Founded in 1640, Greenwich is one of the oldest continuously settled towns in America. A fair number of visitors to our town come simply to explore a bit of Greenwich History. As the town becomes more densely populated, small pieces of its rich and (relatively, for this country) long history remain visible, sometimes through intentional preservation or simply through neglect. You can still feel the presence of this history with tours of Greenwich mansions and Connecticut homes, or just by going leaf peeping in CT. Ready for a brief introduction to historical Greenwich facts?
Colonial Greenwich History
Western records of Greenwich history were started by English settlers who arrived in what is now Old Greenwich, CT, who named their town after the Greenwich in England. This was an attempt to curry favor with Queen Elizabeth, as her favorite town in England was Greenwich. The early English settlers were quickly placed under Dutch protection from New Amsterdam (what is now nearby New York City). The Dutch didn’t want the English further encroaching, while the English were fearful of the hostile native tribes and lack of protection from the New Haven colony. The two groups agreed to make the town a Dutch colony, named Groenwits.
As Dutch influence weakened over the next sixteen years, however, Greenwich became a fairly lawless place where scandalous things like teenagers getting married without parental consent occurred. Eventually, the Connecticut colony extended its jurisdiction, and wrapped the town in with Stamford before making it a separate town after New York came under English control.
The Country Road that bound together the colonies and is now known as Route 1 was a fairly difficult road to travel, to the point where passers-through often avoided it all together by traveling by boat from New York to New Haven. The road was so bad that General Israel Putnam was able to evade invading British simply by jumping down a cliff that usually served as a major impediment to travelers on the road. This act was so celebrated in town that his famous (for us) ride is commemorated on our town seal–and the road that was previously so dangerous has been made easily passable for everyones SUVs and Maseratis and is now named Putnam Avenue in honor of the man. No such honor was given to the horse that did most of the heavy lifting.
Because of the difficult roads, Greenwich, named Horseneck at the time, remained a backwater. Local farmers subsisted on of what they procured from the rocky soil and shipping produce in packet ships to New York City.
Modern History of Greenwich
Greenwich History took a rapid turn to the right with the arrival of the railroad, however. As green and beautiful then as it is now, it was a perfect destination for wealthy New Yorkers looking to escape the grimy city. At the same time that the wealthy were building mansions in town, the historically-dominant white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant population was being subsumed by more recent arrivals from Ireland, Poland, Germany, and Italy. The majority of long-time Greenwich residents can trace at least a portion of their roots back to these groups. To see some markers of this historic period, be sure to visit the historic fourth ward of Greenwich as well as the Putnam Hill Historic District.
Since then, the history of Greenwich has been defined by a fairly rapidly expanding population brought-in with increasingly convenient means of transport–first railroads, then trolleys, then I-95 and the Merritt Parkway.
That’s about four hundred years of Greenwich history crammed into a few paragraphs. There’s plenty to experience, though. For more information on the history of Connecticut and Greenwich specifically, check-out exhibits at the various museums in Greenwich, CT, especially:
- the Bruce Museum
- Greenwich Historical Society, located in the historic Bush-Holley House in the neighborhood of Cos Cob
If you want to experience more of Greenwich, be sure to read our list of the best things to do in Greenwich, and download our free Greenwich, CT, Visitor’s Guide.
And for a launching pad for exploring our beautiful and historic area, be sure to stay with us at the Stanton House Inn, Greenwich’s only downtown bed and breakfast inn!
Photo courtesy: Alden Jewell/Flickr