Greenwich Preservationists Seek Historic Designation for Putnam Cottage


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GREENWICH – Local preservationists are looking to protect a 300-year-old building from future demolition or commercial development by seeking additional historic designations.

Located less than a mile from the busy downtown area, Putnam Cottage – also known as Knapp’s Tavern – is the only 18th-century house along Greenwich’s Route 1 that has thwarted relocation due to road widening and development. 

In hopes of protecting the privately owned museum, the Historic Properties of Greenwich – a nonprofit organization formed to help homeowners secure local historic designations – looked to establish Putnam Cottage as a local historic property at Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting.

“This is what will ensure that nobody would ever look at that property as a great commercial piece of land,” Elise Hillman Green, president of Historic Properties of Greenwich, told the board.

Built in the early 1700s and known to have been visited by historical figures like George Washington, John Adams and, most notably, Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam during the Revolutionary War, the museum holds two spots on the National Register of Historic Places – on its own and as a building in the Putnam Hill Historic District.

The federal designations open the museum to opportunities for grants and tax credits, but Hillman Green said the local designation would ensure full protection, as any exterior alterations to the building would need to be approved by the commission. 

On Thursday, Hillman Green told CT Examiner that the designation is especially important given the recent rise in demolitions in Connecticut.

“There has been a crescendo of demolition, and it’s very sad,” she said. “So, that’s why our organization formed. We just figured we had to do something.”

According to Preservation Connecticut, there are currently nine historic buildings slated for demolition in the state, two of which reside in Greenwich. 

Hillman Green explained there are no current plans to demolish or modify Putnam Cottage, but the designation is a precaution given the museum’s coveted location along Route 1.

“If you can see it, if you get pleasure from seeing it, if you are used to seeing it and it’s a very fond memory and a recognizable part of your drive every day – we are focused on properties that are like that,” she said.

The local designation process typically takes about a year, she said, and the organization began the process on Thursday at the request of the Putnam Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Israel Putnam House Association, which currently owns the museum.

The association purchased the cottage in 1902 and converted it into a historic museum in 1906. Before that, the two-story building served as a tavern owned by the Knapp family and as a home to the Mead family – descendants of John Mead, one of the original landowners who bought the town in 1640.

But the cottage is most commonly known for housing Putnam, an American military officer, during a British invasion of Greenwich in 1779.

While visiting the cottage in February 1779, Putnam and his small militia were attacked by Maj. Gen. William Tryon, a British officer and former governor of New York and North Carolina. Putnam managed to escape the attack by riding his horse down a rocky hill, inspiring the names of Putnam Cottage, Putnam Avenue and the Putnam Hill Historic District.

At the Thursday meeting, First Selectman Fred Camillo said he was hopeful the cottage would earn the local designation.

“Certainly there’d be a rebellion if somebody tried to take this structure down,” Camillo said. “So I think you’ll have three yes votes here.”

In accordance with state law, the Historic District Commission must form a study committee to evaluate the cottage’s historical and architectural significance, and submit a report to the town Planning and Zoning Commission and the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. 

Once the committee has held a public hearing and submitted its final recommendations to town officials, the Representative Town Meeting can vote to approve the designation.

The Board of Selectmen agreed to vote on the study committee at its next meeting.