Recently in Past Historic Events Category

There have been several notable fires in Greenwich over the years; but one of the most spectacular was the fire that started in the cellar of Ray's Carriage House on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and Lewis Street.  The 3-story, wood frame building burned to the ground while firefighters kept the flame away from adjacent buildings. 

The cause of this fire was reportedly the carelessness of a clerk, who tried to draw some gasoline by lamplight.  There was a small explosion, and the gasoline burst into flames, which threatened some adjacent wood frame buildings.  Resident George Archer ran up to the Amogerone Firehouse to alert firemen, while William Boswell rang the alarm at Box 32.  The firemen were quick to respond. Several fire companies from neighboring towns responded.  The Amogerone Department and Volunteer Fire Company were instrumental in shortening the fire and limiting damage.  Since Amogerone was well-organized and had a building right on the Avenue, the response time was very quick.  They had excellent fire apparatus and well-trained personnel.  This doesn't mean everything went like clockwork, however.  The lack of water pressure due to high demand to fight the fire and water down adjacent buildings, hindered the firemen.

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RAY'S CARRIAGE

As mentioned earlier, Ray's Carriage house burned to the ground. Mr. Ray and his clerks escaped just in time to save their lives.  There was no time to grab the money and account books. Sparks flew around the borrough and started small blazes across the street.  The LaFarge Building caught fire several times;  but the efforts of individuals with garden hoses saved the building.  Finch's Grocery Store, the Talbot building, the Boston Store, News Building and Moshier's Livery Stable were all threatened.  Less lucky were St. Mary's Church, the rear of E.C. Benedicts home before he moved to Chimney Corners and the business block next to Ray's.  Fortunately, Post Office personnel rescued mail from the office, and Mr. Vanderslice - who owned the billiard room - offered temporary space.  

Flames from the fire could be seen for miles around in Darien, South Norwalk, Stamford, Post Chester, Round Hill, Stanwich, and Bankscville.  It burned all night, and was officially out by Thursday morning at 6 o'clock.  The efforts of the firemen and residents resulted in less damage from the blaze.

One ironic note:  A scheduled Special Town Meeting was held that very night to vote on the purchase of a second pumper (fire engine).  The events of the day, no doubt, underscored the need for this apparatus.


SOURCE

Greenwich Graphic, Greenwich CT ;  5/16/1900;  Pg 1, Col 6

                                           

Porricelli's Food Mart

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At one time, there were 3 family-operated Food Mart stores in Greenwich:  one in Old Greenwich,  one in Cos Cob,  and  even a store in Banksville - but this didn't last very long. A store in Trumbull opened in April of 2002 and closed in December of 2012. These small stores were a staple of their communities for many years.  People loved the convenience and personalized service.  The chain struggled in the begining, achieved a period of success,  and finally succumed to the "big box" stores of the present day.  Food Mart was considered a good corporate neighbor.  The store changed as times changed.  I think you may find its history very interesting.

Porr FM Logo.jpg

The founder of Food Mart was Jerry Porricelli, Jr.  He was born in 1918, and raised in the Bronx.  While attending college on a scholarship in 1936,  he decided to seek employment to supplement his income.  He applied to the Gristede's Grocery Store in New York City, which gave him a job delivering orders with a pushcart.  This was an oversize cart that could fit about 12 bushels of groceries.  Jerry was given the very lucrative Madison and Fifth Avenue neighborhood.  His clientele included such families as the Roosevelts and the Goulets.   As a delivery boy, he would go into the house with a pad to take orders. Items would be pulled off the shelves back at the store, and the delivery boy would bring the order back to the customer.  In those days, the customer would leave his door open, the boy would put the groceries away, and pick up money left on the table.  If necessary, he would make change.  The job proved so profitable that he decided to forego his college education.  In 1942, he was offered a manager's job in Old Greenwich.  Jerry Porricelli had to leave his job temporaily from 1942 to 1946 to serve in the military during World War II.  He returned to Gristede's in 1946. 

By 1949, he was ready to go out on his own.  In 1950, he opened a little 1,800 square foot store on Arcadia Road next to the Post Office. Competition was fierce in those days.  Old Greenwich was home to the First National, Stewart's Market, Stevenson's, the A&P, Gristede's, and Safeway

Porricelli's Food Mart offered full counter service. Customers would come in and ask for certains items, and clerks would get the items from "the back" - behind the counter.  In those days, the store maintained a total inventory of 800 to 900 items.  By 1987, the stored had an inventory of 15,000 items. 

Customers could also call up for delivery.  Some of the biggest customers included the schools, the Shoreham Boat Club and Innis Arden Golf Club.  Two-thirds of the business at one time was the phone and delivery customer base.  Unfortunately, wholesale distributors shifted from a 60- to 90- day billing cycle to a weekly system.  This meant Food Mart could no longer offer credit to its customers, and telephone delivery service was discontinued.  Not surprisingly, Food Mart lost a lot of business, and it took years to build up its clientele again.

Just like any other business, Porricelli had to deal with constant changes in the  industry.  In the early 1950s, the modern supermarket was introduced.  Customers could go into large stores and have personal access to all products.  The traditional counter service was now outdated and obsolete.  Many small stores went out of business - especially those that couldn't adapt.  The A&P, which only had 2,000 square feet, moved to the Riverside Shopping Center to expand.  Safeway bought the property on the corner of East Putnam Avenue and Sound Beach Avenue extension, where Caldor's eventually opened; but  the new Safeway store never opened.  Food Mart decided to stay in the same location, but remove the counter service.  Porricelli also decided to focus on unique personalized service,  After all, most stores sold the same products.  What made a store unique was the superb customer service.  if you couldn't find a particular item, grocers would go out of their way to get it.  This became the model for Porricelli's.

As business improved, Porricelli decided to open a store in Banksville in 1959. A large subdvision was planned in the area, which would have created one-acre zoning. The potential for business was very promising.  However, the subdivision languished for years, and the store lost a lot of money.   Poricelli was forced to sell the store in 1963.  It took five years to pay off the debt incurred by the Banksville operation.  The large increase in population in this area never materialized. Ironically, it was necessary to expand the Old Greenwich store twice to accomodate the business.  Location is everything!

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Then, in 1974, Porricelli had an opportunity to establish a store in Cos Cob.  Bruno's Greenwich Food Center was closing, leaving a void in this important market.  Cos Cob was a large population area, with rental and residential housing in the center, and mansions in the back country.  There was an established clientele left over from the previous food store.  It was located right in the center of town.  This proved to be a very shrewd move on Porricelli's part. 

Just like the Old Greenwich store, it became a mainstay of the community. Business was so good that Porricelli undertook a $1-million remodeling project at the Cos Cob store in the early 1980s.  Unfortunately, the insurance had not been upgraded when a fire broke out in the basement of the store on one Saturday morning in 1983. Thick smoke could be seen from the Turnpike.  Fortunately, the workers, customers and tenants were all evacuated safely, and no one was hurt. No definitive answer was found for the cause of the fire.  It would take several years to reopen the store (1987), which created an inconvenience for local shoppers.

By 1987, many independent grocers had been pushed out by the major chains such as Shop and Stop and ShopRite.  Eventually, COSTCO and other "big box" stores presented more competition.  Changes in the product makeup also presented some challenges.  Frozen foods began to take off, as well as other non-meat items.  People became more health conscience and started reading labels.  Microwavable foods were introduced to take the place of meals traditionally cooked from scratch;  but the need for women to work to make ends meet meant fewer women stayed at home. More and more health regulations were also added.  Since the world was becoming a smaller place,  diseases became "transportable" - spread easily across the globe.  Grocery stores had to utilize different appartaus and implement stricter controls to meet health codes and protect their customers.  Consumer protection laws changed, and unit pricing was adopted.  Computers were added to improve checkout and monitor product sales.  Customers could check how much and what they bought.  Eventually, self-service checkout would be installed in larger stores.  It was a full-time job keeping up with technology in the changing food industry.

One trend that Porricelli bucked was opening on Sundays.  He was opposed to it because he would have to spread his staff over too many days, and this would hurt service.  It wasn't necessarily because he felt his staff should be off on Sundays to attend church. He liked the idea of workers resting over the weekend.  It made them more productive.

Food Mart was recognized as a great corporate citizen.  The store employed many special needs people as employees. Porricelli found them to be dedicated, punctual and regular in attendance.  He even treated them to a summer picnic and December Holiday Party to show his appreciation. Due to his efforts, Porricelli's Food Mart was recognized by the GARC - the forerunner of Abilis - as Company of the Year in 1987.  He also donated surplus food to the Food Bank for needy families. The store sponsored an "Angel Tree" to provide gifts for the less fortunate in the community.  Once a year, he sponsored a Food Mart Celebrity Golf Tournament to raise funds for such needy groups as Senior Services and ARC. Jerry Porricelli was active in many other social activities, and was an ideal citizen.

Jerry Porricelli passed away in July 1999.  His sons continued to operate the stores for a short time.  CVS made a strong bid to rent the space in Cos Cob, which opened in 2009.  Kings Market - an upscale grocery store headquartered in New Jersey - took over the Old Greenwich store in 2012.  The small, friendly family-operated stores could no longer compete with the prices and variety offered by the larger chains.  Yet, Porricelli's played an important role in the history of Greenwich.  It was a place where residents ran into each other and got caught up on family and community news.  It was a place where special needs people could find meaningful employment.  And it was a place that helped define Greenwich. 


SOURCES 

Porricelli, J; The Food Mart; Oral History Project, Greenwich Library: 1987

"Porricelli's Market Closes in Trumbull";  Connecticut Post, Dec 29, 2012;  Accessed Dec 18, 2015.



The Island With the Tower

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Anyone who has sailed on Long Island Sound has probably noticed, at one time or another, a small island near Byram with a tower rising above the forest canopy.  This is Shell Island.  It's had many names including Little Calves Island, Huss Island, Eimer's Island and Tower Island.  Local author Arlene Mark even wrote a book titled "To The Tower: A Greenwich Adventure" (2002) based on the island and  tower.  The tower was modeled after the Summerfield Methodist Church in Port Chester.  It's had a very storied history, and I thought I'd pass along some information I was able to find.

The island is located a quarter-of-a-mile off the Byram Shore.  At low tide, a sandbar connects it to the larger Calves Island.  While Calves Island measures roughly 31.5 acres, Little Captain's Island is only 5.23 acres.  Legend has it that farmers used to lead cows over the sandbar at low tide to graze on the smaller island - hence the name "Little Calves Island".  (Another story going around claims that a pirate by the name of "Calves" buried a treasure there, but I find this questionable!)

The earliest mention of the island indicates that a successful chemist, August Otto Eimer, purchased the island from the widow of a Civil War veteran named Colonel Huss - thus the name Huss Island.  He paid $40,000 in 1910, and the Eimer family owned it until about 1961.  Eimer had gone into business with  a man named Amend.  They built a prominent pharmaceutical company, and had glassblowers brought over from Germany to make bottles. It's reputed that Eimer ended up providing Thomas Edison with blown glass that was used for his light bulbs. August also stated that he helped Edison with some of his experiments.


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VIEW OF SHELL ISLAND FROM SOUND

COURTESY OF THE GREENWICH LAND TRUST

The Eimers lived in New York City - in the same building as Babe Ruth - and came out to Byram around June.  They had a bungalow built on shore, which angered the neighbors.  It was a pre-fab from Sears and Roebuck, which clashed with other houses in the area.   When it was warm enough, a captain would take them out to the island in a rowboat.  They stayed on the island until September, then moved back to the bungalow until Thanksgiving, when they moved back to the city.

The island was a natural preserve for birds and animals.  It was even reported that minks lived on the island.  Island residents also loved the beautiful wildflowers that bloomed there.  Several species of trees were planted by the residents.  Crab apples, pears and plums were available, and Concord grapes grew on trellises.  Horseshoe crabs, fish and shellfish were plentiful.  Since there was an abundance of beautiful pink and gold shells on the shore, it was named Shell Island - its most common name today.

According to the Eimer's granddaughter, there were five different structures on the island.  The largest mansion was called The White House.  There was a Red House, Yellow House and a Spray house.  Several boathouses were built over time. The Eimer's also installed a rope and pulley system to haul small vessels on shore.  This was important because the Eimers invited many people to their summer home.

At one point, the Red house on stilts became The Shell Shore Clubhouse.  Mr. Eimer and his classmates from Columbia University founded a Shell Shore Club, which consisted of approximately 150 members.  Membership was $5 per year.  It was simply a special place where friends could congregate.


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ANNUAL KAYAK TOUR OF CALVES AND SHELL ISLANDS

COURTESY OF THE GREENWICH LAND TRUST

The Shell island Tower was built in 1925,  built to be a family museum.  Granite for the 60-foot tower was taken out of a local Byram Quarry. A bell was placed at the top, and a long rope hung down to the first floor.  Its primary purpose was to serve as a fire alarm. There were four floors, and each one had a theme. The first floor contained a bust of the son, and sailing trophies. His daughter, who was an artist, had her own floor.  Another floor had travel memorabilia from all over the world.  Mr. Eimer had a collection of letters and paraphernalia from Thomas Edison on the top floor.    His wife and son also had their own floors.  The tower was listed on a Registry of Connecticut  Historic Buildings.

Croquet and tennis were favorite pasttimes on the island.  The residents also loved to swim and sail.  Some of the local boat and yacht clubs invited the small boat owners to join in some of the local races.  On Saturday nights, guests would be invited to come over to the island to hear music coming over from a club on the larger Calves Island.  The proximity to Rye Playland also gave them an unobstructed view of the fireworks.  

A mysterious houseboat was moored between Calves Island and Shell Island during the 1920s.  Although no one ever interacted with the owner, it was believed the owner was a "bootlegger", who ran liquor up the coast from New York.  At any rate, there was never any disturbance around the area


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TOP OF SHELL ISLAND TOWER

COURTESY OF THE GREENWICH LAND TRUST

By 1961, many of the Eimers had passed away or moved away.  The last relative sold the island to a Julius Silver for $50,000.  He wanted the island to ensure his view of the Sound wouldn't be impeded.  As time went along, fewer people traveled to the island.  Vandals began trashing the island, and defacing the beautiful Tower.  They even broke a door off.  Many of the valuable items disappeared.

Mr. Silver decided that he didn't want to pay taxes on buildings he wasn't using.  He burned some down.  Silver had hoped his daughter might move out there, but this never happened. The island was eventually overgrown with poison ivy and brush,  so he decided to sell the Island to the Greenwich Land Trust in 1990. The Trust had been established in 1976 to protect and preserve natural land tracts in town. They could marshall the resources to repair the structures and make a natural preserve.

In 2012, the Land Trust had to repair the island Tower to ensure preservation.  They spent $70,000 to repair the roof and stabilize the structure.  Today, the Greenwich Land Trust sponsors kayak trips out to the island so that residents can enjoy its rustic nature.


SOURCES

Jewell, Karen: A History of the Greenwich Waterfront, Tod's Point, Great Captain Island and the Greenwich Shoreline; The History Press, Charleston  

Kristoff, Alberta; The Eimer Family and Shell Island; Greenwich Library Oral History Project, Greenwich, 1989.

Leinbach, Mary; Shell Island; Greenwich Oral History Project, Greenwich, 1992.

    

Historical Happenings

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GHS Digital Archives
Online
http://digital.greenwichhistory.org/

The Greenwich Historical Society has 40,000 images in its
digital archive.  Access a representative sample through the
link above.


Greenwich Library Digital Collections
Online
http://cpro.greenwichlibrary.org/iii/cpro/app

Greenwich Library has uploaded 1000 images, which can be
accessed through our Digital Collections.  Return frequently
to see new images.

Town Historian William E. Finch, Jr.

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Frequently people ask me if I'm the Town Historian.  I politely inform them that I am the Local History and Genealogy Librarian at Greenwich Library.  My job is to help people find sources to help them with their research.  By assimilation, I've learned a lot about Greenwich local history, but  I am by no means an expert historian.  That honor goes to Mr. William E. Finch, Jr., who devoted a good portion of his life to researching the history of the Town.

Mr. Finch was born on May 28, 1912 in Greenwich.  He was eleveneth in descent from Abraham Finch (1585 - 1638), who migrated from Massachusetts in 1634 to help found Wethersfield.  His son, John Finch, helped found Stamford, who's son, Joseph, purchased meadowland in Mianus Neck in 1664.  Later, he became one of the "27 Proprietors of Greenwich"  .  Joseph's son was William Edwin Finch.  He was the largest independent druggist in the state.  Finch owned 3 stores at one time - one on Greenwich Avenue, one on West Putnam Avenue and one in Glenville. (He also had ties to Finch's Country Store in Banksville.)  William was active in civic affairs and was a naturalist.  He was nicknamed "The First Citizen of Greenwich".  William E. Finch, Jr. was named after his father.


bILL fINCH012.jpgHISTORIAN WILLIAM E FINCH JR

COURTESY OF THE NUTMEGGER


The Finch family has a storied history.  The family could trace its ancestors back to seven signers of the Mayflower Compact.  Four were original settlers of Greenwich in 1640, and seven were settlers of Horseneck. Captain John Finch was a member of George Washington's staff.  Grandfather Jared Finch was the first to volunteer from Greenwich during the Civil War.  They intermarried with many important families of Greenwich:  Close, Ferris, Knapp, Lockwood, Lyon, Mead, Palmer, Peck and Todd.  The name was derived from the occupation to train and sell Bullfinches. 

When William Jr. was 10 or 11, he began researching his family lineage by visiting the Greenwich Library.  In 1932, he graduated from Brunswick School.  Then he spent the next 20 years working in his father's drugstore.  He never gave up his interest in family history, and continued to research it at Greenwich Library as well as the New York Public Library.  William firmly believed we could all benefit from reading about the past.  He was a Charter Member of the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich when it was founded in 1931 (at age 19), and became a Board member (1934) and served as President (1947).

The family sold the drugstore in 1947.  This freed William up to pursue history full-time.  In 1956, he became the first curator/historian.  He lived on the second floor of the Bush-Holley House on Strickland Road.  In 1978, the Board of Selectmen named Bill Finch the official Town Historian in honor of his dedication to preserving Greenwich history.  He retired in 1980, and became Curator Emeritus.  When the HSTG opened their records building in 1982, it was named the William E. Finch Jr. Archives. In 1990, a bust of William was unveiled at the Bush-Holley Historic site as a tribute.  He brought honor to his family, which became known as "The First Family of Greenwich".


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BUST OF WILLIAM E FINCH JR AT BUSH-HOLLEY HISTORICAL SITE

COURTESY OF GREENWICH FREE PRESS


William E. Finch Jr. was also very active in other historical and civic groups.  He was a founding member of the Captain Matthews Mead Branch #11 of the Connecticut Sons of the American revolution.  He was awarded the Patriot Medal by the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich - it's highest honor.  William was a member of the North Castle Historical Society, and Greenwich Rotary Club, which awarded him the Paul Harrish Fellowship.  He served 64 years on the Board of Directors of the Middle Patent Rural cemetery Association in Banksville, twenty-five years as President.  if that wasn't enough, he was a lifelong member of Christ Church, and served on the Vestry (Board of Deacons).

A funeral was held for William on September 27, 2000, at Christ Church in Greenwich.  Hundreds turned out to honor the resident history expert.  His body was laid to rest during a private ceremony at the Middle Patent Rural Cemetery. 

William E. Finch, Jr. was truly a Town Treasure.  His efforts helped preserve Greenwich history, and his passion is an example for us all. 

If you're looking for two knowledgable historians in town, then I suggest you talk to Davidde Strackbein or Susan Larkin at the Greenwich Historical Society. 


SOURCES

Greenwich Time; Time Warner Company, Southwestern Connecticut Newspapers, Stamford CT;  

Greenwich Magazine,: Moffly Publications, Inc., [1990-], Greenwich CT

Nutmegger: the Magazine of Greenwich: Tucker Communications, Greenwich, 1989

 






Ghost Stories of Greenwich

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Note:  This article is written primarily for entertainment purposes.  There is no way to verify this data.  It's presented in the spirit of Halloween, and is based on "urban legend".  Furthermore, I've embellished them to make them more interesing.  I guess you could consider them "fiction". Many years ago, I remember seeing an article in the Greenwich Time about Halloween legends in Town.  Since Halloween is now upon us, I decided to research some of these local tales.  I was surprised to find so much information.  Here I present a few of the ghostly tales!

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As the story goes, there was an Irish girl (an immigrant) who worked in a mansion in Belle Haven in the late 1800s. She met and fell in love with a piper. He worked as a servant in another Belle Haven residence, and loved to serenade people with his flute - especially his love interest. They spent a lot of time together in the area near the Bruce mansion.  The two were very much in love, and planned to marry.  However, the man mysteriously disappeared and was never to be seen again.  The girl was heartbroken, and became very homesick.  She decided to return to her family in Ireland.  So she booked passage on a ship out of New York, and returned to her native homeland.  Unfortunately, she contracted Consumption (Tuberculosis) and died.

Years later (early 1900s), people began reporting that they had spotted two ghostly apparitions outside of what is now the Bruce Museum.  A man would be playing a small flute for a young girl, who listened very attentively.  On occassion an evil voice could be herad, beckoning the two to come into the mansion to play the flute and sing; but the couple refused to go inside because they said they knew they would never be able to come out!  They would then suddenly disapper into thin air.

In 1996, a young girl claims she was driving through Bruce Park at night, when suddenly a line of approximately 10 cars cut her off.  She had to slam on her brakes to avoid a collision.  Several passengers appeared to have a terrified look on their faces as they looked back into the dark woods.  She also tried to look in that general direction, but spotted nothing.  Once all the traffic had gone, she continued on her way.

As it so happened, the next day the young lady pulled into a gas station to fill up her car.  When she went in to the station to pay for her gas, she overheard several men talking about an incident in Bruce Park durihg the previous night.  Seveal teenagers were drinikng beer and raising Cain in one of the park's picnic areas.  When they became very rowdy, a ghost suddenly appeared!  The body was that of a woman, but the head was a collection of snakes, which twisted and hissed at the teenagers!  Needless to say, the teens jumped in their cars and fled the scene!  The girl makes a point to avoid Bruce Park when she drives at night.
 
Local author Anya Seton - who wrote The Winthrop Woman and other historic novels - was a strong believer in ghosts.  She swore there was a ghost of a slave girl living in an old wash house on the Bush-Holley property.  As many people know, the owners of the inn had slaves living in the attic.  These men and women were servants and kitchen help.  Living in such tight qurters, they could very easily contract any number of diseases.  It's very possible that the young girl died while living at Bush-Holley.  Anya even reported that the apparition of the young child would scream from time to time.  Perhaps there is some truth to the story.

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One of the most popular (and historical) hotels in town is the Homestead Inn of Belle Haven.  Indians and settlers first used the land for horse pasture and farmland. It's situated on land purchased by the Mead family in 1799. Over the years, it was passed down from generation to generation.  A circular summer house was built, and became an Inn and restaurant for travelers and summer guests. One of the attractions of the Inn was a ship's figurehead, which was located on the proch.  It had rosy cheeks, black eyes and a flowing white robe over a hoop skirt. Originally, this was mounted on the bow of the Lady Lancashire.  A Captain, who lived next door to the Inn, had carved the piece in 1830.  It had been removed from the ship for maintenance one time before the ship set sail.  Eerily, the ship subsequently sank and the figurehead had no home.  So it was given to the Mead family, who placed it on the front porch.

Over the years, there were reports of strange noises by guests who stayed at the Inn.  One guest claimed she heard unexplained footsteps in the second floor Bride's Room.  It sounded like someone was pacing all night long!  In another bedroom - the Groom's Room - a woman claims she saw the figure of a ghostly woman dressed in an old fashioned white dress.  The woman appeared to be looking out the window, as if waiting for a sailor to return.  Coincidently, the figurehead was directly below this window.  Perhaps it's the ghostly figure of a woman waiting for the return of someone from the Lady Lancashire.

Another story involves a woman who was walking into a local church one Sunday morning.  The young girl is met in the lobby by a man who asks her if she is alright.  Although she finds this to be a strange question, she says she is alright and continues into the sanctuary.  Just as she is going to sit in a pew, the man touches her on the shoulder, and asks her again if she is alright!  She again states that she's fine. The man disappeared, and she didn't see him anymore.

That night, she is looking through her deceased grandmother's photo album.  The young girl is startled to see the image of a man who is wearing the same clothes as the man who talked to her in the church.  She asks her mother who the man is in the photo.  Her mother explains that this is her grandmother's husband - her grandfather that she had never met!  He had met an untimely death, right around the time that the girl was born. A horse and buggy had accidently struck him while he was crossing the street.  His spirit was apparently attempting to make contact from the spirit world.

A family in Cos Cob - which will remain anonymous - experienced a strange occurence several years ago.  One night, a young boy woke up from a sound sleep in his bedroom on the second floor.   He was screaming and crying.  The boy was all scratched up and was shaking like a leaf - as if he had seen a ghost!  He claimed a man had come into the room, and was trying to drag him somewhere.  The man kept on repeating the words "Johnson Maddey".  Furthermore, the man's face appeared to be on fire!

There's also the story of a girl in Riversville, who experienced contact with a ghostly spirit in the 1990s.  She decided to take a shortcut through some woods near the intersection of Riversville Road and John Street.  It was dusk, and there were many piles of leaves on the ground.  As she walked uphill on a curving trail, she heard the sound of leaves rustling behind her as if someone was following.  When she stopped, it stopped.  When she walked, it walked. So she decided to stop suddenly.  The leaves rustled about 50-feet behind her until it suddenly stopped.  She started to walk again, then heard something (or someone) stop.  This time she stopped and cried out "Who's there?"  The rustling started again, and it seemed as if something had come within 10-feet of her. She screamed and ran up the hill.  It felt as though something was very close to her!  The young lady ran frightened all the way home.  She never walked in those woods at dusk ever again!

Happy Halloween, everybody!


 

 

  


Historical Happenings

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Newspapers and Genealogy: Tracking Your family One Character At A Time
Saturday - October 31 - 10:30 AM
Cos Cob Library

Janeen Bjork will show participants her tricks and techniques for
searching her family history.  Free and open to all.


Community Mapping Project
October 29 to December 9
Flinn Gallery - Greenwich Library

In conjunction with the 375th Anniversary of Greenwich,
The Flinn Gallery at Greenwich Library invites you to
participate in a community mapping project. Stop by
the Flinn Gallery during the month of October to create
your own hand drawn map of Greenwich. All materials will
be provided and maps will be displayed within the Library.


The Great Patent Medicine Era
Saturday - November 17 - 2 PM
Second Floor Meeting Room

Bill Cameron will talk about the charlatans who took advantage of
people with their bogus elixirs.  Free and open to all.
Registration required.




















The Art Barn of Greenwich

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NOTE:  Many thanks to James C. Reilly for his help and input for this important blog.


There are some vertical files in the Local History Office, which contain all kinds of newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, and posters on many subjects of interest.  One of these is a file labeled "Art".  I recently looked through this file, and found several articles on the Art Barn.  I remembered seeing articles in the "Arts and Leisure" section of the Greenwich Time on Sundays which referred to the Barn.  All I remember is that it was located somewhere near Lower Cross Lane.  I was recently talking to Jim Reilly, who used to be the Executive Director of the Barn, and decided to research it.

Today, a barn-like ambulance facility is located on the original Art Barn site, which is adjacent to Parkway School at 143 Lower Cross Road, one mile west of North Street.  The original main hay barn was built circa 1747, and the farmland passed down from family to family.  Along the way, a dairy barn was added.  It was known as the Harmony Farm at one point.  In the 1950s, before it's sale to the Town, the Barn was used to raise Black Angus Show Bulls, and was named the Parkway Barn.  The Board of Education bought the Parkway Barn property for a new school, and the new school being built was named the Parkway School after the Barn Complex.

The Barn Complex was originally slated to be razed at the start of building the Parkway School, in 1962;  but at the request of Miss Blanch Hart, who was in charge of all the art classes for the Board of Education, the demolition was cancelled.  Miss Hart proposed that the Barn be used as an Experimental Art Center.  The Board of Ed  was quick to agree, especially with Miss Hart's extensive educational background, and her long relationship with the Board of Education.  With support from artists and art educators, a group was formed to start a facility that would be an inspiration to many.

An open-ended lease was negotiated with the Board in 1962. Miss Hart, with several artists and art educators, along with the Board of Education, got the Town to agree to "lease" the facility for a non-profit art center. This new creative group, known as The Art Barn, Inc. was formed with prominent local businessmen, artists and art-oriented individuals, not just from Greenwich, but from all parts of the New York City metropolitan area. These art-oriented citizens set up the studios to handle many creative mediums. 

The studio workshops that evolved over the Art Barn's first few years were very productive, inspiring many. The great art collector Joseph Hirshhorn became a member, showing parts of his collection at the Barn, with several pieces from his collection put on full-time display for many years.  These art works are now at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.

With the Board of Directors made up of artists, art enthusiasts, architects, craftspeople and art educators, the non-profit group promoted itself as "The Art Barn, Inc:  An Experimental Center for Arts, and Crafts in Greenwich".  It defined its purpose as follows:  "To provide facilities, guidance and a stimulating atmosphere for creative ideas in arts and crafts, and to encourage and develop self-expression and individual growth , free from commercial or competitive pressures." 

Set among some hills in a natural wood setting, the site was very bucolic. The original space provided good lighting, large rooms and potential for expansion. The first step was to start working on art projects, while the remodeling of space was going on to provide studios, classrooms and a gallery space.    When the remodeling was completed, courses and workshops were set up.  The crafts taught included printing, welding, stained glass/glass art, sculpture, jewelry work, printing, weaving/ fiber arts, bookbinding, pottery, drawing, painting and castings.  The courses ran from April to December of each year.  Downtime, due to the extremely cold months at the beginning of each year,  allowed administrators to plan for the upcoming session.

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THE ART BARN ON LOWER CROSS ROAD
COURTESY OF THE LINK


Approximately 100 adult and 50 young students from Fairfield and Westchester Counties took advantage of the facilities and courses. They first had to become members of the Art Barn.  Individuals paid $15 for this membership, while families could purchase a membership for $25.  A Lifetime membership could be acquired for $300.  The fee for courses ranged from $37 to $112.  Membership drives and course fees were only two ways to raise money.  The Art Barn also held a Craft Fair the first week of November as its main fundraiser.  It usually raised about $4500 per year. Artists both paid for display booths to show their art, and made and donated decorations, cards and gifts for an Annual Christmas Fair,  A Guide to Greenwich pamphlet and tour maps were designed by the artists and were sold for $1 to raise money.  Artwork was sold year round to make money. No money was provided by the Town of Greenwich for the operating budget, which ranged from $50,000 to $60,000 per year.  In March 1984, Vietnam Era Veteran James C. Reilly was appointed Executive Director.  Jim had studied art at the University of Pennsylvania, and recieved a degree in painting from the prestigious Silvermine Guild.  Many will remember the creative Totem Pole he carved at Greenwich Point.  He was also involved in creating a metal Town seal.

The Parkway School closed in 1981, just after the passing of Miss Blanch Hart, who had not only proposed this great art center, but was a driving force, keeping the Art Barn on a steady course.  The two events were catastrophic, having a devastating effect on the Art Barn. The steady stream of traffic to the school, which meant potential customers, was eliminated. Walk-in traffic dropped.  Nancy Hamilton, an artist with expertise in Fiber Art and Bookbinding, became the director.   At the height of the Art Barn's popularity, Nancy Hamilton had provided instruction in  weaving, bookbinding, and in general fiber arts. Nancy, who played a major role in the Barn for many years, made a valiant effort in 1982 and 1983 to save the operation, as the Art Barn started floundering.  She left the Barn at the end of 1983 to marry, and instruct weaving in Vermont.  


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TYPICAL ARTIST'S EASEL

COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA COMMONS


Reilly undertook some creative fundraising by collaborating with the Vietnam Veterans Agent Orange Victims  Association, and creating several special scenic prints for commemorative sale.  He tried many fund raising projects to restore the Art Barn, including trying to organize an old fashioned Barn Raising Party in back country Greenwich.  Yet, a Barn is just a Barn, and with a neighbor Ron Howard raising funds for the Bruce Museum expansion, it became very difficult to compete, even with Reilly's parent's help.  So the funds available were not enough, leaving the Art Barn in a holding pattern until the Selectman decided to terminate the lease.   Jim Reilly and his father, James J Reilly, a WWII veteran, retired executive of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) and environmental innovator, had a long meeting with First Selectman John Margenot on October 18, 1988 to negotiate the closing of this unique facility. 

It truly was a tragedy for Greenwich, and the art world in general, to lose such a creative place due to a lack of funds.  In a Town like Greenwich, Jim Reilly's struggled for four years to save the Art Barn. Unfortunately, the lack of money is what forced the Art Barn to close at the end of 1988.  Jim Reilly continued to work until 1991, with the then DPW Official Jeff Khan to see important structural work completed to preserve the Barn. The Barn was then used for a while to store the property of people who had been evicted from public housing.  Ironically, a fire at Cos Cob School in July of 1990 resulted in the reopening of Parkway School to handle the 300 students who were displaced by the fire.   In early 1990, GEMS (Greenwich Emergency Medical Services) started negotiating with First Selectman Margenot to take over the Barn as a station in the northern part of Greenwich.  For a while, GEMS leased the building until they decided it would make a great permanent site. Finally, the original Barn was torn down in 2008 to build a new GEMS ambulance station. Any hope of using the Barn at 143 Lower Cross Rd. in the pursuit of art by the Art Barn organization that Reilly has tried to keep alive was now unlikely.
 
It's hard to operate a non-profit operation without proper funding.  As we've seen recently, people donate money according to the economic climate and their own interests.  Without public support and generous endowments, some, unfortunately, fall by the wayside.  Greenwich is fortunate to have the Greenwich Arts Council, and people like Jim Reilly,  who care enough about the Arts to promote them locally.  Perhaps, as time goes along and the economic climate improves, Greenwich will have another Art Barn.
 

SOURCE

Greenwich Time; Time Warner Company, Southwestern Connecticut Newspapers, Stamford CT;  July 7, 1983: August 10, 1990: June 11, 1999.

Macauley, I,  A Barn Where Art Grows; November 11, 1977, Page 27;  New York Times, New-York [N.Y. : H.J. Raymond & Co.], 1857


Greenwich's September 11th Memorial

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Last May, I noticed some construction men working on a small hill near the Pavillion in Cos Cob Park.  Not too long after, I read in the newspaper that this was going to be the site for the new Greenwich September 11th Memorial.  Several years ago, I had donated money for a memorial, and was wondering when it would be built.  Then I received an invitation to attend the dedication on September 11th of this year.  I received a followup notice that shuttle buses would be provided from Bruce Park, River Road and the Cos Cob Marina.  They were expecting a large crowd.  They weren't disappointed.  Five-hundred people attended the dedication!

Thirty-three victims with a connection to Greenwich died on September 11, 2001.  As we all remember, two planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, resulting in their collapse.  Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, and one crashed into a field in Shanksville PA.  (It's believed a Greenwich man - Donald Freeman Greene - helped storm the cockpit and prevented United Airlines Flight 93 from hitting another target in Washington).  These were some of the most horrendous acts of terrorism ever perpetrated. 

A group of people in Greenwich in 2010 decided Greenwich should have a memorial to honor our local victims.  They started the Greenwich Community Projects Fund.  Although there is a monument on Great Captain's Island, this is only accessible to the public in the summer months (June to September) when the ferry operates.  At Sherwood Island Park in Westport there is a monument, but this requires some driving.  Greenwich residents wanted something close by to remember the fallen.   The project languished for years until several influential residents got involved.  There was even talk of abandoning the project and returning donations.  A series of events were held as fundraisers, including a benefit concert and a Vineyard Vines commemorative tie and scarf sale.  Donations varied from 1- to 50,000-dollars.  In the end, the non-profit group managed to raise $750,000 from 1,000 donors for the memorial.

 

GREENWICH SEPTEMBER 11TH MEMORIAL

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

The next hurdle was to find a location for the memorial that was easily accessible to all.  Some suggested Grass Island, but this was turned down because of its proximity to the Sewage Treatment Plant.  Another suggestion was Roger Sherman Baldwin Park.  People felt this wasn't a quiet enough location, given the loud concerts, auto shows and Interstate 95. The end of Steamboat Road and Byram Park were mentioned, but parking was an issue. Greenwich Point was also a consideration.  Once again the accessibility by out-of-towners was an issue. (Out-of-towners must pay a fee to enter.)  Finally, they settled on the newly created Cos Cob Park, which is an ideal location for the memorial.  The park is accessible to all during daylight hours.  It has plenty of parking.

Landscape designers Katherine Herman and Cheryl Brown from the Doyle Herman Design Association of Greenwich were employed to create an appropriate setting for the memorial.  They chose a knoll overlooking Cos Cob Harbor.  The DeLuca Construction Company excavated the knoll, creating gently curving sidewalks which lead up to a black granite paving stone base. (The curve of the sidewalks was based on the mathematically perfect shape of certain seashells.)


GLASS TOWERS ON FIELDSTONE

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Charles Hilton Architects of Greenwich was chosen to create the actual memorial.  As you may recall, after Ground Zero had been cleared, two spotlights projected two beams of light toward the sky - in effect creating two towers of ghostly light - that could be seen from New Jersey to Connecticut.  The architects tried to capture the idea of the illuminated towers.  They also remembered the impromptu memorials around the Trade Center that contained flowers, pictures and names of loved ones and small American flags.   The glass towers with the victims' names seem to capture all the meaning and sentiment of those memorials.

The memorial consists of two glass towers, which are 12-feet high and 22-inches on a side.  Low-iron content glass was used to create the towers so the glass won't discolor over time.   An image of an American flag has been frosted into the towers with a field of stars at the top and stripes running down toward the ground.  Each stripe has the names of several victims engraved on it.  Radiating out from the base are three metallic compass points (embedded metal strips) with the names World Trade Center-New York, The Pentagon - Washington DC and Shanksville PA engraved on them respectively.  At the end of the World Trade Center compass needle is a piece of crumpled steel from the WTC buildings.  The approach to the monument is a gradual circular sidewalk, which brings you to a circular plaza composed of black paving stone.  This was meant to represent the WTC plaza.  There is a granite bench next to the memorial, where people can sit and view the beautifully sculptured glass while overlooking Cos Cob Harbor.

METALLIC COMPASS POINT

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

There have been other memorials in Town to the victims of 9-11.  The Second Congregational Church - located on the corner of Maple and West Putnam Avenue - created a Greenwich Labyrinth of Peace for people to quietly walk.  The Glenville Fire Department has an 8-foot section of a 1,700-pound I-Beam from the World Trade Center displayed outside the firehouse on Glenville Road.  There's also the monument on Great Captain's Island, and various plaques and memorial benches around town. 

The most impressive memorial to me is the Twin Tower sculpture in Cos Cob Park.  I was there one morning at sunrise. Sunlight seemed to be generated from within the glass tower, and the glass seemed to magnify the light. For some reason, despite the terrible trajedy marked by this memorial, I felt better as I viewed the reflecting glass.  There seemed to be an unexpected feeling of Hope, which surprised me.  I pray that this memorial gives the families, and loved ones, of the victims the same Hope I felt when I saw the Greenwich September 11th Memorial on that beautiful early morning.  As one relative said,  she felt a sense of closure because she could visit the Memorial here in Greenwich.


SOURCE

Dumas, Tim. The Incredible History Behind the 9/11 Memorial. Greenwich Sentinel. 11 September 2015.  A1. Google.  Accessed 25 Sept 2015.

Round Hill Highland Games

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One of the first things I heard about when I moved to Greenwich was the Round Hill Highland (Scottish) Games.  Around July Fourth, there would always be newspaper articles about a grand gathering of Scottish clans in backcountry Greenwich.  Usually this would include a picture of someone tossing what looked like a telephone pole across a field. I noticed several years ago that the Games were no longer held in Greenwich, but had moved to Stamford.  Recently I decided to research the history of the Games.  According to the Greenwich Time, the Round Hill Highland Games first started in 1923 on the 147-acre estate of Charles A. Moore on Round Hill Road.  He was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, and was the grandfather of actress Glenn Close. Moore was chairman of Manning, Maxwell and Moore - a New York City-based metal products firm. He died in 1949.

Charles Moore was of Scottish descent himself.  He allowed his Scottish-born domestic workers and gardeners to hold a family picnic on July 4th.  In this way, the people were able to celebrate their Scottish heritage.  The event grew in popularity, and competitive games were added. People started coming from all over the country.  They traveled by train to Greenwich, where they were met at the railroad station by bagpipers, and marched up Greenwich Avenue on their way to the Moore estate.  The participants  included Clansmen, athletes, bands, pipers, drummers, drum majors, and dancers.


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TYPICAL BAGPIPE GROUP

COURTESY 123RF ROYALTY FREE STOCK PHOTOS

In 1925, approximately 6,000 people came to see the games. The Round Hill Highland Games became the third oldest games in the United States.  Competitors came from all over the country to participate in the games.  These kilted warriors competed in the Caber Toss.  A Caber is a long, roughly hewn tree about the size of a telephone pole. Dimensions range form 17- to 19 - feet in length, and 4- to 8- inches in diameter. Men hold the pole upright, run with it and toss it so that it ends up landing on the opposite end.  A stone put (or shot put) pits people against each other to see who can throw the stone the furthest.  Children, as well as adults, compete in running races.  A tug-of-war is also held as a feat of strength. Women display their skills with a rolling pin toss!  Dance competition includes a dance competition according to age, and features the Highland Fling and a Sword Dance. Men, women and children can participate in any number of sack races.  Horseshoe throwing is very popular. Other events include Scottish food tasting, story-telling, sing-a-longs, craft sales, Scottish dancing, piping, bagpipe serenades and having photos taken. Subjects can chose to dress up as a Highland Bagpiper, Scottish Chieftain, Highland Dancer or even the Loch Ness Monster and have a picture taken.  Prizes are handed out to the best dressed Piper (bagpiper) and best sailor hornpipe player.


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TUG-O-WAR COMPETITION

COURTESY SCOTLAND'S NATIONAL TOURISM ORGANISATION

Another attraction was the assortment of foods.  Scottish meat pies with hot sauce were sold for 35-cents.  A ham, cheese, and potato salad sold for 30-cents.  Beer was 15-cents and coffee went for 5-cents. Scotch whiskey, of course, was available.  Children could buy soda.  People could also buy hot dogs, hamburghers, and ice cream.  Some families brought their own picnic baskets to continue the early tradition.  Scottish Clans were housed in tents, and people stopped to talk with the different families.

For a few years, programs were handed out with advertising from such local companies as Fred Knapp, Stevens Laundry, McArdles Seed Co., Bon Ton Fish Market , Marks Brothers, Finch's Drug Store and Doran Brothers.  A local travel company also advertised trips to Scotland, Ireland and England for $181 (Tourist rate).  The festivities ended with a colorful fireworks display!

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SCOTTISH HAMMER THROW

COURTESY OF THE DISPATCH NEWSPAPER

The Round Hill Highlander Games were held almost every year.  During World War II, the games were suspended, and, more recently, in 2004, logistics problems have caused postponement to the next year. The Moore estate was sold to a developer in 1998.  The property was sub-divided so that a large tract of land was no longer gathering.  This began the nomadic travels of the RHHG.  It was held for a while on Yale Farm, which was off John Street. Then it moved to the Blind Brook Polo Club site, best known today as the Pepsico property in Purchase, NY.  It was held in Stamford until 1988, when it moved to Norwalk's Cranbury Park, where it remains.  Although the Games weren't held this year due to a scheduling problem, they are scheduled to return next year.

The Scottish Games originated in Greenwich, and will remain a part of our local history forever - regardless of where they are held.

SOURCE

Greenwich Time; Time Warner Company, Southwestern Connecticut Newspapers, Stamford CTJuly 3, 2005, June 16, 1990, July 3, 2005.

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