Endings & Beginnings, 1980-1999

The last two decades of the 20th century heralded the close of certain chapters in Westport life. Iconic buildings that spoke to Westport’s past—like the elegant Kemper House that once stood at the rear of Playhouse Square, the commodious General Putnam Inn on Jesup Green and the beloved Rippe cider mill and farm stand on the Post Road where Harvest Commons Condominiums now stand, all made way for modern development. Dorr Oliver Laboratories formed around 1915 as a supplier of processing equipment for minerals, metals, fertilizers, pulp and paper chemicals closed in 1985. 

In 1985, another long-standing Westport institution was threatened when the Westport Country Playhouse was on the auction block for use as a shopping center or condo complex.  The Playhouse Limited Partnership was formed to purchase the property for $1.2 million. By 1990 the Playhouse was listed on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places. 

The Playhouse was not the only local nonprofit to get a new lease on life in the 1980s.  In July 1984, the Westport Historical Society [Westport Museum for History & Culture] successfully purchased the Bradley-Wheeler House for its museum headquarters after several years of fundraising efforts. Then-new Westporters like caterer Martha Stewart, enthusiastically joined long-time residents like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in creating exhibits, programs and fundraising for the organization. 

Newman’s philanthropy extended to many aspects of local and national life—including supporting the newly-saved Playhouse. In 1982 he and partner A.E. Hotchner formed Newman’s Own a private nonprofit, located in Westport, that donates 100% of all post-operation profits to support educational and charitable organizations worldwide. In 1988 Newman also founded the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp. This camp was founded to provide opportunities for children with serious illnesses to experience the transformational spirit and friendships that go hand-in-hand with camp. The camp’s facilities in Ashford, CT are still active and providing unique experiences to children with little opportunity to share the camp experience. 

Dive in and learn more about the history of Westport, the quintessential New England town