The Hilltop Farm Site
Several years ago, someone mentioned to me that there used to be a farm on the current site of Riverside Commons. (It used to be called the Thruway Shopping Center due to its proximity to I-95.) Research revealed that there was a 12-acre farm on the north side of the Post Road and a 12-acre farm on the south side. An Oral History Project transcript titled The Ferris Family at Hilltop Farm mentions that both Edgar Ferris and Mildred Ferris Wescot were born there in December 1913. They were twins and spent their childhood there.
The house looked to the south toward the Sound. Trees blocked the view; but if you were on the second floor of the house, you could see above the trees toward the south. They could see sailboats on the Sound in the summer. To the east, they could see the Stamford Lighthouse. The children would walk down Sound Beach Avenue to go to school. In those days, it was called Sound Beach School, but today it’s known as Old Greenwich School. At this time, there were very few residential houses along the way. The road was concrete with trolley tracks embedded. The sidewalk started at the First Congregational Church and stretched down toward central Sound Beach (Old Greenwich). Open fields stretched out from Hilltop Farm toward the Church. Binney Park at this time was a saltwater marsh.
Hilltop Farm Environs
Isaac Ferris owned 12-acres of farmland across the street (to the south). There were open fields with some swamp land. Corn was mostly grown here. One field was used for hay. On the north side was the Hilltop Farm. This was owned by Jeduthan Ferris (Edgar and Mildred’s father). He sold corn, milk, and eggs, and also raised and sold cut flowers – dahlias, gladiolas, and peonies. Jeduthan also cut firewood from a 10-acre plot he owned off Cognewaugh Road. This was sold for heating and cooking.
Three wells were used to draw water on the farm. A little to the east was a nursery owned by the Bertolf family. They grew a wide variety of trees. The side road there is called Bertolf Road. This is where the Adams Garden housing complex is today. There’s a small pond in the back that children used to skate on. In the winter, they could see fish under the ice if they looked hard enough. The adjacent Sound Beach Extension was a dirt road in those days. At one time, horse riders would traverse the roads, and there were quite a few accidents.
The Post Road was not originally paved. There was lots of traffic passing by the Ferris Farm. This was particularly true on the weekends. Many people would use the road to go to the Yale football games in New Haven. The traffic grew so much that the Post Road was tied up. There always seemed to be a bottleneck between the bridge over the Mianus River and the Conde Nast Publishing Company. Trolley tracks were installed for the cars that carried riders from Port Chester and New Rochelle.
In some places, there was only one track, which meant passengers had to wait for the car coming out of Stamford. Switches were located near Put’s Hill and Conde Nast. A bus was eventually added, which offered another transportation option. Interestingly enough, there were only 3 lanes; but drivers always tried to squeeze in a 4th lane. When I-95 opened, much later in the 1950s, a great deal of the through traffic congestion was eliminated.
As Jeduthan grew older, the house also began showing its age. It had been there since 1765. Termites were found in one area of the house. The floor sloped, and the community began to complain about the condition of the building. Jeduthan knew neither Edgar nor Mildred wanted to take over the farm. Several parties approached him to buy the property. Although the house was in bad shape, the property was valuable due to its proximity to the Thruway. In 1954, Mr. Ferris agreed to sell the property to a land development company. There was 1400-feet of frontage on the Post Road, which made it ideal for a retail center. There was talk of an A&P grocery store being built in the complex. The sale turned out to be very fortuitous since Jeduthan had to be hospitalized for 3-years, and the money helped to pay for his medical bills.
More and more property was sold for businesses along the Post Road as time went along. Backcountry farms were sold and residences were built for people commuting to New York City. The nature of Greenwich was changing. Farming became less and less important. Business was expanding, and retail stores spread along the Post Road and central Greenwich. The age of farming was over. Sure, people liked the idea of owning what was once farmland, and even retained the term “farm” to refer to their land (ex Conyers Farm); but few people were actually operating a farm. People began pursuing other, more lucrative professions.
Hilltop Farm was the site of a family farm, which was the source of food for the family. Later on, excess food was sold to others, and it became a source of revenue. Hilltop Farm was later sold and a retail center was built on the site. This describes pretty much how the agrarian economy of Greenwich changed to a retail (business) economy. Farmers such as Jeduthan Ferris helped the community transition from this agricultural economy to a commercial one.
Ferris, E; The Ferris Family at Hilltop Farm; The Oral History Project, Greenwich Library; Greenwich CT, 1982.