Ready for another walking tour of a historic section of Greenwich, Connecticut?
This district is known as the Putnam Hill Historic District. And from a walkability perspective, Stanton House Inn is part of the Putnam Hill district. Putnam Hill would have included the Seaman-Brush House, but newer buildings separated them. That said, this district is one of the few remaining greenswards on Route One in Fairfield County. Speaking of Route One, locals call it Putnam Avenue, most other towns refer to it as the Post Road, short for Boston Post Road. It gained that name because in the Colonial Era it was the fastest route from Boston to Greenwich, CT, and even down to Savannah, Georgia.
How times have changed.
Locals recognize the district for its impressive monumental architecture and beautiful Victorian Greenwich mansions interspersed with wonderful old trees. Most do not realize that this little stretch of greenery is nationally recognized as a historic district.
But important to town history it is! Read on to find-out the history and what to do here.
A Brief History of the Putnam Hill Historic District
This district was the old government center of the town. That was way back when the commercial and industrial districts were more heavily concentrated in what are now Cos Cob and Byram. These two nearby neighborhoods are on the Mianus River and Byram River.
Putnam Hill was a mid-way point between those two parts of town. The area was largely administrative for the first few hundred years of its existence. Second Congregational Church was built in stone in 1856 facing the first town hall (where the monument to Civil War Veterans is now). George Washington supposedly stood in front of Second Congregational Church and commented on the beautiful view. And yet every place from here to Maine that might have existed during the Revolutionary War claims that Washington slept there. If you believe that, they’ve also got a lovely bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
That said, Putnam Cottage, which is part of the Putnam Hill Historic District, did actually host George Washington. He slept there during the Revolutionary War, when it was Knapp’s Tavern.
With the arrival of the railroad from New York City in the 1840s, this area was quickly bought-up by wealthy New Yorkers to build their own estates. Hence the many impressive homes lining this stretch of road.
The idea was that the neighborhood was close enough to downtown Greenwich, yet still far enough away to avoid the hoi polloi.
And since then, with the exception of a few Greenwich churches and religious centers, it’s largely stayed the same since. Not the case for the surrounding area, however. The areas on the edge of the district have become the home of local schools:
- Julian Curtiss School in one direction along Milbank Avenue
- And Greenwich High School at the bottom of that steep hill
What to see in the Putnam Hill Historic District
The district stretches from the start of what is officially downtown Greenwich, due east on Putnam Avenue.
The starting markers are the cemetery beside First Congregational Church and the French Academy-style gateway to the former mansion of Jeremiah Milbank. The Milbank mansion was quickly demolished in the 1970s before the town could stop it on the corner of Putnam Avenue and Milbank Avenue. Today, it’s a residential housing complex. And the Putnam Hill and Putnam Park housing complex is just behind.
It then runs past the English-style Christ Church Episcopal Church to Putnam Hill, where General Putnam escaped the British by jumping his horse off of a cliff. This suicidal act (which the horse, thankfully, also survived) earned Putnam the right to appear on Greenwich’s emblem.
If you visit the park, you can still see the steps hewn into the side of the steep hill that travelers would have to go up or down to travel through Greenwich. The steps became moot after a flatter way was blasted through the rock.
Second Congregational Church
Second Congregational Church, located in Downtown Greenwich, Connecticut, was the state church until 1818 and was attended by most citizens until the Industrial Age. Congregationalism has since evolved to include social justice and theological liberalism.
The church, situated 183 feet above sea level, is easily visible from Long Island Sound. And Stanton House Inn, adjacent to the church, has historical ties to the community. Events at Second Congregational Church include worship services, youth choir services, boy scouts, and Sunday school. The church also hosts a Saturday night evensong, providing a modern form of worship with music.
Christ Church Greenwich
Christ Church of Greenwich CT, established in 1749, is a significant community institution in Greenwich CT. Its historic campus hosts Episcopal services, special events, meetings, concerts, and community support groups. Since 1934, the choirs have provided vocal techniques and music theory education. They’ve performed at venues like York Minister, Coventry Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey. Christ Church also offers a ecumenical bookstore and the Rector’s Gallery, featuring relics from Anglican history.
Besides the several beautiful Victorian homes, another notable building in the district is Putnam Cottage. Named after the eponymous general who couldn’t stand being near British people, the tavern is actually historically called Knapp Tavern after the Knapp family who built it and ran it as a tavern during the Revolutionary War (and George Washington did, actually, sleep here).
Putnam’s name was given to the building to follow the claim that he started his ride over the cliff from there, but it’s more likely he started his ride further east. In fact, the name was changed because Timothy Knapp, who ran the tavern during the War and was known for being exceptionally good-looking, was discovered to be a spy for the British, something no one in the area ever forgave him, even three-hundred years later.
That said, Timothy Knapp may not have actually been a Tory spy. Rather, all the local men resented how attractive their wives found him.
Discover more things to do in Greenwich, Connecticut
Not as boring an area anymore, is it?
And be sure to poke around this area and the rest of downtown Greenwich, CT, yourself the next time you visit. And be sure to stay with us at Stanton House Inn!
For even more recommendations on things to do in Greenwich, be sure to download our Visitor’s Guide!
Updated and republished: September 25, 2023