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ARCH STREET FERRY TICKET OFFICE

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Two favorite destinations for local residents who don't have the time or money to travel extensively in the summer is Little Captain's Island (Island Beach) or Great Captain's Island.  Connected to Island Beach by a sand spit at low tide is Wee Captain's Island, a privately-owned property.  It's believed that these islands were named after Captain Daniel Patrick, who was a pre-Revolutionary War commander.  He and the Feakes purchased land in Old Greenwich from the Native-Americans..

The first known private owner of the islands was Dr. Nathaniel Worden, who sold them to Justus Bush. When Bush died in 1760, the islands were left to his son, Justus Bush III, and some other children.  In 1761, New York resident John Anderson petitioned his state for ownership of the islands.  Anderson was granted a patent, which in effect gave him dual ownership.  In 1764, Justus Bush sued Anderson for trespassing, when he found Andeson cutting wood on Great Captain's Island.  the Superior Court of Fairfield County found in favor of Bush, and thus Connecticut.  Ownership remained a point of contention between New York and Connecticut until 1879, when a special commission granted the islands to Connecticut.


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FERRY DEPARTING ISLAND BEACH

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

During the 20th Century, Island Beach underwent many changes.  An Island Beach Corporation opened an amusement park on the island, featuring a merry-go-round, shooting gallery, booth games, goldfish tank, a dance hall, a restaurant and one- and three- room bungaloos. The carousel was operated by hand.  It was eventually removed since someone had been injured on the ride. Over time, business fell off due to the short season and World War I. Judge James Walsh, who was a First Selectman, State Senator and State Treasurer, owned it for a while.  Then, business dropped off greatly due to tough economic times and the shortage of men enlisting during World War I.   In 1916, the island was up for sale, but, unfortunately, the RTM rejected the purchase in 1918 since they were involved in purcahsing Sandy Point Beach off Mead's Point as a public beach.  Eventually, the Sandy Beach  sale fell through.  Then two families, the Lauders and the Greenways, bought the island, and donated It to the town as a gift for use by the townspeople on October 24, 1918.  It was donated in memory of George L. Lauder, Jr, who died of influenza at the age of 37.  The famous fighter Gene Tunney was present at the ceremony. (He had married Polly Lauder). 

Two Mead's Point residents-Mrs. Wilks and Mrs. Campbell-donated money for a ferry.  The first one (the Island Beach) sailed in 1920.   Sanford Mead was the Captain, and he was assisted by engineer Winfield Mills.  In 1937 another boat - The Indian Harbor - was purchased.  It could hold up to 256 passengers.  Riders paid 10-cents to ride, while children rode for free during the week.  On weekends, children paid 10-cents to ride.   Island Beach became so popular that people started coming out by train from New York City.  It wasn't long before the ferry became overcrowded.  Private boat owners seized the opportunity to make some extra money.  They charged 25-cents to carry the overflow of people to the island.  One owner from Stamford sailed the 50-foot sailboat Massasoit with passengers, who got soaking wet since there was no cabin for the riders to sit in!  To address the problem of overcrowding, the town introduced beach cards to limit use to residents. However, this was not effectively enforced until the 1950s.


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 REMNANTS OF CAROUSEL ON ISLAND BEACH

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Since there's now a full-time caretaker on the island, it's necessary for the person to have a boat to get back and forth to the mainland.  He has to bring in his own supplies.  Water has to be shipped out by boat since wells cannot be used due to saltwater intrusion. At one point, water had to be stored in wooden barrels. In 1936, a 10,000 gallon tank was installed for water. Toilets use saltwater. 

It's an ideal job for someone seeking solitude since no one comes after the summer ferry stops.  At one time during the 1980s, a writer had the job.  He loved the isolation.  Some families have lived on the island, making it necessary to take the children daily to the mainland to attend school, etc.  It takes a certain type of person to live this kind of lifestyle.


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PIER AND DOCK AT ISLAND BEACH

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Over the years, weather has had a profound effect on the island. In 1860, Greenwich Harbor and Long Island Sound froze over.  A man claimed he was able to walk all the way to Long Island from Greenwich.  The same thing happened in 1917 and 1934.  In 1938, the bungaloos were knocked off their foundations by the Great Hurricane, and in 1955 the dock was ruined by a windstorm.  Three bungaloos were also washed away.  More recently, in 1980 the Beach House and dock was ruined.  The White Hurricane of 1992 ruined the dock, and Hurricane Sandy did the same, making it necessary to postpone the opening of Island Beach until July.

The lawsuit to open Greenwich beaches in 1996 led to changes in the fee structure and access to Greenwich beach facilities for out-of-towners.  Fears of overcrowding were premature.  Out-of-towners now have to get a temporary town pass as well as a ticket to ride the ferry.  On the weekends, you'll find the greatest number of people taking advantage of the barbeque grills and refreshing waters of Long Isalnd Sound.  On warm days, you'll usually find the air is several degrees lower than the mainland.  You also get a great view of the Manhattan skyline.


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BASE OF FLAGPOLE WITH DEDICATION TO LAUDER FAMILY

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

One of my favorite events is the free concert by a Dixieland Band.  They usually board a 4:30 ferry, and play while the boat heads down Greenwich Harbor to Island Beach.  After an hour of entertaining people on the island, they re-board the ferry, and play all the way back to the Arch Street dock. 


Another special event is a "Cruise to Nowhere".  Several times in the summer, the boat heads out to destinations like Oyster Bay. You can't get off because the boat doesn't dock;  but if you're like me, it satisfies your need for a longer cruise.


We're very fortunate to have this town park available to the public.  It's a great place to take the children anytime.  Many residents view the trip out to Island Beach as a "mini-vacation"!


SOURCES

Island Beach: An Oral History Interview
Oral History Project. Friends of the Greenwich Library
Greenwich, CT.: Greenwich Library, 1979


Recently, I wrote about the Mianus River and Natural Park in Greenwich.  This is just one of the many beautiful conservation areas in Greenwich.   Another favorite area is the Montgomerey Pinetum Park on Bible Street in Cos Cob. 

In 1880, Fred Gotthold, President of the Gotthold Company - a straw goods manufacturer - purchased 55-acres on Bible Street.  He and his wife, Florence, built the "Wild Acres" estate. This included an 18-room Mansard-roofed mansion, a guest cottage, laundry building, ice house, water tower, wood shed, cow barn, garage, gardener's cottage, chicken houses ands a small barn.  They also enjoyed plantings, which included a one-half-acre perennial garden, flower gardens, orchard, walled garden and 2-acre lawn.  There was also a 2-acre vegetable garden.  Brooks and ponds divided the property, and there was a substantial hemlock grove.  By the 1920s, the Gottholds decided to downsize and put the estate up for sale.

Colonel Robert H. Montgomerey, and his wife Nell, purchased "Wild Acres" in 1928.  Montgomerey had been a CPA, soldier in 2 wars, a university professor and a writer.  He was looking for a hobby that would be educational, create beauty and provide public enjoyment.  So he decided to create a "pinetum" - a collection of pines.  Since Nell was an artist, Robert had a field studio built with a landscape view.  He also had a primrose garden built, which spanned a brook.  Other plantings included forget-me-nots, grape hyacinth and barberry.  Over time, the estate grew to 125-acres.

Montgomerey made many improvements.  He added a greenhouse to grow fruit trees, which required a hgh roof.  A formal entrance with stone columns was constructed on Stanwich Road.  In 1930, stone retaining walls were built along the main entry drive.  Montgomerey had 850 species of conifers inventoried over a 2-and-a-half year period.  They were photographed with handwritten notes.  By the end of his life, he had donated over 200 species of trees to the New York Botanical Gardens.

Colonel Montgomerey died in 1952.  His wife donated the 125-acres to the Town.  The gift specified that visitors be restricted to walking trails, the park be used for the cultivation of arts and horticulture, and that the Town could sell off portions if necessary in the future.  Initially, the Town Meeting rejected the gift due to the expense of upkeep.  Supporters convinced conservationist Helen Binney Kitchell to speak to the RTM about the value of the land, and the meeting voted unanimously to accept it.  The Town made immediate plans to demolish all the buildings with the exception of one wing of the mansion.


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MAP OF THE EXPANDED PARK SYSTEM

COURTESY OF THE MONTGOMEREY PINETUM PARK COALITION

Over the years, the Town has made many improvements to Montgomerey Pinetum. The property has been modernized to make it more suitable as a park.  Land was cleared to give a better view from the mansion to the pond.  In 1955 a parking lot was built for those coming to skate on the ponds. A new lavatory was added in 1956, and in 1958 the remaining west wing of the mansion was repaired.  The University of Connecticut developed some planting plans, and a rock garden was installed on the south lawn.

It was in 1957 that the Town created the Garden Education Center. It's purpose was to inspire public interest in better gardening.  Two-thousand square feet of classrooms and workspace was created and the greenhouse was expanded. A Town nursery was started to grow fledgling shrubs.  The State recognized the greenhouse as an historic structure in the 1990s, and in 1993 it was added to the State Register of Historic Structures.  As part of a Master Plan in 1999, an inventory of existing park features was completed, and in 2000 a plan was put together to improve the park by adding handicap access, and expanded parking.

In 2003, the Town acquired the Pomerance Property off Orchard Street, which is adjacent to Pinetum and added 75 additional acres of woodlands.  Then, in 2007 the Tuchman Property added 31 more acres.  It's now possible to hike the entire area.

Today Montgomerey Pinetum is a favorite destination for nature lovers.  Just off the flagstone terrace of the main building are beautifully manicured lawns.  The reflecting pool remains, and tulips, daffodils and azaleas accentuate the grounds.  Tree species include Weeping Hemlock and Japanese Threadleaf Maples.  Visitors can walk a short tree identification walkway.  Several high rock outcroppings provide a beautiful vantage point of the forestlands.  One of these is the Joseph Hartman Outlook. This feature is in the northern part of the park, and was named after a man loved the New England wilderness. A large picnic area is available for those who wish to enjoy a meal in the outdoors.  The Greenwich Audubon Society  maintains the Mildred Bedard Caldwell Wildlife Sanctuary, which is bordered by Pinetum Lane, Bible Street,  and Cat Rock Road, to the northeast of Pinetum.  There is a trail from the Sanctuary, which leads directly to Montgomerey Pinetum.  

Due to siltation, public skating at Montgomerey Pinetum has ceased.  It's still a fabulous place to visit year round.  The fall is especially colorful in the Pinetum.  Although it's closed from November 15 to March 15, it's opened most days from 8 am to sunset.   Hiking boots are recommended, and insect repellent in the warm months is a good idea. 


SOURCES

"Montgomerey Pinetum Park." Montgomerey Pinetum Park. Town of Greenwich. Web. 1 May 2015.   http://www.grewichct.org/upload/..../HLR-Section-6-Pinetum.pdf.


Montgomerey Pinetum. Town of Greenwich. Web. 1 May 2015. http://www.greenwichct.org/upload/medialibrary/338/HLR-Section_6-Pinetum.pdf.



Havemeyer Park Housing Project

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One of the most interesting neighborhoods in town is Havemeyer Park in Old Greenwich.  It lies just to the west of the town line with Stamford, and offers a contrast to the housing projects and new condos just across the town line.  Although the houses are basically the same style (Cape Cod houses), each one has its own unique character.  The houses were originally built to provide housing for the many Veterans returning from World War II


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Originally, the land where Havemeyer Park was built belonged to H.O. Havemeyer. Henry (or Harry) was an industrialist and sugar maker.  He was born in New York City on October 18, 1847.  He studied at Bellport Academy on Long Island, then transferred to Bett's School in Stamford.  It's reported that he had a run in with the Principal, and left school permanently at the age of eight.  This was the extent of his formal education.  Since his family was well established, he became the President and owner of the American Sugar and Refining Company.  Havemeyer's nickname was "Sugar King".  H.O. owned a sugar plantation in Cuba, and shipped his sugar cane by boat to New York.  He cornered the market in sugar all over the country.

In 1888, Havemeyer bought 85 acres about 2 blocks up from the Boston Post Road.  He decided to build his "Hilltop" estate. The view of Long Island Sound was magnificent in those days.  It took 3-years for men to clear the land and construct the buildings.  This included a mansion, barn, 3 greenhouses, a gardener's cottage and an artesian well. There was no bathroom - residents had to use an outhouse. Havemeyer raised cows, chickens and pigs.  He grew apples, grapes, figs, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes and vegetables.  His pride and joy, however, was his orchids, roses and gardenias.  These varieties won him many prizes at New York flower shows.

Like many other Greenwich residents, the Havemeyer family lived a very rustic life  There was no electricity or running water.  Kerosene lamps were used for lighting. The roads were still dirt, and Mr. Havemeyer had to take a horse and buggy to the train station, post office and grocery store.  Actually, they were pretty self-sufficient when it came to food since they grew a lot of fruits and vegetables.  Havemeyer had cottages built on the estate so he could invite guests for the weekend.

It's a well-known fact that the Havemeyer family was very generous to the Town of Greenwich.  They bought and gave  the Town the triangular park in front of the Post Office where the obelisk now resides.  They also donated $250,000 for the Havemeyer School. Old Greenwich School and the First Presbyterian Church were also recepients of their generosity. Mrs. Havemeyer was a volunteer who supported Women's Suffrage,  and she belonged to the National Women's Party.

They were the first to buy Impressionist paintings by Degas and Monet and have them imported to the United States. (They were close friends of artist Mary Cassatt, by the way.) A large part of their art collection was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  H.O. Havemeyer passed away on December 4, 1907.

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PHILANTHROPIST H.O.HAVEMEYER


It was after World War II (1946) that Gene Tunney became interested in the Havemeyer property.  Tunney was a professional boxer, and was the world heavyweight champion from 1926 to 1928.  He married Polly Lauder from an influential Greenwich family.  She was related to Andrew Carnegie.  Tunney had had an interesting life, serving as a Marine, working as a lumberman in Canada, and even lecturing at Yale University!  He was committed to providing housing for returning veterans.  So in 1946 he purchased 149 acres for $173,600 from the Havemeyer estate.  There were several stipulations, however:

 1.  Each lot must have a 60-foot front,
 2.  the cost couldn't be more than $10,000, and
 3.  the first units had to be finished by 1947

Tunney employed the Stamford Building Company to handle the construction, while Fairfield Realty handled the sales.  Arthur Starck, a friend of Tunney, helped organize a Havemeyer Park Builders corporation, and a sales trailer was set up at the corner of Havemeyer Lane and the Boston Post Road. Starck was named Secretary / Treasurer.

Initial plans called for the inclusion of a California-style (strip mall)  shopping center at the corner of Florence and MacArthur Drive.  This would include a Bradlee's department store, food stores, drugstores, etc. This never came about because the Town and residents were worried about traffic and the "unsavory" element it might attract.  This property was rocky, and not suitable for any kind of housing construction.  The Havemeyer Park Builders wanted to donate the property to the town, but officials were suspicious.  They considered the land unbuildable;  but the Town finally relented, and accepted the gift.  Surprisingly, part of the land was eventually used to build Dundee School! 

The average house in Havemeyer Park was built on a quarter-of-an-acre.  It was a Cape Cod style with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a livingroom, an attic crawlspace or unfinished attic, built on a slab and later full cellars.  Standardization helped keep the costs down.  They weren't well graded - owners had to plant their own grass.  Roads weren't paved at first.  The construction company didn't want to incur the cost of putting in roads, so the Town took them over.  The Town also offered to plant cherry or dogwood trees for $15 each.  This was a good deal.  Some residents dug up bushes and trees from the old Havemeyer mansion.  Eventually, the mansion was razed to make room for more housing.

In 1948, residents decided to organize a Havemeyer Park Owners Association.  This grew out of concerns for roads and traffic. Owners were concerned about additional traffic spilling out onto Havemeyer Lane from Stamford.  Representatives met with Stamford officials, who agreed to abandon plans for additional  roads to add traffic to Havemeyer Lane.  Since the association had no money or legal representation, it had to rely on the good will of people to preserve its neighborhood character.  Most people complied with requests from the neighbors and the owners' association.

Once the houses were built, they sold out very quickly.  Buyers were mostly veterans, who could get FHA mortgages through the GI Bill.  Only $1,000 was required as a downpayment on a $10,000 house.  Today, those houses would sell for between $375,000 and $450,000.  The Veterans were usually married with young children.  Since they didn't have a lot of money, most of the families would socialize with each other.  They organized Christmas decoration contests, Valentine's Dances, picnics, bowling leagues, tennis groups, barbeques, garden clubs, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

Over time, the families would save money and move to bigger houses in town.  Havemeyer Park became known as a "starter community".  Older people looking to downsize, and other ethnic groups moved into the Park.  The population started to become more diversified.  Of course, some residents remained since they like the community.

Meanwhile, development just over the Stamford line threatens to change traffic patterns in the area. .  A newly-constructed condo complex (including an access road) includes a rotary that may change the flow of traffic on Havemeyer Lane.  Plans for a big box Home Depot structure near the old Cyanamid building were abandoned due to public protests. A shopping mall adjacent to Laddin's Rock Road could spill over the Town line.  There is plenty of land near Havemeyer Park that could still be developed.  

 The Park, which stretches roughly from Havemeyer Lane to Florence Road and Palmer Hill Road to the Boston Post Road, remains a thriving and vibrant community.  Residents take pride in their homes and property.  The Homeowners Association still watches over developments in the area.  Everyone is committed to maintaining the rural nature of the Town.  Havemeyer Park will always remain a unique part of Greenwich.



SOURCE

Havemeyer Park : Oral History Interview
Oral History Project. Friends of the Greenwich Library
Greenwich, CT : Greenwich Library, 2002

 
 

Historical Happenings

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Difficult Genealogy Case Studies
Saturday - April 18 - 10:30 am
Cos Cob Library

Anthony Lauriano returns to give you tips
on getting over the proverbial genealogy
"wall".  Free and open to the public.


27th Annual Landmark Reception
Sunday - April 19th - 7:30 pm
Greenwich Country Club

This year's program includes the plaquing
of 5 historical properties.  Fee and
reservations required.  Contact the Historical
Society at (203) 869-6899


More Difficult Genealogy Cases
Saturday - April 25 - 10:30 am
Cos Cob Library

This will be a continuation of the April 18
program.  Free and open to all.


Further Adventures in Family Research
Saturday - April 25 - 2:00 pm
Greenwich Library

Janeen Bjork will lead an on-hands computer class
on researching your family.  Seating limited.
Registration required. Free and open to all.

Mianus River and Natural Park

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Greenwich is very fortunate to have a number of beautiful parks available to its residents.  One of these parcels is the Mianus River and Natural Park located in northern Cos Cob just off Cognewaugh Road, 3/4 of a mile south of the Merritt Parkway.  It's part of the larger Mianus Greenway, and crosses over the town line into Stamford.  Greenwich controls 109.7 acres, while Stamford owns 110.3 acres.  Access is available to residents on both sides.  The many activities going on in the nature tract include walking, jogging, hiking, horsebackriding, fishing, and nature study. 

The park parallels the Mianus River. Hydrologists (water scientists) believe it used to empty into the Hudson River to our west.  However, during the last ice age and subsequent glacial retreat, the river was forced to turn south just below Indian Hill in Bedford NY.  Today, the river runs south/south east through the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, flows through Mianus Pond, over the dam into Cos Cob Harbor, eventually draining into Long Island Sound.

Historians assume Native-Americans were the first to occupy this area.  The river and land would be a great source of fresh water, game, fish and waterfowl.  When the European settlers arrived in Greenwich, they probably cleared the land of trees for lumber to build houses, and to provide farm and pasture land. After the Civil War, much of the land was abandoned.  Some of the land may have been exhausted from over-farming, and a good protion was rocky and unfit for agriculture. There was more fertile land just to the west. Interestingly, the land has slowly returned to woodlands, and you can see evidence of remnant stonewalls, wells, storage cellars and caves.

Toward the end of the 1800s, the Greenwich populace began to shift away from farming, and people started buying up land to build estates.  Greenwich became a "bedroom community" for New York City.  Wealthy and influentioal people began building in backcountry Greenwich and Stamford.  In 1928, the City of Stamford bought land from New York financier Robert Goodbody, who owned a mansion located on the Fort Stamford property near the Greenwich line.  Then in 1960, the City purchased another 77-acres called the "Old Mill Lane - Mianus Tract" under the authorization of the Federal Open Space Act. It was to be used for "passive" purposes -  meaning the natural environment could not be disturbed. 

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COURTESY OF THE FRIENDS OF THE MIANUS RIVER PARK

On the other side of the town line, Greenwich got the opportunity to buy 109.7 acres for the bargain price of $500,000 in 1972.  This was the period of time when environmental protection became an important issue in this country.  It was one of the first efforts to protect open space in town, and set a precedent which still exists today.  By joining forces with Stamford, residents from both municipalities were able to enjoy the large conservation area that became known as "The Mianus River and Natural Park".  Although plansinitially called for the hiring of a Park Ranger, some felt the cost was prohibitive and the plan was scrapped.

This land, sometimes referred to as the Goodbody Property, is a great example of glacial topography.  There are numerous bedrock outcroppings and ridges created by the retreating ice.  Geologically, the tract presents several different types of ecosystems.  Two trails lead the hiker through two diverse environments.  The Pond Trail is a wide, well-graded path that leads to some lowlands, where one can find swampy wetlands.  Red Maples trees thrive in this type of environment.  So do skunk cabbage, winged euanimus, cat-o-nine-tails and pond lillies. One might also find Black Birch, Tulips, Red Ash and Tupelo.  This
environment supports such animals as salamanders, frogs, weasels, mink and otters.  It provides nesting habitats for ruffled grouse, pheasant, mallards, and songbirds. Fox, deer, coyotes and racoons also make this area their home.

The Oak Trail leads hikers to higher ground.  Oak and beech trees are numerous, providing nesting opportunities for Yellow Warblers, Crows, Sparrows, Blue Jays and Woodpeckers. Highbush blueberries and Mountain Laurel can be found, as well as open meadows.

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SKETCH OF TYPICAL PHEASANT

As you can see, this is an important habitat for a variety of species.  It's been estimated that there are 100 species of trees, 150 species of birds and 250 species of wildflowers in the park!  You could consider it  "Nature's Classroom" or learning lab.  Beyond its value from a scientific point of view, it may even do something for the spirit.  Hiking in a wild, beautiful and diverse environment may do something for the soul.  Away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, it may just bring you closer to nature, to your own roots. The quiet may give you a chance to relax, think.  It may make you wonder how we got here, and how we fit in.  

It makes me appreciate the natural parks we have here in Greenwich.

Thanks to the many dedicated people who have fought to protect these dwindling pieces of land.


SOURCES

 

Friends of the Mianus River Park:

"Welcome to Mianus River Park." Welcome. Web. 6 Apr. 2015. http://www.friendsofmianusriverpark.org/.:  Accessed 4/6/2015


Town of Greenwich, Parks & Recreation: 

"Mianus River Park:  http://www.greenwichct.org/upload/medialibrary/8f3/prFA_MianusRiverPark.pdf: Accessed 4/6/2015


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