The Westport Weston Family YMCA has been an enduring presence in Westport for nearly a century. This venerable social service institution has served as the nexus of community life since 1923.
For these 90+ years the Family YMCA has enriched the entire community by developing and nurturing the potential of its youth, promoting healthy living and fostering a sense of social responsibility. The values represented by the Family YMCA today – Caring, Respect, Responsibility and Honesty – are those espoused by Edward T. Bedford, Westport businessman and philanthropist, when he founded the Family YMCA.
Timeline of Key Events
The following timeline was first developed by local reporter Anthony Karge in 2011, and since amended and expanded:
1920: Edward Thomas Bedford, a wealthy oil executive and philanthropist, purchases the Westport Hotel. He tears down the building and plans to build a YMCA. The Westport resident wanted to provide something beneficial to the town because drinking was prevalent at the inn.
1923: Bedford dedicates the Tudor building as a gift. It cost him $150,000. Two years later, he vows to spend $15,000 annually of his own money on the YMCA. He pays an additional $2,000 annually for a women’s center at the Y.
1929: Work on an indoor pool at the YMCA is completed. Bedford paid for it.
1931: Bedford dies at 82 years old. His trust fund continued to support the organization years after his death.
1939: The YMCA offers a day camp based out of Doubleday Field on Riverside Avenue, named for the Y’s Physical Director, Doc Doubleday. The kids created crafts, sang songs and went swimming at Compo Beach. Enrollment cost 30 cents a week per child.
April 1942: The location of the camp is less than ideal since a lot of travel around town was needed for the various activities. A number of locations were considered, but nothing ideal was found. According to legend, a janitor overheard a secretary and a YMCA director talking about the fruitless search. He recommended a place alongside the Saugatuck River just north of downtown that would eventually become Camp Mahackeno.
1942: On an undeveloped swath of land bordered by the new Merritt Parkway, Wilton Road and the Saugatuck River, the new location for the YMCA’s camp was established. Helen Smith, a Stamford resident, offered use of part of her property as long as the YMCA paid the property taxes. They obliged her and the camp opened for business with 60 boys. Some small cottages were built, and there was no drinking water. Electricity was inconsistent.
1944: Enrollment grew over the years, and Smith sold her property. The new owner offered the YMCA 30 acres of land. E.T. Bedford’s son, Frederick, offered to pay for half of the $10,000 cost. The other half was raised from other donations.
March 1945: The YMCA moves in to the camp. It’s named Camp Bedford.
1946: At the request of Frederick Bedford, the name is changed to Mahackeno. In the early 1600s, the property was used as a summer lodge for Mahackemo, chief of the Norwalke Indians, and his tribe.
1947: Town water and sewers are installed. By then, there are 120 campers enrolled.
1949: As Camp Mahackeno comes into form, the downtown YMCA continues to grow. This year, they allow females to join.
1955: Dealing with rapid expansion, the YMCA begs for financial support. A report commissioned by the organization analyzes whether the building should be sold and the organization move elsewhere in town. During this time, Camp Mahackeno was heavily renovated with new buildings, boats, rifles (for the marksmanship activities) and other items.
1969: It’s believed that this was the first summer that girls were allowed at Camp Mahackeno. Around this time period, a sale of Camp Mahackeno to a private developer for more than $300,000 was considered. This idea was rejected by the organization’s board.
1976: The Week’s Pavilion was opened. The biggest expansion of the downtown Y to date, the addition included a six-lane lap pool and adjacent shallow pool, Health Centers for both men and women, squash/racquetball courts, and an indoor track. At this time, the Brophy Pool was also renovated to be used as a warm-water shallow pool for lessons, aqua fitness and family recreation.
1976: The Y’s Men of Westport/Weston form. This group of retired and semi-retired men organizes weekly meetings with a variety of speakers and participate in various activities.
1984: The Y acquires the adjacent former firehouse and converts it to a fitness center.
1992: The Y’s Women form.
1995: The third floor of the downtown building is converted from an indoor track to a new gymnastics center.
1995: With what’s described as an old, inefficient building, the YMCA begins looking for possible places to move. Approximately 30 locations around town are considered, but their sights are set on Baron’s South. This land between Imperial Avenue and Compo Road South is mostly empty except for a few houses.
1997: Camp Mahackeno continues to grow. What was once a rag-tag group of few dozen boys is now a popular program with 756 campers. More than $600,000 in revenue was generated in that year by the camp.
1998: The YMCA celebrates 75 years with an exhibit at the Westport Historical Society.
Jan. 1999: The town purchases Baron’s South from the estate of a perfume company founder. The YMCA is still very interested in the land.
1999: A Baron’s South planning committee votes to not have the YMCA move on the land. The first selectman at the time, Diane Farrell, agrees with the board.
2001: The parking lot on Imperial Avenue is considered. This land was once a garbage dump, and the ground is heavily polluted. This location is eventually ruled out.
2002: The YMCA Board of Trustees votes to move to Camp Mahackeno. The process is expected to be difficult and take at least five or six years until the new building is completed.
2004: The YMCA purchases the first of several homes on Sunny Lane, adjacent to Camp Mahackeno. Expanding the property of the camp is essential to eventually completing the new building.
2006: The approval process for the new Y begins. Plans call for a 102,000 square-foot building. In 2006, hearings with the Conservation Commission, Flood & Erosion Control Board, Architectural Review Board and Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection begin.
Dec. 2006: The Family Y ‘sells’ its downtown building to a group of developers, Bedford Square Associates, who envision a mixed-use building with retail units and condos. The announced sale price is more $20 million, but no deed is transferred and the Y maintains control of the building. The contract stipulates the final sale price will depend when the Y moves out and there is a deadline for moving out. Some organization officials say that if the planned move fails, there will no longer be a Family Y in Westport.
March 2008: The main event of the governmental process for the new Family Y begins. The Planning and Zoning Commission holds 15 lengthy public hearings full of expert testimony. After a dozen work sessions, the Planning and Zoning Commission approves the building in a 5-2 vote.
2008: With most government approvals out of the way, a total of four lawsuits are filed against the town’s approvals. Two appeals are filed by Arthur Cohen, a Westport resident. Another two by Y Downtown, a group opposed to the move.
Dec. 2009: Development of the new Y takes longer than expected, so the Family Y obtains a five-year extension with the development group that purchased the downtown building.
June 2010: The Westport Board of Selectman recommends the final governmental approval needed for the construction of the Family Y’s 102,000 sq. ft facility. They vote unanimously in favor of the Family Y’s plans to modify exit 41 of the Merritt Parkway. The state approves their recommendation soon after.
July 2010: Three of the four lawsuits are dismissed in Stamford Superior Court. The only lawsuit that remains is the appeal against the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision.
Jan. 19, 2011: The final lawsuit rules in favor of the town and the Family Y. All legal hurdles are overcome, but a key challenge still remains. The Family Y still needs to raise millions of dollars to build the Family Y and complete a reconfiguration of exit 41 of the Merritt Parkway. Some money has already been raised and a committee is working to come up with a plan to raise the money.
Feb. 2012: The Family Y announces that its new Y facility will be built in stages, keeping pace with fundraising for the facility and ensuring the financial sustainability of the Family Y as a community center focused on developing youth, promoting healthy living for all and fostering a sense of social responsibility.
Feb. 6, 2013: The official groundbreaking ceremony is held for the first phase of the new Y at Mahackeno, a 54,00o sq. ft. facility with all the features and amenities of a modern, family-oriented Y. “The Y has always served as a center of community life and wellness for our local citizens of all ages,” said Jim Marpe, then Chair of the Family Y’s governing Board of Trustees and now Westport’s First Selectman. “Today, we are taking a very important next step in assuring that our mission of community center and wellness continues, not just for the current generation of those who live and work in our towns, but also for future generations of local families for decades to come.”
June 11, 2014: The YMCA Gymnastics Center at 145 Main St. in Norwalk, our Y’s first off-site facility, opens.
Aug. 28, 2014: After 18 months of construction, and at a cost of $38.5 million, the Family Y holds a Dedication and Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony at its modern new home, to be known as the Bedford Family Center in honor of the Y’s founder and the continuing support of our Y by his descendants.
Oct. 6, 2014: The Family YMCA’s new facility at its Mahackeno campus at 14 Allen Raymond Lane in Westport officially opens, welcoming longstanding and new members at 5:30 am.
March 18, 2015: The Family YMCA receives an incredibly generous endowment of $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford.
June 17, 2015: The Family YMCA announces the establishment of the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, which will allow our charitable nonprofit organization to expand upon our mission to develop youth, promote healthy living and foster social responsibility throughout the communities we have served for nearly a century.