Way Back When ... Westport Historical Society was the Saugatuck Historical Society
At the end of the 19th century, local history lovers got together to form a society where they could talk about issues of antiquarian interest.
These like-minded citizens included descendants of the town’s founding families including Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Staples, and Stuart, Lillian and Edna Sherwood. Formed in 1889, the Westport Historical Society was, at first, male-only but Westport’s ladies were allowed to join by the 32nd meeting on May 12, 1894.
Meetings of the Westport Historical Society were held at members’ homes in a salon environment that mimicked the popular format of the day in which writers, artists, musicians and other purveyors of culture held court in the homes of patrons.
SHS members enjoyed refreshments along with energetic discussion about local and national history, including the Pequot War, the Spanish American War. The first “oral histories” were recorded from older member’s recollections of the town. Then as now, genealogy, was also a topic of great interest.
The group met seasonally and the closing meeting for the year was a social event very much like the benefit or gala dinners held today.
Often a member would lend his or her lavish home for the festivities such as the one at Compo House (which stood at today’s Winslow’s Park) in 1897, which included a magician who “afforded the assemblage infinite amusement by the skill and variety of his tricks.”
Westport Historical Society changed its name to the Saugatuck Historical Society in 1890 and continued for a few years more. It was reborn in 1958 under yet another name — Westport-Weston Historical Society.
It became the Westport Historical Society again in the early 1960s. Like previous iterations of the Society, the group met at various temporary locales including Adams Academy, the one room schoolhouse on Morningside Drive founded by Ebenezer Adams in 1837 and at 99 Myrtle Ave. across the street from its current headquarters.
Following its 129-year tradition of evolving with modern times as a way of preserving and sharing history, Westport Historical Society will once again change its name.
The new name, Westport Museum For History & Culture will take effect on Sept. 28 with the launch of the museum’s 2019/20 exhibit “Becoming Westport” which tells the story of the town’s evolution from the 17th-century through today.