November 2010 Archives

Holiday Events

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There are a number of events this holiday season, which I think you might enjoy!

December 2 - Interfaith Candle/Tree Lighting - 6 PM - Temple Sholom

December 3 - Treelighting at Town Hall - 3:45 PM

December 4 - Christmas on Round Hill Gift Boutique - 10 AM - Round Hill Community Church

Decmber 5 - Greenwich Holiday Stroll - 11 AM - TD Bank

December 7 to 8 - Holiday Boutique to benefit the Historical Society - Greenwich CC

December 8 - Holiday House Tour - 10-4 - Call for more details

December 8 - Chanukah Story Time - 4:30 PM - Temple Sholom

December 8 - Going to Saks - Fundraiser for Connecticut Preservation Fund - 6:30 PM -
                     TD Bank

December 8 - Shakespeare: A Winter's Tale - 7:30 PM - Perrot Library

December 12 - Bush-Holley by Candlelight - 4 to 7 - Cos Cob

Here's a chance to participate in some wonderful local traditions and get a historical view of the town.  And, in some cases, you'll be helping raise money for some worthwhile organizations. 

For more details, check the Community Answers website or call Greenwich Library.


Staying on the Right Track

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A library patron, Al Brecken, recently brought in some photographs he took of a remnant railroad bed he found in backcountry. It seems that around 1868 work was begun on the New York, Housatonic and Nothern Railroad, which was to run from White Plains across the northwest corner of Greenwich through Danbury to Brookfield. Silas D. Mead, who owned a 336-acre estate along the proposed route, even had his own men work on the roadbed.  Local people were hired to haul dirt and lay track. Mr. Brecken also came across some gold stock certificates which were issued to finance the project.  Unfortunately, the railroad never materialized.  The owners defaulted (never paid) and the railroad was never finished.  All that remains is the railroad bed and the gold certificates.

Remnant railroad bed0001.jpgIn researching the history of this railroad, I discovered that this wasn't the only rail line planned to cut through Greenwich. A Ridgefield and Port Chester Railroad (R&PCRR) was to be built from Port Chester through the heart of Greenwich.  It would follow the main line in Byram, follow Water Street to the Post Road, curve northeast toward North Street, then head toward the northeast corner of town.  Once again, the owners ran out of money, and could not complete the project! In 1906, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NY, NH & HRR) acquired the Ridgefield line, but released the railroad when its charter expired in 1907.


proposed railroads0001.jpgIn July 1906 the NY, NH & HRR proposed building two "relief branches" from Bruce Park in Cos Cob - one for passengers and one for freight.  The routes would be double-tracked and electrically powered.  One would parallel North Street and the other would run northeast between Indian Harbor and Cos Cob Harbor, cutting right through the present day Milbrook Country Club.  The new lines were to be called the Greenwich-Danbury Route 1 and Route 2, respectively.  At the end of 1906 it was decided that there would be only one line running northeast through Ten Acres - once a meadow owned by Theodore Mead at the foot of Put's Hill, where the high school is today.  A Mrs. Anderson, who owned property at the end of the route, objected and a new route was surveyed through E. T. Seton's property.  In January 1907, a special town meeting was called to discuss the issue.  Seton was opposed to Route 2, which he felt would ruin his property.  Others were opposed to Route 1 and still others objected to any route!  Nonetheless, the first route was selected by a unanimous vote.  After the meeting, many opponents petitioned the railroad and officials gave up on building the line.  Instead, a line was eventually built from the station in Stamford, thorough Glenbrook and Springdale to New Canaan.  I've heard it referred to as the New Canaan Line.

Not very often mentioned was the tentative plan to run a spur line parallel to King Street up to the proposed United Nations Headquarters in 1946.  The compound was to be built where American Can used to have its headquarters.  Residents opposed the site, citing the stress it would cause on utilities such as water, electricty, sewage, etc.  Also, residents were afraid that the pristine rural landscape would turn into an urban setting.  A train line would no doubt contribute to this problem. It is no surprise that this plan was abandoned, and the United Nations Headquarters was built on the East River in New York City.

At one time, railroads were the most used form of transportation for people and goods.  Many people made fortunes investing in railroads.  If any or all of these proposed railroads had been built, many of the beautiful estates in back country Greenwich might not exist today. No doubt small villages with general stores and post offices would have sprung up at various locations along the routes.  Greenwich might have evolved into an urban environment, much like Port Chester or Yonkers.

The Golden Age of Railroads began to fade by the mid-1950s as over-the-road (truck) transportation spread.  Trucks offered flexibility in terms of schedules and mobility.  If the railroads had been built in Greenwich, the town could have ended up with many more abandoned railroad beds and deserted back country villages.

The Cos Cob Art Colony

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Perhaps somewhat of an exaggeration, one might consider Cos Cob to be the "Greenwich Village" of Greenwich CT.  Greenwich Village in New York has a reputation for being the birthplace of all things cultural (ex. music, literature, poetry, dance, etc.). It is also considered a "Bohemian" culture, with its various mix of poor, diverse artisans. I like to think of Cos Cob as being a microcosm of that culture at one time.

Up until the mid-1800s, Greenwich was a farming and fishing community. Early on residents decided to protect its suburban nature from the over-development of nearby urban communities.  Once William "Boss"Tweed started vacationing here in the summer, and the railroad opened up convenient service to and from New York City, Greenwich became a summer destination for many people. Yet, Greenwich was still able to hold onto its maritime and agricultural atmosphere.

To fully understand the Cos Cob Art Colony, we must look at what was happening in art in the rest of the world.   Impressionism was the new style taking Paris by storm.  Impressionist painters used small, thin, visible strokes and put emphasis on light to communicate the passage of time.  Many American artists had spent time in Paris, and were bringing this new artistic style to the United States. Impressionism was a new style of painting, using color and light. Painters of this style were considered "en plein air" or "open air" artists, since they painted outside.  Natural light was preferable.   Art colonies sprung up in Europe and some Americans lived in them for a while. It was believed that a group of artists working together could inspire each other's creativity.  In the United States, some art colonies were deliberately formed by businessmen, who were more interested in increasing property values than art!   Others evolved naturally such as Monhegan Isle ME, Gloucester MA, Old Lyme and Cos Cob.

The stage was set in 1873 when an Edward Holley built a boarding house on Stanwich Road. It was known as "Holly Farm".  In 1878, two prominent artists from New York - John H. Twatchman and J. Alden Weir  - traveled to Holly Farm for the summer. Edward Holley rented a house in Cos Cob near the Lower Landing, and started preparing it for summer boarders.  In 1884, he was able to buy this house.  Twatchman and Weir are two of the many boarders who stayed there.  This is what we know today as the Bush-Holley House.

As word spread about the art colony, Cos Cob became a favorite summer place for a variety of writers, editors, journalists and other artists. The New England culture appealed to many of them.  There was also varied scenery; tidal marshes, harbors, winding rivers, rocky pastures, back country roads and farms. In effect, the landscape had not been spoiled.  Artists found enough subject matter to keep them going for a long time. The Holley House - as it was called - was an affordable gathering place. (By the way, today you can still see some Colonial period houses along Strickland Road.)

Over time, Cos Cob became a Bohemian enclave.  Its visitors included Willa Cather, Irving Bacheller, illustrator Rose O'Neill, playwright Kate Jordan, editor Viola Roseboro and Japanese artist Genjiro Yeto.   Investigative reporter Lincoln Steffens even spent time there.  He used to engage in political discussions with Twatchman.  Steffens even included a chapter on the Art Colony in his autobiography. Natural artist Georgia O'Keefe is said to have painted "Skunk Cabbage" after visiting Greenwich.  Cos Cob became known for its avante-garde art, its progressive politics and its degree of sexual freedom.

Although Twatchman and Weir bought their own houses, they continued to teach summers at the Holley House.  Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson and Leonard Ochtman also painted at the Cos Cob Art Colony.   Some even traveled to the other art colonies in the area.  There is no doubt that each influenced the other.  In fact, John Twatchman was amazed to see similarities in the art work at various art exhibits ! 

Childe.jpg After many of the principals in the Holley family passed away, The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich bought the Holley House in 1957.  They changed the name to the Bush-Holley House.  Today, you can still see painters occasionally set up around the Lower Landing and Bush-Holley House with their easels. The museum even offers painting classes from time to time.   There are still some natural vistas in the area despite the encroaching I-95.  The Mianus River and Cos Cob Harbor are right across the street.  And the Mill Pond lies just to the North.  Cos Cob is still indeed a haven for painters of natural panoramas.

Please Note:  The book image does not really open when you click!  This is a photo from our catalog.  However, the book is included in our collection.

Committee of 28

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According to "Greenwich Before 2000" (Richardson, 2000), the date generally accepted for the first Town Meeting is February 5, 1664. Seven of the town's original proprietors (land owners) met to request the General Assembly to allow Greenwich to separate from Stamford. This freedom would allow them to appoint their own minister and lay out land plots. In the true New England Town Meeting tradition, all the residents could attend and vote. In those days, this process was not a problem since populations were small enough to allow such meetings. However, when towns started to mushroom, this became more difficult. But this wasn't the only reason Greenwich turned to a representative system. The seeds for this idea were planted as far back as 1879!

On November 5, 1879, a Citizen's Reform Association of Greenwich protested the $200,000 town debt. The Association accused town officials of financial mismanagement, unauthorized borrowing, ignoring lawbreakers and setting their own high salaries. This committee was headed up by E.C. Benedict, L.P. Hubbard and Robert M. Bruce. Citizens must have suspected more financial mismanagement on October 6, 1890, when they appointed a committee to investigate Town officers. Then, on October 3, 1892, the appointed committee reported back to the Town Meeting that it found bookkeeping errors. It suggested changes in the Town Treasurer's accounting procedures. On October 2, 1899, a second investigative committee of 5 was formed to investigate the Selectman, Treasurer and auditor. The following year (1900), the Committee found irregularities with the Tax Collector's records. In December of that same year, Robert M. Bruce proposed a 50% increase in taxes to lower the Town's debt. On February 15, 1901, a member of the Investigating Committee - A.A. Marks - sued Selectman Lockwood, Tax Collector Finnegan and a bondsman for money owed the Town. A settlement on October 30, 1901, gave the Town $21,750 for misappropriation of $144,000 by the Tax Collector.

Things were quiet for a while until investigative reporter Lincoln Steffans wrote in 1903 that he saw cronies handing out $3 to people who voted for "The Machine". Steffans later appeared at a Town Meeting to present a detailed, highly analytical presentation, which convinced many there that something had to be done about corruption in Greenwich government. Perhaps to discourage corruption, the Town Meeting decided to pay the Tax Collector 2% of all taxes collected. Unfortunately, the stigma of fiscal mismanagement stayed with the Town. In December 1906, the Selectmen were accused of graft. They were accused of misappropriating funds and seeking additional funds. Despite the fact that property value had gone up and generated increased tax revenue, the Town's debt had gone up! On December 5, 1908, the Town Meeting appointed a Committee of 28 to continue the work of the previous investigative committees.

The Committee was asked to come up with a plan to ensure better administration of the Town. It found that the Town's accounting practices were sorely lacking. The Committee declared that the Board of Selectmen was. . . "ineffective, un-busineess-like and a damage to the property of this community".  It was charged with coming up with a new form of government. On March 6, 1909, the Committee report with recommendations was defeated by a vote of 549 to 1,112!  Although it was agreed that change was necessary, voters felt the Committee operated in secrecy and that the sweeping changes proposed were drastic. 


Later that month on March 25, a special Town Meeting voted to ask the General Assembly to approve a Board of Estimate and Taxation to monitor the Town's funds. Some claimed that the Town Meeting was illegally called.   Nonetheless, several months later, the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing the Town to establish the BET. It also legislated the duties of the board and established a budgetary timetable for town departments.

Once the issue of fiscal responsibility was addressed, the Town Meeting was able to undertake many public works projects in town such as paving roads, installing sewers and providing electric service. With the coming of the First World War, everyone's attention shifted to world events. Once the war was over and our soldiers returned home, the question of efficient government once again made the headlines. Newspapers wrote editorials on adopting a Representative Town Meeting format used in Massachusetts. A Town Meeting on April 20, 1928, voted down a proposition to adopt the RTM form of government and investigate tax matters. On November 10, 1932, the BET set the Town Budget at $3,057,000 - the biggest budget in history!  The Town Meeting approved the budget!  Unfortunately, in January 1933, the Town debt reached $6,292,000. On October 16, 1933, the first RTM (Representative Town Meeting) authorized by the General Assembly held its first meeting and abolished the old Town Meeting. Representatives were elected from 11 districts (1 rep for 100 people). It was the first RTM in the state!!   In the Fall of 1933, the RTM approved a "pay as you go" plan as opposed to incurring debt.

It's safe to say that the Committee of 28 was instrumental in the creation of the RTM as the legislative branch of our municipal government. It shares power with the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Over the years, there have been several studies on the best form of government for Greenwich. Several reports suggested the creation of a Town Manager to run the Town. Our current Town Administrator is an offshoot of this idea. Regardless, the New England tradition of the Town Meeting is still firmly entrenched in Greenwich. It allows the citizenry to have a say in taxation and the use of public funds.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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