March 2013 Archives

Historical Happenings

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Researching Your Irish Ancestors in NYC
Cos Cob Library - Saturday - April 13 - 10:30 AM

Mr. Robert Buggy will describe various resources in New York City
that you can use to find your ancestors.

Free program.  No registration required.  Open to all ages.


A Box of Photos Tells No Tales: Preserving Family History
Bush-Holley Historical Site - Thursday - April 18 - 6:30 PM

Mr. Peter Savigny talks about the latest trend in preserving family
history - using photos in a Ken Burns-like storytelling video.

Admission free.  Call (203) 869-6899 Ext 10 for reservations.

Preserving Your Personal Photos and Documents
Cos Cob Library - Saturday - April 27 - 10:30 AM

Mr. Marco Tourno of Images in Old Greenwich will explain how to
select photographs and documents for preservation.

Free program. No registration required. Open to all ages.

Landmarks 25th Anniversary Celebration
The Belle Haven Club - Sunday - April 28 - 5 to 7 PM

This program sponsored by the Greenwich Historical Society explains
how 272 structures have been plaqued as historical buildings.  Plaques will
be presented to newly designated structures - including the Belle Haven Club.

Call (203) 869-6899 for more information.



Historic Riverside Avenue Bridge

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One of the most unusual bridges in Greenwich is the ornamental cast-iron bridge, which crosses over the railroad tracks on Riverside Avenue.


Bridge-Angled212.jpg                   The Riverside Avenue Bridge                                        

                                        SOURCE:   Library of Congress

I found out this bridge was built in 1871 by the Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh PA.  It was designed by Francis C. Lowthrop, and employs something called the "Whipple Truss". A truss bridge uses a triangular design to distribute the stress load from tension and/or compression evenly through its infrastructure. This section of bridge was one of six spans that once carried 2 tracks across the Housatonic River in Stratford.  As more trains were added, more tracks were needed to accomodate the traffic.  Furthermore, increasing business demanded more cars which required heavier locomotives, so stronger and wider bridges were needed. 

In 1884, the old cast-iron bridge was replaced, and the metal was recycled.  The 2- track cast-iron bridge was replaced with a 4-track wrought-iron structure.  Cast-iron fabrication involves heating pig iron to a liquid, then pouring it into moulds.   Wrought-iron is tougher, ductile, malleable and easily welded.   As a result, the new bridge was wider and stronger.  Some of the old cast-iron was used for highway bridges and recycled, while one span was brought to Greenwich and placed over the railroad tracks on Riverside Avenue between 1884 and 1885.  Originally, the bridge was rated to handle 5-tons of vehicle weight.  Subsequent improvements increased the limit to 8- to 11- to 15-  tons.  This limit was dropped to 11- tons after the 1988-1989 renovation.


Bridge-Track View214.jpg

                   View From  Railroad Tracks                                          

                       SOURCE:   Library of Congress

In the 1970s, the Riverside bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  After 1870, there were no bridges built from cast-iron.  Many of these bridges were replaced with wrought-iron when the tracks were widened, and it's reported that there are only one or two cast-iron bridges left in the country. This makes it an extremely rare structure.  

In  1988, a $2.37- million reconstruction of the bridge was undertaken.  People had complained about the "bumpy" bridge.   This was partially a result of the wooden boards, which made up the base of the structure.  Frost heaves had loosened much of the wood.   Traffic was re-routed while construction crews replaced the wood with reinforced concrete.  A pedestrian railing and protective walkway were also added.  The bridge was hailed as a "bridge within a bridge".  Some were impressed that the bridge had been strengthened while preserving its historic nature.  Not everyone was happy, however.  A few residents felt that raising the surface of the road and  installing a walkway  hid some of the ornamental detail of the bridge.

Technically, Metro-North Commuter Railroad owns the bridges across their tracks; but the Connecticut Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining the structures due to an agreement made with the railroad.   The Connecticut DOT was the agency that undertook the renovation in 1988. 


Bridge-Truss215.jpg                                          Triangular Truss Construction

                                          SOURCE:  Library of Congress

In October 1989,  Ada Cantavero, who operated "Ada's Store" a few yards north of the bridge, cut the ceremonial ribbon to re-open the span.  She was very happy that the bridge  re-opened since she had lost business due to the detour. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers featured the bridge in their 1988 calendar, along with the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.  These are some of the best-built and most beloved bridges in the United States.  Experts call them masterpieces of design and engineering.   I consider them symbols of early history and a testament to man's ingenuity.

There's something special about the Riverside bridge.  It appeals to my romantic side.  I can't help but think back to when the bridge was one of 6 spans that carried trains across the Housatonic.   Trains headed to some unknown destination.  Maybe to some adventure. 

Maybe it's just a "nod" to an earlier, simpler time. 



Greenwich Time

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Historical Happenings

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A Byram Love Story:  Anna and Dan Janesky in 1938
Byram Shubert Library
Saturday - March 23, 2013 - 3:00 PM

Author Nancy Priestly talks about her parents, who lived and loved in Byram during the 1930s.

She'll talk about her recent book, that uses Byram history as a backdrop, titled "I'll Never Leave You".


Genealogy: Researching Your Irish Ancestors in NYC
Cos Cob Library
Saturday - April 13, 2013 - 10:30 am

The Friends of Cos Cob Library presents the first of two genealogical programs for the month of April.

Mr. Joseph Buggy will discuss how to use various resources in the City to research your irish ancestors.


Genealogy:  Preserving Your Past - Photographs and Documents
Cos Cob library
Saturday - April 27, 2013 - 10:30 AM

The second genealogical program deals with handling of family photos, letters, etc.

Local businessman Marco Torno explains how to select materials to preserve and how to take care of them.


These programs are free and open to the public.

Skating On The Sound

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Boat in Ice207.jpg

                             A BOAT SURROUNDED BY ICE FLOES


Over the years, many people have asked me when Greenwich Harbor had frozen over so that people could actually walk over to Island Beach.   I remembered reading something about it, and decided to research the topic for this blog.

The earliest mention was February 19, 1875.  According to the timeline in "Before and After 1776" (HSTG, 1976), Long Island Sound was so frozen over that residents were able to ride their horses and buggies from Steamboat Road to Great Captain's Island!   Since newspapers in Greenwich weren't published until 1877, I couldn't find any info on this.

In January 1887,  people were reported to have "coasted and sleighed" on Greenwich Avenue.  It was 2-degrees F below zero, and ice spread to fill in the bare roads to make a smooth surface for sleighing.  Owners of horses and sleighs experienced great business as everyone took to the byways.  There were even sleighing parties at night since the clear skies and full moon provided abundant light!  People were coasting on sleds and long bobsleds down Greenwich Avenue to Belle Haven Avenue!   There were horse races on the Mill Pond in Cos Cob, which was covered over with ice. 

Not everyone enjoyed the cold weather, though.  Boats were frozen in the Mianus River, and on February 12, 1899, steamers were frozen in ice on Long Island Sound.  Ice was measured to be 8-inches thick, and the entire Sound was frozen over.   The Maid of Kent, piloted by a Captain Holmes, took 50 hours to sail from New York City to Greenwich Harbor!  When he sailed into the Whitestone area, his boat became frozen in the ice.  He had to rely on passing boats and steamers to break up the ice so he could continue his voyage.  The Maid would try to follow in the wake of the rescue ship, but became re-frozen as she fell behind.  She kept backing, sliding and pushing to get free.  It took many hours and many vessels to help her reach her destination in Greenwich Harbor.

I've read in several places that early in the 1900s, ice harvesting was a big business.  After all, people only had ice chests - not the convenient refrigerators we have today.  Men would harvest ice from streams, swamps and ponds, load up wagons and ride around town selling blocks for ice boxes.  It's reported that the ice on Conyer's lake was 9-inches thick!  Some 2,000 tons were harvested for sale to the public!  Ice was also harvested from the Ten -Acre Swamp, which is where the Greenwich High School athletic fields are today.

Greenwich Time columnist Warren Lewin (1/25/1987) wrote about Byram Harbor being frozen over for 8-weeks during the winter of 1904.  The steamer Glenville, owned and operated by The Port Chester Transportation Company, was stuck in the ice at the foot of Adee Street.  Workers had to use dynamite to open up a channel to the Sound.  The Glenville transported felt, shirts as well as wood and coal for furnaces and stoves. 

Again, in January 1918, a cold snap froze the Harbor out to Great Captain's Island and Island Beach.  People walked out to see a 3-masted barge, which sank on January 10th.  Schools were closed since the weather was extremely frigid and there was a coal shortage.  The local peach crop was ruined.

On February 9, 1934, the temperature set a new record as the mercury dropped to 20-degrees below zero!  Once again, ice was solid from Indian Harbor to Island Beach.

Greenwich was hit with "the worst ice storm in history" on March 4, 1940 , resulting in millions of dollars of damage.

Riverside and Old Greenwich lost electricty for five-days after a powerful ice storm hit the area on December 17, 1973.

Winters in Greenwich have moderated somewhat over the years.  Every so often, though,  ice becomes a threat to boats and pilings.  Pilings are long wooden poles, anchored seven feet under the water, which are used to attach docks.  Ice can snap poles, or cause suction as the tides rise and fall.  The piling can be pulled up out of the bottom.  In 1978,  pilings cost $500 a piece, and it cost $600 to replace one.  There was 18-inches of ice on the Harbor that year.  It cost $100,000 to replace the damaged pilings. 

More recently, in the 1990s, workers from the Department of Parks and Recreation have had to clear ice from Greenwich harbors.  In the winter of 1993 - 1994, ten-inches of ice formed on the water.  Ice again threatened the Harbor in 1996.  The marinas at Grass island and Cos Cob presented a problem since  ice could damage the hulls of boats.  A specially-designed boat, christened the "Loose Goose", with steel hull was put into service to break up the ice at these locations.  Another tool was the "de-icer" machine - small motorized "propellors" placed in the water alongside the pilings, which keeps water moving to prevent ice.  At one time chain saws were also used to cut away the ice.  In the winter of 2007, the "Loose Goose" was again employed to clear out the harbors. 

Today, our winters don't seem to be as harsh as they were several decades ago.  Cold snaps seem to last only a week or so.  We don't seem to get as much snow as we used to get.  However, we've only been keeping weather records for a few hundred years.  Compared to the billions of years scientists believe our planet has been around, this is a short period of time.  There's evidence of ice sheets migrating south over North America several times during the earth's lifetime.  Who's to say what's normal?   Man has learned to survive in some very "weather hostile" environments (e.g. North Pole).  Perhaps we'll have to reassess our definition of "normal" weather.


Greenwich Graphic

Greenwich Time

Greenwich Before 2000; HSTG, 2000, 1978,1976

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