April 2011 Archives

At one time, Greenwich was a loose collection of villages.  These included Round Hill, Stanwich, Riversville and Banksville.  Churches were built in these areas and became the center of the community.  People started farms to grow food, then started selling the excess as a way to make income.  Banksville became sort of a commercial center for northern Greenwich.  Finch's Country Store, one of the first businesses in Banksville, still operates today.  Not too long ago there was an IGA Market, a hardware store and a restaurant in a shopping center.  There was also a building which housed a liquor store and a tailor.  This building was previously occupied by Miss Purdy's School.



Located opposite what was once the Post Office, Miss Purdy's Seminary for Young Ladies was started in the mid-1850s by Miss Ann Purdy, a transplant from Syracuse, New York. It was started as a boarding school for girls, but quickly expanded to include boys.  The school was so successful, even with an addition to the building, some students had to board nearby!

Miss Purdy realized there was not a lot going on socially in Banksville.  Greenwich was not much better!  She decided to enlist the services of Silas Derby. (Derby had been Postmaster in Banksville at one time.) She saw the need for a daily stage to Greenwich.  Her students could take a stage to the railroad station or catch the steamer John Romer to New York City. Miss Purdy lent $100 to Derby to start the Banksville Stage Coach Company.  Derby would leave Banksville at 6 am, arrive at the dock for the steamer at 7, then end up at the railroad station by 7:21 am.  Sometimes he would spend the whole day at John Dayton's Shoe Store.  Sometimes members of "Boss" Tweed's Americus Club would hire him to drive to Rye Beach or Stamford. (If Tweed accompanied them, he would always sit up front.) Derby also managed to carry some mail as a side business, and once had a contract from the Postal Service to bring mail to Banksville. 

Miss Purdy's School only lasted about 15 years.  Silas Derby, on the other hand, ran the stage for 35 years.  Some passengers thought the stage was modern, up-to-date and comfortable.  Unfortunately, the roads weren't!  Derby retired around 1900 and lived in the Banksville area.  It was around this time that automobiles were beginning to make their mark.  Yet, Miss Purdy's School and Silas Derby will forever be an important part of Banksville history.


 SOURCE: Other Days in Greenwich; Hubbard, F.; Tappley,NYC, 1913.

The Quarry Men

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Many residents don't know that Greenwich was well-known for its building stone around the turn of the 19th century.

As a matter of fact, there were several operational quarries in town at this time.  The best known ones were located along the Byram Shore, where Byram Park is located today.  In 1840, Thomas and William Ritch started taking stone from two locations in the park.  One was right behind the boat club.  The fractured stone is still visible today.  The other location was right behind the ball field to the left as you enter the park.  

Futher up Byram Shore Road ( toward what used to be Arnold's Bakery) on the curve was the Voorhis Quarry.  This quarry operated until 1910.  Ten men were employed to remove bluestone.  Sledge hammers and drills were used to cut into the stone.  Then a man would place dynamite into the borings, cover the holes with cloth and wood to direct the explosion down.  Large boulders weighing 1/2- to 1-ton fell to the foot of the quarry.  Two derricks operated by live horses walking around a carousel gave the derricks power to lift stone onto "stone boats", "ox boards" or sleds.  Stonecutters would carve the stones into the required size and shape.  The stone boat would then be dragged by oxen to a scale since buyers paid by weight.  When the stone was ready to ship, a winch was used to load the stone on schooners.  The Voorhis operation was so sophisticated that an office was built to handle bookkeeping, weight recording and timesheets.; 

The stone quarried from Greenwich was used to build the Second Congregational Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Churches, and the Roman Catholic Churches!  Furthermore, bluestone was used for the piers (supports) and keystone of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Others report that Greenwich stone was used for various buildings in New York City, breakwaters and docks on Long Island.  There was even a rumor that stone was used in the Statue of Liberty, but this can't be substantiated.

Other quarries in town included the Joseph G. Mead Quarry near Toll Gate Hill and the Milo Mead Quarry behind the New Lebanon School.   The Quarry Knolls area was near Milbrook Country Club was also the site of a smaller quarry.                            .   

This stone also created some problems for those involved with building the railroad and the Connecticut Turnpike.  Officials stated that the stone was the hardest they had ever encountered anywhere!  This means good quality.

After 1900, concrete replaced stone as the chief building material of choice.  In Byram (then known as East Port Chester), residents began lobbying for a public swimming area.  Ritch's quarry was an ideal site.  Despite some resistance, the Ritches sold the site and thought they had made a killing!  Today, it is one of the best parks in Greenwich.



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