Recently in Local History Category

Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs

| No Comments

If you've ever turned from Shore Road down Tomac Avenue in Old Greenwich, you may have noticed a white wall with painted images of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs separating 31 Shore Road from 3 Tomac Court.  I searched our newspaper index to see if I could find an article that had any information. Couldn't find anything.   I then decided to try and contact the owner of the wall.  This wasn't as easy as you'd think!   I couldn't tell who owned the wall.  So like any good Librarian, I checked out Google Maps to find the addresses of both properties, and used the Reverse Phone Directory to find some names and phone numbers.  I got no answer at either address, so had to leave my phone number.

Panorama Snow.jpg

SNOW WHITE MURAL

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

After several days of phone tag, I received a call from a gentleman who lived at 3 Tomac Court.  He told me that Lorraine and Fred Cofone on Shore Road had the wall painted, and that there was a very interesting story behind it.  Finally, I was able to get Lorraine Cofone on the phone, and she was very helpful.  She explained much of the history, and told me that her neighbor at the time had called the newspaper.  A reporter came down, interviewed them and took some pictures.  The article and photo appeared in the Thursday, November 20, 1975, edition of the Village Gazette.

According to the newspaper, the Cofones had painted the wall white, and it looked very plain.  When Lorraine asked her husband, Fred, what they should do about it, he suggested a painting of Snow White.  They had a 16-month son at the time, and they had it painted for him.

IMG_0628.jpg

SNOW WHITE MURAL NEAREST TO TOMAC ROAD

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was an animated fantasy developed by Walt Disney in 1937. Most of us know the story of the stepmother who tries to kill her, the Dwarfs who take her in, and the handsome Prince who awakens her with a kiss.  Disney was awarded an honorary Oscar, and the movie was nominated for the best musical score in 1938.  It was added to the National Film Registry in 1989, and is considered one of the American Film Institutes 100 Greatest Films of All Time.

The wall was first painted in 1975 by an artist, Marcia Tartaglia.  Marcia was a Cos Cob resident and friend of the family.  She graduated from Greenwich High School, had studied art at Norwalk Community College, worked at the Carnival Card Shop and designed labels for a line of seed packets. Residents may remember the images she painted for the Bon-Ton Fish Market on Greenwich Avenue years ago.  When the Cofones approached her to paint the Snow White mural on their wall, she looked in a Disney color book of Snow White for some ideas. 

Marcia began the process by sketching the image of Snow White on the white wall.  Then she painted in the colors.  This had to be done on days when the weather was good.  She then finished the dwarfs in order:  Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful, Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy and Doc. Marcia enhanced the painting by adding images of birds, small animals, a Diamond Mine and some grass. When you turn the corner from Shore Road, you see Snow White waving at you! 

IMG_0629.jpg

OTHER END OF WALL.  NOTICE IMAGE OF HEIDI THE DOG.

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

The artist wasn't alone when she painted!  The family dog, Heidi, stayed close by, watching the progress.  The big, gentle German Shepherd loved to lie in the sun between the images of Sneezy and Bashful.  As a tribute to the dog, Marcia included Heidi's image at the far end of the wall.  It's a life-size portrait - one that the real Heidi likes to lie next to.

Marcia had never been to Disneyland in California;  but she had been to Walt Disney World in Florida.  She believed that was much better than the west coast attraction.

Over the years, the mural faded.  In the summer of 2014, the Cofones once again hired an artist to refurbish the wall.  Their current dog befriended the artist, and followed the painter around the property!

The wall is somewhat of a "tourist attraction".  School students come by on a bus for what's called an "Early American Tour".   It's considered a local historical site.  Strangers have stopped by to take pictures, and thank the Cofones for the mural.  Since it's very close to the intersection, drivers have to be very careful when they stop to take pictures. 

Many thanks to Lorraine Cofone for sharing this very interesting story with us!


SOURCE

Clark, El: "Disney World on Tomac Avenue!":  Village Gazette, Old Greenwich CT, 20 Nov. 1975, Print


Staying On Time

| No Comments


No doubt you've noticed the clocks on Greenwich Avenue.  There are two of them:  one outside Betteridge Jewelers at 119 Greenwich Avenue, and one across from the old Post Office in front of the Christian Science Reading Room at 333 Greenwich Avenue.(There are also similar clocks in Old Greenwich, in front of the Town Hall and next to the Cos Cob Firehouse.)  I found out the original one at 333 Greenwich Avenue was manufactured by the E Howard Clock Company near Boston MA.  This company also built the steeple clock for Harkness Memorial Hall at Yale University in New Haven.

Betteridge Clock.jpg

According to The Greenwich Mail newspaper, the clock was installed at 333 Greenwich Avenue in 1926. It was originally built for someone else, but it was never picked up.  Mr. William D. Hill, who owned the Lester H. Denson Jeweler store, bought it for $500, which was a bargain back then. He used to go out and wind the clock.  If he forgot, someone passing by would stop in and remind him.  It was rumored that the clock was always within 30 seconds of the correct time.  I can envision train passengers checking the clock to make sure they were on time!  In the 1930s, the Town passed an ordinance banning advertising; the clock was considered advertising,  but disaster was averted when a variance was granted, and the clock remained.  The clock is 13-feet high, and was painted green to match the trim of the jewelry store.  Later it was painted black because the owner thought it looked better.  The face is made of marble, and the inside contains a wooden pendulum.  By 1978, the clock was still running well and only required an annual cleaning and oiling.  People rushing to the train station used to think it was running too fast, and would stop to tell the jewler; but it was very accurate, and commuters often missed their train!

Denson's son-in-law, William Dudley Hill, worked at the store and owned it from 1966 to 1978 - at which time he retired.  The new owner donated the clock to the town in the 1980s. The jewelry store finally closed, and a Christian Science Reading Room took its place.  A volunteer from the Reading Room would wind the clock until the the Town took over the winding duties.  A mail clerk from Town Hall would come over every Tuesday to wind it. A local TV station even came down to film the winding for one of its shows about Fairfield County.   At one point, the clock was even electrified to light it up and make it easier to read.   It was considered the Town's unofficial standard of time.     
 

In 1990, the clock began to show signs of wear and tear.  Eventually the clock stopped working all together, and the hands were stuck at 2:28. They didn't move for 6- to 8- weeks until it was fixed. The Town's Superintendent of Buildings and Manitenance, who was now responsible for winding the clock, arranged to have it sent to the E. Howard Company for repair. The repairs cost $2500.  When it was returned, it still wasn't right!  The Town then consulted Clockmaster Richard Brown from Sherman CT.  Within two minutes, he had it running like a clock!  A screw had worked its way loose due to the change in temperature when the mechanism was moved from a warm interior to the outside, where it was near freezing. Retired executive and clock enthusiast William Diefenback helped find rare parts to keep the clock in good repair.  Between 1990 and 1995, the clock underwent annual cleaning, and was checked for wear and tear.

In Old Greenwich, John Martello, owner of Sam's Liquor Store and President of the Old Greenwich Merchants Association, spearheaded a campaign to have a similar clock installed in the village.  A 11-foot electric clock was installed on Sound Beach Avenue around 2000.  It has a backup battery in case of a power outage, and it's programmed to automatically adjust for Daylight Savings Time. It even plays chimes!  The original cost was $15,000.

Then in 2000, the owner of Betteridge Jewelers wanted to have the old clock at 333 Greenwich moved in front of his store at 119 Greenwich Avenue so he could better maintain it.  After two years of applying for permits, he decided it would be much easier to install another clock.  He contacted the E. Howard Company to see if they had any used clocks, but none were in working order.  However, they were able to use the same mold to create a custom clock.  The inner workings were made by Rolex, and you can see the logo on the clock face today.The clock is slightly lower than the old clock, and cost $12,000.

The retro clocks are considered landmarks in the Town.  They add character, and remind us of earlier times.  I hope they're around for many years.  Even though time moves on, these relics are a constant.  For some reason, it's calming and peaceful to see them.  Maybe it's the familiarity.  Whatever the reason, they're part of Greenwich history.


SOURCES

Greenwich: 90 Years in Pictures:  The Greenwich Mail, 1968; Greenwich CT

Greenwich Time:  Time Warner Communications; Southwestern Connecticut Newspapers


IslBeach4042.jpg

ARCH STREET FERRY TICKET OFFICE

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Two favorite destinations for local residents who don't have the time or money to travel extensively in the summer is Little Captain's Island (Island Beach) or Great Captain's Island.  Connected to Island Beach by a sand spit at low tide is Wee Captain's Island, a privately-owned property.  It's believed that these islands were named after Captain Daniel Patrick, who was a pre-Revolutionary War commander.  He and the Feakes purchased land in Old Greenwich from the Native-Americans..

The first known private owner of the islands was Dr. Nathaniel Worden, who sold them to Justus Bush. When Bush died in 1760, the islands were left to his son, Justus Bush III, and some other children.  In 1761, New York resident John Anderson petitioned his state for ownership of the islands.  Anderson was granted a patent, which in effect gave him dual ownership.  In 1764, Justus Bush sued Anderson for trespassing, when he found Andeson cutting wood on Great Captain's Island.  the Superior Court of Fairfield County found in favor of Bush, and thus Connecticut.  Ownership remained a point of contention between New York and Connecticut until 1879, when a special commission granted the islands to Connecticut.


IslBeach1039.jpg

FERRY DEPARTING ISLAND BEACH

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

During the 20th Century, Island Beach underwent many changes.  An Island Beach Corporation opened an amusement park on the island, featuring a merry-go-round, shooting gallery, booth games, goldfish tank, a dance hall, a restaurant and one- and three- room bungaloos. The carousel was operated by hand.  It was eventually removed since someone had been injured on the ride. Over time, business fell off due to the short season and World War I. Judge James Walsh, who was a First Selectman, State Senator and State Treasurer, owned it for a while.  Then, business dropped off greatly due to tough economic times and the shortage of men enlisting during World War I.   In 1916, the island was up for sale, but, unfortunately, the RTM rejected the purchase in 1918 since they were involved in purcahsing Sandy Point Beach off Mead's Point as a public beach.  Eventually, the Sandy Beach  sale fell through.  Then two families, the Lauders and the Greenways, bought the island, and donated It to the town as a gift for use by the townspeople on October 24, 1918.  It was donated in memory of George L. Lauder, Jr, who died of influenza at the age of 37.  The famous fighter Gene Tunney was present at the ceremony. (He had married Polly Lauder). 

Two Mead's Point residents-Mrs. Wilks and Mrs. Campbell-donated money for a ferry.  The first one (the Island Beach) sailed in 1920.   Sanford Mead was the Captain, and he was assisted by engineer Winfield Mills.  In 1937 another boat - The Indian Harbor - was purchased.  It could hold up to 256 passengers.  Riders paid 10-cents to ride, while children rode for free during the week.  On weekends, children paid 10-cents to ride.   Island Beach became so popular that people started coming out by train from New York City.  It wasn't long before the ferry became overcrowded.  Private boat owners seized the opportunity to make some extra money.  They charged 25-cents to carry the overflow of people to the island.  One owner from Stamford sailed the 50-foot sailboat Massasoit with passengers, who got soaking wet since there was no cabin for the riders to sit in!  To address the problem of overcrowding, the town introduced beach cards to limit use to residents. However, this was not effectively enforced until the 1950s.


IslBeach2040.jpg

 REMNANTS OF CAROUSEL ON ISLAND BEACH

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Since there's now a full-time caretaker on the island, it's necessary for the person to have a boat to get back and forth to the mainland.  He has to bring in his own supplies.  Water has to be shipped out by boat since wells cannot be used due to saltwater intrusion. At one point, water had to be stored in wooden barrels. In 1936, a 10,000 gallon tank was installed for water. Toilets use saltwater. 

It's an ideal job for someone seeking solitude since no one comes after the summer ferry stops.  At one time during the 1980s, a writer had the job.  He loved the isolation.  Some families have lived on the island, making it necessary to take the children daily to the mainland to attend school, etc.  It takes a certain type of person to live this kind of lifestyle.


IslBeach3041.jpg

PIER AND DOCK AT ISLAND BEACH

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

Over the years, weather has had a profound effect on the island. In 1860, Greenwich Harbor and Long Island Sound froze over.  A man claimed he was able to walk all the way to Long Island from Greenwich.  The same thing happened in 1917 and 1934.  In 1938, the bungaloos were knocked off their foundations by the Great Hurricane, and in 1955 the dock was ruined by a windstorm.  Three bungaloos were also washed away.  More recently, in 1980 the Beach House and dock was ruined.  The White Hurricane of 1992 ruined the dock, and Hurricane Sandy did the same, making it necessary to postpone the opening of Island Beach until July.

The lawsuit to open Greenwich beaches in 1996 led to changes in the fee structure and access to Greenwich beach facilities for out-of-towners.  Fears of overcrowding were premature.  Out-of-towners now have to get a temporary town pass as well as a ticket to ride the ferry.  On the weekends, you'll find the greatest number of people taking advantage of the barbeque grills and refreshing waters of Long Isalnd Sound.  On warm days, you'll usually find the air is several degrees lower than the mainland.  You also get a great view of the Manhattan skyline.


IslBeach5043.jpg

BASE OF FLAGPOLE WITH DEDICATION TO LAUDER FAMILY

PHOTO BY CARL WHITE

One of my favorite events is the free concert by a Dixieland Band.  They usually board a 4:30 ferry, and play while the boat heads down Greenwich Harbor to Island Beach.  After an hour of entertaining people on the island, they re-board the ferry, and play all the way back to the Arch Street dock. 


Another special event is a "Cruise to Nowhere".  Several times in the summer, the boat heads out to destinations like Oyster Bay. You can't get off because the boat doesn't dock;  but if you're like me, it satisfies your need for a longer cruise.


We're very fortunate to have this town park available to the public.  It's a great place to take the children anytime.  Many residents view the trip out to Island Beach as a "mini-vacation"!


SOURCES

Island Beach: An Oral History Interview
Oral History Project. Friends of the Greenwich Library
Greenwich, CT.: Greenwich Library, 1979


Recently, I wrote about the Mianus River and Natural Park in Greenwich.  This is just one of the many beautiful conservation areas in Greenwich.   Another favorite area is the Montgomerey Pinetum Park on Bible Street in Cos Cob. 

In 1880, Fred Gotthold, President of the Gotthold Company - a straw goods manufacturer - purchased 55-acres on Bible Street.  He and his wife, Florence, built the "Wild Acres" estate. This included an 18-room Mansard-roofed mansion, a guest cottage, laundry building, ice house, water tower, wood shed, cow barn, garage, gardener's cottage, chicken houses ands a small barn.  They also enjoyed plantings, which included a one-half-acre perennial garden, flower gardens, orchard, walled garden and 2-acre lawn.  There was also a 2-acre vegetable garden.  Brooks and ponds divided the property, and there was a substantial hemlock grove.  By the 1920s, the Gottholds decided to downsize and put the estate up for sale.

Colonel Robert H. Montgomerey, and his wife Nell, purchased "Wild Acres" in 1928.  Montgomerey had been a CPA, soldier in 2 wars, a university professor and a writer.  He was looking for a hobby that would be educational, create beauty and provide public enjoyment.  So he decided to create a "pinetum" - a collection of pines.  Since Nell was an artist, Robert had a field studio built with a landscape view.  He also had a primrose garden built, which spanned a brook.  Other plantings included forget-me-nots, grape hyacinth and barberry.  Over time, the estate grew to 125-acres.

Montgomerey made many improvements.  He added a greenhouse to grow fruit trees, which required a hgh roof.  A formal entrance with stone columns was constructed on Stanwich Road.  In 1930, stone retaining walls were built along the main entry drive.  Montgomerey had 850 species of conifers inventoried over a 2-and-a-half year period.  They were photographed with handwritten notes.  By the end of his life, he had donated over 200 species of trees to the New York Botanical Gardens.

Colonel Montgomerey died in 1952.  His wife donated the 125-acres to the Town.  The gift specified that visitors be restricted to walking trails, the park be used for the cultivation of arts and horticulture, and that the Town could sell off portions if necessary in the future.  Initially, the Town Meeting rejected the gift due to the expense of upkeep.  Supporters convinced conservationist Helen Binney Kitchell to speak to the RTM about the value of the land, and the meeting voted unanimously to accept it.  The Town made immediate plans to demolish all the buildings with the exception of one wing of the mansion.


MontPomTuch037.jpg

MAP OF THE EXPANDED PARK SYSTEM

COURTESY OF THE MONTGOMEREY PINETUM PARK COALITION

Over the years, the Town has made many improvements to Montgomerey Pinetum. The property has been modernized to make it more suitable as a park.  Land was cleared to give a better view from the mansion to the pond.  In 1955 a parking lot was built for those coming to skate on the ponds. A new lavatory was added in 1956, and in 1958 the remaining west wing of the mansion was repaired.  The University of Connecticut developed some planting plans, and a rock garden was installed on the south lawn.

It was in 1957 that the Town created the Garden Education Center. It's purpose was to inspire public interest in better gardening.  Two-thousand square feet of classrooms and workspace was created and the greenhouse was expanded. A Town nursery was started to grow fledgling shrubs.  The State recognized the greenhouse as an historic structure in the 1990s, and in 1993 it was added to the State Register of Historic Structures.  As part of a Master Plan in 1999, an inventory of existing park features was completed, and in 2000 a plan was put together to improve the park by adding handicap access, and expanded parking.

In 2003, the Town acquired the Pomerance Property off Orchard Street, which is adjacent to Pinetum and added 75 additional acres of woodlands.  Then, in 2007 the Tuchman Property added 31 more acres.  It's now possible to hike the entire area.

Today Montgomerey Pinetum is a favorite destination for nature lovers.  Just off the flagstone terrace of the main building are beautifully manicured lawns.  The reflecting pool remains, and tulips, daffodils and azaleas accentuate the grounds.  Tree species include Weeping Hemlock and Japanese Threadleaf Maples.  Visitors can walk a short tree identification walkway.  Several high rock outcroppings provide a beautiful vantage point of the forestlands.  One of these is the Joseph Hartman Outlook. This feature is in the northern part of the park, and was named after a man loved the New England wilderness. A large picnic area is available for those who wish to enjoy a meal in the outdoors.  The Greenwich Audubon Society  maintains the Mildred Bedard Caldwell Wildlife Sanctuary, which is bordered by Pinetum Lane, Bible Street,  and Cat Rock Road, to the northeast of Pinetum.  There is a trail from the Sanctuary, which leads directly to Montgomerey Pinetum.  

Due to siltation, public skating at Montgomerey Pinetum has ceased.  It's still a fabulous place to visit year round.  The fall is especially colorful in the Pinetum.  Although it's closed from November 15 to March 15, it's opened most days from 8 am to sunset.   Hiking boots are recommended, and insect repellent in the warm months is a good idea. 


SOURCES

"Montgomerey Pinetum Park." Montgomerey Pinetum Park. Town of Greenwich. Web. 1 May 2015.   http://www.grewichct.org/upload/..../HLR-Section-6-Pinetum.pdf.


Montgomerey Pinetum. Town of Greenwich. Web. 1 May 2015. http://www.greenwichct.org/upload/medialibrary/338/HLR-Section_6-Pinetum.pdf.



Havemeyer Park Housing Project

| No Comments



One of the most interesting neighborhoods in town is Havemeyer Park in Old Greenwich.  It lies just to the west of the town line with Stamford, and offers a contrast to the housing projects and new condos just across the town line.  Although the houses are basically the same style (Cape Cod houses), each one has its own unique character.  The houses were originally built to provide housing for the many Veterans returning from World War II


normal_ian-symbol-suburban-cape-cod-house.png

Originally, the land where Havemeyer Park was built belonged to H.O. Havemeyer. Henry (or Harry) was an industrialist and sugar maker.  He was born in New York City on October 18, 1847.  He studied at Bellport Academy on Long Island, then transferred to Bett's School in Stamford.  It's reported that he had a run in with the Principal, and left school permanently at the age of eight.  This was the extent of his formal education.  Since his family was well established, he became the President and owner of the American Sugar and Refining Company.  Havemeyer's nickname was "Sugar King".  H.O. owned a sugar plantation in Cuba, and shipped his sugar cane by boat to New York.  He cornered the market in sugar all over the country.

In 1888, Havemeyer bought 85 acres about 2 blocks up from the Boston Post Road.  He decided to build his "Hilltop" estate. The view of Long Island Sound was magnificent in those days.  It took 3-years for men to clear the land and construct the buildings.  This included a mansion, barn, 3 greenhouses, a gardener's cottage and an artesian well. There was no bathroom - residents had to use an outhouse. Havemeyer raised cows, chickens and pigs.  He grew apples, grapes, figs, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes and vegetables.  His pride and joy, however, was his orchids, roses and gardenias.  These varieties won him many prizes at New York flower shows.

Like many other Greenwich residents, the Havemeyer family lived a very rustic life  There was no electricity or running water.  Kerosene lamps were used for lighting. The roads were still dirt, and Mr. Havemeyer had to take a horse and buggy to the train station, post office and grocery store.  Actually, they were pretty self-sufficient when it came to food since they grew a lot of fruits and vegetables.  Havemeyer had cottages built on the estate so he could invite guests for the weekend.

It's a well-known fact that the Havemeyer family was very generous to the Town of Greenwich.  They bought and gave  the Town the triangular park in front of the Post Office where the obelisk now resides.  They also donated $250,000 for the Havemeyer School. Old Greenwich School and the First Presbyterian Church were also recepients of their generosity. Mrs. Havemeyer was a volunteer who supported Women's Suffrage,  and she belonged to the National Women's Party.

They were the first to buy Impressionist paintings by Degas and Monet and have them imported to the United States. (They were close friends of artist Mary Cassatt, by the way.) A large part of their art collection was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  H.O. Havemeyer passed away on December 4, 1907.

220px-Henry_Havemeyer.jpg

PHILANTHROPIST H.O.HAVEMEYER


It was after World War II (1946) that Gene Tunney became interested in the Havemeyer property.  Tunney was a professional boxer, and was the world heavyweight champion from 1926 to 1928.  He married Polly Lauder from an influential Greenwich family.  She was related to Andrew Carnegie.  Tunney had had an interesting life, serving as a Marine, working as a lumberman in Canada, and even lecturing at Yale University!  He was committed to providing housing for returning veterans.  So in 1946 he purchased 149 acres for $173,600 from the Havemeyer estate.  There were several stipulations, however:

 1.  Each lot must have a 60-foot front,
 2.  the cost couldn't be more than $10,000, and
 3.  the first units had to be finished by 1947

Tunney employed the Stamford Building Company to handle the construction, while Fairfield Realty handled the sales.  Arthur Starck, a friend of Tunney, helped organize a Havemeyer Park Builders corporation, and a sales trailer was set up at the corner of Havemeyer Lane and the Boston Post Road. Starck was named Secretary / Treasurer.

Initial plans called for the inclusion of a California-style (strip mall)  shopping center at the corner of Florence and MacArthur Drive.  This would include a Bradlee's department store, food stores, drugstores, etc. This never came about because the Town and residents were worried about traffic and the "unsavory" element it might attract.  This property was rocky, and not suitable for any kind of housing construction.  The Havemeyer Park Builders wanted to donate the property to the town, but officials were suspicious.  They considered the land unbuildable;  but the Town finally relented, and accepted the gift.  Surprisingly, part of the land was eventually used to build Dundee School! 

The average house in Havemeyer Park was built on a quarter-of-an-acre.  It was a Cape Cod style with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a livingroom, an attic crawlspace or unfinished attic, built on a slab and later full cellars.  Standardization helped keep the costs down.  They weren't well graded - owners had to plant their own grass.  Roads weren't paved at first.  The construction company didn't want to incur the cost of putting in roads, so the Town took them over.  The Town also offered to plant cherry or dogwood trees for $15 each.  This was a good deal.  Some residents dug up bushes and trees from the old Havemeyer mansion.  Eventually, the mansion was razed to make room for more housing.

In 1948, residents decided to organize a Havemeyer Park Owners Association.  This grew out of concerns for roads and traffic. Owners were concerned about additional traffic spilling out onto Havemeyer Lane from Stamford.  Representatives met with Stamford officials, who agreed to abandon plans for additional  roads to add traffic to Havemeyer Lane.  Since the association had no money or legal representation, it had to rely on the good will of people to preserve its neighborhood character.  Most people complied with requests from the neighbors and the owners' association.

Once the houses were built, they sold out very quickly.  Buyers were mostly veterans, who could get FHA mortgages through the GI Bill.  Only $1,000 was required as a downpayment on a $10,000 house.  Today, those houses would sell for between $375,000 and $450,000.  The Veterans were usually married with young children.  Since they didn't have a lot of money, most of the families would socialize with each other.  They organized Christmas decoration contests, Valentine's Dances, picnics, bowling leagues, tennis groups, barbeques, garden clubs, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

Over time, the families would save money and move to bigger houses in town.  Havemeyer Park became known as a "starter community".  Older people looking to downsize, and other ethnic groups moved into the Park.  The population started to become more diversified.  Of course, some residents remained since they like the community.

Meanwhile, development just over the Stamford line threatens to change traffic patterns in the area. .  A newly-constructed condo complex (including an access road) includes a rotary that may change the flow of traffic on Havemeyer Lane.  Plans for a big box Home Depot structure near the old Cyanamid building were abandoned due to public protests. A shopping mall adjacent to Laddin's Rock Road could spill over the Town line.  There is plenty of land near Havemeyer Park that could still be developed.  

 The Park, which stretches roughly from Havemeyer Lane to Florence Road and Palmer Hill Road to the Boston Post Road, remains a thriving and vibrant community.  Residents take pride in their homes and property.  The Homeowners Association still watches over developments in the area.  Everyone is committed to maintaining the rural nature of the Town.  Havemeyer Park will always remain a unique part of Greenwich.



SOURCE

Havemeyer Park : Oral History Interview
Oral History Project. Friends of the Greenwich Library
Greenwich, CT : Greenwich Library, 2002

 
 

Mianus River and Natural Park

| No Comments


Greenwich is very fortunate to have a number of beautiful parks available to its residents.  One of these parcels is the Mianus River and Natural Park located in northern Cos Cob just off Cognewaugh Road, 3/4 of a mile south of the Merritt Parkway.  It's part of the larger Mianus Greenway, and crosses over the town line into Stamford.  Greenwich controls 109.7 acres, while Stamford owns 110.3 acres.  Access is available to residents on both sides.  The many activities going on in the nature tract include walking, jogging, hiking, horsebackriding, fishing, and nature study. 

The park parallels the Mianus River. Hydrologists (water scientists) believe it used to empty into the Hudson River to our west.  However, during the last ice age and subsequent glacial retreat, the river was forced to turn south just below Indian Hill in Bedford NY.  Today, the river runs south/south east through the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, flows through Mianus Pond, over the dam into Cos Cob Harbor, eventually draining into Long Island Sound.

Historians assume Native-Americans were the first to occupy this area.  The river and land would be a great source of fresh water, game, fish and waterfowl.  When the European settlers arrived in Greenwich, they probably cleared the land of trees for lumber to build houses, and to provide farm and pasture land. After the Civil War, much of the land was abandoned.  Some of the land may have been exhausted from over-farming, and a good protion was rocky and unfit for agriculture. There was more fertile land just to the west. Interestingly, the land has slowly returned to woodlands, and you can see evidence of remnant stonewalls, wells, storage cellars and caves.

Toward the end of the 1800s, the Greenwich populace began to shift away from farming, and people started buying up land to build estates.  Greenwich became a "bedroom community" for New York City.  Wealthy and influentioal people began building in backcountry Greenwich and Stamford.  In 1928, the City of Stamford bought land from New York financier Robert Goodbody, who owned a mansion located on the Fort Stamford property near the Greenwich line.  Then in 1960, the City purchased another 77-acres called the "Old Mill Lane - Mianus Tract" under the authorization of the Federal Open Space Act. It was to be used for "passive" purposes -  meaning the natural environment could not be disturbed. 

MRP085.jpg

COURTESY OF THE FRIENDS OF THE MIANUS RIVER PARK

On the other side of the town line, Greenwich got the opportunity to buy 109.7 acres for the bargain price of $500,000 in 1972.  This was the period of time when environmental protection became an important issue in this country.  It was one of the first efforts to protect open space in town, and set a precedent which still exists today.  By joining forces with Stamford, residents from both municipalities were able to enjoy the large conservation area that became known as "The Mianus River and Natural Park".  Although plansinitially called for the hiring of a Park Ranger, some felt the cost was prohibitive and the plan was scrapped.

This land, sometimes referred to as the Goodbody Property, is a great example of glacial topography.  There are numerous bedrock outcroppings and ridges created by the retreating ice.  Geologically, the tract presents several different types of ecosystems.  Two trails lead the hiker through two diverse environments.  The Pond Trail is a wide, well-graded path that leads to some lowlands, where one can find swampy wetlands.  Red Maples trees thrive in this type of environment.  So do skunk cabbage, winged euanimus, cat-o-nine-tails and pond lillies. One might also find Black Birch, Tulips, Red Ash and Tupelo.  This
environment supports such animals as salamanders, frogs, weasels, mink and otters.  It provides nesting habitats for ruffled grouse, pheasant, mallards, and songbirds. Fox, deer, coyotes and racoons also make this area their home.

The Oak Trail leads hikers to higher ground.  Oak and beech trees are numerous, providing nesting opportunities for Yellow Warblers, Crows, Sparrows, Blue Jays and Woodpeckers. Highbush blueberries and Mountain Laurel can be found, as well as open meadows.

Pheasant2064.jpg

SKETCH OF TYPICAL PHEASANT

As you can see, this is an important habitat for a variety of species.  It's been estimated that there are 100 species of trees, 150 species of birds and 250 species of wildflowers in the park!  You could consider it  "Nature's Classroom" or learning lab.  Beyond its value from a scientific point of view, it may even do something for the spirit.  Hiking in a wild, beautiful and diverse environment may do something for the soul.  Away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, it may just bring you closer to nature, to your own roots. The quiet may give you a chance to relax, think.  It may make you wonder how we got here, and how we fit in.  

It makes me appreciate the natural parks we have here in Greenwich.

Thanks to the many dedicated people who have fought to protect these dwindling pieces of land.


SOURCES

 

Friends of the Mianus River Park:

"Welcome to Mianus River Park." Welcome. Web. 6 Apr. 2015. http://www.friendsofmianusriverpark.org/.:  Accessed 4/6/2015


Town of Greenwich, Parks & Recreation: 

"Mianus River Park:  http://www.greenwichct.org/upload/medialibrary/8f3/prFA_MianusRiverPark.pdf: Accessed 4/6/2015



If you want to know what's going on in Greenwich, then you probably want to listen to our local radio station 1490 WGCH.  It's a quality source of information, and an important part of our community.  The station evolved as residents sought another source of news information besides the local newspaper.  We're very fortunate to have this service-oriented station, that focuses on the local community.

wgch.jpg

The station owes its existence to Walter Lemmon. He was a Naval Communications Officer, who was on a boat returning from Versailles after the signing of the treaty that ended World War I.  President Woodrow Wilson was also on board, and Lemmon discussed the idea for an international shortwave radio station with him. Lemmon never gave up his quest for an international station, and eventually started one. He was a man of strong character and determination. was technologically gifted, a good businessman and highly creative. He went on to become a prominent electrical pioneer and inventor.  

On the local level, Lemmon was involved with the Greenwich Broadcasting Corporation, which founded WGCH FM in 1948. The station office was located at the top of Greenwich Avenue between the last store and Pickwick Arms Hotel.  It was the old Greenwich Press building behind Neilsen's.  Although it operated for several years, it turned out to be unprofitable.  There weren't enough FM sets available, so hardly anyone was listening!  This coincided with the introduction of television, which drew a lot of regular radio listeners.

Lemmon then turned his attention to AM radio. The Greenwich Broadcasting Corporation applied to the FCC for an AM license; but it struggled from the late 1940s until it received the approval in 1964.  There were several reasons for this.  Since Lemmon already owned an international station, they couldn't understand why he wanted a local station. Also, stations in Danbury, Stratford and Madison were trying to obtain the 1490 frequency for broadcasting.  There was concern about interference from WHOM 1480, a station out of New York City.  Eventually, it was all worked out, and in 1964 the FCC granted WGCH 1490 its license.

Dayton Ave WGCH031.jpg

OLD BUILDING AT 90 DAYTON AVENUE

COURTESY: HARTFORD RADIO HISTORY


WGCH 1490 has had several different locations over the years.  The first location was on East Putnam Avenue in the storefront next to Milbank Avenue.  This was across the street from the Second Congrgational Church.  While the front entrance was level with the street, the building itself was two-stories, with a back entrance opening to a lower parking lot.  In 1969, the station moved to 90 Dayton Avenue. Managment appealed to the Post Office and got them to renumber the building to 1490 Dayton Avenue.  In addition, they sought and obtained the telephone number 869-1490.  This was a marketing stroke of genius!  Today you can still see the transmitiing tower which is located near the Post Road Iron Works on West Putnam Avenue. Eventually, a new tower would be erected at to boost power. Due to some financial difficulties, it was necessary for the operation to move to 71 Lewis Street, where it is now located.


                                                    CURRENT HOME OF WGCH RADIO AT 71 LEWIS STREET


The radio station has changed owners several times over the years.  Mr. John Becker owned the station for 39 years, selling it to the Business Talk Radio Network in 2003.  The national network moved its studios and corporate offices to Greenwich until 2006 when it moved to 401 Shippan Avenue in Stamford.  WGCH AM remained in Greenwich.  Then, in 2011, the Blue Star Media Group headed by Michael Metter and Jeff Weber bought the station.  Unfortunately, Metter had some legal difficulties and the operatioon was sold to the Forte family in 2013.  Rocco Forte had been the former CFO of Abate Insurance and AIA Risk Management Services in New Haven.  He had homes in Lyme CT and Sarasota FL.  The new operating group was known as Forte Family Broadcasting Inc.

When it first started out in the 1960s, the station had no problem lining up advertisers.  Although the station conducted surveys from time to time to determine listenership, businesses knew immediately that their advertising was paying off because people would start using their services.  The radio station also received letters and phone calls from regular listeners.  It was estimatedthat the station had 10,000 listeners for one program!  The primary audience was Greenwich, but there were also listeners fromWestchester and Long Island.  It's broadcast area was considered to be an area bounded by Norwalk, New Canaan, White Plains, the Hudson River Valley, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Rye and Long Island.  Unfortunately, WGCH had to cut its power back to 250 watts in the evening, so it dropped off the air for some places.  The station attempted to find a new location for its antenna to boost the signal, but had to settle for renewing its lease for the site at 177 West Putnam Avenue in 2002.


ANTENNA SIMILAR TO THE ONE AT 177 WEST PUTNAM AVENUE

The station had to deal other problems.  There are some 30 radio stations broadcasting from New York City that compete for listeners.  On occassion during emergencies, there can be too many callers, inquiries and reports. Some broadcasters were terminated for different reasons.  Fires, storms and power outages have taken the station off the air.  Owners have faced legal problems.  The change in ownership has resulted in program changes - some unpopular.  Experienced and talented staff have been lured away to bigger stations. Changes in technology have changed broadcasting, and broadcasters have had to re-train to stay current.

Despite all these problems, the station today remains a community favorite. It has provides programming of the highest quality.  Rather than "editorialize", the station tries to present a balanced view of the issues.  It serves as a clearing house for information.  When schools are closed, or public meetings are cancelled, this is quickly communicated. During times of emergency, it can be a calming influence by keeping the people updated on police, fire or public utiliy progress.  Daily features include weather and traffic updates.  Although the emphasis is on local news, there's national and world news.  Some programs encourage listeners to call.  RTM and Board of Education meetings are broadcast entirely.  Special committee meetings of public concern are transmitted. 

Over the years, the station has presented a variety of entertaining programs such as "Fibber McGee and Molly", "The Shadow" and "Our Miss Brooks".  Music programming has included Italian, Greek, Country, Big Band, semi-classical and classical.  Less popular was a Rock and Roll segment and a Teen segment. Other special programs have included The Pet Patrol, The Swap Shop, and The Trading Post.  Sports programming includes Greenwich High School football, Red Sox and NE Patriots broadcasts.  Ex-Selectman Sam Romeo hosts a call-in show, while MaryAnne DeFelice and Darby Cartun have their own shows. Various community groups read Public Service Announcements for the benefit of the residents. Tony Savino handles the news, while meteorologist Bill Evans reports on the weather.  Bob Small, Operations Manager, does a fine job keeping everything on course.

Although other stations may have similar programming, supporters claim WGCH has a unique appeal.  It demonstrates a genuine concern for the community.  The reporting and programming is responsible, and the staff is talented and very able.  It serves the community in a very unique way.  Rather than compete with the local paper, it works with it, and respects its turf.  WGCH helps make Greenwich the community it is today.  As one person noted, we can't imagine what Greenwich would be like without WGCH.

SOURCE

WGCH: A Community Radio Station;  Oral History Project. Friends of the Greenwich Library
Greenwich, CT. : Greenwich Library, c1977


Catherine Hyder Ogden - Gentle Leader

| No Comments

 

One of the kindest, gentlest and smartest people I have ever met passed away on January 23. Cathy Ogden, Chairman of the Oral History Project for 19 years, succumbed to ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

Cathy was born in Lawrence, Kansas, to Clyde and Allena Hyder.  Her father was a distinguished professor of English Literature at the University of Kansas.  She graduated from Lawrence High School in 1963 and Swarthmore College in 1967.  Cathy and her husband, Ross, moved to Greenwich in 1969. 

Picture


CATHY  OGDEN

Photo Courtesy of The Oral History Project


Always civic-minded, Cathy volunteered with the League of Women Voters, the Brunswick School Parents Association, the American Red Cross and the First Presbyterian Church, where she served as a Deacon.  But her greatest legacy will be her leadership of the Oral History Project at Greenwich Library.

The Oral History project was organized by the Greenwich Library and Greenwich Historical Society in 1973 as part of the upcoming Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. In 1977, it became a permanent committee of the Friends of Greenwich Library.  It's staffed by volunteers, and it's a member of the Oral History Association, and the New England Association of Oral History.

Cathy joined the Project as an editor in 1981. In 1993, she took over the Chairmanship from MaryEllen LeBien and led the Project for 19 years. During this time, Cathy was the guiding force who raised the Project to visible prominence, and garnered for it several awards:

  • The 1991 Harvey A. Kantor Award by the New England Association of Oral History.
  • The 1995 CT Life Award, New Haven, Connecticut, for the preservation of personal histories which have created a priceless resource for Greenwich, and an inspiring model for other communities to follow.
  • The 1996 Publication Award from the Connecticut Library Association Public Relations Section, for an outstanding library publication.
  • The Town of Greenwich proclamation designating July 15, 2003, as Oral History Day in Greenwich.

During Cathy's tenure, she led the OHP through many changes in technology. A website and blog was developed. She served as moderator for a discussion relating to the publication of the Project's book  on Bruce Museum, and developed Oral History Days - an opportunity for residents to give half-hour interviews on local history. Cathy helped create and maintain a Subject Guide of interviews.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute was the fact that other similar groups across the nation use the OHP as the benchmark for a professional and quality organization.

Cathy was truly a champion of the Oral History Project.


SOURCES:

THE ORAL HISTORY PROJECT, FRIENDS OF THE GREENWICH LIBRARY

SEMMES, A.; GREENWICH TIME; Hearst Newspapers


Blythewood Sanitarium

| No Comments

If you've ever looked at some early maps of Greenwich, you may have been surprised to see a caption for a Blythewood Sanitarium on Indian Rock Road off Orchard Street in Cos Cob.  This is where the Greenwich Baptist Church is now located across the street from Central Middle School.  The medical center was established by Mrs. Anna C. Wiley and her husband, Dr. William H. Wiley, in 1905.  It operated until 1965, when the Baptist Church bought the property. 

Mrs. Wiley was a nurse, who worked in mental hospitals in Canada and the United States.  She met her husband in a hospital while working as a nurse. Dr. William Wiley had been born in Chester PA,  and was educated at The Friends School of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania.   Mrs. Wiley had a reputation for being kind and philanthropic, and gave her patients  exceptional treatment. She believed patients should not be confined to buildings with a cold atmosphere.  They should be given freedom to move around.  Part of the rehabilitation should include creative outlets such as arts and crafts.  Mrs. Wiley was definitely progressive in her approach to mental health treatment.

The Sanitarium complex at one time featured 8 main buildings, 8 cottages, a chapel, an occupational therapy building and a small golf course on 50-acres of land.  Only the chapel remains today.  A small stream bisects the property.  It was known to be a rehabilitation center for the wealthy, although "charity" patients were included in the program but not identified.

A big iron gate marked the entrance to Blythewood.  Next to the gate was the main house with white columns.  This was the original main house of the estate, and served as the Blythewood Administrative building.  It conatined the doctor's offices and also served as a "Graduate House" for patients about to be released. 

When patients first arrived, they were held in a "Lockup House" for observation.  This could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.  Depending on the diagnosis, patients would be assigned to the Violent House or Middle House. 

The Violent House was the farthest from the road.  Patients were usually strapped down to guernies when arriving, then delivered to padded cells for safety.  Sometimes their hands were restrained.  Occassional screams could be heard from the building.  Pottery classes were held to help with rehabilitation.

People who improved would move to the Middle House.  This was a 2-story building with a finished attic, common rooms, and central dining room.  Patients continued their rehabilitation here until they were ready to move to the Graduate House.

Patients saw their psychiatrist for an hour each day five days a week.  In general, improving patients were allowed maximum freedom of movement.  Activities were geared to give patients intellectual and creative expression.  Clubs were formed, a library was accessible, concerts and musicals were performed - some by famous artists.

One of the attending physicians, Dr. Tiebout, was a pioneer in treating alcoholism.  On July 30, 1979, the Greenwich Time ran an article that Greenwich was second only to the San Fernando Valley as the Alcoholic Capital of America!  Dr. Tiebout believed the only way to treat the disease was to have the patient give up alcohol all together.  He was one of the early doctors to help formulate the AA program.  Blythewood began to get more and more people admitted for alcohol treatment.

Blythewood had its share of problems over time.  There were rumors of experimentation gone bad, and several people committed suicide on the premises. A fire destroyed part of the sanitarium in December of 1939. Several patients were found drowned in a pond on the property.

When Dr. Wiley died on November 8, 1936, Mrs. Wiley took over as head and continued to run the hospital until she died on July 2, 1951.  The Putnam Operating Company took over in July 1951, and the company continued to operate using the same philosophy and ideals established by the Wileys.  Managers also focused on personnel and employees, making sure they were trained to provide top notch service to patients. 

The sanitarium continued to operate until 1965, when the Greenwich Baptist Church bought the property for its home.  The current patients were transferred to other facilities throughout Fairfield County.

SOURCES:

Brown, S. : A Biography of Mrs. Marty Mann: First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous; Hazelden Information & Education Services, 2001.

Greenwich Time: Time-Warner Corporation.

Historical Happenings

| No Comments

Using Newspapers For Family Research
Saturday - February 14, 2015 - 2 PM
Greenwich Library Meeting Room

Janeen Bjork will talk about using newspaper resources to
help you research your family tree.  Free and open to all.


Greenwich Historical Society Website
www.hstg.org

Make a point to look at the Greenwich Historical Society
website on a regular basis.  There's a lot of useful information
on upcoming events, exhibits and history.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Local History category.

Find recent content on the main index, or to browse all entries look in the all entries list or the archives.