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Sept. 5, 1923: The Day Westport Got Its ‘Y’

 

Editor’s Note: The Westport Weston Family Y will celebrate its 90th Anniversary with a street party on Church Lane from 4 to 6 pm on Wednesday, September 18, 2013. At 5:30 pm, we’ll have a mass sing-along of “Happy Birthday, Family Y,” offer cake and a beverage to our guests, and make a special announcement regarding our new Y, now under construction at the Y’s Mahackeno campus just north of downtown Westport. The public is most welcome to join us for our Y’s 90th Birthday party on the 18th.

 “Mr. Bedford Performs One of Most Pleasant Duties of His Life in Giving ‘Y’ to Westport.”

E.T. Bedford PicSo hailed the banner headline of the Westporter-Herald. Underneath the now-iconic photograph of our community’s most notable benefactor, the front-page article began:

Westport celebrated an occasion Wednesday in the opening of its new Y. M. C. A. building which was 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 there anywhere near as great a gathering as notables, both local and out of town.

The date was Wednesday, September 5, 1923. The grand opening of our community’s new center of fellowship and fitness attracted some 1,500 people, including Connecticut Governor Charles E. Templeton. After Reverend George B. Hatch of the Greens Farms Congregational church offered a prayer, Mr. Edward T. Bedford, “the donor of this new and handsome Y.M.C.A. building to the town of Westport,” delivered his presentation speech. His remarks have stood the test of time, and are worth recalling in brief as the Westport Weston Family Y celebrates 90 years of service to its members and the community:

            “I am asked why and how I became interested in the erection of this building. During the Civil War father moved from Brooklyn to Greens Farms occupying the farmhouse then owned by the late Horace Staples, now known as Wynfromere Farm. Like most Greens Farms boys, I went to school in the Winter and worked in the Summer. My first work was for Mr. Staples. At the end of the season, then a boy of 15, I was very proud to hand to mother enough money earned to buy my Winter overcoat – probably I never owned a coat of which I was never more proud or took more care of.

The original Hotel on Main Street.

The original Hotel on Main Street.

            “Sometimes of a Saturday afternoon and often of an evening I used to go to Westport and I have stood outside the windows of the old Westport hotel, where this building now stands, watching a game of pool or billiards. I was not allowed to enter on account of the saloon. The recollection of this and the experience taught me as to the need of some place for boys and young men to congregate lead to this building, which I hope may not only fill this want, but also be the headquarters for many good things that can be done for the benefit of our town.

                “It is a very great pleasure, Mr. President of our Board of Directors and President of the Ladies Association, in the name of Mrs. Bedford and myself, to now formally present to you, and through you to you the Town of Westport, this building and its property. All we desire is that it may be most generously and properly used and that we may be permitted with you to continue to contribute to both its upbuilding and financial support. When we pass away this will be continued by my children and after them by their children and their children’s children, through the medium of the Bedford fund.”

Fredrick M. Salmon, President of the Bedford Y.M.C. A.’s board of directors, formally accepted the building for the board and the Town of Westport. In his speech Mr. Salmon told Mr. and Mrs. Bedford that the board “would ever feel the great responsibility of keeping the building as it then was, and to make it just what the donors expected of it — a place where the people of Westport men, women, and children, will be able to hold community affairs and be assured of enjoying the privileges of the same.”

Salmon spoke at some length upon the wonderful building which Mr. Bedford had given to the town of Westport but added “how utterly useless it would be unless there was a great cooperation among residents of the town.”

“The board of governors and Mr. Bedford realized,” said Salmon, “there must be a large membership – in fact, a model one in keeping with the building.”

Westporter-Herald front page Sept. 7, 1923Gov. Templeton Makes
Short Address

The Westporter-Herald article then recounts the words of the keynote speaker, Charles Templeton, governor of the state of Connecticut:

The governor is a familiar figure in this section of the state and needed little introduction to a Westport audience. Great applause greeted him. He stood for a moment before commencing his remarks, surveying that large assemblage. His eyes finally rested upon the donor of the building and he smiled, then proceeded:

       “It’s a great pleasure to be here tonight and say just a few words to you Westport people. Do you know I have traveled all over this country, and been a keen observer, but nowhere will you find the country that we have here. Connecticut has its hills, its level places and sea shore, its rivers and lakes – a truly wonderful state. And you have here a truly wonderful town and one of the most wonderful institutions for the welfare of the young man that has ever been known, the young Men’s Christian Association. Mr. and Mrs. Bedford have done a great honor and bringing to you some of the great advantages of this Y. M. C. A. building.

        “Connecticut as a state stands out among all other states of the Union.” He congratulated Mr. Bedford on giving the town of Westport this fine Y. M. C. A., congratulated the town of Westport on having such a fine citizen as Mr. Bedford and congratulated the state on of Connecticut on having such a fine community as Westport.

        “Mr. Bedford has taken a great interest in the welfare of mankind. That’s why this building is here today. In his younger days he didn’t have the opportunities the young men of today have. But he improved at every opportunity. 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 – tasks which made him what he is today, a successful man and a person who should be looked up to. That he loves his fellow man is evident by this building.

                “I tell you a great responsibility rests with you people …. Have a conscience and support your government, and you will be better for it. In closing I wish again to thank Mr. Bedford for the great privilege extended me to take part in these exercises, and I want to admonish all you people of Westport to take a great interest in this building…”

Judge Arthur Ells’ Fine Talk

Following Governor Templeton’s short address, President Salmon then introduced Judge Arthur Ells of Waterbury, who, our anonymous scribe reports, “launched into one of the most beautiful addresses that it has ever been the good fortune of any to hear. He prefaced his remarks with a recital of that old but popular bit of poetry, ‘Let Me Live by the Side of the Road,’ and likened the new Y.M.C.A. to this place, being a ‘friend to man,’ a place where the souls of young men were started right in their younger days due to the spiritual as well as the physical training.

       “Many an able man today has received his early training in the Y, the judge continued. “The imperishable youth of America must be educated in everything that tends for good. The building has a psychological effect upon those passing by, too, as it shows Westport has a place where the young men are being educated to be the best men in the country …. Educate the young man, give him a clean body. This will all help to make the world better.”

Mr. Bedford Received Amid Much Applause

When Mr. Bedford stepped out upon the platform there was great applause, which lasted for several minutes. In part he said:

A Westport Y basketball team, back in the day.

A Westport Y basketball team, back in the day.

       “We older people expect to take a good deal of pleasure from this association, promoting more intimate social relations with each other in the enjoyment of the bowling alleys, billiard tables, gymnasium, etc., and an opportunity in leisure hours to read the daily papers and periodical which will be found in the reading room.

                “We must not forget considering our own interest, that this is a Y. M. C. A. – practically a club for young men and boys, affording them a place of meeting, far more necessary to them than to us, and exercises that tend to promoted general health as well as give pleasure, and I trust some educational advantages to those desirous of obtaining same ….

         “With industry and a constant thought of what one has to do, with the thought always in mind that we want to do it a little better than it has been done before, will always give a fair measure of success.

         “In our office we have perhaps 400 young men and women. Occasionally we hear from their mothers, sometimes from their fathers, that they work too hard. In my experience, this has never been true. It is not the extra hour at the office that is impairing their health or lessening their strength, it is the hours they spend in enjoyment, dancing, late suppers, etc. It is my belief no one has ever shortened his life from work. Of course they might worry in connection with their work, but not from the work itself. Take Mr. Edison. We know the hours he works in his laboratory, disregarding time, in the interest he takes in his work, and see what a vigorous man he is and what he has accomplished.

            “Do not think, boys and young men, that you work too hard – the whole question is, do you work hard enough?

          “… Now just a word to the ladies who have honored me by calling their part of this building the Bedford house. There is no question of the good use they will make of it; if we do half as well we will be fortunate.

A women's lifesaving course from 1932.

A women’s lifesaving course from 1932.

          “I do not know just what they intend teaching excepting domestic science, and it is a great thing for a young woman to know how to cook intelligently, even if she does not have to do it. We are told by our best doctors and surgeons that a good many of our ailments are the result of improper cooking. I recently read a lecture by the great surgeon, Charles Mayo, who said quite a number of stomach ulcers, even cancer, were the result of improper cooking, so there is our health to be considered as well as the pleasure to be derived from a well-cooked meal.

                “I heard of an instance that seemed to show there is something else besides cooking that needs to be taught. A young lady who stood very high in her class in the cooking of fish got married and cooked her first Sunday meal at home for her husband. He was delighted and said that he had never eaten a meal that was quite as nice as that, although he had had it from the best chefs in the country, at hotels, clubs, etc.

         “The next Sunday she tried it again, and it was a dismal failure and the meal was a most unpleasant one. The young man declared that if he had to have that kind of meal he would go back to his club. Next morning she went down to her fishman, told him her troubles, that she had cooked it in every respect the same as she had the previous Sunday when it was so good, and this time it was so bad. He was very much interested and disturbed, looked the matter up, and said he could not understand it, for, according to records, it had been cut right off of the same fish.”

So ends a most entertaining account of “an occasion Wednesday in the opening of its new Y. M. C. A. building which was second to none in the history of the town.”

May the celebration of our Y’s 90th birthday, a street party on Wednesday, September 18, 2013, from 4 to 6 pm, be as instructive, festive and memorable!

Mr. Edward T. Bedford riding a sulky at his Greens Farm oval track.

Mr. Edward T. Bedford riding a sulky at his Greens Farm oval track.