Originally written by Carl White.
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, and 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, a 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 high 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.
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. Its purpose was to inspire public interest in better gardening. Two-thousand square feet of classrooms and workspace were created and the greenhouse was expanded. A Town nursery was started to grow fledgling shrubs. The State recognized the greenhouse as a 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 who loved the New England wilderness. A large picnic area is available for those who wish to enjoy a meal 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.
“Montgomerey Pinetum Park.” Montgomerey Pinetum Park. Town of Greenwich. Web. 1 May 2015.
Montgomerey Pinetum. Town of Greenwich. Web. 1 May 2015.
Build your family tree, dive into the history of your historic home, and discover photos and articles of days gone past with the Library’s collection of 5,000 books, 800 Oral History transcripts, yearbooks, historical maps, vertical files, pamphlets, periodicals, and microfilm and microfiche. Plus, access resources like American Ancestors, AncestryLibrary, and more with a Library card. Learn more at greenwichlibrary.org/genealogy.
Get the latest about the Library’s History & Genealogy events and offerings sent to your email: greenwichlibrary.org/enews.
Local History Librarian