HDC Seeks to Protect “Samuel Ferris House” c1760, Oldest House in Riverside

The Samuel Ferris House may become a protected property and safe from demolition in the future if all goes to plan.

On Thursday the Board of Selectmen considered a request from the Historic District Commission to be the study committee for the application for the house at 1 Cary Road to be designated a “Local Historic Property.”

In 1989 the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is an honorary distinction that does not prevent its demolition!

If the Samuel Ferris House, the oldest in Riverside, is designated a Local Historic Property, it will be the first in Riverside.

During the meeting, Anne Young said the HDC study committee would investigate the property to make sure it is historic, chronicle the property’s history and identify its contributing elements.

Local Historic Property designations represent one of the strongest forms of protection for cultural resources in the community and help communities promote the preservation and responsible treatment from inappropriate alteration.

The Town of Greenwich has four local historic properties and three local historic districts.

Stoneybrook, (the Jeremiah Mead House) was protected in 2003.
The Charles Green House was protected in 2005
Gershom Lockwood III House was protected in 2016
French Farm was protected in 2012.

The Round Hill/John Street Historic District was protected in 1987.
The Strickland Road Historic District was protect in 1978.
The Stanwich Historic District was protected in 2008.

As part of the process there will be opportunity for public comment.

The Samuel Ferris House, built c1760, is the only 18th century building remaining on the east side of the Mianus River on the Post Road in Greenwich.

Although some development took place along this thoroughfare in the 19th century, most of the road between Stamford and the New York border was developed in the 20th century.

Large farm acreages were subdivided and most of the historic farmhouses were demolished. It is not known how many houses like the Ferris House were lost, but it is the only surviving Colonial house in this area today.

The house was built about 1760 by Samuel Ferris soon after his marriage to Susannah Peck. He was the grandson of one of the original patentees of the Town of Greenwich and great grandson of Jeffrey Ferris.

In 1947 the property was sold to the Town of Greenwich by Mabel Louise Olmstead, ending almost two centuries of ownership by the Ferris Family.

It was at this time that the veterans’ housing was constructed on roughly about 30 acres of the site’s contiguous farmland, leaving the house untouched on its one-acre lot.

In 1957, the Town sold it to private owners.

At the turn of the 20th century, the local newspaper, The Greenwich Graphic, ran a series of articles for several years profiling the town’s historic homes. In 1902, Samuel Ferris house was illustrated, “On the Banks of the Mianus / The Ferris House 200 Years Old / Possibly the first house built on this River – When the road was nothing more than a path.”

Early in the article is a description of an old-fashioned latch opening with a string (which would go on to figure prominently in the house’s adaptive reuse).

The article noted that the road where the house stands was not built until the Boston Turnpike was changed from “its devious course” through Dumpling Pond (today’s Valley Road) to a more direct route. The article further mentioned that the homestead was called “The Plantation” when sold for 100 pounds by Samuel Ferris to his son, Samuel.

An advertisement for “Latch String” in The Greenwich News & Graphic in 1936, described the house and its new use – “An unusual attractive new eating place, featuring Southern cooking, recently opened in quaint colonial atmosphere in the old Ferris homestead, one of the oldest houses in Greenwich, built in the 18th century during the reign of King George III.” By 1943, the restaurant was renamed “Ferris House.”

In 1947, a different use for “Latch String” was announced – “233-Year-Old Ferris House on Olmstead Tract to Give Shelter for Greenwich Vet.” The house along with its 33 acres, was recently purchased a month prior for $40,000. When considering how to use the historic structure, First Selectman, Wilbur M. Peck, stated, “The best thing we can do is let a veteran occupy the house. It certainly would serve no use, at least in these times of housing shortages, to demolish the house.”

While unconfirmed, the article stated that this would not be the first time the house served to help an American soldier. In the Revolutionary War during the British rain on Greenwich, several of General Putnam’s soldiers found refuge in the Ferris house.

Additional information noted that all its doors had latches thus inspiring the naming of the house, ‘The Latch String.” The article ended: “This historical house will serve as a living shrine for the needs of one who served.”

When the house was listed “For Sale” in early 2022, Historic Properties of Greenwich was contacted to help initiate a preservation program to ensure that it would not suffer the fate of so many of the town’s other 18th century homes: Demolition.

The group has deemed the house a significant structure – contributing to Greenwich’s history and architectural heritage – an has begun the process of having the home designated a Local Historic Property to ensure its protection.

Once the process has been completed, the house will be positioned to continue to serve as a priceless reminder of the Town’s history and a rare example of mid-18th century architecture.