Stories known and unknown from town’s past
GREENWICH — The founding of the Township of Greenwich reads like a soap opera.
Between English and Dutch colonial feuds over the land and the massacre of a Native American village, there’s no shortage of drama in Greenwich’s past.
While many are aware of the history of the town’s founding and its role in the Revolutionary War, there are fascinating tidbits from early Greenwich, like the fact that men armed with rods were positioned at every town meeting to poke residents who fell asleep, that are not so well known. Those previously forgotten morsels are the subject of “Hidden History of Colonial Greenwich,” written by town resident Missy Wolfe.
On Wednesday, Wolfe told members of the Retired Men’s Association about her book and what she’s learned digging through the town’s historical records.
She laid out the story of Greenwich’s emergence as a communal and private farming hybrid with a plantation and private homes in the 1600s, and covered the town’s genesis as a Dutch colony and its transition into English control.
“When Dutch power diminished … the New Haven colony took over,” she said. “New Haven failed and Greenwich was absorbed by the Connecticut colony. That’s when the bulk of the town’s records were produced.”
The historian showed images of original documents, including the records of the purchase of the town, complete with Native American markings on the signature lines.
Wolfe also pointed out where the remnants of the town’s history can still be seen today, as in the faint switchback trail behind the southwest corner of the Greenwich High School track that was once used by residents traveling to farm communal fields.
The author explained how the founders of the town formed a lottery system for selling town-owned property because they were wary of the English buying and controlling large tracts of land in their community, as they did in other colonies.
“The town made a fortune on that investment,” said Wolfe, speaking to the RMA’s weekly meeting at First Presbyterian Church. “It’s no accident the town developed the way it did.”
As a largely agricultural-based community, every resident was required to work on the Greenwich Plantation, farming common fields, Wolfe said.
“The common field is very much like a community garden if you think about it,” said Bryan O’Neil, a Stamford resident who listened to Wolfe’s presentation. “We still have community gardens in many urban centers, including New York and Stamford. These are very deep roots. It’s quite interesting how it’s still relevant.”
O’Neil said he’s enticed by local history because of the similarities between the past and modern life.
“Our society may changed and become more modern, but people have the same interest in preserving their families and preserving their cultures,” he said. “So, these societies that were formed early on are still very relevant, as far as I’m concerned, in how people cohabitate.”
Jennifer O’Connell, a Greenwich real estate agent, said she studies the town’s history for professional purposes.
“Anything historical with Greenwich, I like to share with my clients,” she said. “When I’m introducing them to properties, I’m introducing them to the community.”
O’Connell spends time reading oral histories and collecting interesting facts about the town’s founders. Wolfe’s talk provided her with information she’d never heard before.
“Now, this is going even further back,” she said. “There’s always something to learn and to find out. We have a very colorful past.”