Tag Archives: Westport Weston Family YMCA

“My First Job”: Mahackeno Mentors Teenage Staff

The 16-year-old applied to be a Camp Mahackeno counselor.

But he struggled when Westport Weston Family YMCA officials — who run the popular summer camp — asked for online forms.

Then he had difficulty getting to, and through, training sessions. He was about to lose his job.

When Y human resources director Brian Kuzmiak sat with the boy, he learned the full story. The teenager had a difficult home life. He had no ride to and from work, and the only time he used a computer was at the library.

Kuzmiak took a chance. He and Mahackeno director Emily Regan mentored him.

“He turned out to be one of our best and most energetic counselors,” the HR head says. “Kids always surrounded him.”

He returned this year, for a second summer. Again, he bikes to and from work every day.

That’s one success story among dozens. With 175 staff members — 35% of the Y’s total employees — the organization is one of Westport’s largest employers of young people.

175 young people work at Camp Mahackeno. Many are teenagers; nearly all are under the age of 25.

More than half of the counselors are 16 to 18 years old. For many, it’s their first job ever. They’ve never applied for work; never sat for an interview; never been entrusted with work responsibilities.

And at Mahackeno, those responsibilities include the safety and well-being of hundreds of younger kids.

So Kuzmiak, Regan and Westport Y CEO Anjali McCormick have responsibilities of their own, as they hire and supervise camp staff.

They take that aspect of their roles very seriously.

“The Y’s mission is ‘youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,'” McCormick notes.

“So we develop the whole youth. We prepare children for life, for being mature, contributing adults. We are there as they move from playing sports and doing our programs, to being in many cases their first employer.”

A young person’s first job is an important life milestone. 

That means not just hiring young people. It involves teaching life skills like punctuality, dressing respectfully, communicating with supervisors, treating others well, and being role models.

“It’s really leadership training, without being an official leadership program,” McCormick says. (That training includes helping staff members in college mentor those still in high school.)

Those are big challenge. But, she adds, “it’s great when kids excel and shine. We’re serving the community — and adding to the labor pool.”

The application process begins online. That’s the first hurdle for many teens: They’re not used to checking email.

“There’s a lot of ghosting” — no further communication — “after the application,” Kuzmiak says. “We try to make contact, but at some point we assume the kid is not interested.”

The hiring process weeds out those who really want to work, from those whose parents want them to.

Then — for those who follow up — comes an in-person interview.

“Kids are usually nervous,” Kuzmiak says. “We try to put them at ease, with a casual conversation. At the same time we look for things like, are they making eye contact?

“Eventually we want to know ‘Why are you applying? What are you looking for in a job?’ Most of them genuinely want to work, and they like kids. Some are doing it because their parents are making them.”

Parents can be an issue in other ways too.

“When a mom or dad asks me why their child wasn’t hired, I say, ‘Tell them to call us,'” Kuzmiak explains. “They’re the ones who applied for the job.”

How often do parents involve themselves in their child’s application (or eventual work, with questions about — for example — their pay)?

“More than you think,” Kuzmiak says.

Once hired, there are forms to fill out — contracts, information on sexual harassment and social media policies, direct deposits — and training sessions.

The most important element, McCormick emphasizes, is safety.

“We are a child-service organization. We’re licensed by the state. We have to train 175 people about counting heads, bathroom policies, you name it. It’s a mammoth exercise.”

Counting heads is an important part of camp policy.

And, of course, many of them are still teenagers.

“There’s a lot of hormones. Some of them have their own issues. It’s a lot,” McCormick says.

Most counselors quickly assume responsibility, and grow in the job. “I’m surprised at the number who ‘get it,'” Kuzmiak says. “Punctuality and professionalism has been great.”

Many counselors are only a few years older than their campers.

Of course, Y leaders must spend “a lot of time on those who don’t.”

“Emily really bumps them up,” McCormick says. “She makes sure they show up on time, dressed appropriately, and work as a team.”

But when late summer hits — and it’s hot, and their friends are at the beach — the “I don’t want to be here” feeling hits a few of the staff.

It’s Kuzmiak’s job to deal with those kinds of matters.

He’s an HR professional. But most of his career was spent with adult workplaces. This is only his second year at the Westport Y.

“Anjali has taught me to be patient with teenagers,” he says. “I’m not as quick as I would be to let them go.

“I don’t have a trigger finger for firing,” McCormick adds. “I have to show our older staff that these are not 50-year-olds. These are kids, who may not have been in certain situations before.

“There is an ‘acceptable level’ of mistakes — except for serious safety violations. We could never put kids, or the Y, at risk.”

Waterfront safety is a key concern.

For common issues — leaving a group to talk to a friend, disagreeing loudly with another counselor in front of children, speaking harshly to a camper — Kuzmiak, Regan or an assistant will speak privately with the teenager. They’ll explain ways to improve the behavior — and they document it.

In 95% of the cases, Kuzmiak says, “that’s enough.”

The Y’s approach seems to work. Staff retention is very high.

And campers must like their counselors: They too return year after year.

After all, they get a chance to hang out with counselors like the boy who almost did not get hired.

But Kuzmiak reached out to him, and took a chance. The Y mentored him, helping him grow.

Now he bikes to Camp Mahackeno every day.

Where he is a star.

(“06880” often highlights organizations, and people of all ages, making positive differences here. To support our work, please click here. Thank you!) 

Happy campers (and staff members). (All photos courtesy of Westport Weston Family YMCA)

Edward T. Bedford’s Legacy: Westport Y Turns 100

In 1864, Edward T. Bedford was 15 years old. He stood outside the Westport Hotel — a wooden building on the corner of State Street (the Post Road) and Main Street — watching men play pool. He could not go inside, “on account of the saloon.”

Edward T. Bedford.

Decades later, Bedford was a wealthy man. He had become a broker of lubricating oils for railroads, and helped chemist Robert Chesebrough sell his new product, Vaseline. He was a director of Standard Oil, and associated with many other very successful companies.

He still lived in Greens Farms, where he was born. Recalling his years outside the Westport Hotel — and knowing the town needed “some place for boys and young men to congregate” — he announced in 1919 plans for a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

He had a perfect place, too: The Westport Hotel. It was the same spot, in the heart of town, where half a century earlier he’d been denied entrance.

Bedford spent $150,000 on the Tudor-style building. It would be a place to exercise one’s body, and mind. It included reading and writing rooms, bowling alleys, a gymnasium — and of course, pool tables. (Bedford also financed a new firehouse next door on Church Lane, designed in the same Tudor style.)

The Westport YMCA.

The Westporter-Herald called the YMCA dedication on September 5, 1923 “second to none in the history of the town. Not since the day of the official opening of Westport’s new bridge over the Saugatuck River has there been anywhere near as great a gathering as notables, both local and out of town.”

The Bedford building lobby.

Connecticut Governor Charles E. Templeton was there. He pointed to Bedford, noting that while he did not have “the opportunities the young men of today … he didn’t smoke or wile his hours away; he didn’t stay up until midnight, not at all, but instead went to bed early and then was fresh for the tasks of the day to follow.”

Much has happened in the 100 years since. Several years after it opened, Bedford donated a pool. During World War II, boys walked the short distance from Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School) to learn how to jump off flaming ships into the sea.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

In 1944, Y leaders searching for space for a day camp for boys found 30 acres of woods and fields along the Saugatuck River, near the new Merritt Parkway’s Exit 41.

Frederick T. Bedford — Edward’s son — said that his Bedford Fund would pay half the purchase price, if the town raised the other half. Within a few weeks Y leaders had collected $10,000. The Bedford Fund matched it.

Camp Bedford opened. At Frederick Bedford’s request in 1946, the name was changed to Mahackeno.

In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

As Westport grew in the post-war years, so did the YMCA. The downtown building became an unofficial teen center, hosting everything from the Downshifters hot rod club to Mrs. Comer’s ballroom dance classes. (Y membership was eventually open to girls, too — as well as families, and senior citizens.)

In the 1970s and ’80s the Y added a new pool. Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren and Ruth Bedford — granddaughters of the founder — provided $200,000 through the Bedford Fund to acquire the fire station, and convert it into a 2-story fitness center. (The brass pole stayed.)

There were squash courts, and other games upstairs. (Paul Newman was an avid badminton player.)

But the downtown quarters grew cramped. Y directors looked for new space, in places like the Baron’s South property. A protracted battle — legal, political, even involving the character of downtown and the Y’s responsibility to it — eventually ended.

The YMCA built a 54,000-square foot full-service facility — “The Bedford Family Center” — on a portion of its Mahackeno property. It opened in 2014, thanks in part to financial support from Lucie McKinney and Briggs Cunningham III — Edward T. Bedford’s great-grandchildren.

The Bedford Family Center, 2014.

Helping guide the construction process as members of the Y’s governing boards were 2 of Lucie’s children, John McKinney and Libby McKinney Tritschler. They’re the 5th generation Bedford’s involved with the organization.

Since then, the Y has added a gymnastics center, and more fitness rooms. They’ve upgraded nearby Camp Mahackeno. And they were stunned to receive a $40 million endowment from the estate of Ruth Bedford.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA — today’s official name — used a portion of the bequest to establish the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, to continue developing youth, promoting healthy living and fostering social responsibility.

All of which is a long way of saying: Happy 100th anniversary, Westport Y!

Officials have planned a year of celebrations. Highlights include:

Share Your Stories: Members and the community are invited to share Y stories, memories and photos. They’ll be featured on the anniversary web page.

100 Faces of My Y”: a project for youth to create self-portraits in the medium of their choice, for display in and around the facilities.

Healthy Kids Day (April 29): a free initiative celebrated at Ys across the country. with fun activities, healthy snack demos, food trucks, sports lessons, games, art, and free t-shirts for the first 200 children.

The 7th Annual Golf Tournament (May 22, Aspetuck Valley Country Club, Weston): A fundraiser for the Y’s financial assistance program.

100-Year Anniversary Gala (“Sneaker Ball,” October 6, Mahackeno Outdoor Center): Donations and sponsors will fund financial assistance to under-resourced families and those in need. In 2022, $746,000 was awarded to over 400 families.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA is no longer limited to young Christian men.

The world has changed since Edward T. Bedford stood outside a hotel — and then bought it, to build both a building and a legacy.

If the next 100 years are anything like the last, our Y will continue to grow, evolve — and impact countless lives.

A relic from the Y’s downtown days. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

New YMCA COO Champions Her Cause

Christina Scherwin is a former Olympic athlete — and more recently, a European masters champions.

She loves watching her javelin fly through the air. She knows that her efforts can be measured precisely, down to the centimeter.

Now, as the Westport Weston Family YMCA‘s new chief operating officer, she can combine her love of sports, her appreciation for the community, and her MBA-honed business acumen, to manage the organization’s operations as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The Aarhus, Denmark native came to the US at 23, to study at Moravian University. She competed at both the 2002 Olympics in Athens, and ’06 in Beijing. In between she placed 4th at the World Championship in Helsinki, and won a World University Games medal.

Scherwin was a Nike athlete in Eugene, Oregon, a track and field m mecca. She coached for 4 years at the University of Oregon, then coached privately for 4 more. One of her male athletes competed in the London and Rio Olympics.

In 2014, she came east to be closer to Denmark. She quickly embraced Westport. Of all the places she’s lived in the US, this feels most like home.

Christina Scherwin

Scherwin earned an MBA at Sacred Heart University. She consulted and did executive coaching with small businesses. In 2018 — spurred by her daughter, a gymnast training with Sally Silverstein — she joined the Y board.

When the COO position opened up recently, she realized it was her dream job. She could be back in sports, while helping people — members and staff — reach their potential.

Last week — just 4 days into her new role — Scherwin talked about her new role.

As with every business, hiring is difficult. There are more jobs available than people qualified or ready to fill them.

Meanwhile, COVID has hit every gym and fitness center hard. All are reassessing their business models.

Of course, the YMCA is not just a gym or fitness center.

“It’s a vital community resource,” Scherwin notes.

Her daughter’s gymnastics, son’s basketball and both children’s Camp Mahackeno experiences are only part of what the Y offers.

Scherwin points to initiatives like a movement group for Parkinson’s patients, and a LiveStrong program for people with cancer.

When camp is not in session, the Mahackeno Outdoor Center is open.

The Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, meanwhile, provides money for worthy organizations.

And, Scherwin says proudly, “We never turn anyone away from the Y.”

Scherwin is as active as ever. She works out in the Fitness Center (“you have to stay fit for life”), takes YMCA classes, and helps coach high school track and field athletes (including former Staples state champion Angus Fuori).

For years, the javelin circle was her home. Now it’s the Y.

“I want to make this a great place to work, and for everyone to know what a great community resource it is. We’re a welcoming space for all ages — little kids to seniors.”

She’d like to make the Y even more welcoming and important, perhaps adding blood drives and other events.

Scherwin measured her javelin success in centimeters. At the Westport Weston Family Y, she’ll be happy to see more programs, more members — and more smiles.

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Remembering Ed Capasse

Edward Capasse — a lifelong Westporter, former Board of Finance chair, and an active volunteer with the Westport Weston Family Y and Assumption Church — died last week, surrounded by his family. He was 91.

Ed was born October 1, 1930 in Westport, son of Police Captain Edward T. Capasse and Theresa PrunoLo Capasse.

Ed graduated from Staples High School. That’s where he met his wife of 48 years, Esther Ann Mondella, a Westport teacher.

After graduating from Fairfield University in 1952 and Boston College Law School in 1955, he became a prominent lawyer. He worked for over 60 years in Westport, first with Tate, Capasse & Johnson, then Nevas, Nevas & Capasse.

Ed Capasse

In addition to his work with the Board of Finance, Y and Assumption, Ed was an avid boater, golfer, swimmer and tennis player. He was a member of Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club and the Patterson Club.

Beyond his career as “consigliere” to Westport businessmen, he is
remembered by his family as a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend, who lived up to his Staples yearbook quote: “Upright as the cedar.”

“Deeply religious, he espoused strong family values, integrity, work ethic and charity, spiced with a wily sense of humor. He loved spending time with his grandchildren and gardening, while pursuing a late ‘singing career.'”

Ed spent his final years in Westport and Vero Beach, Florida with his late second wife, Linda Coburn Capasse, with whom he shared a decade of memories.

Ed is survived by his children Thomas (Jeanne) of Westport, Mary Beth (Jim) Carroll of Falls Church, Virginia, David of Bridgeport, and Meg (Dan) MacLeod
of South Portland, Maine; grandchildren, Jay (Becca), Erin and Addison Carroll and Natalie (Subhash) and Michael Capasse; great-grandchild Jarmin James
Carroll, and numerous nieces and nephews.

In addition to Esther and Linda, Ed was pre-deceased by his sister, Marie Whelan.

Calling hours will take place at Harding Funeral Home, Westport
on August 15 (4 to 7 p.m.). A Mass of Christian Burial is set for Assumption Church on August 16 (11 a.m.), followed by burial at Assumption Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Foundation for Fighting
Blindness. Afflicted with a hereditary eye disease, Ed overcame occupational and
professional disability with support from the Foundation. He was an
active participant in their mission. Click here, or send to PO Box 45740, Baltimore, MD 21297.

Y’s Bedford Fund Aids Non-Profits; Grant Application Deadline Near

In 2014, $40 million fell from the sky. It landed on the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

The money came from the estate of Ruth Bedford. A Y trustee emeritus and noted philanthropist — and the granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford, who established the Y in 1923, and daughter of Frederick T. Bedford, who helped found Camp Mahackeno 21 years later — she died at 99, just 2 days before the Y’s 90th annual meeting. It was the last one held in the original Bedford building.

Ruth Bedford’s bequest — a surprise to Y officials — would enable the organization to “lead the community and change lives for the next 100 years,” they said.

A year later, the Y announced the formation of a $5 million Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund. Money came from Ruth Bedford’s gift, and one from past president and longtime trustee Allen Raymond.

The goal was to provide grants in areas like child welfare, substance abuse, community service and military outreach, serving children and young adults in Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport.

The first grants were awarded in 2016. Last year, the Bedford Social Responsibility  Fund made 25 donations, totaling $280,000.

Recipients included Achievement First Bridgeport Academy, Adam J. Lewis Academy, Carver Foundation, Cardinal Sheehan Center, Horizons, Mercy Learning Center, Neighborhood Studios, Norwalk Community College Foundation, Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, Silvermine Guild of Artists, and Staples Tuition Grants.

The fund is gearing up for its 2022 grant cycle. Non-profits can apply now — but the deadline is Friday (September 10). Click here for more information.

Libby McKinney Tritschler is Ruth Bedford’s great-niece. She and fellow Y board member Juliane Sunderland co-chair the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund.

Libby McKinney Tritschler (left) and Juliane Sunderland.

“It’s been so eye-opening to make site visits. We’ve learned so much about the need to close the education gap, and give opportunities to children and young adults,” Sunderland says.

“This is all about community,” Tritschler adds. “The Y is a beautiful facility, but this money is another way we can show we’re part of the community — and communities nearby. I’m honored to be able to continue my family’s legacy of giving back.

“Westport got very lucky that my great-grandfather lived here, and opened the Y. His only request was that everyone in town get behind it. Now, thanks to his children and grandchildren, I can help make sure the Y keep on its mission to serve children and young adults.”

(For more information on the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, click here.)

Ruth Bedford (center) with Lester Giegerich (left) and Dr. Malcolm Beinfield. (Photo courtesy of Westport Y)


(To learn more …)

Y Project Earns State Honors

Building the “new” Westport Weston Family YMCA at the Mahackeno campus was an enormous undertaking.

Countless public hearings — and nearly 2 dozen lawsuits — delayed planning, groundbreaking and construction for years.

LANDTECH — the Westport-based civil engineering, site planning, project design, environmental and construction management firm — was there every step of the way. They worked with Robert A.M. Stern Architects and many others, completing the finished product — finally — in 2014.

Except it wasn’t finished. Phase 2 — 22,000 more square feet, including a gymnastics center and enhanced exercise, wellness and healthcare studios, along with a redesign and renovation of the adjacent Mahackeno  Outdoor Center — opened last year. Once again, there were challenges (like a global pandemic).

The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Phase 2 project added a gymnastics center, and several studios.

But there were no lawsuits. The project came in under budget, and ahead of deadline.

Now the Y’s Phase 2 has been named Best Large Civic Project in the entire state.

The award comes from the Connecticut Building Congress, an association spanning every important trade group in the state.

“We worked with neighbors on the site plans and landscaping,” says LANDTECH principal (and Saugatuck native) Pete Romano. “There were no lawsuits at all. The process went very smoothly.”

LANDTECH’s role was broad. They collaborated with SLAM Architects and permitting groups like Conservation and Planning & Zoning, and closed out the project for a certificate of occupancy. Getting Mahackeno open last summer — when so many other camps were closed — was crucial for many youngsters and their families.

The Mahackeno Outdoor Center pool.

“It was a group effort at a trying time,” Romano notes. “Town Hall offices were not open. People were working from home. But in the end, everyone rowed in the same direction.”

The CBC award honors every group that had a hand in the Y’s Phase 2, from the excavators and pavers to the pool and plate glass folks. Turner Construction — the firm that built Phase 1 — was involved again too.

Unsung Heroes #193

When COVID struck in March 2020, the Westport Weston Family YMCA shut down.

It reopened — very tentatively — 3 months later. Every area and program — fitness center, yoga, gymnastics, childcare — had rules. The staff followed them diligently.

The strictest regulations were in the pool. Swimmers had to sign up online 3 days ahead of time. Slots were limited to 45 minutes or an hour; there were restrictions too on the number of swimmers per lane.

In between each 45- or 60-minute session, surfaces — benches, hooks for towels, even handrails — had to be wiped down.

I’m a swimmer. For the past year, those daily workouts have been my physical — and mental — salvation.

I’ve watched the Y lifeguard in action, every day. They’ve been outstanding.

They’re diligent with their cleaning. They’re warm and welcoming to every swimmer. They’ve been patient, kind and helpful.

They helped create a nice community at the pool, at a time we desperately needed one.

A small part of the big Westport Y pool. The lifeguards have it all covered.

Yesterday, the swimming restrictions were lifted. The pool is (almost) back to normal.

Today, I give a shoutout to the Westport Y lifeguards. To Brian and his crew: Thank you. You’re “06880”‘s Heroes of the Week.

And you earned it without having to save anyone.

SPECIAL CITATION: Here’s a shout-out to the Y’s member services team too. Whether greeting guests at the front desk, working behind the scenes to solve a problem (the reservations system was sometimes glitchy), or helping someone make sense of the constantly changing regulations, they’ve been outstanding too.

And they never stopped smiling.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Anjali’s Long Journey To The Westport Y

YMCA once stood for “Young Men’s Christian Association.

The name Anjali is Indian. It means “devotion to God.”

Those 2 worlds — different religions, thousands of miles apart — are now one. Anjali Rao McCormick is the new CEO of the Westport Weston Family YMCA. Her path began in Calcutta; it now takes her to the Mahackeno campus, by Merritt Parkway Exit 41.

Anjali Rao McCormick

It seems almost foreordained.

Anjali’s family left India in 1984 for Long Island, where her father had a sibling. The oldest of 4 girls, she was suddenly thrust from an all-girls Catholic school into 11th grade at a public high school. “It was like walking onto the set of ‘Grease,'” she says.

As a government major at Harvard University, she thought about entering the diplomatic corps. But after graduating cum laude she pivoted to New York University’s Stern School of Business, for an MBA.

When her third child entered school, McCormick re-entered the workforce. She spent 10 years in a variety of positions with the Summit Area YMCA, rising to senior vice president, chief operations officer.

With her youngest daughter about to graduate from high school, the move to Westport seems right. She is looking for new challenges and growth opportunities.

The selection committee was impressed with her management style, and results at the 4-branch New Jersey Y. She’s been called a “transformational” leader, with “community focus, talent, and vision.”

And — though she did not know it until she applied for the Westport position — her Y ties go back far longer than her decade with the Summit Area Y.

McCormick’s father told her recently that after her grandfather left India by boat in 1927, landed in San Francisco and took a train to the University of Kansas, he found friends at the local Y.

“He was a brown man in white middle America,” McCormick says. “But the Y gave him a community. He felt he belonged.”

As she settles into her new community of Westport — she’s commuting until her daughter graduates, but spends several nights a week at the Inn at Longshore — McCormick is focusing on what makes this Y strong.

And how she can make it even stronger.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA .

The Y — and all of Westport — enjoy “a rich, robust history,” she says. “This is an excellence-oriented community. People have high standards. That puts pressure on me. But it doesn’t scare me.”

Her job is to “find a way to serve all the different populations. How can we grow, along with other youth and senior organizations? What can we do with the Library, and the Community Garden? A rising tide lifts all boats.”

She knows that Westporters are passionate about many things — including the long debate, a decade ago, over the Y’s decision to leave its longtime downtown building for the Mahackeno property.

“I come in with a clean slate,” McCormick notes. “”I hear the voices. It’s my job to ask what we need to do to make sure the strongest community exists here.”

She’s getting to know the staff, and is impressed with what she’s seen. She wants to make sure they’re customer-oriented, and can deliver on the Y’s promises.

The Camp Mahackeno staff gets high marks for their involvement with campers.

McCormick takes over at an intriguing time. COVID regulations that hampered many non-profits — and shut down the Westport Y for 3 months — are easing. Yet bringing people back to the pool, fitness center and classes is not easy.

The Y’s revenues dropped significantly over the past year. That’s another yet challenge.

McCormick sees opportunity in the pandemic’s wake. More people moved to Westport than any other town in the state over the past year. Many are families, with young children. She’ll reach out to new residents, inviting them to see all that the Y offers. “Come, get healthy!” she says.

Newcomers — those families, like herself today and her grandfather nearly a century ago — are looking for community. The YMCA — no longer a “Young Men’s Christian Association,” but a place for all — can offer that.

Friday Flashback #243

This has been one of the most beautiful springs in memory. Trees, flowers, bushes — the colors are eye-poppingly wondrous.

There’s only one thing missing: the beautiful tree that stood for decades in front of the old YMCA (now Anthropologie).

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Once upon a time, another large tree graced the Y’s corner on Main Street.

Look what happened:

(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter, via eBay)


[OPINION] Wondering About The Red Barn

Bob Weingarten is the house historian for the Westport Museum of History & Culture. He writes:

I get many questions about the status of historic properties. Recently I’ve received several concerning the iconic historic building at the intersection of Wilton Road and Allen Raymond Lane.

The former Red Barn restaurant was operated by the Nistico family from 1983 until its sale to the Westport Weston Family YMCA in 2015. It has remained unoccupied ever since.

A painting of the historic Red Barn property …

As part of the purchase, the Y created a limited liability company: 290 Wilton Road LLC. YMCA CEO Pat Riemersma called it “likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus.”

According to the Historic District Commission Historic Resources Inventory list, the building was built around 1850 as the Augustus Draves Barn. In the 20th century it became the Red Barn restaurant.

The Red Barn in 2014.

The Nistico family purchased the property in 1983, and continued to run the beloved restaurant until 2014. It was very comfortable, with a large hearth that had been remodeled by well-known Westport architect Frazier Forman Peters in the 1930s.

The Frazier Forman Peters hearth.

The Red Barn was an “06880 Friday Flashback” in January 2019. Sally Palmer commented:

The Red Barn was witness to the passage of many major events in the lives of Westporters. It was used for baby showers, baby naming, office parties, weddings, birthdays, graduations, too many funerals, class reunions and naturally for dinner. It is more than just an empty building, and I miss it.

Since the purchase more than 5 years ago, the building has remained unoccupied. This bodes badly, since unoccupied buildings can deteriorate more rapidly than those in use. This is true for interior construction (floors, walls, flues, etc.), exterior facades and mechanical equipment (air handlers, heating units, A/C, etc.). I’d hate to see what the kitchen now looks like.

In November 2015 the Y said: “This is a unique opportunity for our YMCA — a long-term investment that allows us to preserve neighborhood values and, ultimately, utilize the property for the benefit of our members and the community we have served since 1923.”

Lining up for a sale of Red Barn items and artifacts, in June of 2014.

Later, Riemersma reiterated:

We purchased the property because it was likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus that would likely come to market.

When we entered into the planning process for Phase II of our facility expansion, we considered using the property as a stand-alone site for our gymnastics program.

When we ultimately decided to place that program in the new wing we were left with no immediate plans for its use and that still holds true today.

At some point in the future, as private property owners, in order to ensure that the Red Barn use compliments the Y’s, the Y could look to enter into a long-term lease or sale of the property or continue to hold it, whatever option seems best for the Y’s future.

This is a relief. But after so many years I wonder how realistic it is. I believe that the Y’s membership and other Westport residents should be apprehensive.  Money talks, and future plans change depending on economic conditions.

The building has now been unoccupied for nearly 7 years, without a plan in place. I am interested in hearing what the new CEO plans for it.