August 2012 Archives

Historical Happenings

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Secrets of the Red Book: The Illustrious History of Greenwich's Early Yachting Community

Thursday - September 13, 2012 - Indian Harbor Yacht Club - Steamboat Road - 6:00 PM

 

Panelists will discuss the creation of the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, and how the club brought key businessmen together for sailing competition.  Following the discussion, attendees may walk the docks off Steamboat Road to view some classic vessels in town for sailing competition.  This event is sponsored by The Historical Society of Greenwich.

 

 

Putnam Cottage / Knapp Tavern Museum

Sundays - May Through November - 234 East Putnam Avenue - 1 to 4 PM

 

This tavern, built in the 17th century, is known as the place where General Israel Putnam started his flight from the British in 1779.  Docents lead visitors on tours through the kitchen, tavern and other rooms.  There are special programs throughout the year.  The cottage is run by the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.)

 


Mianus Woolen Mill Fire of 1938

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Cos Cob Fire Department Circa 1923

Cos Cob VFD Fiftieth Anniversary 1972 Booklet

 

Debbie Orrico, our Library Business Manager, asked me a while ago if I had any information on the Woolen Mill fire in North Mianus.  Her father, Peter, remembered the great fire that destroyed the complex. I researched it, and came up with the following story.

The original factory was the Rippowam Woolen Manufacturing Company built in 1895 on the property off Valley Road, which is the site of the water filtration plant today. The company manufactured carriage robes and horse blankets. It was replaced by the Mianus Manufacturing Company in 1899. The factory was called The Mianus Woolen Mill.

This company began manufacturing automobile robes, fur robe linings, and velour gloves. Imitation fur linings were made for infant's, children's and women's items. At one point, the factory manufactured steamer rugs. The factory complex covered 60,000 square feet. It was composed of a dye house, spinning room, card room, weaving room and a structure called the Ticker House. Horse hair was woven into thread which was dyed and spun onto spools. These, in turn, filled bobbins which were used to weave on looms.

Workers had to be at least sixteen and hold working papers. Unlike some other manufacturing companies, there was no factory housing provided to the workers. Instead, they had to live in boarding houses in the area. Over time there was a wagon,a bus, then a company truck to transport workers from the Cos Cob area to North Mianus. People could take the trolley along the Boston Post Road to go to town for supplies. Many workers had gardens to supplement their food. Since the factory had no cafeteria, workers had to bring their own lunches.  They grew carrots, tomatoes, apples and raised pigs and chickens.  Some bought groceries, kerosene and cold cuts from local stores. Ambitious businessmen sold meats, vegetables, fruit, paper goods, linens, and umbrellas from wagons and boats on the upper Mianus River. One man even went around sharpening scissors and knives!

Like many factories in New England, the Woolen Mill depended on a water wheel for power. The factory also pumped water to the houses, which had storage tanks, using automatic electric water pumps, from spring-fed wells, . Eventually there were so many houses that more water was needed than could be supplied. This resulted in the creation of the Water Company.

During World War I, the factory ran 2 shifts. The fabric it produced was in demand by the military for clothing items. By 1911, the complex covered 60,000 square feet. As time went along, the demand for blankets and robes declined. The automobile replaced horses, and cars were now enclosed. Manufacturing ceased in 1926 when the Southern Connecticut Real Estate company took over the factory. Greenwich Trust had foreclosed the mortgage. The Greenwich Gas and Water Company leased the site as a storage area for its meters.

On January 8, 1926, a fire broke out that caused $10,000 damage. Several empty cans , which could have held an accelerant, were found in the road near the factory.   Arson was suspected. The fire started at 1:15 am on a Sunday morning.  The blaze was discovered by a night watchman.   The fire had started in 3 rooms. dense, balck smoke permeated the structure.  Fortunately, a sprinkler system retarded the fire.  There was extensive water damage to the machinery, and several packing cases of wool ready for shipping were damaged. 

In 1936, the H.G. Davenport Company from Providence leased some space to dye and finish textiles.

On April 28, 1938, another, more extensive fire broke out. It destroyed four out of six buildings. Two structures did not burn because they were cement structure. The fire was discovered by two witnesses, who said the fire started raging in two different places on the third floor of a four story building. (Neighbors thought they heard explosions when the fire began.) The two witnesses ran around the neighborhood to find a phone since not every house had one at that time of the fire. There were two employees of the H.G. Davenport Company working on the first floor of the building at the time. They knew nothing about the fire until they heard falling timbers from floor supports and beams above their heads! The men ran outside to find the entire structure ablaze. They ran to a nearby store to report the fire, but it was closed. Then they ran house to house until they found a phone. The Cos Cob Fire Department was the first unit to respond. The Amogerone, Sound Beach, East Port Chester, Stamford and Turn of River Fire units also sent trucks.

 

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                                North Mianus Woolen Mill Fire   1938

                        Cos Cob VFD Fiftieth Anniversary 1972 Booklet

  

Approximately 5,700 feet of fire hose was laid to fight the fire.  Two hose lines blew and pump trucks from Amogerone and Sound Beach got stuck and had to be pulled out by the Greenwich Highway Department.  Power lines across the street were in danger of failing since the telephone poles they were on burst into flames from the heat. The paint on nearby houses also blistered. Twenty of the eighty firefighters called to fight the blaze had to be treated for burns.  A crew from Sound Beach barely missed getting hit by a collapsing front wall, which was on fire. Flames leaped from the factories 150-foot chimney to a nearby hemlock thicket, which burned. Although a stucco/cement building and a cement block structure did not burn, some of their wooden window casings did!

Approximately 5,000 people drove to the scene.  The dark, black smoke could be seen for miles.  This traffic hindered firefighters, so they had to set up one-way traffic.  The fire which broke out at about 2:30 pm was under control by 5 pm.  Damage to the buildings was estimated at $75,000.  The Gas and Water Company lost $10,000 worth of meters.

I should mention 2 notable rescues.  A man from Darien - an employee of the Fairfield Towel Supply Company - jumped in the river to save 2 puppies, who had fallen in to escape the fire.  Another man rescued a horse that was grazing and tied to the burning building.

On March 11, 1953, the remaining building was razed to make way for a modern water filter plant and pumping station.  There is nothing left of this vital manufacturing company which provided jobs for so many residents.  All that is left are memories.

 

SOURCES:    Greenwich Press 

                       Greenwich News & Graphic

                       North Mianus Woolen Mill; Rusovic, A;  Oral History Project, 1975.

                       The History of the Town of Greenwich, Mead, S.; 1913.

 

Historical Happenings

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New Blog Index - Our index has been expanded to allow you to search by title.  Just scroll down the right side of the page and select main index (to see full text in reverse date order), all entries to see blog titles (in reverse date order) or archives to see a list of blogs by month.

Structural Perspectives - Now until September 5th at the Bush-Holley Historic site, see how artists interpret structure from their own persepctive.  Featured artists include Heather Sandifer, Lily McCarthy and Michael Chait.

Post-Olympic Salute to Athletes - On Thursday, August 23, from 3 to 5, the Bruce Museum will feature Olympic fencers and judo students, who competed in the London 2012 Olympics.

The Studio Workshop Players

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Over the years, Greenwich has been home to several different community theater groups. Unlike other nearby communities, however, there is no facility available for these live performances. The groups have had to "make do" as best they can.

As far as I could determine, the earliest group was The Studio Workshop Players. They were formed in 1930 by Ms. Mary Hill Brown and Mrs. Elizabeth Vaughan. The troupe would perform at Mrs. Brown's residence. People would join for $1.50 a year, and they would get 2 tickets per performance. Most of the members were wealthy, although several teachers eventually joined. According to its founders, they didn't intentionally set out to exclude anyone; they just couldn't accommodate a lot of people. The plays would run Thursday, Friday and Saturday - sometimes over 2 or 3 weekends. They put on musicals as well as dramas. The renowned Quinto Manganini played the flute and helped with musical scores. Singer Danny O'Connor came on several occasions. Many of the plays were Irish, requiring actors who could speak with a brogue. Some plays were set outdoors, starting at 8:30 pm as it got dark. Lights on the outside of the house were used as spotlights. The audience brought their own chairs and cushions to sit on. Performances were held at the house in Cassidy Park off Lake Avenue.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Brown was renting the house, and after about 4-years, the original owners returned to Greenwich and wanted their house back. This left The Studio Workshop Players (and Mrs. Brown) without a home. She ended up renting a barn on the corner of Old Church Road. The living quarters were upstairs. A stage had to be built downstairs, and one room was used for the "stage", while an adjacent room was used to seat the audience.  It could seat over 150 people.  Since there was no budget, they had to use living room furniture for the set! You had to know someone to get a ticket since there wasn't enough space to accommodate the public.  Sometimes they would use a "night club" arrangement using card tables. They allowed people to bring their own food and liquor. In this respect, it could be considered a type of "Cabaret Theater". They began to get requests from Veteran's homes, schools and churches. Unfortunately, the barn burned to the ground around 1940. So they rented the Masonic Temple on Havemeyer Place until 1942.

Then World War II broke out, and the theater group lost most of its male members. The Studio Workshop Theater disbanded and sold its equipment to a professional theater group called The Starlight Theater.  This group played at the Masonic Temple for a year, then moved to to the site which eventually became the home of Greenwich Cinema on Greenwich Avenue. They put on plays they hoped would eventually be performed on Broadway. This will be the subject of a future blog.

SOURCE:   The Studio Workshop Players; Hale, H.:  Oral History Project, 1975..

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