October 2011 Archives

The Nantucket Lightship



                                          One of the 12 original Nantucket Lightships.

                                                  SOURCE:   US Coast Guard

On occasion, I like to take a "spin" through Grass Island.  Something about the boats appeals to me.  I love being close to the water, and even bought 2 kayaks so I could paddle out from Greenwich Point.  In October 2007, I was driving through Grass Island when I spotted a large, red ship docked near the DelaMar Hotel in Greenwich Harbor.  It had two tall masts with Crow's Nests and large lights at the top.  Across the red side of the ship was the word "Nantucket" written in large white letters.   I grabbed a camera I had in the car and took a picture.  Unfortunately, it was the last shot on the camera; but I had gotten the shot I wanted.  I recognized it as The Nantucket Lightship!

When I was young, my family would rent a cottage at Chase's Beach in Dennisport on Cape Cod.  We would shop at souvenir shops and eat at restaurants, which always seemed to have colorful place mats with maps of the Cape.  I used to study these very attentively.  Some had an image of a lightship off Nantucket near the shoals.   As a young boy, I would imagine what it was like to be on such a ship.   I even had thoughts of applying to the Coast Guard Academy. 

Lightships were used off the United States oceanic coasts and the Great Lakes to warn ships about navigational hazards.  The first Nantucket lightship was positioned 20 to 50 miles off the island in 1854.  It was called the Nantucket New South Shoal Station, and was the most exposed lightship station in the United States. It was also the most dangerous.  The vessel was in the direct path of Nor'easters, which brought howling winds and mountainous seas.  Veteran seamen even got seasick!  The constant smell of diesel fuel made the crew sick.   From 1896 to1983 it was simply called the Nantucket Shoals Lightship.  The lightship was usually the first thing passengers on Trans-Atlantic voyages saw in the United States. Twelve different vessels have served as the lightship. The lightships were replaced in 1985 by a navigational buoy.  

During World War II (1942-1945),  the lightship was withdrawn from duty, painted battleship gray, fitted with a gun and designated as the USS Nantucket.  It served as an examination patrol vessel off the coast of Portland ME.  The mission was to prevent enemy boats from entering our waters.  During this time, the USS Nantucket saved crew members of the USS Eagle-56, which was torpedoed by the German submarine U-85s.


lloyds_neck_oysterbaymarch_015.jpg                              One of the Crow's Nest on a Nantucket Lightship.

                                                SOURCE:  US Coast Guard

The Nantucket Lightship I saw in Greenwich Harbor that day was the last lightship ever built and the last vessel anchored off Nantucket.  It was designated as Lightship LIV 612.  The LIV 612 Nantucket Lightship was built in Curtis Bay, Maryland, in 1950 for $500,000.  It was commissioned on September 18, 1950.  It's 128'  long.  The beam is 30'  and the maximum draft is 11.5'.  The propellor is 7' in diameter.

The Nantucket  LIV 612 moved around quite a bit during its career. It served in many locations:

1950 - 1969       Warning vessel 3 miles off the Golden Gate Bridge

1969 - 1971       Warning vessel off Cape Mendocino in California

1971 - 1975       Warning vessel off Portland ME     

1975 - 1983       Last lightship station in the United States off Nantucket


                                             A Lightship moored at Oyster Bay.

                                                SOURCE:   US Coast Guard

The LIV 612 was removed from Nantucket in 1983.   She became a "white cutter" used to refuel DEA ships in the Caribbean.   In 1985 she was decommissioned , and It was purchased by an educational organization that wanted to refurbish it.  Funding eventually dried up, and the Nantucket was returned to the GSA. In 1987, the State of Massachusetts Metropolitan District Commission bought it for $1500.  Officials wanted to convert it to a floating museum.  However, money problems derailed this plan.  The vessel was moved to Marina Bay in Quincy, MA.  A group calling itself "The Friends of the Lightship Nantucket" began to make real progress in repairing the ship.  Unfortunately, the MDC withdrew its support and the ship was put up for disposal on eBay in 1999.  Several scrap metal companies bid on the scrap metal, but Bill Golden, an environmental lawyer and ex-state senator, bid $126,100 for it in 2000. 

Golden had the ship taken to New Bedford, where 11 craftsman converted the lightship into a yacht.  This process took 3 years!   The results, however, were well worth it.  They turned it into a luxury yacht with a Master suite and four guest suites.  The beds were carved out of mahogany or oak.  It has 6 bathrooms.  In the kitchen there are double ovens, 2 trash compactors, a granite counter top, and a 6-burner cooking top.  The dining room table is made from tiger maple.  Guests can retire to the library/den to play Foosball or watch a wide screen television.  The top deck is made from American cherry wood.

Some may question why Bill Golden would invest so much money in such a project.   He wanted to create enough value in the vessel to insure its preservation.  In 2006, it was worth $7.6 million.  Originally, the vessel was available for charters in Nantucket from May to September.   Then it sailed out of Rowes Wharf in Boston from October to April.   From 2007 to 2008, ir was chartered to DelaMar Inn for overnight stays.  In 2009, it was moored at North Cove Marina in Lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center.  People could rent rooms for $368 per day, according to the Internet.   From 2009 to 2010, it was docked in a variety of ports including Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Newport and Lower Manhattan.

Although I'm not that little boy anymore, I still like to think of the brave men who risked their lives to save others. Their's was a great tradition of unselfish service.  We at least owe them our respect and appreciation.


Built in 1950.  Decommissioned in 1985.

Last lightship built by Coast Guard.

Last lightship in the United States.

Only lightship in International waters.

Known as one of the Guardian Angels.

Only lightship to pass both ways through the Panama Canal.

Repainted white and used in support of drug enforcement in Caribbean (1984).

Served as a security and communications center off Maine during visits by dignitaries

VP George Bush was on board the day the Soviets shot down Korean Air Flight 007 (1983)

Towed a Coast Guard cutter away from the Cuban coast to safety during 1984.

Greeted the Tall Ships visiting Boston in 1992.

Anchored off Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport to honor the late Senator Edward Kennedy
in August 2009.

SOURCES:   Greenwich Time (Hearst Newspapers)

http://www.uscglightshipsailors.org/news/ : US Coast Guard Lightship Sailors Association International

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The Clam Box


WARNING:  The writer is not responsible for any sudden seafood cravings!


When I moved from the Boston area to Greenwich, my wife, Linda, introduced me to The Clam Box.  As a child, my parents would take us to Cape Cod, and I fell in love with all kinds of seafood.  Needless to say, I just loved the food at this local establishment. When it closed in September 1985, I was devastated, much like many other residents!   I decided to research The Clam Box and write this blog about it.


Salem Street0001.jpgThe first Clam Box opened on the corner of Salem Street and the Post Road in Cos Cob on Memorial Day 1939.  George Gross ran a seafood restaurant in New York City near Grand Central Station named Cooper's Fish and Chips.  He and his family were traveling through Greenwich when they spotted a garage that was for sale.  With a $400 investment, he bought the property.  Then he painted the building white, put up an awning and had crushed oyster shells spread in front of the stand to give it a "nautical" feel.  The roadside stand served fried clams, fried shrimp, fish and chips.  His wife, Ana, helped work at the food stand.  His prices were very reasonable: coffee and cream, 10-cents; glass of Coke, 5-cents; 6 clams on the half-shell, 15-cents. Of course, this was in 1939 dollars.

Gross' little food stand was a great success!  He made more money in 3-months than he did the entire year at his NYC restaurant!  As a result, he closed Cooper's Fish and Chips shortly after. Then he enclosed the counter area of his roadside stand so he could operate 12-months a year.  The menu never changed.  People stopped by year round.  They claimed no one else prepared food the way The Clam Box did.  There was a tremendous summer clientele.  In the winter (November to March) business slowed, as you would expect.  In the summertime, people would eat in their cars, or sit at one of 10 stools at the counter.  Business got busier later at night, and some nights they were open til 2 or 3 o'clock.



                                                                The Clam Box in Westport CT.


In 1940, Gross decided to expand.  His partner, Steve Zakos, started up a Clam Box restaurant in Westport.  In addition to the regular fare (fried clams, shrimp and fish), Westport also sold cold lobster. Another branch was opened in Wethersfield in 1965.  There were several imposters that also opened in the area, but the food wasn't nearly as good.  In western Greenwich a small shed opened, and a small seafood restaurant was opened near the Stamford border.  Neither lasted.  Gross claimed his special cooking method was the key.  The clams were seared for 30 or 40 seconds in a special machine at 375 degrees. He used corn flour, milk and eggs to dip his food.

As business grew, the restaurant underwent a number of renovations.  The original shack seated 10 people on stools.  Gross ended up building additions on two sides.  At first, they expanded their restaurant to seat 250 people.  Then they added an indoor dining area to accommodate 60 people. Another addition added an additional 60 seats.  It became necessary to heat the areas for year round business.  On the left side there was an open, elevated terrace with a picket fence and awning. This solved the space problem. . .temporarily.


Dutchland farms0001.jpg   

Gross decided to move in 1946.  He closed for six months while he moved into a new building in the 400 block of East Putnam Avenue in Cos Cob.  A Dutchland Farms had closed there in 1940.  Its signature trademark was a windmill on the roof.  During World War II it was used as a laboratory.  Now it was vacant.  The original Clam Box had a 100-foot front, while the new location had a 400-foot frontage.  This building was actually smaller than the building on Salem Street.  Yet, the restaurant could serve 100 people in "The Starboard Port", the main part of the restaurant.   The inside counter could also fit 100 people.  In 1948, wings were added on the left side to increase capacity.  Heat was added to one room since it had been designed for summer business only.  In order to make it a 12-month a year operation, heat was built in.


Clam Box CC0001.jpg 

 The Clam Box was a big success.  The owner attributed it to good food and good prices:  half-a-lobster,  55-cents;  whole cold lobster, $1.10;  Silex coffee/cream, 5-cents;  bottled beer/ale, 15-cents.  An entire family could eat there for under $10.  The restaurant never served canned seafood. Instead, they sent a man down to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City each morning at 3 am.  He would order the freshest fish he could find, and have it delivered by 10 am that same morning!  The fish was refrigerated (not frozen) on clean, fresh ice , which was changed regularly. They were able to produce an unusual amount of food in a small area. The restaurant baked their own fresh rolls, pies, cakes, pudding, eclairs, etc.

Family members were part of the 139-person staff.  This ensured good service, as they all had a stake in the business.  The Gross' son, Arthur, returned from the war, worked at the restaurant part-time while attending college, then took over management when his parents retired.  Its reputation began to spread!   People traveling from Boston and New York City would stop for a meal.  The Rotary Club, Lion's Club and Soroptimist Club would meet at The Clam Box. (The local sign for the Rotary Club listed The Clam Box as its meeting place in the 1950s.)  Not surprisingly, Mother's Day was the busiest day of the year. The restaurant offered a one-and-a-half price double drink. Instead of paying full price for two drinks, customers would pay a discount rate for a refill.  Customers said The Clam Box had the best coffee.  This may have been due to the light cream they served.  Arthur Gross even had post cards made of the restaurant.


Interior Clam Box0001.jpgIf the food and price were not enough to contribute to its reputation, a funny incident became a legend.  A woman found a pearl in her order of oysters!  Other customers started coming in and asking for the oysters with the pearls in them.  Some of the people were serious! 

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.  Management started to have a hard time getting service staff to work.  It took 25 waiters/waitresses to service 100 tables each night.   With the influx of Fortune 500 companies moving into the area, young workers found they could get better hours and benefits working for the companies.  Young members of the Gross family, who could have continued the business, decided not to continue.  Perhaps working their entire youth for the restaurant "burned them out".  The Wethersfield restaurant, which opened in 1964, closed in 1979.  The Cos Cob and Westport operations closed in 1985. A bank and condo complex has been built on the Cos Cob site.

I can't help but feel that, when The Clam Box closed, it was the end of an era.  Sometimes I drive down East Putnam Avenue in Cos Cob and imagine I can smell the seafood frying.  The Clam Box will forever remain a part of Greenwich history. I don't think it will ever be replaced.  Bon appetit!


SOURCE:  The Clam Box and The Food Mart; Oral History Project, 1998.

SPECIAL THANKS to Isabel Maddux and Robin Edelman!


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The Industrial Revolution was a period of time in history when machinery was introduced to improve agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and banking.  It speeded up manufacturing, improved efficiency and simplified work.  Prior to this, manufacturing was done in homes with basic hand tools.  It's generally thought to have originated in Europe - particularly England and Germany - and covered the years 1760 to 1870. Some see its roots in the ideas of such great thinkers as Galileo, Bacon, Descartes and Michaelangelo. It would eventually spread to the United States.  


Cigar Factory0001.jpg

A cigar factory off Cliffdale Road near a river.  It was the Old Sutton Grist Mill. 

Courtesy John Gotch

The development of iron and steel in this country contributed to the Industrial Revolution.  These raw materials were used to build factories and machinery.  Factories and mills were built near rivers and major waterways to take advantage of water power.  New England was an ideal location since it has a lot of rivers running south.  Greenwich was no exception!  The Mianus River, Strickland Stream, East and West Brother's Brooks and Byram River, as well as numerous tidal streams, provided adequate sources of water power for manufacturing.  Steam and coal eventually took over as sources of energy.   About 1885, electric power was introduced, and eventually the factories turned to electricity to run their machinery. 


You may recall that Greenwich started as an agricultural (agrarian) community with many farms.  The surplus was shipped to New York and other locations.  Many boats sailed Long Island Sound with agricultural products.  Shell fishing (especially oystering) also flourished.  This created a demand for marine-related products.  Then in the 1850s, Greenwich became a summer retreat.  This created more demand for goods and services, as well as marine recreation.  When the Industrial Revolution hit, the timing couldn't have been better!  New farm equipment was developed, and many factories sprang up to create products that residents could use. Manufacturing helped boost the local economy. Believe it or not, the Civil War was good for Greenwich, since some factories started manufacturing goods and supplies (clothing, wheels for wagons, accessories, etc.) for military units!



A sloop sailing off the coast of Greenwich.  Greenwich had several businesses, which manufactured boats and associated equipment. 

Courtesy John Gotch.

Now, if we step back and take an objective view, we see that these factories could be categorized based on the goods or services they provided.  There were factories that produced metal goods (wire, hardware, drills, etc.).  There were textile manufacturers (cloth, paper, etc.)  and factories related to the maritime trades (ship building, motors, sails, etc.)  Construction materials also came into demand as factory workers moved into the town. These people used many utilities (electricity, water, gas, etc.). 

This created a self-perpetuating system since the labor to produce goods in turn required goods and services.  The money the laborers made was used to buy more goods and services, thus creating more demand.  More demand meant more work, more jobs and more money.  It also led to a higher standard of living for everyone.  People had "discretionary" (extra, surplus) money to spend.  Factories eventually started producing items to make life easier. 

Today, much of the traditional manual labor has disappeared.   People still need food, clothing, homes, building materials, etc., but computers are playing a bigger role in the production of these products.  Emphasis seems to be shifting to health care and recreation.  Energy is getting a lot of attention.  "Green" industries are trying to get a foothold.  Some workers are "telecommuting" from home. Whatever the future brings, it's a safe bet that we won't see factories springing up all over America like they did during the Industrial Revolution. 

Here are a few of the factories and mills which were built in Greenwich during the late 1800s:



1.  The Greenwich Iron Works (Rolling Mills) on the Mianus River was started by Robert and William Cox in 1829.  They produced bar iron, tires, horseshoes, nails, rods, axe iron and spike iron.

2.   The Continental Mower and Reaper Company on the east side of the Mianus near the drawbridge manufactured farm equipment.  It started in 1865 and did not last long. In 1867 it was converted to a cottonseed oil factory, but moved to New Orleans in 1870.

3.  Mianus Motor Works was formed in 1890 by the Brooklyn Railway Supply Co.  BRS manufactured rail sweeps, appartus for trains and furniture.  It relocated to Cos Cob and began manufacturing engines, motors, machinery, wood and metal vessels, dams, grain grinders.  In 1910 it moved into a larger building in Stamford.

4.  Russell, Burdsall and Ward Nut and Bolt Company opened in 1845 in Pemberwick.  The factory manufactured nuts, bolts, screws, rivets, washers, and other hardware.  It merged with the Port Chester Bolt & Nut Company.

5.  The Abendroth Brothers Eagle Factory was founded in 1840 in East Port Chester (Byram).  Stoves, coal and gas ranges, furnaces, hot water and steam boilers, plumbers soil pipe and fittings were its main products.



1.  Palmer & Duff's Shipyard in 1848 overhauled, repaired and rebuilt sailing vessels in Cos Cob until 1907.

2.  Palmer Brothers on Dumpling Pond (Mianus River) started manufacturing telephones and electrical supplies in 1888.  It also manufactured gasoline engines and launches for the shipyard further down the river.

3.  George Mertz Sons started manufacturing building materials in 1872.

4.  The E.M. Merritt Shipyard started on Rocky Neck in 1858, but was abandoned in 1871.

5.  A Greenwich Yacht Yard on Rocky Neck in 1904 began building, outfitting and repairing yachts and boats.



1.  George M. Reynolds Co. in Glenville started processing fur for hatters in 1872.

2.  American Felt Mill founded in 1899 on the Byram River started producing woolen and cotton goods, felt and machinery clothes.

3.  Swan's Paper Mill on the Mianus River in Cos Cob started manufacturing fine quality linen paper (ledgers, writing paper) from 1800 to 1828, when fire destroyed the building.

4.  The Rippowam Woolen Manufacturing Company in North Mianus (1895-1899) produced plush carriage robes and horse blankets.

5.  The Mianus Manufacturing Company in 1899 took over the buildings of the Rippowam Company and produced auto robes, fur robes, velour gloves, cloaks and immitation fur.


1.  In 1907 The Greenwich Sash and Door Co. at Rocky Neck manufactured, bought and sold doors, sashes, blinds, and interior finish.

2.  Harrie Moorehouse made doors, sashes, blinds starting in 1894.

3.  In 1840 Quarries in Byram and Greenwich started cutting out building stones for churches and even bridges in New York City.


1.  The Greenwich Gas Light Co. was founded in 1875.

2.  In 1885 the Greenwich Gas and Electric Co. was founded.

3.  Greenwich Water C. was started in 1880.

4.  In East Port Chester (Byram) the Distilled Mineral Water Co. started manufacturing carbonated beverages, ginger ale, sarsaparilla, soda and soft drinks in 1901.




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