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.
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 Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop. Her father was none other than Robert Feaks, who was married to Elizabeth Feaks, two of the early settlers of Old Greenwich. Thomas 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.
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.