A new book about Greenwich 22 (draft)

There are basically three ways to get into the city: one is by car, which I find about as appealing as stomach flu, another is by commuter train, known as Metro North, and the third is not going at all.  Despite the cold weather stirring outside, staying home was not a serious option either, and I dread driving into New York, so, we made the railway our choice of transportation.  That made perfect sense since there was something very Grenwegian about hopping on an express or a local to Grand Central and spending the day in town.  Train travel into New York has been around for over 150 years.  In fact it was at the Cos Cob train bridge itself that the New Haven Line, was finally completed.  The station was inaugurated on Christmas Day, 1848.  According to one account, the terrible screeching sounds that the steam locomotive produced as it pulled in were so strident they literally scared the living daylights out of every living creature in the vicinity, prompting cows, horses, chickens and a handful of humans to scatter in all directions.   It must have been some sight, I tell you.

     Despite the shock of that first day the arrival of the railroad service was here to say.  Like any important invention, the train didn’t just entail a change in how people traveled; it profoundly changed the demographics of the New York City metropolitan area.  This, perhaps more than any other factor up until then, was the first step towards transforming Greenwich from a sleepy country village into a major suburban town  (God help me when the residents read the “s” word!).  Now that people could get in and out of the city with relative ease, living out in rural Connecticut became irresistible to many…especially with all the attractive tax breaks to boot.  First, came the vacationers about a century ago, who fled the city for some summertime relief out on the gentle shores and fields of this town.  They lodged in boarding houses, small inns and hotels, most of which no longer exist.  In fact, this was not at all peculiar to Greenwich.  Country tourism thrived throughout the shoreline of New England from the 1820s until about just before World War II.  Some accommodations were full-scale hotels, the two most important being the Indian Harbor Hotel, a stunning Second Empire building which turned into the summer retreat for none other than Boss Tweed.  The other famous hotel was the magnificent 150-room Edgewood Inn, considered to be one of the finest shingle structures of all of New England at the time.  These were the crème de la crème for tourists, lodgings equipped with running water and electricity.   They ran for decades until eventually their popularity waned and their maintenance costs continued to rise.   Just like throughout the region, they died off like useless animals.

      They must have been amazing hotels.  The fact that they are no longer around, the fact that they are just evasive shadows, the fact that something grandiose could meet such unfitting ends, makes their stories somehow more tragic and even spooky.  I have seen old pictures of them, they aren’t hard to find, and they are alluring but eerie at the same time.  You can almost see a ghostly figure in every window.

       As a result of this industry, New Yorkers, especially the wealthy ones, who found the bucolic surroundings as well as the personal income taxless state so appealing eventually began to turn the town into a permanent residence.  After all, it was just a stone’s throw away from Manhattan and yet in an entirely different world. Greenwich’s population rose steadily as did its fame as an upper-class haven.

      And to think, all of that began with the final spikes being hammered into the tracks at Cos Cob.  Yeap, this was where it all began.  All those mansions up on the northern end of town owe their existence to this cute little station.