Headwaters to Harbor: The Heritage of Water

Join us as we explore the heritage of water in Westport, and the influence that it has on our lives today and in the future. We will use the Handy House as a central venue for interpretation and as a gateway to a community-wide exploration from Headwaters to Harbor and beyond…We plan an exhibition, walks, talks, and other community events.

Water is a big topic for Westport, embracing the entire town from north to south. It encompasses topics as diverse as rum-running, slavery, whaling, hurricanes, ice industry, cranberry bogs and saltworks. How has living by the water influenced your life? For some it represents freedom, for others it has been a resource that provided food and employment, or a refuge for recreation and relaxation. We hope that YOUR ideas, artifacts, photographs, memories, and documents will help us tell the story of Westport and its heritage of water.

Water flows through our history. Since the ice age water has shaped our landscape. From the smallest streams to the wide Atlantic Ocean, it has influenced the people and culture of Westport, and remains a significant part of our lives today.

Our river and streams, a natural sheltered harbor, and the beaches have bestowed great fortune, providing the means for fishing, whaling, ocean trade, ship-building and water powered industrialization – all of which have been engines of economic development and social change.

And yet, our proximity to water has also brought misfortune and destruction, in the form of hurricanes, shipwrecks, and livelihoods lost to changing regulations.

The evidence of the powerful influence of water throughout the centuries is embedded in our landscape, recorded in our collections of documents, photographs and artifacts, and memorialized in the personal stories handed down through generations.

Today, from the archaeological remains of shell middens and artifacts, we see how this abundant natural resource sustained Native Americans.

Remnants of mills that once harnessed water power embody the entrepreneurial spirit of the earliest European settlers.

Wharves, piers and landings survive along the river from which whaling ships and merchant vessels once departed, carrying Westporters to exotic worlds and perilous adventures.

The maritime heritage of this town survives in the architecture, from simple houses of coopers at the Point to grand residences of whaling masters at the Head and the summer cottages that once lined East Beach and the harbor beaches.

Today, most of us experience water from a landlubber’s perspective as a place of great natural beauty, or for pleasure seeking activities of sailing, kayaking, and recreational fishing. The maritime industries of the 19th century have now been replaced by 21st century forces of preservation and protection, balancing development, recreation, conservation, and environmental concerns.

Your stories, memories, artifacts, photos, and ideas are important! Please consider sharing your thoughts with us.