pierce (right) and Jack O’Neill.
The Staples High School Class of 2011 graduate — and star on the Wreckers state championship team — finished Juneau’s Ironman Alaska yesterday in an astonishing 10 hours, 18 minutes and 48 seconds.
He ignored stunning views to swim 2.4 miles in Auke Lake in 36:33. He biked 112 miles along the Glacier Highway in 5:49.09. Then he ran 26.2 miles through the lush Mendenhall Valley rainforest in 3:29:42.
That was good (great!) for 23rd place, out of 733 competitors — and 3rd out of 36, in his men’s age 25-29 age group.
Congratulations, Mikey. Now take a well=deserved rest!
Lifelong Westporter Anthony Gilbertie died last week, from complications of Parkinson’s. He was 84.
He was the 5th member of the Gilbertie family to serve on the RTM.
Anthony was devoted to Assumption Church, where he was a cantor for 13 years. Most recently, he was a US Postal Service carrier in Weston. Anthony enjoyed history, current events and the New York Yankees.
He was predeceased by all his siblings: John Jr, Mario, Linda Gilbertie-Bullard and Michael, and baby siblings Thomas and Gloria.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Diane Taylor-Gilbertie; children, Tom (Anne). Peter (Dee) and Nancy Gilbertie-Loshuk, and grandchildren Griffin Gilbertie, William Gilbertie, Thomas Gilbertie, Christopher Gilbertie and Jack Loshuk.
Anthony’s wake will be held Friday (August 12, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Harding Funeral Home). A Mass of Christian Burial will follow there at 11 a.m., followed by burial at Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road. The family asks that all attendees wear masks, as some family members are immunocompromised.
Longtime Westporter Jeanne Wylie Crist died last week. She was 99 years old.
Jeanne married her Albany high school sweetheart, Robert “Mike” Crist in 1947 after working with the Naval Department in New York City. Two sons were born there before they moved to Westport, where Karen was born in 1956.
They lived in Westport for nearly 50 years before moving to Lenox, Massachusetts to be close to their daughter in 2011, when Mike’s health faltered.
They were members of Saugatuck Congregational Church, loved walking Compo Beach and cherished many friends. In retirement they purchased a cottage on Lake Bomoseen in Vermont, where Mike had enjoyed his childhood. Jeanne and Mike also traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
Jeanne was preceded by Mike in 2011, and their son, Robert “Lee” Crist in 1983 and Jeffrey Crist in 2017. She is survived by her daughter Karen (Matthew Miller), grandchildren Chas (Ashley), Geoffrey (Michelle) and Kaylee Wylie, and great-grandchildren Charley, Nuala, Declan, Wylie and Penelope.
A graveside service will be held at Evergreen Cemetery in Westport, where she will be interred with her beloved Mike and 2 sons. To share memories and stories click here,
Jeanne Wylie Crist
Tracy Porosoff thinks this dramatic photo shows a wasp beetle eating a cicada at the Compo Beach baseball fence.
Whatever it is, it’s a perfect way to start off our “Westport … Naturally” week.
Before moving to England, Kami Evans was an influencer and video blogger working with local businesses. She grew “Kami’s Kloud” from 1 Facebook group to over 69 social media platforms and 8 shows.
She was thrilled to return to Westport last August. Very quickly, she got re-engaged.
Kami’s team (Kameleon Publicity) is helping businesses and organizations that give back to the community. Organic Krush, for example, raised money for Filling in the Blanks (which provides weekend meals to needy children), while Choice Pet helps rescues like PAWS.
These days, Kami says, “we focus more on impact, and building up the community in a difficult time. Local bloggers have an important job, sharing what’s good and new. I try to add impact and community engagement to that.”
For more information, click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Staples High School, Gus Cardello was involved with the Service League of Boys and WWPT-FM. He was a counselor at RECing Crew and Camp Compo, and started a window washing business with friends.
In 2018, during his sophomore year at Providence College, Gus died. A scholarship fund to help students who could not otherwise afford PC honors his life, and generous heart.
A group of friends — including Staples and Providence classmate Griff O’Neill — is selling phone wallets. It’s a fundraiser — and a way to keeping Gus’s name and memory alive. Click here for more information, and to purchase phone wallets.
David Stalling graduated from Staples in 1979. He earned a degree in forestry at Paul Smiths College in 1981, and — after serving in a Marine Force Recon unit — got his journalism degree from the University of Montana in 1990.
Now — 31 years later — he has been awarded an MFA in Creative Writing from Montana.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, his student job ended yesterday. He starts a good, new job at the end of May. But between now and then he needs help paying rent, university fees and other bills.
Here’s a “Graduation-Fundraiser Sale.” David is also an excellent photographer. So anyone who contributes $50 can choose a beautiful 16 x 20 canvas print of his wildlife or wild landscape photos. The donation includes printing, shipping and handling.
Click here to see his images. To order, email Stallingd@gmail.com. Include your choice of photo, full name and mailing address. For more information, click here.
To donate and purchase a 16 X 20 Canvas Print, click here: gf.me/u/zrzsft
Vanity Fair‘s May issue includes a feature on Lourdes Leon. Madonna’s oldest daughter talks about Instagram, her dream dinner with Rasputin, and her first boyfriend, Timothée Chalamet.
The author is VF‘s senior West Coast editor Britt Hennemuth. The 2008 Staples High School graduate knows something about acting: He’s a former Players star. (Hat tip: Lynn Flaster)
Lourdes Leon (Photo by Adrienne Raquel, courtesy of Vanity Fair)
And finally … Lesley Gore was born today in 1946. Though she recorded some of the most famous teen girl-lamenting-teen boy songs of the 1960s, all while a teenager herself — her partner for 33 years was jewelry designer Lois Sasson.
Teardowns gets tons of publicity. The loss of familiar streetscapes — and their replacement by (often) bigger, more modern homes — is hard to miss.
Renovations are harder to see. Much of that work goes on inside. But they’re an important part of Westport life too.
Tracey Ialeggio Kelly was born and raised in Westport. Her father Tony Ialeggio — an architect for over 40 years — instilled in her a love for historic houses.
She graduated from Staples High School in 1991. Nineteen years later, she purchased a 1927 home on Colonial Road that was a prime candidate for demolition.
She restored it beautifully. In 2012 the Historic District Commission honored her with a Westport Preservation Award. It noted her sensitivity to the mass and scale of the historic Greens Farms Congregational Church neighborhood.
Tracey Ialeggio Kelly’s Colonial Road home … (Photo/Bob Weingarten)
“It is an example of how a small, modest house can be successfully preserved, expanded and adapted to the needs of a modern family on a small parcel of land,” the award said.
But Tracey was not through. Last July, she bought another historic house, on Sylvan Road North.
She asked Westport Museum of History & Culture house historian Bob Weingarten to research it. He found that the property was purchased by Charles and Frederick Fable — brothers who created Fable Funeral Home — in 1939, from Edward Nash.
… and her house on North Sylvan. (Photo/Megan Kelly)
Frederick died a few months later. His son — also named Frederick — continued to build the house, with his uncle Charles. It remained in the family until 1985.
Tracey’s friend Andy Dehler surprised her on Christmas with a historic house plaque. It’s one of many that remind everyone who passes that history continues to live in town.
We just have to know where to look.
Tracey Ialeggio Kelly, with her historic home plaque. (Photo/Megan Kelly)
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome, appreciated — and tax-deductible! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to “06880”: PO Box 744, Westport, CT 06881. Or use Venmo: @blog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)