November 2012 Archives

Oldest House in Greenwich

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According to several sources, the oldest house in Greenwich is the Thomas Lyon Homestead at the bottom of Byram Hill near the state line on West Putnam Avenue.  No one knows for sure when this Colonial saltbox was built.  Depending on who you believe, it was built anywhere between 1640 and 1700.  The shape, construction and additions indicate it was built in the latter 17th Century (1600s).  This is supported by the use of large Cypress shakes, large beams, wide floor boards and irregular placement of side windows.  TLyonsHouse114.jpg

                   SOURCE: Thomas Lyon House Committee

It was originally a one-room building with a fireplace and chimney. The house has been modified over time.  There are steps leading to the front door and a narrow entryway.   Inside the entryway are 3 doors.  The middle door leads to a winding staircase, which is enclosed and rises to the second floor.  There is a room upstairs to the immediate left, with a fireplace.  A hallway leads to a bedroom.  There is an attic, which contains 2 small windows.  Old beams and saddle pegs indicate the house was built prior to 1700. 

Let's return to the main entryway!  The door to the left leads to a livingroom.  This was known as the "Yankee Guard Room" because soldiers were entertained there during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). On the right is a door that leads to the diningroom.  The walls were covered with wallpaper, and there was a large fireplace, which once had a Dutch oven.  (Today, the fireplace is boarded up.)  Once again, large beams are present on the sides of the fireplace to support the huge chimney.  A sort of lean-to in the rear of the house was added for a kitchen. It was a common practice to add additions for kitchens in Colonial times.

Ms. Mary Ellen LeBien of the Greenwich Library Friends told me that she thought Elizabeth Feaks had given the house to Thomas Lyon.  I found out that Thomas Lyon, Sr. (1621 - 1690) was born in England, had immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, then moved to Fairfield County.  Thomas was married to Martha Winthrop, the granddaughter of of Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts.   He was a soldier in the Pequot War (1637-1638), and had been involved in the war that spilled over into Connecticut from Massachusetts.  Lyons received "3-score acres"in Byram on the north side of the Boston Post Road (across from its present location) for his service   He started a dairy farm, which included a tract of low-lying land next to the Byram River.  It was subject to seasonal flooding.  His son, Thomas, Jr. (1673-1739) is the one believed to have actually built the homestead sometime before 1700.

A succession of Lyons inherited the property after Thomas, Jr:  Gilbert "Gentleman Gil" Lyon (1719-1816), Abraham Lyon (1764-1790), Elias Lyon (1800-1863) and Underhill Lyon (1837 -1920).  (Underhill was a prosperous farmer and prominent in town affairs.)   Mrs. Julia Lyon Saunders, the great-great-great-great grandaughter of Thomas Lyons, gave the house to an association formed by the Lions Club and Rotary Club to preserve the historic house.   Funds were raised publicly by the association  to move the house.  While one source states it was moved due to the flooding Byram River, another source said it was moved because the Boston Post Road was being widened.  The latter seems to make more sense.  Plans were made to move the structure to town land on the south side of the Post Road, right below Byram School.  Judge Frederick A. Hubbard believed the house would make a wonderful Information Bureau and museum for tourists.

The move started on November 4, 1926.  Since the hand-hewn timbers were determined to be in good shape, a work crew decided to jack up the house and heavy central chimney.  The public funds raised were used up pretty quickly.  It took two years to complete the move.  By February 1927, the project was completed as the house was relocated to town land on its present spot.  The association had no money left, but wanted to maintain the homestead's historic character.  They also wanted to make improvements by adding a rustic wooden fence, plumbing and period wallpaper.  So they leased the building to the American Fence Company, which payed rental money and agreed to make the improvements.  This began  a long line of commercial renters, until 1937 when the house was converted to residential use.

The homestaed has had a very illustrious history!  It was part of a WPA Study in 1930, included in a Connecticut Statewide Inventory of Historical Houses in 1966, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  In 1980, the Rotary Club ceded its interest in the house to the Lions Club.  In 2006, the Byram Neighborhood Association formed the Thomas Lyons House Committee. This later morphed into the Greenwich Preservation Trust.  They wanted the house to be preserved, and planned a strategy to document its age, perform a title search and have it protected as an historic structure.  By 2006, the Lions Club gave the house to the Town. 

The house is still rented out, and it has fallen into disrepair in recent years.   A solution has to be found to maintain the structure for future generations. It would be a shame to lose such an important piece of Greenwich history. 

SOURCES

Kitchel, A.: Historic Houses of Greenwich; The Greenwich Press (Feb 4,1937)

Byram Neighborhood Association, n.d.; Village of Byram; retreived November 30, 2012; http://www.byramct.org/lyonhouse.asp.

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Historical Happenings

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Putnam Cottage Candlelight Open House
243 East Putnam Avenue
Sunday - December 2 - 4 pm to 7 pm

The DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) opens Mead's Tavern for tours of the historic house,which is decorated for the Christmas holidays as it would have been by the Colonists in 1734!  Docents will take visitors on a tour of the house.

A donation is suggested.

 

Using Military Records for Genealogical Research
Cos Cob Library
Saturday - December 8th - 10:30 am to 12 Noon

Genealogist Anthony Lauriano explains how to use military records to find information about your ancestors.

Free. Open to all beginning, intermediate and expert would-be genealogists.

 

Greenwich Landmark Series - Greenwich Historical Society
At the GHS website:  
www.hstg.org and the Greenwich Time
Ongoing through 2012

Real estate columnist Susan Nova is writing columns on historically significant homes plaqued by the Historical Society.

The plaquing program was started in 1987. Interesting facts about historic houses.

The Olde Inn at Stanwich

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Recently, I was reading one of the local newspapers, when a certain photo caught my eye.  It was a familiar building, which looked to be damaged.  This was around the time of  Hurricane Sandy.  At first, I thought it had been damaged by the wind and falling trees; but when I read the headline, I realized it was one of the town's historic buildings in the Stanwich Historic District, which had been damaged by fire.   It looked familiar because I have historic photos of this building in the Library's John Gotch Collection!

 

StanwichInn2096.jpg                             The Inn at Stanwich circa 1890. 

                                 Courtesy of Agnew Fisher.                   

             

The building is the well-known Stanwich Inn at 290 Taconic Road, at the intersection of North Stanwich Road and Taconic Road known as Lockwood Corner. (It's also been called the Stanwich Tavern.) Stanwich village used to be a much more prominent population center in the early 1800s.  Residents were mainly farmers, and there were local schools, churches, etc.  There is some speculation as to the actual date of construction of the Inn.  The Greenwich Time indicates that it was built in 1802, while the earlier Greenwich Press (2/25/1937) traced land records as far back as 1737.   

One source mentioned a stage coach line from Cos Cob to Ridgefield, which stopped at the Inn.  Another source talks about Stanwich Inn being the first stop for a line from Greenwich to Bedford.  Allan Kitchell (Greenwich Press; 2/25/1937)  mentions a stageline from Horseneck to Ridgefield. This line ran through Stanwich and Bedford.  It's well-known that Silas Derby ran the Banksville Stage for almost 40 years from the Greenwich train station to Banksville to carry passengers to Purdy School.  Stanwich Inn is located in that same general area, so it's feasible that the Banksville Stage passed there.  Since there were stages in existence prior to 1802, it's been suggested that the Inn was built prior to the Revolutionary War.  So there's still some mystery as to its actual construction date.

The Inn served as a community center for the village until 1840.  Churches held socials there, and it had a great ballroom (with a vaulted ceiling), which provided space for dancing and music.  From the outside, one is impressed with the farm architecture reminiscent of the Dutch lowlands.  Its has a two-story porch, with a  shingled roof, which flares down to the eaves.  Shutters accent the windows, and clapboard covers the sides.  The huge chimney protruding from the roof indicates a wide fireplace inside, which one imagines warmed cold stage passengers waiting for, or disembarking from, the stagecoach.  Incidently, a large rock on the property, close to the road, has old iron rings imbedded in it that once were used to hitch the horses!

 

StanwichInn1095.jpg                                 The Stanwich Inn (Tavern) around 1962. 

                                            Courtesy of John Gotch.

           

One enters the building through a small, enclosed entryway with twin windows.  It's basically a small, deserted hallway, which serves as a reception area.   This was no doubt designed to keep out the cold air, and served as a "mudroom" to kick dirt off one's boots.   There are two large rooms off the hallway that have large, hand-carved fireplace mantels.  The rooms have large oak ceiling beams and wide floorboards.  A kitchen in the rear used to be warmed by a large fireplace; but the fireplace has been boarded up, and a Franklin Stove installed for heat. The Inn's foundation is constructed of large granite stones, which came out of local quarries.  There's a fireplace in the cellar, with a large Dutch oven built into it. 

The second floor had partitions hooked to the ceiling to form a large ballroom. Dances - ranging from square dances to minuets - were held here. The ceilings were arched, and a huge chandelier containing candles (with dripping wax) hung from an archway during the Revolutionary War period.  There's also eveidence of a second (dropped?) ceiling.  The attic contains a small garret room (small, habitable living space).  A small door in the rear provides access to the huge central chimney.

Around 1840, the Inn became a residential dwelling. Multiple and single families have lived there. It's changed hands many times over the years. 

On Saturday, November 3rd, 2012, at approximately 3:15 pm, a fire broke out in the former Stanwich Inn.  It was sparked by a generator-powered heat lamp.  Firefighters had to cut a hole in the roof to vent the gas and smoke.  The owner lost a 150-pound pet turtle.  He also suffered smoke inhalation.  Damage was extensive, but the building can be restored. 

Today, the Stanwich area is mainly residential with no operating farms. Much of the farmland is now covered by private estates.  Automobiles have replaced stagecoaches.  Villages like Stanwich and Round Hill are less prominent business centers.  Yet, it's still romantic to think of the days when passengers got off the stagecoach at the Stanwich Inn to rest and have a bite to eat.  Indeed, it was a much simpler time.

  SOURCES

Greenwich Time (Hearst Publications)

The Greenwich Press

 

 

Historical Happenings

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Greenwich Historical Society Crooks Lecture
Greenwich Library - Cole Auditorium
Wednesday - November 14, 2012 - 7:00 pm

Kenneth Jackson talks about New York City's journey from the greatest business center in the world (1920-1960) to the brink of bankruptcy (1975) to becoming the world's financial capital. 


Genealogy - Organize Your Family History Reserach on Your Computer
Cos Cob Library Community Room
Saturday - November 17, 2012 - 10:30 am

Nora Galvin explains how to organize your family history using your home computer.


Greenwich Historical Society - From Italy to America Discovery Day
Greenwich Library
Monday - November 26, 2012 - 6 to 9:30 pm

This program is designed to engage residents in researching their Italian family roots. 

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