January 2011 Archives

Greenwich's Greatest Benefactor

Anyone who has lived in Greenwich is familiar with the name "Bruce". There's the Bruce Museum, Bruce Memorial Park, Bruce Municipal Golf Course (now the Griff Harris) and Bruce Place. Not everyone knows the name Bruce is associated the greatest benefactor Greenwich ever had.

Robert M. Bruce was born in New York City on July 4, 1822. His roots can be traced back to the great Robert Bruce, who emancipated the Scots from England. He developed a love of business early in his life. He first went to work in the general dry goods business. Later, he formed his own company - aptly called "Bruce Co." He was involved in the cotton business, dealing quietly with the South during the Civil War. Bruce managed to prosper even though he was a Northerner. He was even a member of the Cotton Exchange in New York.

Once he built his fortune, he moved to Greenwich, living in a mansion which was located where the Bruce Museum is today overlooking Greenwich Harbor. Bruce was very active in civic affairs. He served on the town's military committee during the Civil War. Robert Bruce helped found the Greenwich Savings Bank and the Greenwich Gas & Electric Company. He served on the board of the savings bank for 38 years.

Robert Bruce and his sister, Sarah, were best known for donating $250,000 worth of buildings and property to the Town. They built the original Town Hall, the Greenwich General Hospital and donated the site for the Bruce Museum. They also built the Emily Bruce Home for orphaned children. The Bruces donated money to Mount Sinai Hospital, the Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled, as well as hospitals in Parborough NC and Washington DC.

Their benevolence was not ostentatious, and they quietly did other good works. Perhaps the most touching act of charity was the anonymous donation of hundreds of dollars for turkeys, shoes and clothing for the needy during the holidays.

Coincidently, Robert Bruce was born on July 4, 1822, and died on July 4, 1908!  This was a year after his wife died.

He and his sister will always be remembered for their unselfish generosity.

Off to the Races!

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As I've mentioned before, Greenwich started out as an agrarian community. That is, residents depended on farming to feed their families, and eventually shipped the surplus to markets in New York, Long Island and along the southern Connecticut shore. Horses were important to the community to drag trees and stones, cultivate (plow) the land and provide transportation to town for supplies, etc. People were very accustomed to horses in their lives. Greenwich was very fortunate to have several respectable horse dealers in town. They were able to provide strong, healthy horses for work and leisure. It's not surprising that residents became interested in local horse racing as a past time.

In the late 1800s, Greenwich became a summer resort of sorts. People from New York flocked to Greenwich and stayed in such coastal areas as Old Greenwich, Cos Cob and Belle Haven. In the fall these summer residents returned to the city and local residents were able to reclaim their land. Come Thanksgiving, when snow was on the ground, Belle Haven residents were known for using sleighs for getting from place to place. Boyfriends would pick up girlfriends, and large party groups would travel to big get-togethers by sleigh. Judge Frederick Hubbard mentions that sleigh bells were in the air from Winter to springtime. After the Civil War (circa 1870) residents began racing horses in the snow from Lenox House at the top of Greenwich Avenue to the top of Put's Hill. The races featured strong challengers much to the delight of the residents who lined both sides of the dirt road. Fortunately , the road was wide enough to allow racing side by side, and passing at fast speeds. Others had tried to establish horse racing earlier. William Rockefeller had built a half-mile course on Lake Avenue. There was a trotting course on North Street from Electric Hill. It was used exclusively as a time course since no one could pass on the narrow road.

In the summer, the horse racing was shifted to Belle Haven. Then, when Oliver Mead died in 1887, his cousin Oliver D. Mead had the Field Point Trotting Course built. An oval half-mile track was built in Belle Haven. Sheds were built for horses along the track. Today, this area is an exclusive residential area with hardly any evidence of horse racing. There are several areas in back country which house horses (ex. White Birch Farm). Horse riders can be seen riding along some of back trails. (A riding association has been active in Greenwich over the years.) Professional polo matches are held as fund-raisers in town. Residents have even raced horses in such tournaments as The Kentucky Derby. However, Greenwich will never be as dependent on the horse as it was in its early history.   This rather romantic period has come and gone.


Greenwich History: The Judge's Corner;  Hubbard, F.A.; Round Hill Productions, 2001.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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