Norma Bartol: Another historic house torn down

November 25, 2016 GMT

I’m still thinking about the very interesting lecture given by the Greenwich Branch of the English Speaking Union.

It was the second phase of the story about President Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, America in Russia, Part 2. It was given by Stephen De Angelis Nov. 17.

It was America in Russia, 1933 to 1999, and it discussed a time which I was not all that familiar with, and since I now have an earphone, I heard the whole thing, and it was worth listening to.

After a 16-year hiatus of Russian American relations, the two governments cautiously reopened diplomatic embassies in Washington and Moscow. Their common fear: the rise of German National Socialism, called Nazism.

De Angelis received his doctorate from St. Petersburg University in Russian history. He has written 26 books, including translations of Romanoff imperial diaries. He has lectured in America and Europe and is a member of the House of Scholars in St. Petersburg, a Trustee of the Golitsyn Library, and is on the Advisory Board of The Hermitage Foundation. He makes his home between Russia and Palm Beach, Fla.

Present and accounted for at the lecture were Peter and Isabel Malkin, Aline McDonnell, Nancy Mott, Phil and Susan Ness, Edna Peterson, Russ and Debbie Reynolds, and John and Beverly Watling, among others. I always think that we should thank President Natalie Pray, Executive Vice President Anne Hall Elser, and Vice Presidents Sue H. Baker, Brigid Barry, Emily G. Toohey, Robert Whitby, Treasurer Ralph M. McDermid Jr. and Secretary Jeremy Roth.

I no sooner had come from that lecture than in the mail I found the invitation to the next event from the English Speaking Union: A performance by the Fountain Mens Group and a fireside Christmas luncheon on Dec. 11 at the Field Club.

The Fountain is an a capella (performed without instruments) group of male singers whose success began with a YouTube video of ‘Stand by Me’ which they recorded for a friend’s college event. This should be a nice way to listen to and experience music during the Christmas season.

Thank you to all of the committee.


On the other hand, it is too bad that such a tragic event as the leveling of the beautiful house on Clapboard Ridge Road, which we all tried so hard to stall, has taken place. I wrote a column a while back telling you that trouble was brewing and it was.

This was one of the loveliest houses in Greenwich. Hobby Horse Farm was built in 1840 by Benjamin Reynolds, farmed by his family over the years and cared for by owners who understood and appreciated this magnificent stone-and-clapboard house of the Federal style. It became a remarkable house, with a paneled library, den, 10-foot ceilings, random-width hand-hewn floors and original moldings. The beautiful paneling in the dining room went earlier when one of the owners ripped it out so that the dining room became part of the kitchen — a travesty in my mind.

However, the house was still a gorgeous mansion, and I do not understand the thinking behind the destruction of something so remarkable. I am among the many who tried hard to stop this terrible happening, but obviously we were unable.

It’s getting so that our history, which is a fascinating one, and has or had, many extraordinary houses, many of them like this one, is no longer of interest. What can we do? I ask this every time I write, and there just doesn’t seem to be anything, although many people are working very hard to help.

But it’s got to stop. We can’t have our history going down the drain because somebody wants to build one of these houses that are springing up all over the backcountry of Greenwich.

I know I have talked about this a great deal, but it is so important to our beloved town which unfortunately is bearing the brunt of those who do not care or do not appreciate the finer things in life. No one can convince me why this particular house, with the paneling and the double living room, as well as many other unusual and beautiful and hard to come by attributes, will be no longer.

It is not just the house or the many houses that have been torn down, it is the fact that these are all part of the history of a town that started out in 1690 when Elizabeth Winthrop who, as we know, founded our town.

I wonder what the founders and all the many people who followed in Greenwich would think of the wanton destruction of so many historically important houses. It makes me wonder why people come to Greenwich and want to get rid of all our history.

Of course, many of us who have lived here for many years, and some for generations, feel that we have been taken for an unattractive ride.

Thanks a lot to all of you who have taken advantage of our history. I hope you will enjoy yourselves here, but what you have done certainly does not make you a true Greenwichite.

I can only hope and pray that no more historical houses are being destroyed for the present time.