Window to Westport’s Past and Present

November 8th, 2015 until April 9th, 2016

10:00 am - 4:00 pm

WPA Images of Historic Houses:  Westport Historical Society unveils an exhibit of photographs of historic Westport homes taken in the 1930s under the auspices of the federal Works Progress Administration. All of the homes were at least 100 years old when photographed, making the exhibit a rare peek into the town’s past. To show how the homes have changed, the WPA images will be displayed alongside photos taken today.

In all, the exhibit will include photographs of 131 dwellings. Some will be displayed in the Society’s Betty R. & Ralph Sheffer Gallery and the Mollie Donovan Gallery.  Also on display in the Mollie are original artworks by the artist who lived in the house.  The remainder will be set aside in folders for visitors to look through. In addition, there will be booklets of historical information on the homes and their owners.

One of the sets of photos is of the house at 91 Long Lots Road at the corner of Long Lots and North Avenue. Built in 1840, it was home to generations of Westport’s Adams family, which traced its ancestry to a Greens Farms clergyman who met twice with George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The family tree also includes the founder of Adams Academy, which still stands on North Morningside Drive, the Sherwood triplets, clipper ship captains who plied the seven seas. More recently, 91 Long Lots was owned by Martha Stewart.

The idea for the exhibit was born when the Society’s house historian, Bob Weingarten, was going through boxes in the organization’s vault and found one labelled Works Progress Administration. It contained more than 90 photos of Westport homes. Searching through the website of the Connecticut State Library, Weingarten found dozens of additional WPA photos of Westport dwellings.

Weingarten was able to identify most of the homes using skills acquired during his years of research as the WHS’s historic homes specialist. Those that he could not identify were posted on Dan Woog’s “06880” blog with requests for information on their location and history. The result was that only four of the photos remain unidentified. Twenty of the homes are no longer standing. The Works Progress Administration was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s largest New Deal programs. It created work for millions of the nation’s unemployed, including photographers, artists, writers and actors. Photographs like those of historic Westport homes were taken all over the country.