If you're like me, you've probably been to Roger Sherman Baldwin Park many times to enjoy such programs as Shakespeare on the Sound, Concours d'Elegance, Puttin' on the Dog, and Septemberfest. It's truly one of the many "gems" of the Town's park system. It suddenly dawned on me that I knew very little about the park's namesake. I had seen the name in several local history sources, but that was about it. That's when I decided to research it for this blog.
Roger Sherman Baldwin was born on November 26, 1873, in New York City to Simeon and Mary Marvin Baldwin. It's been written that he walked with a limp due to an early bout with polio. Mr. Baldwin was related to Roger Sherman - one of four men known to have signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. He received his law degree from Yale in 1897, and formed the law firm of Baldwin, Todd and Young. On August 23, 1904, he married Mary Catherine Vail in Woodstock Vermont. In 1912, he and his family moved to Greenwich - which was very fortunate for the Town! They lived in a house built in the1720s and remodeled by famous architect Stanford White.
Mr. Baldwin has been called "Greenwich's Number 1 Volunteer". He held various public service positions for 38-years, serving on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) for 29-years. He was also a member of many academic and professional clubs. Although he was a Democrat, he worked very well with the Republican majority in Town. He was not a typical politico, but worked with everyone for the good of the Town. Baldwin respected everyone. He would listen to different viewpoints, and made informed decisions. Baldwin served on many corporate boards and state commissions.
COURTESY: GREENWICH PRESS
Roger Baldwin led the movement for fiscal and organizational reform. Baldwin helped create the "two tier" govenment system of Selectmen and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). He insisted on a professional fire department, trained policemen and civil servants to carry out the Town's work. He joined with Allan Kitchel to implement the "pay-as-you-go" system. Tax revenues were used to finance public projects rather than "floating" a bond. This ended bond borrowing and reduced the Town's indebtedness from $900,000 in 1935 to $100,000 in 1952. He helped implement zoning laws to protect backcountry Greenwich. On his train rides into Manhattan, he and the Chairman of the Zoning Board worked out a 3-tier zoning system for the town.
He used one of his law firm's secretaries to work solely on Greenwich government affairs. Another BET member and he rode up and down the streets of Greenwich to determine what the proper speed limit should be for each road! Baldwin almost singlehandedly brokered the purchase of Greenwich Point through his network of acquaintances. It's been said that he managed to get the property for $550,000 compared to the asking price of $1-million. He was instrumental in obtaining Veterans' housing in the old Tod mansion.
I came across two very interesting stories about Mr. Baldwin. At one time, there were two different nursing staffs for the Board of Education (BOE) and the Board of Health (BOH). This seemed like an unnecessary duplication of manpower. Roger Baldwin invited representatives from the BOE and BOH to his house for dinner. After a very filling meal, he announced that he was locking his guests in the diningroom until they came to a reasonable and satisfactory solution to the staffing problem! It didn't take his guests long to settle on one nursing staff!
The other story has to do with his ability to speak before large groups. He was so successful in Greenwich that other towns invited him as a guest speaker. Legend has it that he talked about the Town budget at Havemeyer School for 1-and-a-half hours without any documents! He received a 15-minute standing ovation at the end of his presentation.
He passed away in March 1949 at the age of 75 years. Shortly thereafter, the Greenwich BET passed a resolution honoring Roger Sherman Baldwin for his unselfish service to the Town of Greenwich. Baldwin dedicated himself to improving the quality of life for many people. He was indeed an important figure in Greenwich history.