Modern Period (1915-present)
The 1920 federal census indicates that Westport’s population was just more than 3,000 persons and included 677 residents classified as “foreign-born.” An additional 966 persons were recorded as American citizens born of “foreign or mixed” parents. The town was comprised of 759 families living in 724 homes (Hunt 1922). Town records provide more specific information on the ethnic makeup of Westport. In 1924, the tax rolls included 2,237 people, of which 145 were of Portuguese descent and 137 of French descent. Four years later, the 2,135 taxpayers included 231 Portuguese-descent and 391 French-descent individuals. Together, these two groups comprised nearly 30 percent of the town’s 1928 population (Ledoux 1995:33, 35). The ethnic heritage of the community, especially in northern Westport, is evident in the recollections of a local French Canadian historian, who did not speak English when he arrived with his family as a teenager in Westport. He notes that many other students, merchants and teachers spoke fluent French and were able to bridge the gap while he adapted to English (Ledoux 1995:36).
The advent of the internal combustion engine fueled the transformation of Westport from a predominantly “Yankee” community to one of relative ethnic and economic diversity. As automobiles became the primary mode of transportation, a network of paved roads, bridges, and interstate highways was developed and the town began to experience population growth tied to its popularity as a resort community. A causeway to Gooseberry Neck was built in 1924, opening that area to tourists and residents alike.
All of these construction efforts, however, were decimated by the hurricane of 1938. The storm wiped out virtually the entire communities at Horseneck Beach and Westport Harbor, destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 22 people. Other severe hurricanes in 1944 and 1954 wiped out subsequent rebuilding efforts on Horseneck Beach. Despite these economic setbacks, the general prosperity following World War II ensured steady development farther inland.
Population growth also was spurred by emigration from surrounding communities. The development of New Bedford and Fall River into industrial powerhouses during the early twentieth century led to an influx of French-Canadian and Portuguese working-class families looking for reasonably priced homes outside of the urban centers. The growth of summer tourism during this period and the corresponding need for domestic help likely added to the number of foreign-born residents living in Westport. The increased population called for the construction and implementation of many new town buildings and services. Prominent among these new developments was the establishment of the Factory School, the hiring of a town police chief and sergeant, and the creation of the Board of Welfare (Maiocco 1995). By 1950, Westport had approximately 4,500 residents, a prosperous economy, and a diverse social, economic, and cultural profile.