The Greenwich Historical Society is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its program of recognizing Greenwich's Landmark houses with a reception at the Belle Haven Club on April 28. The Club, itself, which has been around for more than a century, will receive a plaque as a Greenwich landmark site.
"The Belle Haven Club marks the first club so recognized," says Jack Morris, who chairs the Historical Socity's Landmark Recognition Committee. "It was built in 1892, but moved back from the water's edge in 2002 to protect it from flooding."
The five other propeties that will be receiving Landmark plaques to mark their place in Greenwich's history at the celebratory event include: the How-Wilson House, c.1818, at 176 Round Hill Road; the John Lockhart House, c 1867, at 75 Arch Street ; the Alfred Bell House, c.1869, at 332 Field Point Road; the August S. Houghton House, c. 1908, at 67 Glenville Road; and the Mary C. Morrison House, c. 1912, at 12 Doubling Road;
Morris, an Old Greenwich resident who comes out of a journalism and public relations background and who was raised in a family of antique lovers, was recruited by the present GHS board chair Davidde Strackbein a year ago to revitalize the Landmark Recognition program. "I have an appreciation for connecting to our history," Morris says, "and that's what this program does."
He goes on to describe the initial impetus that brought the program into being in 1987. "Houses were being knocked down in the dead of night, heritage buildings were not being appreciated, and necessary photographs and recordings of architectural details were not being documented," he says.
Morris hopes to change that and he and his committee are working to encourage the preservation of relevant structures across town. "If preservation will not be done by the private owners, at least we'll have photographs, detailed records and research on the buildings," he says.
For those home owners who are not stepping forward, Morris says, "We need to provide a better explanation of the value of having a house recognized as a landmark. Some realtors feel that what we do is an encumbrance to selling properties, that there will be restrictions on remodeling, but it's not true. No matter what happens to the house, we keep alive the records of that house, or the one down the block, or around the corner."
Morris emphasizes, "We encourage property owners to preserve their properties. But in any case, we offer professional research into prior ownership of properties. That research and the house's architectural details are recorded in the Society's archives."
As for the future, Morris expects a number of houses to recognized over the next 25 years,. "There will be almost as many potential landmark properties as we have listed in the last 25 years," he says. His committee, he explains, has taken an unofficial survey of properties built before 1939. "And we came up with more than 200 potential candidates for recognition," he says.
Morris says that the first initiative of the Landmark Recognition program was to recognize houses built before 1800, "particularly those subject to fire, and those smaller houses on larger lots which are more often subject to being knocked down," he says. "These were the really endangered species, and the Landmark committee did a great job on this."
Morris and his committee will work he says, "to encourage people to look with fresh eyes at the wonderful visual heritage of this town." He'd like to see educational programs engaging people "to see and appreciate architectural details."
"I've been trying to do this myself since I started with the program last May," he says, and "It's been a very enriching experience."
One suggestion Morris and his committee are pondering is whether to publish picture books of landmark-quality houses. The 283 Landmark houses would certainly fill a book.
"That's a possibility," he says, with a twinkle in his eye.
The Greenwich Historical Society's "Landmark Houses of Greenwich Celebrating 25 years" event is on April 28, from 5-7 p.m., at the Belle Haven Club. For tickets at $75, call 203-869-6899.