Sunday afternoon’s deluge soaked the latter half of the Pemberwick Glenville Day festivities, the the 10:00am neighborhood tour went off without a hitch.
The tour was one in a series that is part of the yearlong celebration of Greenwich’s 375th anniversary, 1640-2015. On January 1, church bells tolled, heralding the beginning of the anniversary year. On Feb. 22, Putnam Hill Park was rededicated.
Davidde Strackbein from Greenwich Historical Society, and Greenwich Library’s Mary Ellen LeBien, who is closely associated with the Friends of Greenwich Library oral history project, escorted Sunday’s group about 25 history buffs through the sites of two former factories, as well as the site of an abandoned rail bed that, if completed, would have connected East Port Chester (Byram) to Danbury via Glenville. According to Mrs. Strackbein, 123 people attended the first tour in Old Greenwich despite heavy rain that drew participants inside for a power point presentation.
On Sunday, Pemberwick and Glenville history buffs met at the site of the former Russell, Burdsall and Ward Bolt & Nut factory at the intersection of Comly Ave and Pemberwick Rd, now an office complex. At the former fastener factory, Aldo Pascrealla escorted the tour group through the historic site, which is flanked by the Byram River. He explained that the momentum of the water once powered the machinery in the nut and bolt factory. Mr. Pascarella whose father purchased the historic property from The Mead School, said there had been plans in place to build condominiums over the vast parking lot out back, but the plan had been abandoned when the real estate market took a turn. His family is now considering building rental units over the parking lot, including affordable housing.
Mr. Pascarella said that three Quakers from Brooklyn established the nut and bolt factory in 1851, automating the process by harnessing the momentum of the river. Mr. Pascarella shared vintage pictures of the factory, where mid-19th century factory workers dressed formally for work, even wearing bowler hats. The nuts and bolts went on for use in assembly of railroad cars and later for airplanes in WWI and WWII.
Mr. Pascarella said that the castle up on the hill was built by factory namesake William Ward on the Rye Brook-Greenwich line and is notable for being the first building constructed of reinforced concrete.
The north building of Mr. Pascarella’s complex has a great terrace overlooking the Byram River and a granite reinforced dam, one of two on the Byram River in Greenwich. He said that the segment of the river was a designated eel breeding station and state workers built an eel drop-off structure, which would catch the eels to be transported upstream to breed.
The next stop on the tour was via Pemberwick Park, which was formerly Lyon Farm. The Lyon family deeded the park property to the town. The group hiked through the meadow along Pemberwick Road and up through a trail to access what would have been the path of a railroad.
Brian Malin and Steven Barto led a tour of the rail bed, which would have connected East Port Chester (Byram) to Glenville, and ultimately connect to Ridgefield and Danbury. The group walked along the rail bed, now a hiking trail, and through a gorge that was blasted out, with drill marks were visible in the stone. According to Malin, the railroad got its charter in Connecticut in 1867, and in 1872 in New York. The railroad company renewed their charter for decades, promising it would be completed on time and on budget, though it never came to be.
The tour’s last stop was at the historic American Felt Factory and train depot, which was constructed optimistically in anticipation of the proposed rail line. The felt factory supplied felt for industrial purposes, including felt for piano keys, canteen liners, and military uniforms.
The railroad depot building, constructed in 1870 was joined by the felt factory, the, “new building,” in 1881. Workers responded to whistles that signaled the beginning and close of the work day. After walking through the felt factory, tour group saw the felt factory supervisor’s home, which is opposite Stop & Shop on Glenville Rd.
Mrs. LeBien said the felt factory operated before OSHA regulations were in place, and there were many accidents, though no fatalities. She said before environmental laws were passed, effluent ran from the factory, down the Byram River and into Long Island Sound.
The Pemerwick Glenville historic neighborhood tour is one in a series to commemorate the Town of Greenwich’s 375th anniversary. The neighborhood history tour series runs from May through July and the next tour is of Riverside and takes place on June 6 in two shifts: 10:00am-12:00pm and 2:00pm-4:00pm. All the tours are free of charge, but you must make a reservation. Click on the Greenwich 375 website and then on Tours.
Saturday’s tour of Pemberwick and Glenville concluded at about 12:15, which was jut in time for everyone to head to the 10th annual Pemberwick Glenville day in Pemberwick Park. See also: 10th Annual Pemberwick-Glenville Day Packs the Park