George Washington, the son of a planter, was 24 years old when he first laid his eyes upon Westport in 1756. At the time, the loosely formed alliance of British colonies was on the cusp of the French and Indian War when Washington was summoned to Boston to discuss a military matter with a general.
Just a year earlier, Washington was part of a disastrous expedition. Ambushed in the Ohio Country by the French, he gallantly organized a retreat. His commander was slain and more than half the soldiers killed or wounded. For his valor, the young man was made a colonel in the Virginia regiment.
With the horror of that ill-fated expedition likely weighing heavily on his mind, Washington crossed through Norwalk, took a ferry across the Saugatuck River and made his way to Boston. When he returned he crossed through Westport – known as West Parish and consisting of Norwalk and Fairfield – once again.
The next time he visited Westport, Washington was en route to Boston under much different circumstances. Boton was under siege by British soldiers and the Revolutionary War had begun. Just two weeks before his return to Westport, the Continental Army was created.
His light red hair had grayed since his last visit. No longer a young man, he was now a wealthy landowner well versed in the British art of war. The prospects of independence from the British looked grim, but hope was recently gained at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Washington knew tragedy even before the Revolutionary War reached his apex. His stepdaughter died three years earlier. But on June 28, 1775, Washington experienced a moment of respite due to the hospitality of Westport.
After crossing the Saugatuck River on horseback, he was met by Rev. Hezekiah Ripley, of the West Parish Meeting House (now known as Green’s Farms Congregational Church). The two men walked together and talked or rebellion. They stopped at the meeting house, which served as the center of church and government for the area.
It was a “comely little church,” remarked Washington, and then he was on his way to wage war.
That church that Washington liked is now an empty patch of land at the northeastern corner of the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road. During the Revolutionary War, British soldiers burned the building to the ground.
In the last couple years, artifacts, from shards of glass to smoking pipes, have been found. Anyone looking at the 5.9 acre site, located across from the Colonial Cemetery, will see nothing but shrubbery on the empty space. There isn’t even a plaque.
Town officials are hoping to change this, and plans are in place to turn the spot into a passive-recreation area with a limited impact on nature. Some , as are some trails.
In 1789, Washington stopped in Westport as the first president of the United States of America (he had also passed through in 1780). Perhaps the stress of the job was getting to him because he did not like this visit at all. He stayed at an inn on the Saugatuck River and a huge feast was prepared in his honor. He declined to partake in the meal.
“Dined and lodged at Maj. Marvin’s house…which is not a good house, though the people of it were disposed to do all they could to accommodate me,” Washington wrote in his diary.
He never returned to Westport.
Sources for this story include the excellent book Westport, Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, by Woody Klein and this timeline published by PBS about Washington’s life.