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Westport, Connecticut

Westport is a coastal town located on Long Island Sound in Fairfield County, Connecticut, 47 miles north of New York City in the United States. The population was estimated at 26,615 in 2005.

Westport is one of the most affluent communities in the United States and is home to significant cultural attractions, including the Westport Country Playhouse a longtime regional theater, the unique Levitt Pavilion providing free concerts, a strong arts council, the Westport Public Library, and a heritage as a former artists' colony.

Politics

The town government consists of the three-member Board of Selectmen, a Representative Town Meeting (RTM), a Board of Finance, a Board of Education, a Planning and Zoning Commission, and many other commissions, boards, and committees.

Geography and Transportation

According to the United States Census Bureau, Westport has a total area of 33.3 square miles (86.3 km²).20.0 square miles (51.8 km²) or 60.02% of it is land and 13.3 square miles (34.5 km²) or 39.98% is water.

Much of the eastern side of town is considered unusually flat in comparison to the rest of Connecticut.

Westport is bordered by Norwalk on the west, Weston to the north, Wilton to the northwest, Fairfield to the east and Long Island Sound to the south. Interstate 95, the Merritt Parkway and U.S. 1, as well as the Saugatuck River, run through Westport.

Westport has two train stations, Green's Farms and Westport on the Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line, which serves Stamford and Grand Central Terminal in New York City or New Haven-Union Station. This line is shared with Amtrak trains as it is part of the Northeast Corridor, but no Amtrak services stop at Green's Farms or Westport. The nearest stations Amtrak stations are at Bridgeport (10 miles) and Stamford (12 miles).

Westport station is the more widely used of the two, even among people living geographically closer to Green's Farms mainly because more trains stop there. The wait for a parking sticker at the Westport station is now nearly four years long.

Demographics

As of the census of 2000, there were 26,644 people, 9,586 households, and 7,170 families residing in the town. The population density was 1,286.7 people per square mile (496.8/km²). There were 10,065 housing units at an average density of 194.2/km² (503.0 persons/sq mi). The racial makeup of the town was 95.16% White, 1.13% African American, 0.05% Native American, 2.43% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.40% from other races, and 0.81% from two or more races. 2.34% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 9,586 households out of which 38.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 66.1% were married couples living together, 6.8% have a woman whose husband does not live with her, and 25.2% were non-families. 20.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.66 and the average family size was 3.10.

In the town the population was spread out with 27.9% under the age of 18, 2.7% from 18 to 24, 26.2% from 25 to 44, 28.0% from 45 to 64, and 15.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 90.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.3 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $119,872, and the median income for a family was $152,894. Males had a median income of $100,000 versus $53,269 for females. The per capita income for the town was $73,664. 2.6% of the population and 1.5% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 2.7% are under the age of 18 and 2.1% are 65 or older.

Westport was named the fifth top-earning city in the US, with a median family income of $193,540 and median home price of $1,200,000 in July, 2008.

Neighborhoods

  • Saugatuck -- around the Westport railroad station near the southwestern corner of the town -- a built-up area with some restaurants, stores and offices.
  • Greens Farms -- around the Greens Farms railroad station near the southeastern corner of town.
  • Cockenoe Island (pronounced "KawKEEnee") -- just off the southeastern coast of the town.
  • Old Hill -- west of the Saugatuck River and north of the Boston Post Road, a historic section of town with many homes from the Revolutionary and Victorian eras.
  • Coleytown -- Located at the norther edge of town, near the Weston town line. Home to Coleytown fire station,Middle and Elementary school.

Flooding

A total of 26 percent of town residents live within the 100-year-flood plain, and homes and businesses located near the water can become flooded in extremely intense storms. Many other communities along the Connecticut shoreline have flood-prone areas, but Westport has been cited as an example of a town that has taken more action than others in mitigating the problem.

In one storm on December 11, 1992, when a Nor'easter struck the state, many cars parked at the Westport railroad station were immersed in water. "Very strong easterly gales of created by the storm caused severe coastal flooding in Westport and several other communities," according to the Association of State Floodplain Managers. "The Compo Beach and Saugatuck Shores areas of Westport were especially hard hit with virtually every building in both areas being inundated."

A total of 22 homes were raised higher starting in the mid-1990s with some help from state grants, and the town has taken other flood protection measures, including the installation of 16 combination staff gauges and evacuation signs,as well as the publication of a disaster preparedness brochure. These made Westport "the first community in Connecticut to have an approved Hazard Mitigation Plan" for flooding.

The town also has enacted tough regulations on home renovation and construction in flood-prone areas. Homeowners or businesses that build additions or renovations to their buildings in flood-prone areas must elevate the structure to one foot above the Base Flood Elevation if their renovations or additions exceed 50 percent of the fair market value of the property in any five-year period.

Another flood which hit the town on October 20, 1996, resulted in no damage to the original seven elevated homes, although several dozen others, not elevated, were flooded again. Ideas for preventing more flooding, such as construction of a berm near Compo Beach, were shelved in the mid-1990s, as they were considered too expensive.

History

Historical
population
of Westport
1840 1,803
1850 2,651
1860 3,293
1870 3,361
1880 3,477
1890 3,715
1900 4,017
1910 4,259
1920 5,114
1930 6,073
1940 8,258
1950 11,667
1960 20,955
1970 27,318
1980 25,290
1990 24,410
2000 25,749
Although colonists settled along the Saugatuck River in 1639, Westport was officially incorporated as a town in 1835 with land taken from Fairfield, Weston and Norwalk. For several decades after that, Westport was a prosperous agricultural community, which distinguished itself as the nation's leading onion-growing center. Westport's Compo Beach was the site of a British expeditionary force's landing, in which about 2,000 British soldiers marched to Danbury and razed it, resulting in the Battle of Ridgefield. They were attacked on the way and attacked upon landing by Minutemen from Westport and the surrounding areas. A statue of a Minuteman, rifle in hand, is located near Compo Beach. The statue has its back towards the beach to symbolize the Minutemen's strategy of waiting for the British to land and then attacking them from behind.

It wasn't until after the turn of the century that Westport gained the reputation as artist's colony and cultural center. While Westport still retains its cultural roots, the town is no longer an artist's colony. Despite the small-town charm, Westport is a thriving business center and home to approximately 15 corporate headquarters and more than 660 retailers.

Timeline

1637: John Mason, Roger Ludlow and group of soldiers enter area for first time to battle Pequot Indians in Great Swamp.

1639: Several families led by Roger Ludlow return to area, purchase land in Fairfield and Norwalk from Indians, build church and log cabins.

1640: Several other families move to area from New Amsterdam, a large city away.

1648: Five settlers from Fairfield request Colonial Assembly's permission to settle in Machamux, today's Green's Farms. They call themselves the "Bankside Farmers."

1703: First schoolhouse built at Green's Farms commons area. 1777: British troops land at Compo Point; proceed north to burn supplies and ammunition at Danbury, Connecticut; engaged by American forces at the Battle of Ridgefield. 1789: George Washington visits Marvin Tavern.

1807: Newly laid out Post Road passes through growing port area of Saugatuck River. 1835: Daniel Nash and group of businessmen petition for incorporation of Westport, which includes parts of Fairfield, Norwalk, Old Saugatuck and Weston. 1842: Railroad arrives. 1861-65: Westport becomes biggest onion supplier to U.S. Army during Civil War.

1882: Staples High School founded, on Riverside Avenue. 1903: First automobile seen in Westport.

1908: Westport Public Library opens. 1920: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spend summer in Westport. 1935: Local artist paints mural on speakeasy wall, commemorating friends "we'll never forget."

1938: Merritt Parkway opens.

1949: First Representative Town Meeting (RTM) formed. Over 125 candidates vie for 26 slots.

1955: Parker-Harding Plaza created, behind Main Street stores.

1958: Connecticut Turnpike opens.

1959: New Staples High School, on North Avenue, opens.

1960: Town purchases Longshore Club Park.

1967: United Illuminating proposes building nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island. Most Westporters oppose plan, and prevail in court.

Twenty-first century

On September 11, 2001, two Westport residents were killed in the terrorist attacks of that day: Jonathan J. Uman, 33, and Bradley H. Vadas, 37. Both were in the World Trade Center. The state's 9/11 memorial was put in Sherwood Island State Park in Westport.

On the National Register of Historic Places

  • Bradley-Wheeler House — 25 Avery Pl. (added August 5, 1984), home to the Westport Historical Society
  • Compo-Owenoke Historic District — Roughly bounded by Gray's Cr., Compo Rd. S. and Long Island Sound (added May 19, 1991)
  • Godillot Place — 60, 65 Jesup Rd. (added September 29, 1977)
  • Green Farms School — Jct. of Morningside Dr. S. and Boston Post Rd. (added May 19, 1991)
  • Kings Highway North Historic District — Roughly along Kings Hwy. N, from Wilton Rd. to Woodside Ave. (added September 10, 1998)
  • Mill Cove Historic District — Between Compo Mill Cove and Long Island Sound (added May 19, 1991)
  • National Hall Historic District — Riverside Ave., Wilton and Post Rds. (added October 13, 1984)
  • Saugatuck River Bridge — CT 136 (added March 12, 1987)
  • Saugatuck River Railroad Bridge — Metro-North Railroad Right-of-way at Saugatuck River''' (added July 12, 1987)
  • Shambaugh House — 12 Old Hill Rd. (added May 9, 1999)
  • Westport Town Hall — 90 Post Rd. E. (added June 18, 1982)

Education

Westport Public Schools

Total enrollment in Westport Public Schools as of Oct. 1, 2005 was 5,492 students. Each school has its own Web site.

Staples High School, was ranked by Newsweek magazine in 2005 as 452nd on a list of the best 1,000 high schools in the country (Grades 9 to 12) with 1,800 students.

The district has two middle schools (Grades 6 to 8) -- Bedford Middle School and Coleytown Middle School -- with a total of 1,321 students.

There are five elementary schools (Kindergarten to Grade 5) with a total of 2,556 students:

  • Coleytown Elementary School
  • King's Highway Elementary School
  • Green's Farms Elementary School
  • Saugatuck Elementary School
  • Long Lots Elementary School

Long Lots, Saugatuck, and Greens Farms feed into Bedford. The other 2 schools feed into Coleytown. There a number of preschools in Westport, including Stepping Stones Pre-school, Greens Farms Nursery School, and Saugatuck Nursery School.

For the 2006-07 fiscal year, the school district's budget is $82 million.

The school district had a $78.6 million budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year, giving it an average per pupil expenditure of $14,316. The average class size in the school system as a whole was 21 students.

Private education

Greens Farms Academy, located in the 1920s Vanderbilt estate overlooking Long Island Sound. GFA is a K-12 private preparatory school located in the Greens Farms section of town.

Famous Places and Events of Westport

  • Westport's Compo Beach was the site of the British invasion of Danbury, also known as Tryon's Raid.
  • Also near Compo Beach is the famous Minuteman Statue. One may notice that this statue was built facing away from the beach. This is because it commemorates the way the Minutemen hid and waited until they could attack the large British army from behind.
  • Westport houses the Westport Country Playhouse, active since 1930.
  • The town was made famous by the I Love Lucy television show, as it is where the Ricky and Lucy Ricardo (played by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball) moved after purchasing their new home. It was also the fictional residence of Darrin and Samantha Stephens on the television series Bewitched. The Twilight Zone had one episode called A Stop at Willoughby where the main character worked in NYC and commuted on the train to his home in Westport - it aired on May 6th, 1960 - The episode was written by then Westport resident Rod Serling.
  • The film The Girl Next Door was vaguely based on Westport - director Luke Greenfield grew up in town. It was filmed and set in California.
  • One of the most popular tracks on REO Speedwagon's eponymous debut album, released on Epic Records in 1971, was "157 Riverside Avenue." The title refers to the Westport address in which the band stayed during the recording process.
  • In the musical RENT, Benny is married to Alison Grey of Westport, who comes from a wealthy family.
  • In the television series The West Wing, Bradley Whitford plays Josh Lyman the White House Deputy Chief of Staff who comes from a wealthy family from Westport.
  • The movie, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, with Gregory Peck, based on the book by Sloan Wilson, takes place in part and was filmed in parts of Westport. In particular, shots of the Westport Saugatuck train station can be seen, as well as a sequence towards the end of the movie showing a still recognizable Westport Main Street in the late 1950s.
  • In the late 1950s, the construction of a Nike missile base in Westport became the inspiration for the comedic film Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!. The launch site has since been demolished and the radar site is now the location of the Rolnick Observatory, a public astronomical facility.

Theater

Westport is known for its excellent theatrical opportunities for both the audience and for the performer.

  • The Westport Country Playhouse is a theatre in Westport off of Post Road East which is known for its excellent theatrical performances. It recently went through a renovation process.
  • The Staples Players are Westport's high-school's (Staples High School) theatre group. They are known for their stunning musical theatre and theatre performances year round. Recent, notable, productions include The Diary of Anne Frank, winner of the prestigious Moss Hart Award, Cabaret, Children of Eden, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Urinetown and Beauty and the Beast.
  • Music Theatre of Connecticut also provides instruction to students of varying ages and puts on multiple shows and reviews throughout the year.
  • Westport Community Theater has been a part of the community of Weston and Westport since 1956 when they were known as the Westport Players and gave our very first show The Happy Time at the Bedford Elementary School. They stage at least 5 performances a year at the Westport Town Hall.

Media

Notable people past and present

For a much longer list, see: List of people from Westport, Connecticut

Among the many famous actors, singers and other entertainers who have lived in town are couples Paul Newman (until his death in 2008) and Joanne Woodward, as well as Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, radio personality Don Imus, singer Michael Bolton, recording artists Ashford and Simpson, and film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Famous current and past residents include Martha Stewart, Bette Davis, Jim Nantz, Michael Douglas, comedians Rodney Dangerfield, Christopher Lloyd (Staples High School Class of 1957) and Imogene Coca, actress Marilyn Chambers (born in town), writer, TV and film actor Jack Klugman(Jacob Joachim Klugman), child actress Linda Blair, actress Sandy Dennis, Luke Greenfield, F. Scott Fitzgerald, actress Brett Somers, actor Geoffrey Holder, actress Pamela Sue Martin, actress Mariette Hartley, Helen Keller, US Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas sportscaster Jim McKay and ABC News Anchor Harry Reasoner. Artists who lived in town include Saturday Evening Post cover illustrator Stevan Dohanos, singer/song writer Neil Sedaka, photographer Annie Leibovitz, The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, cartoonist Mel Casson, writer Peter De Vries and jazz musician Gerry Mulligan. Hilla von Rebay, founding curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, spent the last years of her life in Greens Farms and died there in 1967.

Fala (1940-1952), President Franklin D. Roosevelt's dog, was an early Christmas gift from Mrs. Augustus G. Kellogg, a town resident. Actress Gene Tierney grew up in Greens Farms.

Movies filmed in Westport

  • The Six Wives Of Henry Lefay (2008) - Filmed in a house on the corner of Clapboard hill and Greens Farms Road.
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Two (2008) Scenes outside of the westport playhouse
  • Tarriance (2005)
  • Victor in December (2005)
  • Of Wanderlust (2003)
  • This Is My Father (1998)
  • Monaco (1997)
  • The Stepford Wives (1975) portions of which were also filmed in nearby Fairfield, Wilton, Darien, Redding, and Norwalk.
  • The Last House on the Left (1972)
  • The Swimmer (1968) starring Burt Lancaster and based on a short story by John Cheever, was partially filmed in Westport.
  • Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958)
  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) - the book on which the movie was based was itself based in Westport, under a fictional town name.
  • In Time of Peril (1912)
  • The Charity of the Poor (1911) filmed in Saugatuck

Prominent companies

  • Bridgewater Associates, a global investment manager. The company has about 500 employees spread between its 1 Glendinning Place headquarters, a nearby building, the Nyala Farms office complex, and a building on the Saugatuck River.
  • Canaan Partners , a leading early stage venture capital firm focusing on IT and life sciences. Canaan is located on Riverside Avenue, less than from the Westport train station.
  • dLife , a multimedia diabetes education (and marketing) company with a weekly television program on CNBC.
  • Pequot Capital Management, a hedge fund with $7 billion under investment, is based in the Nyala Farms office complex on Greens Farms Road. There's a half-court basketball court in the offices.
  • Playtex Products Inc. (PYX) -- headquarters 300 Nyala Farms Road; the company is concentrating on feminine, infant, and skin care products, selling off brands that don't fit those categories; its brands include Playtex tampons, the No. 2 brand in the country behind Procter & Gamble's Tampax; brands acquired since 1994 include Banana Boat, Wet Ones, Mr. Bubble, Ogilvie, Binaca, Diaper Genie and Baby Magic; Douglas Wheat, the former chairman, owns about 33% of the company through his investment firm Haas Wheat & Partners, another 20 percent is owned by investors ed by merchant banker Richard Blum (husband of U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein); 1,250 employees companywide, 200 of them at the Westport headquarters; net sales of $643.8 million in 2005; CEO Neil Defeo (older brother of the Terex CEO Ronald M. DeFeo, whose offices are also in town)
  • Terex (TEX)-- headquarters, 200 Nyala Farm Road, a Fortune 500 company that makes equipment for industries including construction, infrastructure, quarrying, recycling, surface mining, shipping, transportation, refining, utility and maintenance, and it offers financial services to assist in the acquisition of Terex equipment; 17,600 employees companywide, 91 in Connecticut; $6.4 billion in 2005 revenues; CEO Ronald M. Defeo (younger brother of the Playtex CEO Neil DeFeo, whose offices are also in town)

Significant nonprofit institutions

  • Save the Children, the American charity, governed entirely separately from the British charity of the same name, is based in Westport, with about 200 employees working in its headquarters.
  • The 107-year-old (as of 2006) Hall-Brooke Behavioral Health Services, formerly Hall- Brooke Hospital, became a wholly owned subsidiary of St. Vincent's Health Services (a Bridgeport hospital) in 1988. The institution has 76 beds in a facility.
  • Earthplace, The Nature Discovery Center is a nature center and wildlife sanctuary located at 10 Woodside Lane. The organization is dedicated to the promotion of public environmental education, preservation and conservation. Activities include maintaining a 62 acre open space wildlife sanctuary with trails, presenting public nature education programs, a water quality monitoring program, wildlife rehabilitation, an interactive nature discovery area, a nursery school and summer camp.
  • Westport Historical Society is an educational organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and celebrating the history of Westport, Connecticut. The society's headquarters is at Wheeler House, a Victorian house located at 25 Avery Place, near Westport Town Hall.
  • Westport Weston Family Y
  • Westport Arts Center is a performing and visual arts organization dedicated to providing meaningful arts experiences for area residents of all ages. Its gallery is located at 51 Riverside Avenue.
  • Westport Public Library

Major Clubs and Service Organizations

Westport Young Woman's League - since its inception in 1956, the League has donated more than three million dollars to area charities. Its main fundraising events are the Creative Arts Festival, held at Staples High School in November, and the Minute Man Race in the spring. The League performs many community service activities.

Westport Woman's Club - founded in 1907, the club is dedicated to the promotion of charitable, cultural, educational and public health services. Its clubhouse, the 1881 Sidney Watts house, is located at 44 Imperial Avenue. The programs the Woman's Club has initiated to the town are numerous.

League of Women Voters - encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

Sister Cities

Westport currently has three sister cities:

See also

For further reading

  • Klein, Woody. Westport, Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town's Rise to Prominence. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000.

References

External links

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