Summer Getaway for the New York Wealthy

While scanning the John Gotch historical photo collection, I came across the image of a very distinctive inn known as the Kent House.  It was located on Field Point Road in Belle Haven near the railroad, and was opened in 1876 by Halsey Kent and his sister, Jennie.  When the Throughway was built around 1955, it was demolished to make way for the highway.  There’s an Oral History Project transcript, which provides some information on Kent House.

Early Kent House History

It was an interview with Greenwich realtor Katie Favor back in 1975.  The Judge’s Corner collection by Judge Frederick A. Hubbard also provides some interesting facts.  According to Hubbard, an unknown party built a farm house on the site of the Kent House (or Kent Cottage) at the start of the 19th Century. The land was adjacent to property owned by Oliver Mead and Nelson Bush off Field Point Road in Belle Haven.

Kent House

Later, Doctor and Mary Hobby bought the land, and managed a farm. Mrs. Hobby also owned 10-acres near the Harbor, which was known as “Baldwin Lot”.  In those days, the Hobbys had an unimpeded view of Long Island Sound and Greenwich Harbor. The couple was very diligent and honest. They were a law-abiding couple, and kept a “low profile”. The farm was average and not very profitable.

Around 1847, the New York and New Haven Railroad carved a “cut” through the north side of the property.  It was known as “Doctor Hobby’s Cut”.  In 1892, there was a slight change in the route of the railroad, and the cut was no longer used.  It’s not known if the Hobbys received any money for this land.

Although there are many prominent men named Hobby listed in  Mead’s “Ye Historie of Ye Towne of Greenwich”, there is no way to determine if  Dr. Hobby was one of them.  A Captian John Hobby – listed as an inn keeper on West Putnam Avenue – was connected to the Mead family.  It’s not known if he was related to Dr. Hobby.  Inquiries into Mrs. Hobby’s background yielded little information. She did lose an only daughter – Cecilia.

Kent Cottage To Kent House

When business got slow for Dr. Hobby, Mrs. Hobby decided to modernize the old farm house.  She thought she could bring in extra money by renting out rooms.   In 1873, the old house was enveloped by a new structure with a flatroof, wider windows and front piazza. (Later, details of this remodeled structure could be seen in the southeast corner of the Kent Cottage.)

Presumably, after the death of Mrs. Hobby, the building fell into the hands of Thomas Ritch, the well-known owner of a bluestone quarry.  He was a very kind and level-headed business man.  Ritch leased the building to a Mrs. Kent.  She decided to rent guest rooms to the summer crowd.  It was never considered a “hotel”, but rather a cottage.  At first it had accommodations for only 12 guests, but subsequent additions expanded the capacity. Mrs. Kent died unexpectedly during the first summer of operation.  Management of the Kent Cottage was passed along to her children – Jennie and Halsey Kent.

Once again, Thomas Ritch stepped in to aid the Kents.  He offered to lease the building to them for $600 without any security deposit.  Ritch must have been a good judge of character because the boarding house became very successful under their management.  This is amazing since the Kents never advertised.  Once again, word of mouth brought crowds of wealthy people – especially from New York.  As it became more successful, the name was changed to the Kent House.  It provided quiet luxury and beautiful country surroundings.  In the off-season, it became a community center for weddings, receptions, anniversaries and other important events.

Grace and Elegance

In 1975, Katie Favor – the popular Greenwich real estate entrepreneur – narrated an Oral History Project transcript about the Kent House.  She and her husband bought the house in 1948.  They had looked all over the country for a business opportunity, and this really appealed to them.  By this time, there were two 3-story buildings on the proeprty. The main building was a long, rectangular structure with a very large wrap-around porch.  Smaller porches were placed here and there.

The interior was quite impressive.  Upon entering the center hall, there was an office on one side.  It contained an old potbellied stove.  A garden room was used as a cocktail lounge.  It had once been the original parlor.  Long windows extended to the floor.  There was a study in the back.  A very large livingroom was also added.  It contained pillars as well as a large fireplace.  Guests ate in a large dining room with large Sheridan chairs and a long buffet table.  There were murals on the wall, which depicted Greenwich scenes in pastel oils.  The artist was Franz Bueb, who’s work had been seen on the cover of Town and Country.  There was a kitchen to prepare the food, and an employee’s diningroom. Upstairs there were bedrooms and sitting rooms, suites and porches.

An old barn was located in the back of the main house. It was used for storage.  It contained furniture, antiques, lamps and rugs.  Another large cottage – which was once owned by the Meads – provided rooms for guests on the first floor and employees’ quarters on the upper floors.  This was located on the other side of the driveway from the main house.

A small carriage house also occupied the site.  The main floor was used for parties and weddings.  It could accomodate 75 guests and 40 employees.  The beautiful grounds, with beautiful cherry trees and pink and blue flower garlands, was ideal for outdoor weddings.  It wasn’t long before the Kent House gained national and international attention.  Guests included prominent people who were well-known to the owners.  Some of these people would go on to build their own estates in Belle Haven.  Many stayed at the inn for the summer, then headed south for the winter.

The Throughway Takes Its Toll

In 1950, the owners were approached by the Turnpike Authority.  A new thruway (I-95) was to be built through Greenwich, and the Kent House was right in the middle of its path.  Negotiations were long and difficult.  The Kent House had been in operation since 1876.  It ceased operation in 1955.

When Jennie Kent died, her brother donated $1000 to the Second Congregational Church for windows to memorialize her.  There were many happy memories associated with the inn.  It’s one of the many things that made Greenwich a special place.

SOURCES

Hubbard, F; Greenwich History:  The Judge’s Corner; Round Hill Publications, Greenwich CT; 2001.

Mead, S ; Ye Historie of the Towne of Greenwich; Knickerbocker Press, NYC; 1911.