Known as the Gateway to New England, Greenwich is strategically located. Within an hour’s commute to Manhattan, it is bordered by the burgeoning Stamford office metropolis on the east, New York’s Westchester County on the west, and the waters of Long Island Sound on the south. It’s also a community with a deep and entertaining history.
It began in 1614, when a Dutchman named Adriaen Block, sailing up the Sound in his ship the Onrust search of the Northwest Passage, first took note of what is now Greenwich Point, the popular town-owned park and beach in Old Greenwich.
In 1640, when the town of Greenwich was founded, the Point was known as Elizabeth’s Neck in honor of the wife of Robert Feake. Along with Captain Daniel Patrick and a few other settlers, Feake bought the land and surrounding areas from the Siwanoy Indians for the princely sum of “Twentie Five Coates.” (However, the deed shows that only fourteen English coats were actually delivered.)
Captain Patrick, a feisty fellow, had been thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for unbecoming behavior and found a less God-fearing atmosphere in this Connecticut frontier settlement. He did nothing to further good relations with the Indians when he killed Chief Mianos in an altercation. He got his comeuppance, however, when he was shot in a brawl with an enraged Dutch soldier. Feake became deranged and wandered off into oblivion. But another founder, Jeffrey Ferris, who named the town Greenwich after his birthplace in England, still has progeny here today.
The Revolutionary War
Greenwich was torn apart by the Revolutionary War. At the start, many residents were loyalists, but sentiments changed radically when General Tryon raided the town and burned much of it to the ground. The portly General Israel Putnam, Washington’s second in command, barely escaped the redcoats by dashing out of out of Knapp’s Tavern and somehow riding down a nearby cliff, known forever after as Put’s Hill.
Knapp’s Tavern, licensed as a “publick house of entertainment and strong drink” in 1734, is now Putnam Cottage, headquarters of the Greenwich branch of the Daughters of the American Revolution and maintained as a Revolutionary War museum.
The 19th Century
Throughout the nineteenth century, Greenwich farms supplied produce for the New York market. Its waters were the most bountiful source of oysters anywhere this side of the Chesapeake. Granite from our quarries was barged to New York for its office buildings and bridge abutments, including the Brooklyn Bridge completed in 1883. Fruit and vegetables were shipped from Cos Cob docks in front of the Bush-Holley House, now the centerpiece of our flourishing Historical Society compound.
The year 1848 marked a major turning point in the history of Greenwich when the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad inaugurated service to Greenwich and beyond. The trip between New York and Greenwich, which used to take a full day by horse, stage coach or packet boat, now took only an hour, and brought the first wave of wealthy New Yorkers to Greenwich. They built magnificent summer homes on the shore in Belle Haven and in backcountry Greenwich, ushering in the era of the great estates.
Among the arrivals was the infamous Boss Tweed, who set up a casino on Great Captain’s Island and a many-roomed mansion adjacent to the present-day Indian Harbor Yacht Club.
Through the twentieth century and up to now, the town underwent a metamorphosis from a rural farming and fishing economy to a sophisticated suburban community. With the ever-growing number of businessmen and their families eager for life in the country, Greenwich became a bedroom for New York commuters; and many of the larger estates were subdivided into four-acre lots to accommodate today’s luxury estates and mansions.
At one point it was proposed that the United Nations headquarters be located in Greenwich, occupying much of our backcountry. But the plan was narrowly defeated in the face of local opposition. Instead, the area has been developed as the premier Conyers Farm residential community residential community with ten-acre lots and polo grounds.
Almost on a par with the arrival of the railroad in the last century was the building of I-95 in the 1950s. Cutting a swath through central Greenwich, it was responsible for accelerating the pace of change since WWII. Office buildings sprang up and Greenwich became a headquarters for major corporations. More recently, these corporations have been replaced by the ubiquitous hedge funds that have earned Greenwich the sobriquet of Wall Street East. And today, more people are commuting into Greenwich than out.
Ultimately, it is the people who live here that make Greenwich so interesting and desirable. While widely known for its many wealthy residents such as business executives, international entrepreneurs and, lately, hedge fund managers, Greenwich is a diverse community that includes a solid base of middle-class and blue-collar residents.
Some of the oldest and most respected Greenwich families have descended from the Italian immigrant workers who built the railroad. The town is also geographically diverse, composed of a number of small villages, each with its own distinctive characteristics.
Photos courtesy of the Greenwich Historical Society.