The history of the Gault family is a chronicle of how five generations of Westporters applied the principles of Yankee ingenuity to survive and thrive -- a success story for both the family and the community.
Illustrating that history -- reflecting how Westport itself has grown and changed -- 150 years of Gault family memorabilia is showcased in a Westport Historical Society exhibit, "Five Generations of Yankee Ingenuity." A reception for the opening of the exhibit, which includes vintage photos, documents, tools and artifacts, took place Friday night at the historical society.
The Gaults, who emigrated from northern Ireland to Westport in the mid-19th century, had a knack for recognizing what their neighbors needed. In 1863, Robert Gault started a delivery service with a horse-drawn wagon between Saugatuck's new railroad station and upstream factories. His sons helped expand the service and the fleet of wagons and business grew.
With demand for lumber, stone and coal, the Gault Brothers developed businesses in those fields and acquired Saugatuck River frontage for receiving and storage. They also raised chickens and livestock and harvested ice well into the 20th century.
Their family's enterprises continued to expand into rock- and gravel-crushing, sand and home heating oil delivery. When Interstate 95 construction began in the mid-1950s, the Gaults lost half their riverfront land, including oil storage tanks, to eminent domain. Westport was changing rapidly and the Gaults -- Howard and son Bill -- focused on keeping pace with business growth, adding oil burner installation and expanding service beyond Westport.
Today, the business is led by Bill Gault, his son Sam and son-in-law Jim Donaher. Newer services include oil tank removal, biofuel, propane and standby generators.
Megan Smith-Gill, the Gault Energy & Stone marketing officer, worked with Max Communications and the historical society exhibits committee in gathering memorabilia for the showcase. "This family, unlike many, has done an incredible job of preserving the family archives over five generations," she said. "What is exhibited here is just a fraction of all the materials. We're thrilled to share this with the community as part of our overall 150th year anniversary."
The Gaults, according to Smith-Gill, have been "able to evolve and diversify to meet community needs and going forward to the sixth generation and beyond. This is a unique opportunity to see a family history panel to panel."
Bill Gault, along with his sister Judy Gault Sterling, provided much of the memorabilia for the exhibit.
The Westport Historical Society "did a wonderful job putting it all together," Bill Gault said. "Everything gets saved in our family. There are some things here that I've never seen before ... and there's a picture of a gravel bank I worked at for 25 years ... until my father said it was time to go work in the office."
"A strong point of the family," he added, "has been the ability to hire good employees and serve our community well. Each generation has been able to look ahead to new opportunities, from coal to oil to air conditioning and propane."
"Five Generations of Yankee Ingenuity, The Gault Family" runs through Sept. 2 at the Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place. For information, call 203-222-1424 or check http://www.westporthistory.org