We're number 1!
I am immensely proud that our town is rated No. 1 in the November issue of Connecticut Magazine in its first "Rating The Towns" survey in three years in communities with a population of 25,000 to 50,000.
Our population was listed as 25,749. The top rating doesn't really surprise me -- knowing our history -- how we got to be what we are, and how much we all pitch in to preserve and protect its character and strengths.
How did we do it? It's really quite simple. We did it the old-fashioned way: We earned it.
We are grateful to Connecticut Magazine for compiling and analyzing data on every one of the state's 169 towns for the first time since 2006 in five categories: education, economy, cost of living, crime and leisure/culture. The publication performed a public service.
Westport, a perennial favorite in this survey of towns with a population of 25,000 to 50,000, was followed by Glastonbury, Newtown, Cheshire, New Milford, Branford, Groton, Wallingford, Trumbull, Wethersfield, Middletown, Shelton, Windsor, Southington, Norwich, Newington, Vernon, Stratford, Torrington, Enfield, New London, Naugatuck, East Haven and East Hartford.
The magazine stated; "Westport and Glastonbury seem to be pretty much written in stone as Nos. 1 and 2 in this population group. Both towns boast terrific schools, a low crime rate, a relatively good local economy (even though it might not be where it once was a couple of years ago), and plenty of things to do."
The magazine's ratings were measured on a scale of 1--24, 24 being the lowest. How did Westport fare? In general, very well. In education: 1; economy: 1; cost of living: 24; crime: 4; leisure/culture: 1, for a total of a low 31 points. Glastonbury compiled 33 points, and the next three were Newtown, 43; Cheshire -- 44; New Milford -- 46; and Branford -- 53.
It is worth noting that among the demographics listed for Westport, compared to the other nine towns, are the following: crime rate: 3.43, (second lowest behind Glastonbury's 3.26); SAT score: 1784 (highest); median house price: $970,000 (highest); library per capita: $146.03 (highest, with Wethersfield second at $60.60); voter turnout: 86.05 percent (second highest to Newtown, 88.97 percent).
For towns with populations of 15,000 to 25,000 the rankings in the top 10 were: Ridgefield: 1; Wilton: 2; New Canaan: 3; Avon: 4; Darien and Simsbury: 5 (tie); Madison: 7; Farmington: 8; Southbury: 9; Guilford: 10.
Westport's reputation, of course, stretches far beyond the state's boundaries. There have been many outstanding stories reported in the national media bolstering our reputation for public service, innovation, character, and unity in the face of adversity. Three in particular in the last half century come to mind.
First, Westport's Cuseo family sent the most sons off to war in World World II -- eight! It took time, but after the war was over, in 1954, the New York Journal-American sponsored a contest in conjunction with the national Veterans' Administration in Washington for anyone in the nation to match a family they had found whose six sons in the war had come forward. It was announced in every major paper across the nation. The Westport Town Crier informed the Veterans' Administration of the Cuseo family's eight sons, and their story was published in the Journal American and in other major newspapers.
The second story appeared on the front page of The New York Times on July 25, 1960, accompanied by two photographs of the 191-acre Longshore Club Park, which the town purchased from a private owner for $1.9 million. The headline read: "Westport Residents Enjoy Community's Own Luxurious Country Club." The lead of the story read as follows: "Westport, Conn., July 24 -- Imagine a luxurious country club overlooking Long Island Sound with dues of $10 a year for a family. Well, this community has one."
At the time, Westport received recognition from all parts of the country, including the trade magazine, Editor and Publisher, which covers the newspaper industry in America. It published an editorial in its Sept. 10, 1960, issue praising Westport: "It took daring and courage. ... It took leadership and confident fellowship. It took understanding of trends conditions and needs. It took quality of thinking that is satisfied only by follow-up in action. Westport is proving that the town and its citizens have these qualities."
Third, in 1967 Westport became part of a "David vs. Goliath" story that made national news. United Illuminating announced that it was planning to build a nuclear power plant on state-owned Cockenoe Island off Compo Beach. The headline in The Bridgeport Post: "UI Plans A-plant Off Westport." Thanks to the perseverance of Westport News Editor Jo Brosious -- who ignited a town wide "Save Westport Now" band of local citizens in opposition -- Westport prevailed. After a hard-fought battle by townspeople of all stripes, and in the state legislature, the town won the right to purchase the island for $200,000. The headline in the Westport News on Dec. 24, 1969 was: "Isle Be Home For Christmas," thus saving our town from being deserted by its own population, not to mention losing its attraction as a destination for wannabe suburbanites.
The same determination to preserve our character is still alive and well in our town today. From the very outset of our founding in 1835, we have been strong-willed thinkers with a desire to govern ourselves as we see fit.
Being rated No. 1 -- again -- is consistent with our past, and yet another significant affirmation of our standing as a community.
Woody Klein's "Out of the Woods" column appears regularly in the Westport News. He is author of Westport, Connecticut, The Story of a New England Town's Rise to Prominence, published in 2000, sponsored by the Westport Historical Society, and illustrated by Miggs Burroughs.