Plane Spotting in Greenwich

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When you enter Greenwich Point, you've probably noticed the observation tower, which now houses a Greenwich Police sub-station.  I read in Greenwich Before 2000 (Historical Society, 1999) that it was used by the Greenwich Civil Defense Ground Observer Corps.  Apparently, it replaced an earlier tower in 1956, which had been moved from from North Street at the beginning of the Korean War around 1950.


                      PHOTO:    Observation Tower at Greenwich Point

                                        Taken by Carl White     2004


 There were 3 towers used in town during World War II.  A Stanwich Road silo, a Riversville Road Tower and the old Town Hall were used by volunteers to watch for enemy aircraft.   A Defense Committee - composed of sixty people - had been appointed in town, and worked closely with the Connecticut Council of National Defense.  You probably think this was overkill; but according to the Greenwich Time, a team from a German submarine had actually landed at Montauk, Long Island, on a reconnaisance mission!  One of the volunteers who manned the Town Hall observation post (Alexandra Spann) said she reported a Japanese plane, which turned out to be taking pictures of the coastline. (It was intercepted by a Coast Guard plane.)  

Greenwich took the war very seriously.  In December 1941, the town added several Air Raid Wardens and auxiliary firemen.  A First Incident Officer's School was established at Greenwich High School to train wardens in bomb handling and gas warfare.  Foreign residents were instructed to turn in their shortwave radioes, firearms and cameras. The FBI and Greenwich Police even raided 50 homes and confiscated contraband. Greenwich High School participated in air raid practice.  Students were required to evacuate the building in 3 minutes.  They headed to nearby homes in groups of 10. New sirens had to be installed in back country because the church bells previously used were inaudible. Like the rest of the nation, Greenwich residents went on "wartime" by turning their clocks ahead 1 hour.

In February of 1942, Greenwich participated in the first major East Coast air raid exercise.  Food and gas rationing was instituted in May.  A voluntary registration was started for women, who could work in war industry.  In December,  the town converted furnaces in town buildings to coal burners to save oil.  Oil sales were stopped for 60-hours that same month to save oil for military use.  School children raised $122,000 to buy 80 jeeps for the army by selling war bonds and stamps.

When all was said and done, it's estimated that 5,545 men from Greenwich served in World War II.  The total KIA (Killed in Action) was 127 and 22 men were MIA (Missing in Action).  Greenwich residents purchased $91,387,974 in war bonds to support the war effort.  The town's contributions were enormous!

Based on Alexandra Spann's testimony, the Aircraft Warning Service was active from 1942 to 1943.  Women "manned" the observation posts during the day, and men worked at night.    The AWS was replaced by the Continental Air Command from 1945 to 1950.  In 1949, some participated in an "Operation Lookout".  Plane spotters were to watch for military planes along with 10 other states.  The purpose was to test out a new invention called "radar"!  The observation towers at North Street and Riversville Road participated for about a week.  Later, one observer would be a witness to one of the first jet aircraft flying over town! 

The Ground Observer Corps was re-activated in 1950 because of the Korean War.   After several years of debate, the town finally bought Tod's Point in 1945.  Shortly thereafter, the Observation Tower was moved from North Street.  A new tower replaced the original tower on August 22, 1956.  It cost $4,700 and was a big improvement from the previous structure.  It had new, modern plumbing, and the second floor was enclosed.  It's code name was "Cocoa", and it was part of a coast-wide Civil Defense network with direct lines to a central office in New Haven.  Greenwich was part of a "loop" which included New Rochelle, Armonk and Mt. Kisco in New York, and Greenwich, Darien and Westport in Connecticut.  From 1952 to 1959, the group became known as  the Aircraft Warning System. 

 After the war, the need for observers began to wane.  The military had more sophisticated planes and equipment that were more effective.  The observer corps was finally disbanded in 1959. 

Around 1995, town officials decided to place a police sub-station in the vacant observation tower at Greenwich Point.  At one time it had been used by lifeguards.  Now, officials felt that it might be necessary to have a police officer close to the entrance since people were now challenging the beach access policy.   It was also a good idea from a public safety point of view since attendance had been steadily increasing.  Police can also see boats on Long Island Sound.  Help can be summoned from the Coast Guard if anyone is in distress.

The "tower" has served the town well over the years - first as an aircraft observation tower, then as a Life Guard station and now as a police sub-staion.  It's location and view make it a valuable structure at Greenwich Point. Chances are it will be there for a long, long time.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on September 6, 2012 6:46 PM.

Historical Happenings was the previous entry in this blog.

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