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.
The 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.