March 2011 Archives

Genealogy Programs in April

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Cos Cob Library will present 2 important genealogy programs in April!

April 2 - 10:30 am - "Becoming an American" - How to find and use Naturalization Records to research relatives.


April 16 - 10:30 am - "Research That Makes My Eyes Cross"- How to deal with difficult genealogical research.


Ms. Toni McKeever will return to present these very entertaining and informative talks on genealogical research. 


These programs will be held in the Community Room at Cos Cob Library.

The Mianus River Bridge Collapse


My sister-in-law used to live in a condo in Norwalk. On the night of June 28, 1983 she invited us to drive up to her condo from Pemberwick to use the pool. My oldest daughter was only about 6-months old. So we packed up the car around 7:30pm and drove down I-95 (over the Mianus bridge) to Norwalk.  After a refreshing swim, we drove back over the bridge around 9:30 pm. The next morning, my wife, Linda, told me that the Mianus River Bridge had collapsed at about 1 o'clock in the morning, and there was a report on the news. I was stunned!


Tri-State Transportation Campaign

The bridge was built around 1958 as part of the Interstate highway system.  The highway (I-95) stretched all the way from Maine to Florida. Eisenhower had built the system of highways to move troops in the event of an national emergency. The span was composed of 4 spans, each 100 feet long, weighing 500 tons. There were 6 lanes - 3 north bound and 3 south bound. A "pin and hanger" system was utilized. Spans were connected by hangers that were shaped similar to bicycle chain links. It was a novel design feature. Furthermore, it was cheaper than using other designs.

About 10 years before the collapse, road crews paved over storm drains on the bridge. This meant that rain could not run off the bridge, but rather collected in unlikely spots in the structure. Unfortunately, one of these spots was between the pinhead and associated hanger, resulting in rust buildup.  Evetually, two of the pins broke, and left two other pins to uphold the 500 ton weight. This additional weight was too much for remaining pins the 100 foot span fell 70 feet to the river below.

 The gaping hole in the highway "swallowed up" two tractor trailers and two passenger cars. One tractor trailer landed with its cab in the mud and it's trailer leaning end to end against a pylon. One couple - who nearly escaped with their lives - tried to flag down on-coming traffic. Unfortunatley, one BMW ignored attempts to flag it down and went over the edge. The car was totally submerged in water. Two passengers died. Several people were pulled out of the water by local boatmen. A man driving a tractor full of meat died. The meat had to be pulled out and rewrapped. A young girl in a Toyota landed on a tractor leaning against the bridge and slid down. Three people were killed and three were seriously injured. It could have been much worse if the accident had happened during the day, especially during the rush hour.

Officials had to detour traffic around the fallen bridge. A special off ramp was built near the Bush-Holley House. Traffic got off at this temporary exit, drove down Strickland Road to River Road, then turned on to the Post Road East to Exit 5. Needless to say, this increased traffic in the residential area tremendously. Residents complained and even formed a group to protest. A 15 minute trip from the New York state border to Stamford now took 60 minutes. Fortunately, officials were able to re-open the south bound lanes within a few days and by July 22 a temporary span was in place for the north bound lanes.

The NSTB (National Safety and Transportation Board) performed an investigation of the accident. It concluded that a rusted pin had caused the accident and that the design of the bridge was inadequate. There was nothing underneath to support the spans. Furthermore, there was an insuffient number of inspectors (12) in the state to inspect the many bridges (about 3,600 highway and 1,200 local) used daily. It was also determined that the inspection process wasn't thorough enough. There was no requirement (or equipment) to check major stress points on the bridge. To make matters worse, some inspectors signed off without even performing an inspection.

The tragedy set off a bridge inspection and replacement program not only in Connecticut, but across the country. New pylons (cement supports) were built underneath the entire span of the bridge. Structural steel was replaced and the lanes on the span were increased. More inspectors were hired and new inspection procedures were put in place. In Boston it was discovered that the Harvard Bridge had the same design.


During the decades since the collapse, there has been a lot of talk about the national infrastructure needing attention. Some groups believe there are serious problems with our highways and bridges.  It is estimated by The Tri-State Transportation Group that 2/3 of money for highways in Connecticut has been spent on expansion instead of maintenance. It cost $20 million between 1983 and 1992 to repair the Mianus River Bridge. Preventive maintenance could go a long way to prevent a more costly (in today's dollars) accident.


SOURCE:   "The Mianus River Bridge Colapse"; OHP, 1988 

Conyer's Farm


One of the many people to vacation in Greenwich in the summer around the turn of the Twentieh Century was Edmund C. Converse. 

Mr. Converse was one of the founders of US Steel as well as Bankers Trust in New York.  (No, he was no a relation to the Converse who manufactured the sneakers!)  He liked Greenwich so much that he commissioned a realtor to find a 1000-acre plot of land that he could build an English-type manor on.  In 1904, he purchased 500-acres near Lower Cross Road in northern Greenwich off North Street.  By 1913, this grew to 1330-acres.  The realtor had purchased several adjacent farms.  The Manor was called "Conyer's Farm".  (Conyers was the Olde English spelling for Converse.)

E.C. Converse wanted the manor to be as self-sufficient as possible.  The manor contained a farm meadow, pasture, woodland, lake and stone quarry. New York City architect Donn Barber designed and constructed the Gatehouse, Manor House and Dairy Barn from 1903 to 1904. There were three general parcels of land: The Manor Lands, The Farm Lands, and The Orchards and Produce Stands.

The Manor Lands consisted of all the property surrounding the Manor House and included The Manor House, greenhouses, Manor stable, and home of Converse's daughter and sister-in-law. The Manor House was built on the highest elevation, and had a beautiful view of Long Island Sound.  It was built from fieldstone with a slate roof.  The interior was covered with dark paneling and tapestry walls.  Floors were parquet, and the bathrooms contained expensive tile, marble sinks and ornate fixtures.  The structure was 4-stories high, with 52 rooms, 12 bedrooms, 9 baths and a lift (elevator).  The Manor also contained a salon, dining area, billard room, steamroom and bowling area.  A 40-foot clock tower outside was used to summon the workers and served as a fire alarm.

Conyers Farm0001.jpgThe Farm Lands included a pasture for the dairy herd and cultivated fields for corn and hay. By 1913, there were 2 barns, a dairy office, farm garage, piggery, poultry houses, blacksmith shop, pumphouse and housing for workers.  Milk in 40-gallon cans was shipped to Round Hill Farms each day.  Other products sold at market included eggs and butter. Chickens, turkeys, quail, pheasants and partridge were raised on the farm.  The orchard produced 80,000 bushels of fruit per year including apples, peaches, pears, plums and some berries.  Not only was produce sold at the Conyer's farm roadside stand on North Street, but it was also sold locally to the Cohen Brothers, the First National Store and shipped to New York, New Jersey and even Europe!  Whatever did not sell was kept in a cold storage barn from November to May.  There was also a packing house on the farm. In 1913 there were forty buildings for immigrants and itinerant help. 

E.C. Converse died on April 4, 1921.  Although it was never proven, officials suspected murder!  In any event, Bankers Trust took over the property and eventually sold it to Fred Sansome in 1929.  The combination of the Depression and the over use of fertilizer on crops ruined Sansome.  Bankers Trust once again took over the property in 1931, and ended up selling it to Louis Rosentiel, the president of Schenely Distillers.  Mr. Rosentiel was very benevolent, letting his workers build homes and grow crops on the land.  Unfortunately, his long term plans for developing the land met with quite a bit of opposition from his neighbors and the courts.  He died in the mid-1970s, leaving the property to his family.  There was some disagreement amonst relatives as to how the land should be be handled. 

In October 1980 Peter Brant and Joseph Allen bought 1468 acres for $18-million.  The plan was to build luxurious estates on 10- and 15-acre lots.  Today, approximately 60 individual dwellings cover the land.  These provide luxury, comfort and beautiful vistas. Although not quite the way E.C. Converse envisioned it, the property offers elegance in a quiet country setting.  Whether or not such grandiose developments will be built or not in the future remains to be seen. The recent financial collapse may have changed the "game" forever.  Real estate is no longer envisioned as the safe and secure investment it once was.  House values have dropped considerably.  Although insolated from less wealthy communities, Greenwich has still experienced some setbacks due to the economy.  Yet, there still seem to be forces at work here that ensure Greenwich maintains its status as one of the wealthiest towns in the country.  





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