This Land Is Your Land
It’s easy to take the beauty of Greenwich for granted. Here, we celebrate those who save our landmarks, protect our shores and enhance our views
photographs by bob capazzo
On May 21, Greenwich celebrated the public reopening of Innis Arden Cottage, a painstakingly restored town gem that sits on one of the most coveted waterfront spots in town—at the heart of Tod’s Point. If you’ve marveled at the storybook cottage with the diamond-paned windows and gabled rooflines at the beach, now’s your chance to get a peek inside.
Recently, we caught up with Christopher Franco, president of the Greenwich Point Conservancy (GPC) and one of the heroes in the quest to save a very significant historical buildings from rot and ruin.
For Franco, the five-year restoration of the cottage was a true labor of love. “The cottage is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful structures on the Eastern seaboard,” he says. “Its site, its architecture and the sensibility that went into its design and construction are absolute perfection. When we started this project, we had very high expectations for what the cottage could become, but seeing it brought back to its original condition, and updated for modern use, has been an amazing process and has surpassed anything we could have hoped for.”
Born in Greenwich and raised in Riverside, Franco spent lots of time down at Tod’s Point when he was growing up. He recalls being intrigued by the beautiful old buildings at the Point, and has enjoyed learning about their history and participating in the effort to restore and preserve them.
“Even though I live in the backcountry now,” he says, “my family and I still get down to the Point all the time—it’s one of our very favorite places.”
A Team Effort
To Franco, “One of the very best things about the restoration of the cottage and seeing it open to the public for the first time since the town bought the Point in the 1940s is that this project has been a triumph of collaboration among many groups in town that will love and use this incredible facility.”
For example, the Bruce Museum will be moving the Seaside Center there, and has devoted significant resources to making the upgraded facility exciting and meaningful. The Greenwich Shellfish Commission will run programs at the cottage, and has also made significant contributions to the new facilities. The Friends of Greenwich Point, which is a sister organization to the GPC and advocates for the naturalist elements at the Point, donated the plants that now surround the cottage. The Greenwich Historical Society will run historical exhibits at the cottage and has closely followed the work there. Several other groups are participating in important ways as well.
“The town has showed real creativity in working with the GPC on what has become a true—and successful—public-private partnership,” Franco says. “I predict that the Cottage will become the favorite meeting place for many of our town’s civic and cultural groups.”
A Summer Retreat Becomes a Modern Seaside Environmental Center
The restoration team, led by the Greenwich Point Conservancy, has remained true to the building’s historic roots, but the cottage will now serve a modern purpose as the new home of the Seaside Environmental Education center. The Center will be named the Floren Family Environmental Center in honor of Livvy and Doug Floren’s generous gift that enabled the completion of the cottage. It will include teaching and lab space, an area for a touch tank, public lecture space, a reception area, a historical area, a handicap lift, a small kitchenette, bathrooms and storage space.
Another sign of the times: The cottage is one of the first public buildings in Connecticut to be Platinum LEED certified (the highest environmental and energy-efficiency category) and is a showcase for state-of the-art green-energy technologies. Green features include geothermal heating and cooling (which also provides chilled water for the aquarium in the Seaside Center), solar panels for generating electricity, a beautiful wind turbine that powers a web camera and video system to broadcast osprey activity in Greenwich Cove, and a rainwater collection system that uses recycled water to supply toilets in the cottage’s bathrooms.
Uncovering the Cottage’s Storied History
In 2004, the history of the cottage, including its original name, was not known, but the home’s name, its builder and many of its secrets were revealed during the restoration.
It turns out that the quintessential Arts and Crafts-style cottage was designed by K. C. Budd, one of the first women licensed as an architect in America. It was built in 1903 as a guesthouse by Mr. and Mrs. J Kennedy Tod, the owners of Greenwich Point, which was called Innis Arden. The property also included a fabulous Queen Anne-styled mansion, known as Innis Arden House, and several other architecturally distinguished buildings that remain to this day, including the Chimes building and the boathouse on Eagle Pond.
Following the 1945 purchase of Greenwich Point by the town, the mansion fell to the wrecking ball in 1964. The cottage, all but abandoned, deteriorated after many years of neglect. Though its good bones were still evident by its centennial in 2003, the structure itself was a wreck. The heating system and plumbing were severely damaged, the plaster was literally falling off the ceilings and walls, and water incursion, storms, raccoons and rodents had wreaked havoc inside and out. A sad reminder of better days, the cottage was a blight on the
idyllic waterfront setting.
Then, in 2004, the good folks at the Greenwich Point Conservancy arrived on the scene. Inspired by the great work that the Central Park Conservancy did to restore the architectural gems in Central Park, they undertook the task of preserving the historic structures at the Point and thus began to muster the support to bring Innis Arden Cottage back to life. They organized fundraisers, like the annual Beach Ball, a popular summer event held under tents on the bluff at the Point, and managed to raise more than $1.3 million for the project. They leaned on town officials. They lobbied for donations of building materials. They attacked the project in phases and, in effect, they turned the transformation of the cottage into a modern-day Cinderella story.
In 2004, during the planning for the cottage restoration, the conservation team hit pay dirt. In an amazing stroke of serendipity, Franco discovered a treasure-trove of 1907 photographs of the nurses of the New York Presbyterian Hospital enjoying the breeze from the front porch, doing needlework in front of the fire and generally showcasing what life must have been like at the cottage in its heyday.
He learned that from 1906 until 1913, the cottage bustled with action as a small group of young city nursing students, headed by Anna Maxwell (a pioneer in the nursing world who was largely responsible for the use of trained nurses during the Spanish-American War, establishing the Army Nurse Corps and adopting rigorous educational standards for nursing students) enjoyed a seaside respite from their demanding jobs.
Subsequently, much more has been learned about of the cottage’s storied past, including the dramatic find of its famous architect by Anne Young of the Greenwich Historical Society, and an article written by KC Budd herself for the 1904 Architectural Review, which provided extensive detail about the design of the cottage, including its original floor plan along with a photo of it under construction in 1903.
Unearthing hidden historical documents and recovering pieces of the cottage’s past were the icing on the cake. Last month, when the Greenwich Point Conservancy presented to the town the renovated Innis Arden Cottage, they unveiled a plaque now affixed to the central hall that says it all: “Innis Arden Cottage has been lovingly and carefully restored by the Greenwich Point Conservancy as a gift to the people of Greenwich. We hope you will enjoy the magic of its beauty, history and heritage.”
Audubon Greenwich has been protecting wildlife habitat and providing environmental programs since 1942 and was the National Audubon Society’s first education center. Karen Dixon, center director, says, “We are a leader in experiential nature education and environmental learning, delivering programs that are designed to instill a wonder and appreciation of nature and to build an enthusiasm for protecting our environment for generations to come.”
If you’ve never been, summer is a great time to experience Audubon Greenwich, which owns and manages more than 650 acres of protected open space in Greenwich and operates the hands-on Kimberlin Nature Education Center on Riversville Road. Karen says, “We serve approximately 30,000 visitors each year, including more than 8,000 children. Audubon Greenwich protects birds and other wildlife while providing birders, families, students, scientists, hikers, and all who want to learn about the natural world a place to explore and discover, and to connect to nature.”
Interested in checking out a program? How about Citizen Science? Do you enjoy watching birds at your backyard feeder? Do you often wonder at the number of hawks flying over Greenwich in the fall? Do you wait with anticipation each spring for the arrival of your favorite songbirds? Are you fascinated by the acrobatic flying of the dragonflies you see at ponds and lakes? Do you simply like to spend time in nature? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should be a citizen scientist.
Citizen Science is open to people of all ages and is a great way to learn more about birds and other wildlife. Most notably, Citizen Science contributes important, real-time trend data to Audubon and research scientists throughout the country on the health of birds and other wildlife and their habitats. Karen says, “Our key Citizen Science activities include the Christmas Bird Count and the annual Hawk Watch, during which we collect data on the fall raptor migration. The Audubon Center in Greenwich is one of the top hawk watch locations in Connecticut, with between 15,000 and 20,000 raptors counted annually. The Audubon has been providing important data on the populations of migrant raptors for over twenty years.” greenwich.audubon.org
Greenwich Green & Clean
Surely, you’ve oohed and aahhed over the beautiful baskets that hang from the lampposts on Greenwich Avenue in spring, summer, fall and during the holidays, or the thousands of daffodils that poke out each spring in parks, on traffic islands, around schools and throughout the town. But ... did you ever stop to wonder where they came from? It’s the secret gardeners at Greenwich Green & Clean (GG&C), a small army of partners (private citizens, businesses, garden clubs, scouts, civic groups and so forth) whose raison d’etre is to keep Greenwich looking its spiffy best. Other GG&C projects include organizing townwide cleanups and other outings, planting shrubs, bulbs and flowers, landscaping and maintaining highway exits, traffic islands and parks, removing invasive vines and cleaning up graffiti from public spaces.
Led by Mary Hull, executive director, Greenwich Green & Clean has been keeping Greenwich the envy of neighboring towns since 1986. Realizing that Greenwich was simply too large to tackle with a skeleton crew, GG&C adopted the principle of “shared ownership” of public space. Hull says, “Our daily business is to provide opportunities for volunteers to help with projects that can’t be covered by town or state budgets. We particularly enjoy teaching children how to plant and tend our organic vegetable garden in our office “backyard” in Pemberwick Park or how to identify and then eradicate an invasive vine that is strangling and killing a tree. We also have many ‘volunteers’ referred by the courts to perform community service. Many reappear later to tell us that they have become professional landscapers or have created their own gardens.”
While you’re driving around town, stop to admire some of the green and flowering beauty of Greenwich and think what pleasure this group has given us with its talent, energy and spades. The Cos Cob Library grounds, for instance, were designed by Carrie and Mark Greenwald, longtime board members and garden designers who also design and maintain the Round Hill Road exit of the Merritt Parkway; Sam Bridge creates the fabulous summer hanging baskets and this year donated the chrysanthemum baskets in the fall; the winter holiday baskets result from the talents of at least eighty sets of hands, many from our town’s Japanese population. Other GG&C officers who have given their talents are landscape architects Eric Rains’s and John Conte, who have designed and implemented much horticultural beauty all over town. Currently, Rain’s design for a master plan for Roger Sherman Baldwin Park is ready to be implemented.
Mary sums it up: “Volunteerism by partnerships, especially with the Parks Department, helps our town budget and makes Greenwich green and gorgeous.” greenwichgreenandclean.org
Greenwich Land Trust
Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the Greenwich Land Trust (GLT) permanently protects 729 acres of upland forests, meadows, freshwater environments and picturesque coastal areas. The GLT works every day to protect the community by conserving and caring for open space in the Greenwich area. By accepting gifts of open space, the GLT is able to protect that land from development—forever. Its work also promotes the environmental health and well-being of our community and residents by protecting drinking water quality and quantity, trees and other natural vegetation.
The GLT is a private, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1,300 active members. It receives no funds from the town, so the only way it can operate and purchase land is through private donations and fundraisers, like Go Wild!, a cool, family-oriented outdoor day of fun. Last year’s event featured a rock-climbing wall, petting zoo, giant hay maze, birds of prey exhibit, sack races, mini golf, autumn crafts and much more. Colorful hot-air balloons brought GLT enthusiasts to new heights—giving them a spectacular view of the expansive 62-acre preserve surrounding them. This year’s event is planned for September 25.
“There are many ways to support the GLT—inspire the next generation by bringing children to a GLT event such as kayaking, stargazing, or hiking; become an annual member, volunteer on a preserve, or even donate land,” said Ginny Gwynn, GLT’s Executive Director.
In 2010, a community treasure was protected when the Greenwich Land Trust stabilized Shell Island Tower. The tower became GLT’s responsibility when Julius Silver generously donated the 5.2-acre island in 1990. The 60 -foot-tall Shell Island Tower was constructed of Byram Blue Point granite from a local quarry and is the same stone used to build the Empire State Building. The tower originally served two purposes: as a memorial to Gus Eimer and as a family museum. In 2008, the Historic Preservation Council of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism placed Shell Island Tower on the state registry of historic buildings. The GLT hosts a family kayak excursion to explore Shell Island each summer. gltrust.org
Greenwich Tree Conservancy
Greenwich is well known for its gorgeous trees, and the Greenwich Tree Conservancy (GTC) has played a leading role in the enhancement of the town’s “urban forest” since 2007.
Having successfully concluded its initial goal of planting 370 trees along town roads, at town schools and in town parks to celebrate the 370th anniversary of the founding of the town, GTC is now proceeding with the replanting of trees along three major roads of Greenwich: Hamilton Avenue, Lake Avenue and Sound Beach Avenue. Like many of the town’s most beloved organizations, GTC is a nonprofit and functions through the generosity of donors, members and volunteers. Advocacy and education are cornerstones of the GTC, and the team advocates for policies and funding that will inform both residents and business owners about the importance of tree protection and stewardship. Through programs like Forest Forensics, a New Way of Looking at Trees, the team has been able to wake up townspeople to the importance of our trees and forests. Kids recently got into the act by submitting stories to the Awesome Tree Contest. GTC Director JoAnne Messina says, “Clearly, our children understand the importance of trees.” To celebrate the successful planting of 370 trees in Greenwich, the GTC thought it was time to kick back and celebrate. They hosted The Tree Party this past April. Naturally, the menu featured tree-tinis with maple vodka, as well as tree-inspired hors d’oeuvres. greenwichtreeconservancy.org
If you think that Long Island Sound is one of the most important natural features of Fairfield County, you owe it to yourself to get to know SoundWaters. For more than twenty years, SoundWaters has been protecting Long Island Sound through education—in schools, at field sites and, more recently, at the Coastal Education Center at Cove Island Park in Stamford. But nothing says SoundWaters more clearly than the gaff-rigged, three-masted schooner SoundWaters, the educational ship of Long Island Sound. She serves as a floating classroom for school children, a summer adventure program, a dockside activity at fairs and festivals and a memorable afternoon or sunset sail for children and adults.
Tens of thousands of kids and adults have sailed with SoundWaters, the perfect platform for observation, discovery and reflection. Most important for kids, it is a place for hands-on learning. While onboard, students discover the importance of the Sound through many lenses—from microscopic plankton to benthic animals they haul in the trawl net (and return); and from the floatable debris to testing of water quality. All this takes place from the decks of the eighty-foot schooner, where students raise sails, pull in lines and learn about sailing technique.
Director Dianne Selditch tells us about a fifth-grader from North Mianus School who recently surprised the teacher and the SoundWaters staff with a three-page reflection of what she learned from the captain and crew of educators last summer. She spoke about how to tell the difference between male and female crabs; that lots of animals live in salt marshes; that brackish water is a mixture of salt and fresh water; that the ocean is green because of phytoplankton in the water. Did you know that a jellyfish is actually plankton? Students who sail with SoundWaters do.
Yet, in communities around the Sound, many children have never experienced being on the deck of a sailing ship. A note from a fourth-grader spoke for those children, when he wrote, “Thanks for the wonderful experience of sailing. I had a blast! I will never forget the awesome feeling of going out on the water for the first time.” Providing such hands-on educational opportunities remains at the core of SoundWaters. soundwaters.org