August 2010 Archives

Laddin's Rock

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There is an 18-acre park in Old Greenwich known as Laddin's Rock Sanctuary. It's on the north side of Highmeadow Road off of Laddin's Rock Road.  As part of the Old Greenwich "greenbelt", it runs from Interstate 95 to Long Island Sound along the Stamford border. Rock climbers who visit and climb the 60-foot crystalline granite precipice in the park are rewarded with scenic vistas looking south. It provides sanctuary for many bird species. Perhaps it is best known for its historical significance.

In the 1640s, the Dutch controlled New York, while the English controlled a good part of Connecticut. Legend has it that the Dutch gave the Native-Americans "firewater" (liquor) to incite them against the English. The Native-Americans had fished in Long Island Sound and hunted in the wooded areas for years. They felt that they were being "squeezed out" by the new settlers.  There were several incidents of killings by both sides, eventually resulting in the Cos Cob massacre.

Before this massacre, a Dutch farmer by the name of Labden (Anglicized to Laddin) was out clearing and cultivating his field in Old Greenwich when he noticed his neighbors' houses were on fire. He ran inside his house to protect his wife and 16-year-old daughter. He barricaded the door. A Native-American tried to set Laddin's house on fire with a torch, but Laddin shot him. After a while, a group attacked the house.  Laddin's wife and daughter begged him to save his own life by escaping. The women would trust the Native-Americans not to hurt them. Laddin reluctantly agreed, slipping out the back door. He retreated to some bushes, where he could watch. The Native-Americans finally pushed the door in and dragged the women outside, where they were scalped and murdered. Laddin watched dishearteningly from the bushes. Somehow the Native-Americans spotted him and gave chase. Laddin headed for the well-known rock precipice. He stopped short of the cliff and yelled back, "Come on, ye foul fiends! I go to join your victims". At this point, he and his horse jumped off the cliff and hit the ground. Laddin broke both his legs. The pursuers followed him over the cliff, and all but one were killed. One managed to grab hold of a tree branch about 50-feet above the ground. He went back to settlement in Cos Cob to relate the story.


Photo Coutesy of "Our Greenwich"

Greenwich residents are familiar with the name Putnam - Putnam Avenue, Putnam Trust, Putnam Cottage, Putnam Park, etc. There's even a Putnam CT. The name Putnam comes from a Revolutionay War hero - General Israel Putnam. Anyone who has spent anytime here is aware of his famous ride down "Put's" Hill. But Putnam had an illustrious career beyond Greenwich.

  GenPutnam0001.jpg  Israel Putnam was born in Danvers MA in 1718.  He moved to Pomfret CT in northeastern Connecticut in 1740. He served with Roger's Rangers during the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  Putnam barely avoided being burned at the stake by Native-Americans when a French officer came to his rescue. In 1759 he participated in the Battle of Ticonderoga and Montreal. In later years, he barely escaped drowning when he was invading Cuba. During Pontiac's Rebellion, he served in Detroit.

On April 20, 1775, the day after the Battle of Lexington, legend has it that Putnam abandoned his plow and horses right in the middle of his field to ride to Boston to volunteer. He was appointed one of four Major Generals under George Washington. In June of 1775, he fought in the Battle of Bunker (Breed's) Hill. Legend has it that it was he who gave the command not to shoot "until you see the whites of their eyes" and not General Prescott.

There is much conjecture about the circumstances behind Putnam's ride down "Put's" Hill. One tale has him shaving in the morning at Knapp's Tavern (Putnam Cottage). One of his men alerts him that General Tryon's men are raiding Greenwich. Mead says Putnam saw the advancing British out a window when he was shaving.  Putnam ran out the back door and jumped on his horse, barely escaping capture. He came to the steep hill.  (This is on the Post Road near Greenwich High School). After sizing up the situation, he rode down the steep slope. The British took chase. Someone fired a shot, and it passed through his hat. (This hat can be seen today on display at Putnam Cottage.) Putnam shook his fist at the British, and cursed them. He rode to Fort Nonsense in Stamford for reinforcements, and by the time he got back, the British had retreated to New York.

The steps we see today were not the steps that Putnam rode down.  These were in a different location. Steps were cut into the rock below the monument many years later.   It's believed he rode down a dirt cartpath north of the turnpike and came out on the road.

Putnam was given command over Long Island due to his heroics. Unfortunately, this was when his fortunes started to change. He had to effect a hasty retreat. Congress was unhappy with his defeat, and Washington decided to assign him to recruiting duty - somewhat of a demotion. Eventually, Putnam was given command of Forts Montgomerey and Clinton in the Hudson highlands. However, he subsequently abandoned these, and was called up in front of an inquiry board. General Putnam was exonerated of all wrong doing.  In 1779, he suffered a paralyzing stroke, which shortened his military career. He died in 1790.

In 1900, the Putnam Hill Chapter of the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) commemorated a monument on the "brow" of the hill. The inscription reads,

"This marks the spot where on February 26, 1779, General Israel Putnam, cut off from his soldiers and pursued by British Cavalry, galloped down this rocky steep and escaped, daring to lead where not one of many hundred foes dared to follow." 

Today, there is a statue of Putnam located in Bushnell Park in Hartford near the statehouse.  There is a statue in Brooklyn CT of him on his horse.  Today he is considered a hero of the American Revolutionary War. 

Upcoming Events

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Saturday, September 25, 10:30 AM - Cos Cob Library

The Cos Cob Friends present another in our genealogy series. Nora Galvin helps you to research your ancestors through the use of Ancestry Library. All are welcome.


Saturday, September 25, 2 PM - Greenwich Library

 Greenwich High School student Grant Radulovacki's passion for the Civil War led him to create a documentary, Greenwich for the Union!, about the contributions of Greenwich soldiers to the Union's victory.

Greenwich for the Union! (30 minutes) follows the most prominent Union regiment from the eve of the Civil War to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House. It was constructed across more than 100 hundred hours of research and travel to many of the battlefields where Greenwich soldiers fought. Grant Radulovacki will be present.

Free and open to all.  Meeting Room (Second Floor)

"Muckraking" Greenwich

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Lincoln Steffens0001.jpgThe term "muckraking" is derived from the use of a "rake" to dig in the "muck" or mud.  In journalism, it is the process of digging up "dirt" on public figures and exposing them to the public. Today it has morphed into "investigative reporting".  The Father of Muckraking (the first to employ this method) was a journalist for the Saturday Evening Post - Lincoln Steffens. Steffans liked to write about local political corruption.

Lincoln Steffans (1866-1936) grew up in California.  He studied at the University of California, where he developed radical political views. In college, he only put forth his best effort into courses he was interested in - English, political economy and philosophy. Steffans later developed an interest in history in his junior year. He put in minimal effort in his other courses. After touring Europe, he went to work for The New York Evening Post and then McClure's magazine.  He worked with Jack London, Ida Tarbell, Walter Lippman, Upton Sinclair and Willa Cather.   This is definitely a "Who's Who" of writers.

It is reported that he spent some summers at the Holley House, exchanging ideas with the artists.  He bought some land here with the help of Ernest Thompson Seton, who showed him some affordable land in the eastern part of town.  Steffens eventually had a country place here with three servants!   Eventually he bought land on Little Neck in Riverside.  Walter Lippmann joined Steffens there so they could "muckrake" Greenwich.  Steffens ignored his rich neighbors, but associated with the average people involved in the fishing trade.

Steffens grew tired of McClure's, and considered taking over the editorship of a small paper in Greenwich.  His boss, sensing Steffen's boredom, instructed him to go out to such cities as Kansas City, Topeka, Chicago and Pittsburgh, and report on what would interest him (Steffens), because that would interest the readership. He studied city governments in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Minneapolis and St. Louis.  The results of his observations are recorded in The Shame of the Cities (McClure, Phillips & Co., 1904). He hoped to enrage citizens so that they would change the political situation (i.e. graft, corruption, etc.).         

In November 1903, Steffans observed the election process in Greenwich. It is reported that he said, " I stood on Election Day in the undertakers in Greenwich and saw the voters file through getting their $3 to support the machine." At a speaking engagement in eastern Connecticut, he was challenged by a banker to defend his observations on the corruption he witnessed.   Steffens was labeled as "libelous", and challenged to prove his conclusions. At a town meeting in December 1910, he and Walter Lippmann demonstrated to the public that Greenwich was as "riddled with privelege as any, and as much in need of change". The two skillfully proved their points with charts and other evidence.

Steffans founded the radical American Magazine in 1906.  After meeting Pancho Villa in Mexico, he became a supporter of revolution to change capitalism. He travelled to Russia to talk to Lenin and stated "I have seen the future and it works". Steffans thought the Communist system would treat the middle class fairly. Fighting for the public became his life's work. Eventually, he became disillusioned with Communism.

It is very interesting that Steffens ended up in the same town that William "Boss" Tweed resided in during the mid-1800s. Just as Thomas Nast had used his cartoons to "dog" Tweed, Steffens used his pen to point out the corruption in government. It's hard to imagine a world without Nast or Steffens. The news media would be far different today.



Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens; Steffens, L; Harcourt Brace, NY: 1931

Lincoln Steffens: A Biography; Kaplan, J.; Simon & Schuster, NY: 1974


The Pryor Doll Collection

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One of the most interesting and highly-visible residents in Greenwich was Samuel Pryor, Jr. (1898-1986).


Besides being very politically active, Mr. Pryor was head of Pan American Airways.  This would prove to be very instrumental in the development of his doll collection.  He told his managers to keep an eye out for any unusual dolls. They would mail overnight boxes from all over the world.  Sam inherited 300 dolls from an assistant vice president, Ann Archibald.   As he travelled himself, he picked up dolls from such countries as Thailand and Mexico.  He even recruited his friends - Charles Lindbergh and Gene Tunney - to help him acquire specimens he might add to his collection.  The collection ended up containing 8,000 dolls representing every religion, country and custom.   This was the largest and most valuable doll collection in the world at the time.  It soon outgrew its space in the main house (called the Pryory) in Field Point Park, and a barn was restored to hold the items.  He created the International Doll Library Foundation.  More and more visitors began visiting the museum, and he decided to hire a curator to catalog and preserve the items.  The Junior League took over guided tours of the collection. (Up until this time, Sam would give the tours, and talk to the public about the items.)


The collection had a large range of items, including lovely works of art to simple children's toys.  It contained dolls from as far back as 1300 BC, which were retrieved from ancient Greek and Egyptian tombs.  There were specimens from the colonial 1700s.  The finest piece was said to be a Samurai Warrior with full battle gear and very detailed.  There was a flag carried in one of the Apollo spacecrafts, which traveled to the moon.  Toy banks of many kinds were included.  There were First Day Covers of flight stamps, a 300-year old Flemish tapestry and unusual furniture pieces.  Mr. Pryor arranged his collection of dolls in such a way as to promote peace and understanding among nations.  For instance, he mixed Israeli dolls with Arabs.  He hoped this would provide a forum for discussion between different cultures.


Part of the collection (2,000 dolls) was supposed to be exhibited at the 1965 World's Fair.  Sam had made an agreement with Robert Moses to display them, but Sam backed out at the last moment, saying he couldn't turn a profit on the exhibit. This was after Moses went to great lengths to make sure no other doll exhibit "upstaged" Sam's!  Pryor allowed some of the collection to go to Japan on two occasions, at the request of the Emperor's wife.  In 1975 a large representation of the collection was exhibited at the 1970 World's Fair in Tokyo.


When Sam retired permanently to Hawaii, the collection was left to the International Doll Library Foundation.  Then in 1982, Sotheby's auctioned off most of the collection.  The Readers Digest and National Geographic both featured articles on the Pryor Doll Collection.  This is also discussed in Make It Happen: the Fascinating Life of Sam Pryor, Jr (Sam Pryor III, 2008).

Photo courtesy of National Geographic (1959).

Greenwich "Panhandle" Boundary

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Someone asked me recently how Connecticut ended up with such an unusual "panhandle" boundary with New York. Some people even say it would make more sense for Greenwich to be part of New York. Geographically it makes sense. Who wouldn't want this wealthy community as part of their state?


 The panhandle boundary resulted from a series of historical events, disagreements and compromises with the English and Dutch over many years. In the early 1600s, both the English and Dutch had established settlements in Connecticut. After discovering what came to be known as Block Island in 1614, Dutchman Adriaen Block sailed around Long Island Sound, exploring many inlets along the southern coast of Connecticut. He charted Block Island, which is named after him. By 1633 the Dutch had built a fort at Hartford, and claimed land as far east as the Connecticut River. The English countered by settling Windsor, Wethersfield and Hartford. A Dutch expedition was sent to try to force the English out, but war was averted when an agreement was reached in 1650. The settlements became part of the New Haven Colony, and a boundary was set on the west side of Greenwich Bay running north approximately 20 miles, but not to come within 10 miles of the Hudson River.

Then the dispute was again revived by a royal blunder. The Dutch surrendered the New Netherlands (the Hudson River valley region from Albany to New York City) after two short wars (1652-1654, 1664). Charles II of England had granted Connecticut lands that stretched westward all the way to the Pacific Ocean in 1662.  In 1664, when England took over the New Netherlands (soon to become New York), Charles II gave lands to his brother (the Duke of York) that stretched from New York east to the Connecticut River. As you can see, this resulted in overlap of ownership by New York and Connecticut. The colonies compromised, and agreed to set the boundary 20-miles east and parallel to the Hudson River.

Ironically, several weeks later Connecticut commissioners persuaded the Duke of York's representative to establish a boundary from Mamaroneck north-north-westerly to the Massachusetts border. Instead of being 20-miles from the Hudson, the border was only 10-miles from the river. Also, the line did not , in fact, intersect the Massachusetts border, but crossed the Hudson near West Point. This added a significant amount of land to Connecticut at the expense of the New York colony. This was not acceptable to New York!

Another compromise was reached in 1683.  Connecticut was concerned about losing several important, well-established towns such as Greenwich and Ridgefield. Yet, New York was concerned about losing large tracts of land represented by these towns. It was agreed that Connecticut would retain these lands, while an equivalent tract of land named the "oblong" would be given to New York as compensation.  This was a two-mile wide strip of land running north from Ridgefield up to Massachusetts, and moved the New York boundary further east.  A slight "wiggle" was required to keep Ridgefield in Connecticut.  After this equitable exchange of land, New York and Connecticut agreed on the present configuration, which recognizes Greenwich and Ridgefield as part of Connecticut while observing the 20-mile requirement.

In 1684, a survey was begun to establish the boundary once and for all. It was only partially completed. It wasn't until 1731 that a complete survey was completed. There are markers all along the boundary.  Today, there is a marker in the Byram River near the Mill Street Bridge which marks the southern most end of the boundry.


 Greenwich Old & New; Holland, L. and Leaf, M.; The Greenwich Press, 1935.

 Ye Historie of Ye Town of Greenwich; Mead, S; The Knickerbocker Press, NY; 1911



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