August 2013 Archives

Historical Happenings

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The Communities and Neighborhoods of Greenwich:  Cos Cob
Saturday - September 21 - 2 PM
Greenwich Library Meeting Room

Lou Caravella, "The Mayor of Cos Cob", will talk about the history of Cos Cob
in the next installment of this series.  Free and open to all ages.

 
The SONO Switch Tower Museum
77 Washington Street
Norwalk CT 06854

Tour a typical railroad switch tower located in South Norwalk.  The museum is open on weekends from 1 to 5 pm from May to October.  Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

 

Frolic at French Farm - Greenwich Historical Society
Sunday - September 15
516 Lake Avenue

Tour the grounds of the first property to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places in Greenwich.  Call (203) 869-6899 for reservations and more details.

The Showboat

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When I first moved to Greenwich in 1976, the hotel where the Delamar is today was called The Showboat Inn, and there were 2 boats and a barge moored in Greenwich Harbor across from the Arch Street ferry boat ticket office.   Whenever I came back on the Island Beach ferry, I was always afraid we were going to hit the floating craft!   Eventually, these vessels were moved and the head of the harbor was free and clear.                                                                      

The Showboat Inn was owned by The Greenwich Showboat Ltd Partnership headed by Capt. Joe Keating.   Joe was a colorful Irishman, who painted a green line down Greenwich Avenue as part of The St. Patrick's Day Parade celebration.  Several times he had to pay a small fine for his "graffiti".  This was a formality, and I'm sure he didn't mind donating money to the Town.  It was all in good fun.  I guess he hoped spectators would follow the green line down to the restaurant in his Inn for food and drink.


Paddle_Boat_(8051334850).jpg                      EXAMPLE OF A TYPICAL RIVER BOAT
                         SOURCE:  Wikipedia Commons


Unfortunately, the Partnership had to declare bankruptcy in 1989 as the group ran up $10-million in debt.  The following year (1990) a Greenwich-based company - The Lexington Hotel Corporation - bought the bankrupt Inn for $9-million.  As part of its renovation of the hotel, 2 of the 3 vessels were sold to Ocean Experience of Rye NY.   The 80-foot barge was taken to Staten Island, where it was remodeled to serve as a floating office and workshop.   Although someone had suggested it be sunk to serve as a man-made reef off a beach, the plan was scuttled since it was determined the barge was too big. The second vessel - The Dixie Belle - was a 38-and-a-half-foot paddle wheel boat, and had served as a floating lounge.  Now, it would serve as a work boat to pull moorings. Both the barge and paddle boat were removed from Greenwich Harbor in 1991.

This left The Mark Twain - a 100-foot long, 30-foot wide, 46-year-old vessel.   As The Showboat Inn was remodeled, management decided to refurbish the boat.  It was moved so as not to jut out into the harbor, and was parallel to the seawall.  It was no longer  a possible navigation hazard.  I remember it serving as a lounge during the 1980s.  There always seemed to be some special event going on there as people rented it for special occasions.  The Mark Twain no longer resides there so I decided to research its whereabouts.  This yielded some very interesting information.

According to the Greenwich Time, The Mark Twain was originally built in 1959.  It had a twin sister named The Americana, which was destroyed by fire in 2005.  Until 1964, it was used as a mock Mississippi riverboat at the Freedomland Theme Park in the Bronx on the site of what is today Co-op City.  It was originally named The Canadian, and moved along on a rail system around an island, although it had a small engine at one time.   People rode the boat on a Great American Cruise ride, which mimicked floating down the great Mississippi.  Unfortunately, the theme park went bankrupt in 1965.  The paddle boat was bought by The Showboat Inn.  It was converted to a waterside lounge in Greenwich Harbor, and renamed The Mark Twain.  People also referred to it as the namesake of the hotel - The Showboat.

                                      

As mentioned above, The Showboat Inn filed for Chapter 11 in 1989.  Local musician and businessman Billy Frenz bought The Mark Twain, and moved it to the Byram River on the Greenwich side in 1995.  Frenz started to refurbish it little by little.  His goal was to make it a venue for his local band known as "Billy and The Showmen".  In 2003, the Greenwich Police ordered Frenz to repair the vessel and move it out of the channel since it was a nautical hazard.  The vessel had sat in the river for almost 10 years and was partially submerged.  Residents from Byram and Port Chester began complaining about the hazard!  The boat remained there until 2004 when the Town of Greenwich turned the case over to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.  Since the boat no longer had a motor (it had been removed several decades before), it was considered a structure and required special permits.  DEP officials threatened to dismantle the antique paddle boat and have it hauled to the dump at Billy's expense if he didn't remove it.  The following year (2005) the paddle boat was moved to the Port Chester side of the Byram River.  It was located near the Willett House south of the Mill Street bridge. This meant the Connecticut DEP no longer had jurisdiction over the vessel.


Mark Twain Ferry.jpg

THE MARK TWAIN (SHOWBOAT) IN BYRAM RIVER

      Photo by Carl White

Frenz learned Port Chester was planning on redeveloping the Byram River waterfront.  He believed his plan to open a jazz club on the river would add to the project.  Town officials told Frenz he would have to apply for, and obtain, the same permits any other business would have to get to operate his club.   Port Chester Town officials gave Billy Frenz 45-days to turn the boat into a jazz club.  Frenz renovated it, painted and improved it;  but the Town pressed Frenz for more information to support his application.   Frenz, on the other hand, said he had been working with the Town for 18- months, and was getting frustrated with the process.   About this time, he was approached by Mayor Norman Rosenblum of the Village of Mamaroneck.  As it turned out, Mamaroneck was very interested in having Frenz move The Showboat to its harbor.   Frenz thought Mamaroneck was a better location for his jazz club. There seemed to be more business activity there.  A news blog in 2011 indicated that Billy was still waiting for the Village of Mamaroneck to decide  whether or not to allow the Showboat to be moored in the harbor and serve as a jazz club.

There's a website online (http://showboatriverboat.com/) which indicates The Showboat is available for private parties.  It's now called "Dot and Bill's Showboat".  I tried to contact Billy Frenz by phone and by e-mail, but I haven't received a reply.  Since I couldn't find any recent update on the possible relocation of the boat online, I decided to drive down to Byram to see if The Mark Twain was still in the river.  I found it on the Port Chester side next to the Byram Self Storage building between Willett Avenue and Highland Street. I was able to take the picture above using my iPhone. On Highland Street, I found a padlocked gate adjacent to a ramp that led down to the boat.  I was able to take the picture above using my iPhone. 

I hope to get more information about the future of The Showboat.   It's an interesting story.  Personally, I hope the vessel remains in Port Chester on the Byram River, where I can catch a glimpse whenever I cross over the Mill Street bridge.  You probably know Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was born in 1895 in Missouri, was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi Riverboat and died in Redding CT in 1910.  He derived his pen name from the term "mark twain" - an indication of a river depth of two fathoms.   If you'd like to experience what it's like to travel on a riverboat, you can always travel to Essex, where you can take a steam train ride to the The Becky Thatcher riverboat.   The boat will take you on a one-hour ride up the Connecticut River.  It's beautiful in the fall!  Reminds you of the time when river travel on boats was so popular.   Takes you back to a much simpler, romantic time.  Sail on!


SOURCE:

Greenwich Time

 

 

 

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Historical Happenings

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Connecticut River Museum
67 Main Street - Essex CT

This museum - right on the banks of the Connecticut River - has many nautical artifacts from the Connecticut River Valley culture and industry.  A great daytrip for the entire family!


Lockwood-Matthews Mansion Muesum
295 West Avenue - Norwalk

The house has been restored to a 62-room mansion, and is a great example of period architecture.  It's just a short ride on I-95.

 

Shore Line Trolley Museum
17 River Street - East Haven

Take a train ride from the historic railyard along a 3-mile route to experience early train travel.  Children love the whistle!

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Green Witch

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At the end of one of my recent Friendly Connections teleconferences (called "Greenwich History"), one of my "loyal listeners" suggested I talk about the correct pronunciation of our town's name in the next session.

Is it "Green-witch" or "Gren-itch"?

I managed to find a number of articles on the subject.  There is definitely a difference of opinion concerning the correct pronunciation.

The Greenwich Time states that the older residents - natives who were born and educated here - pronounce it "Green-witch" with the strong "e" sound, as in the color green.  So if you have a connection to the Meads, Pecks, Reynoldses, Bushes, Brushes or Knapps, you've probably heard the "Green-witch" form.  Natives say this is the pronunciation they were taught in elementary school.  Once they got to high school, it was changed to "Gren-itch".  New residents use the "Gren-itch" form.

Greenwitch Mag332.jpg

Like any good researcher, I decided to check the Merriam Dictionary.  That didn't help!  According to this reference, there are several different pronunciations of the word:  gren-wich, grenij, grenej, grinich, grinech, grinej, and grin-wich. (I won't even try to pronounce them!)  Next, I turned to the "Judge's Corner".  Judge Fred A. Hubbard wrote a column in The Greenwich Press from 1927 to 1933.   These were collected and reprinted in a book with index.  Hubbard subscribes to the pronunciation "Grenage".  He notes the English pronunciation associated with Greenwich, England - home of Greenwich Mean Time (the time standard developed at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England). Richard Ferris - son or nephew of a Richard Ferris,  who was a member of Queen Elizabeth's court - is credited with naming the town after Greenwich in England. (There's no record of any of the Town's earliest settlers coming from Greenwich, England.) Incidently, there was a Greenwich House built in England in 1300 as a favorite resort for the King.  The town possessed four-miles of beautiful riverfront where the Naval War College and Greenwich Hospital was built.  This was also the birthplace of Henry VIII,  Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.  Edward IV died there.  "Gren-itch" is the excepted form for this English town.

In a July 1934 editorial in the Greenwich News and Graphic, the writer concludes there is no conclusive answer.  If you compare "Greenwich" to "Sandwich", then the "w" should be pronounced.  Otherwise, it would be "sand-itch".  According to all the sources I could find, nowhere is the "w" sound allowed.  In other words, it's silent.

A letter to The Christian Science Monitor in Boston, reprinted in the November 5, 1955 Greenwich Time,  didn't help, either!  It criticizes the British for flagrantly mispronouncing such words as  "Grosvenor" (Grovenor)  and "Beauchamps" (Beecham).

We have to share some of the blame, also.  The Greenwich High School literary magazine is called "The Green Witch". And the Greenwich High Boys Choir is called "The Witchmen".  A weathervane on a commercial office on Field Point Road near the Library shows a witch flying on a broom!  Let's not forget the train conductors who over the years announced "Green-witch", as well as "Gren-itch", as the train approached the station.  (In an article written under the moniker "Phair Field", the writer claims some commuters slept right through the Greenwich stop because they didn't hear "Green-witch".  I think this was a "tongue-in-cheek" article.)

Weathervane333.jpg

I imagine this will continue to be a point of contention in town for some time.  Natives will continue to use the historic "Green-witch" version.  Maybe this isn't such a bad thing.  It seems to spark a discussion of the town's history.  It also adds character and personality to the town.  Rather than accept the modern pronunciation, it represents an attempt to hold onto the Town's place in time.  It also reflects the unique nature of Greenwich - a mixture of old and new.  One thing's for sure:  Green Witch or Gren-wich will continue to hold an important place in history of Connecticut.

 

SOURCES:

Greenwich Time (Hearst Corp)

Greenwich News and Graphic

Hubbard, J. ,  Greenwich History: The Judge's Corner ; Nicholson, F.  Ed.; Round Hill Productions, 2001.

 

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