Fourth Ward Historic District
The Fourth Ward Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Fourth Ward Historic District comprises the moderate-income residential neighborhood of downtown Greenwich, Connecticut, that is located immediately to the north of the town's principal business district where it lines U.S. Route 1, the original Boston Post Road. The topography is relatively flat, ranging from 150 to 170 feet above sea level and bordered by areas of slightly higher elevation to the east and west. The Fourth Ward Historic District encompasses all or most of six streets: Church Street and Sherwood Place, which run northerly from East Putnam Avenue (U.S. 1); Putnam Court and William Street, which run westerly from Sherwood Place; Northfield Street, which runs northerly from William Street; and Division Street, which runs westerly from Northfield Street, parallel to William Street. Lots are generally 50 feet wide but many are relatively deep, up to 200 and 250 feet on Sherwood Place and William Street, respectively. All lots have been developed, some also including one or more additional dwellings and/or one or more commercial buildings.
The Fourth Ward Historic District contains 190 resources, of which 160 contribute to the significance of the district. The contributing resources include 119 dwellings, consisting of small one-family houses, conversions thereof to two-family structures, double houses, several four-family tenements, and one six-family three-decker. There are also several commercial buildings, a church, and 30 outbuildings, including garages, barns, and conversions thereof to commercial use. The single site comprises a playground that originally consisted of the town's first Roman Catholic church and cemetery. The 30 non-contributing resources were either built or radically altered after 1930. They include two brick office buildings, two ten-unit condominium complexes, and a number of garages.
The Fourth Ward is readily distinguished from the surrounding area by its relatively dense, low-rise development, as well as the older age of many of its buildings. To the west is an upper-income, six-story apartment house (now condominiums), the Greenwich Hospital, and an upper middle-income neighborhood developed in the 1920s and hidden for the most part by a ridge that traverses the adjacent backyards of Division Street and Northfield Street. To the north, the north end of Northfield Street is not included because of recent construction; beyond it is the upper-income neighborhood along Patterson Avenue. To the east and north is the large playground for the private Brunswick School and to the east of Sherwood Place's backyards is the upper middle-income, early-20th century neighborhood centering on Maher Avenue. To the south is the town's main business district and another upper middle-income, six-story apartment house, also converted to condominiums.
Sherwood Place sets the architectural standard for the Fourth Ward Historic District, consisting of 1-1/2 to 2-1/2-story dwellings most of which show a front porch, the most important streetscape element. Most houses have been re-sided in aluminum, vinyl, or asbestos but usually retain a few stylistic details.
The two oldest houses are located at the beginning of the street. The John Knapp House (17 Sherwood Place) was built in 1837 on the east side of the street. Its front-gabled Greek Revival design includes a side-lit and transomed entry framed by paneled pilasters, as well as a typical heavy entablature surmounting the side elevations. Across the street is the John Kirk House (28 Sherwood Place). It was built in 1838, also in the Greek Revival style, but with heavier boxed pilasters framing its entry, a full-length porch with similar massive posts, and correspondingly substantial corner pilasters, the latter now covered with vinyl siding. Continuing northerly along the east side of the street is a Queen Anne house that features a front porch of turned posts with curvilinear brackets (21 Sherwood Place) and a side-gabled Greek Revival dwelling that retains its side-lit and transomed doorway and entablature windows (37 Sherwood Place). Farther north is a front-gabled, vernacular Italianate dwelling with a front porch that features chamfered posts and diagonal stick rails, while its gable is lit by a round-arched attic window (53 Sherwood Place). Across the street, beyond the intrusion of two brick office buildings and a condominium complex is a 1-1/2-story Italianate dwelling surmounted by a low-pitched hipped roof, its eaves embellished by curvilinear brackets with pendants. This design is repeated at the porch, which, however, was remodeled in the Queen Anne style with turned posts and balustrades; the spindle brackets are a recent Neo-Victorian alteration (58 Sherwood Place). Farther north are three double houses with long front porches supported by turned posts (64-66, 67-69 and 70-72 Sherwood Place). The one on the corner of William Street also shows a cut-work balustrade. On the east side of the street are twin front-gabled cottages, each graced by a Palladian window lighting the facade's second story (75 and 77 Sherwood Place). At the west side of the street's dead end is a large hip-roofed Colonial Revival double house that is distinguished by angled corners created by twin polygonal bays (88-90 Sherwood Place).
William Street extends westerly from Sherwood Place a short distance before the latter's dead-end section. It continues the mixture of 19th and 20th century buildings but with less stylistic elements. On the north side is an example of a vernacular I-house only one room deep and dating from 1840 (79 William Street). Next door is the Fourth Ward Historic District's best example of the Queen Anne style, a front-gabled version that retains its original clapboard and octagonal shingle siding, a peak ornament composed of a sunburst resting on a spindle course, and a front porch with turned posts, a diagonal lattice-work railing, and curvilinear brackets (75 William Street). The vernacular side-gabled Justus Ritch House shows relatively low ceiling heights that contrast with neighboring dwellings, as does the house across the street, originally of I-house form but later expanded into a double house (68 William Street and 69 William Street, Justus Ritch House). Located on the corner of Northfield Street, the parsonage of the First Baptist Church has been re-sided in aluminum but retains porches facing both streets, as well as a stained-glass window (55 William Street, John Dolan House). Most of the remaining houses on the street are 19th-century vernacular forms, chiefly constructed as narrow side-gabled houses, many of which were later extended laterally to accommodate an additional dwelling unit (45 William Street). An atypical turn-of-the-century house features an octagonal shingled peak resting on curvilinear brackets (37 William Street), while the house next door represents the narrow side-gabled form showing a porch with boxed posts (35 William Street). At the southwest corner of William and Church Streets is the William Street playground, originally containing the first St. Mary Roman Catholic Church and Cemetery. Immediately to the west are twin cottages, each showing a Shingle style entry porch located under the extended sweep of the side-gabled roof (26 and 28 William Street).
Church Street runs parallel to Sherwood Place, extending from East Putnam Avenue to William Street. It is characterized by the most stylistically developed houses in the Fourth Ward Historic District. The first house on the west side, an example of the Queen Anne, features a porch with turned posts, sunburst brackets, and lattice-like stick rails. Also present is a paired Queen Anne attic window at the facade and a bracketed, two-story polygonal bay at the south elevation (36 Church Street). Across the street is the district's best example of the Italianate style, showing bracketed eaves at the porch roof and the low-pitched, hipped main roof. The porch features characteristic chamfered posts and a turned balustrade, while the south elevation shows a bracketed polygonal bay (43 Church Street, Samuel A Moshier House). Next door is the district's only Second Empire dwelling, built at the same time with identical measurements, but with a mansard roof resting on a bracketed cornice and punctuated by gabled dormers showing brackets supporting the gables (47 Church Street). Farther up the street is the district's only three-decker tenement, distinguished by a front porch with turned posts and a prominent entablature marked by large curvilinear brackets (59 Church Street).
Northfield Street extends northerly from William Street to Division Street and then continues diagonally to the right for most of its length. The first building on its west side is the First Baptist Church, composed of a simple front-gabled core crowned with a small pyramidal cupola at the facade and similar although much smaller finials rising from either end of the front gable. The facade and side elevations retain their arched stained-glass windows, although the front entrance has been moved to the south side within a recently built foyer and the original siding has been covered with aluminum siding (10 Northfield Street). The principal, diagonal section of the street is lined primarily with houses built between 1900 and 1920, many of them double houses, some showing elongated facades with full-front porches. On the west side is a vernacular Queen Anne that features a porch with turned posts and curvilinear brackets (56 Northfield Street). Farther north is a vernacular Italian Renaissance double house showing a Tuscan-columned front porch and a bracketed entablature distinguishing its flat roofline (70-72 Northfield Street). Next door is an older double house that retains its wood-shingle covering and front porch distinguished by a cut-work balustrade (74-76 Northfield Street). Across the street is another vernacular Queen Anne dwelling showing a front porch supported by turned posts flanked by cut-work curvilinear brackets (73 Northfield Street).
Division Street extends westerly from the bend of Northfield Street parallel to William Street. All of its houses were built before 1910, most of these within a few years of 1890, resulting in a unified streetscape of houses with similar rooflines and porches. On the south side the first house shows a cross-gabled roof and a typical Queen Anne porch with turned posts, curvilinear brackets with shamrock cutouts, and cut-work rails (8 Division Street). The next house (12 Division Street) is nearly identical but with a stick railing and arched attic windows. Across the street is a row of three dwellings with very similar although not identical rooflines, i.e., side-gabled with a centered cross gable. The westernmost retains its clapboarded facade, curvilinear porch brackets, and circular attic window. Returning to the south side of the street, another house with a similar roofline features a triangular Queen Anne window lighting its centered gable (16 Division Street). Farther to the east are two closely spaced, nearly identical front-gabled houses with front porches, the eastern retaining its turned posts and the western retaining its curvilinear brackets (22 and 24 Division Street). Next door is a double house with a full-front porch supported by turned posts (26-28 Division Street), closely resembling the house diagonally across the street (17-19 Division Street).
The Fourth Ward Historic District is of local historical significance because it comprises the oldest major urban settlement in the Town of Greenwich that developed as the most visible moderate-income neighborhood in a town otherwise characterized by affluence of national renown. It is also historically significant as the primary nucleus of the town's Irish population, including the site of the town's first Roman Catholic church, and as one of the town's most important African American enclaves, containing the second of two African American churches established in Greenwich.
Historical Background and Significance
The Fourth Ward contains one of the two earliest urban subdivisions in the Town of Greenwich. Both of these real estate developments were platted in 1836, the only such ventures that predate the coming of the railroad in 1848 which brought about the transformation of Greenwich from an agricultural town to a renowned residential suburb of New York City. The Fourth Ward's initial subdivision, laid out by William B. Sherwood, consisted of Mechanic Street (the present-day Sherwood Place), the east end of William Street, and 33 building lots, most measuring 50 feet by 200 feet. The other urban subdivision partitioned the Rocky Neck Peninsula into 50-foot-wide lots. However, its peripheral location, slower growth, and association with waterfront activities make it less important to the town's subsequent overall development than Sherwood's subdivision.
When Mechanic Street was laid out, the central area of Greenwich was still known as Horseneck and consisted of about 25 houses, most of them lining the Boston Post Road where it traverses a high ridge for about a mile. From its initial settlement in the 1660s, Horseneck's primary importance was its central location, as evidenced by the Second Congregational Church and the Town Hall. The town's main commercial center was located two miles to the east at the Mianus River, while the town's original settlement (now known as Old Greenwich) was located farther east near the Stamford border. This dispersed settlement pattern continued with the advent of the industrial revolution, which resulted in communities on the Byram and Mianus Rivers, located along the western and eastern edges of the town, respectively. Therefore, Horseneck developed primarily as an administrative center with secondary commercial importance and almost no industry, enabling the continuous popularity of the Boston Post Road as the residence of leading citizens. This status was only magnified when the railroad came through, making the area convenient to wealthy New Yorkers who were attracted by the community's rural atmosphere and its elevated location with unobstructed views of Long Island Sound. By 1854 Horseneck had grown large enough to incorporate as the Borough of Greenwich. It included the vanguard of affluent New Yorkers, the first being Henry M. Benedict, who had bought property in 1850 on the south side of the Post Road, immediately opposite its intersection with Mechanic Street.
In contrast to the wealth evident on the Post Road, Sherwood's subdivision was laid out in a more conventional manner with modest houses and even a carriage manufactory, an enterprise consistent with Mechanic Street's name. The area's growth before the coming of the railroad is significant because it probably would have been developed into estates like those on the south side of the Post Road had it remained unbuilt until the railroad arrived. Because of this early evolvement, the district would be the only major moderate-income neighborhood within the confines of the Borough of Greenwich. Similar neighborhoods, such as the area around Davis Avenue to the east and the much larger district of Chickahominy to the west, were located just outside the Borough, while the more remote neighborhoods of Byram and Glenville, to the west, and North Mianus, to the east, grew independently of the Borough, all in response to industrial development. Because of its central location, the Fourth Ward is the only moderate-income neighborhood that is familiar to most of the town's residents, since similar neighborhoods are either geographically remote or effectively hidden by the upper middle-income districts lining the principal thoroughfares.
Its modest appearance notwithstanding, the Fourth Ward Historic District's development was influenced by the more affluent properties lining the Post Road. From the neighborhood's earliest years the houses at the beginning of Mechanic Street were slightly larger and more architecturally detailed, e.g., its oldest Greek Revival dwellings (17 and 28 Sherwood Place). Towards the end of the street and on William Street the houses got smaller and less stylistically derived, examples of which are the 1840 I-house (79 William Street) and the Justus Ritch House (69 William Street). In 1853, Augustus Lyon extended William Street to the west, ultimately reaching Lafayette Place. The 13 lots fronting on this extension were also 50 feet wide but most were rather deep, up to 250 feet. The houses built on these lots continued the vernacular appearance of those to the east.
The physical limits of the district almost reached today's boundaries in the 1870s with the development of Church Street, Northfield Street, and Division Street. Although Church Street is shown on an 1867 map, its 13 lots, averaging 50 feet by 145 feet, did not start selling until 1872 when its developer, Nathan Peck, sold the first lot. The majority of the houses built were slightly larger and more stylistically treated than most houses in the district, particularly contrasted with neighboring William Street. The implied higher status is reflected in the district's best example of the Italianate style (43 Church Street; Samuel A. Moshier House) and its only example of the Second Empire style (47 Church Street). In 1873, the Joseph Brush property north of William Street was subdivided into 43 lots, 15 on Division Street and 28 on Northfield Street. These lots were 50 feet wide and from 125 feet to 270 feet in depth. The more elevated lots, mostly on Division Street, were developed more rapidly, resulting in a unified streetscape of vernacular Queen Anne dwellings on Division Street, all built within several years of 1890. One of these houses, the Patrick O'Connor House, retains it original facade (15 Division Street).
Throughout the 19th century, several oversized lots from the original subdivision were subdivided. The southwest corner lot fronting on Sherwood Place and William Street was divided into five lots starting in 1868. One of the lots contains the 1870 I-house (68 William Street), an example of how this form persisted from the earliest years of the district. In 1893, Paul and Sophia Dwenger subdivided part of their oversized lot at the end of Sherwood Place into four lots. After buying adjacent land outside the original subdivision in 1904, they divided the enlarged remainder into six lots lining the dead-end extension of Sherwood Place, therefore completing the geographical limits of the present Fourth Ward Historic District.
During the 1890s, the status of the district, compared to the surrounding area, started to become a concern of some residents, particularly those on Mechanic Street. According to newspaper accounts of that period, the owners of houses on Mechanic Street were trying to cash in on the lucrative summer rental trade in Greenwich, but hardly anyone would rent a house there because its name suggested industrial surroundings. These residents succeeded in getting Mechanic Street renamed Sherwood Place, but the change did not elevate the street's image because of the advent of multi-family housing in the neighborhood.
Besides the modest size and vernacular appearance of most of its houses, the Fourth Ward Historic District owes its standing, compared to the typical Greenwich neighborhood, to the presence of multi-family housing as its most visible status indicator. By 1900, there were 16 two-family houses, four three-family houses, and one four-family tenement, mostly conversions from one-family residences and almost all located in the environs of William Street, Division Street, Northfield Street, and upper Sherwood Place. During the last years of the 19th century, however, one each of two markedly urban types of residence appeared in the neighborhood. A very visible six-family three-decker tenement was erected at the west end of William Street, in plain view of the heavily traveled, curving intersection of Lafayette Place and Lake Avenue. Even more unusual was the construction of an eight-unit rowhouse at the beginning of Sherwood Place on the site of the demolished Meeting House School, ending any prospect of summer rentals on the street. These ultimate expressions of urbanity might have persisted in a more out-of-the-way location, but they were sited too close to the main highways to remain for long. Number Four William Street was demolished in 1920 and the townhouse development known as Boles's Flats on Sherwood Place were allowed to deteriorate, finally being torn down in 1930. While the three-decker was similar in appearance to others being constructed in like neighborhoods in Greenwich, the row house clearly aspired to more middle-class occupancy, being unquestionably the most elaborate of the town's four row house developments. Unlike the minimalist, barracks-like appearance of such housing in neighboring Stamford, for example, this complex showed projecting bays and a corner turret at each end unit. But however attractively designed, it was too urban for its location.
Even though these particular examples of urban housing did not persist, the following decades would solidify the district's working-class image with its most significant period of growth. Of the over 80 dwelling units added between 1900 and 1917, two-thirds were in multi-family dwellings, mostly two-family double houses, but also including four four-family tenements and one six-family three-decker. Unlike the 19th century pattern, where such buildings were relegated to William Street and beyond, these dwellings were constructed throughout the neighborhood, diminishing the status of lower Sherwood Place and Church Street, the latter acquiring the six-family three-decker. New one-family houses were generally built on narrow lots subdivided from the original lots. In 1910, George Boles subdivided the rear portion of his row-house property and the backyards of several adjacent lots into four 40-foot-wide lots fronting on a narrow dead-end street which became known as Putnam Court. These lots were immediately developed with small one-family dwellings. Additional subdivision of occupied lots resulted in even narrower building lots, totaling 19 lots measuring between 24 and 38 feet wide. This intensification of land use also took place on lots that were not subdivided but acquired additional houses and/or commercial structures, usually but not always limited to those properties with generous backyards. Until the advent of zoning prohibited such development in 1926, seven houses and eight commercial buildings were constructed on already developed lots.
Historic development of the Fourth Ward ended in 1929 with construction of the last of several houses built in the 1920s, all of which showed a visual relationship to the more numerous houses of the previous decades. Thereafter, virtually no development would occur until 1955, when the first of several office buildings was built on the west side of Sherwood Place. The project signaled the beginning of the redevelopment period that continues to this day and has affected the district's integrity by removing ten houses, the most noticeable instance being a row of five houses on Sherwood Place. Although this redevelopment initially consisted of commercial intrusion facilitated by zoning changes, the more recent redevelopment has been residential, typically consisting of condominiums significantly more expensive than the adjacent historic housing. This trend did not commence until 1980, when the shortage of vacant land made the Fourth Ward attractive for residential development after 50 years of virtually no activity.
The Fourth Ward is the traditional center of the town's large Irish population, as well as the location of one of the town's most important African American enclaves. The importance of ethnic identity is characteristic of neighborhoods similar to the Fourth Ward, and further differentiates them from the wealthier homogenized neighborhoods that predominate in the town. Since Greenwich never had wards, the origin of the name is probably New York City's old Fourth Ward, a well-known staging ground for immigrants on the lower East Side. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the birthplace of William M. Tweed, the Tammany Hall politician and a summer resident of Greenwich in the 1860s.
The arrival of significant numbers of Irish in the town followed on the heels of the Irish Famine of 1845-1848 and the opening of the New Haven Railroad in 1848. Although they settled in a variety of places throughout the town during the 1850s, the Fourth Ward was the most centrally located and acquired the greatest number. The neighborhood of Chickahominy, southwest of the Borough, actually counted more Irish, but they were scattered over a larger area and greatly surpassed in numbers by the Italians at the turn of the century. In the Fourth Ward, the first Irish were John Dolan and Thomas Evans, who built houses opposite one another on William Street in 1853 on the first lots of Augustus Lyon's subdivision. The largest lot of this subdivision, located on the south side of the street, became the site of St. Mary Church in 1858, the first Roman Catholic church in Greenwich. This wood-framed structure, converted into a parochial school in 1878 when a larger church was built on Greenwich Avenue, was demolished c.1910, some years after the school had re-located to a new building next to the current church. The cemetery next to the church, which occupied most of the lot, continued in existence until 1926, when its remains were relocated to the new cemetery on North Street. In 1953, the site was sold to the town and became a neighborhood playground, thus maintaining the open-space aspect of the property.
By 1870, most of William Street's west end was populated by Irish families. From this nucleus they soon expanded into the newly opened subdivision on Division Street and Northfield Street. Division Street's Irish heritage is reflected in the shamrock cutouts of porch brackets on one of its houses (12 Division Street). Church Street and most of Sherwood Place, however, remained solidly native stock, represented by old Yankee families such as Knapp, Ritch, and Mead. By 1900, the Irish outnumbered the native stock 203 to 173 in a population of 492. According to the 1920 census, the native stock had decreased to 133, this number now including many third-generation Irish, while the first- and second-generation Irish had increased to 285. The total foreign stock (foreign-born and native-born of foreign or mixed parentage) had increased during the same period from 264 to 551, out of a total population of 718, which included four additional groups of more than 30 members: Polish (53), Canadian (42), English (38), and Italian (31). Over the past 80 years the proportion of Irish has declined, replaced in part by Poles, Italians, and, most recently, affluent newcomers of a more homogenized ethnic background, typical of the town as a whole. However, there are still houses that have been in the same families for over 100 years, testifying to the overall stability of the neighborhood.
In contrast to the industrial-based employment typical of the town's outlying immigrant districts (i.e., Byram, Glenville, and North Mianus), the employment base of the Fourth Ward and similar central Greenwich neighborhoods was service-oriented, with large numbers in transportation, local commerce, and office work. Of particular interest is the large proportion directly dependent on Greenwich's upper and upper-middle-income residents, such workers including chauffeurs, laundresses, and gardeners.
The Fourth Ward is one of four neighborhoods in central Greenwich that have included African Americans for at least 100 years. This historic significance is underscored by the presence of the First Baptist Church, the second of two African American churches established in Greenwich. African Americans first began to appear in the town's urban environs about 1880. Most were migrants from Virginia who were recruited as domestics by wealthy summer residents from New York City. A minority, however, derived from the town's sizable but rapidly declining rural population who were migrating to larger urban centers, especially New York City. Although several families were listed within the Fourth Ward in the 1880 census, continuous occupation dates from about 1890.
By 1900, the African American population numbered 45, slightly less than ten percent of the neighborhood's population, although almost all were located on Division Street. An equal number resided a short distance to the west, in a separate neighborhood on lower Lake Avenue that is focused on Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first African American church in Greenwich, established in 1883. (This area was not included in the Fourth Ward Historic District because it is visually separated from it by a large traffic circle.) These two enclaves contained the largest concentrations of African Americans in 1900 but would be rapidly surpassed in number by the Chickahominy neighborhood during the following decades. By 1920, the lower Lake Avenue enclave had virtually disappeared, save for the minister of the church, while the Fourth Ward's population had decreased to 34. Unlike the Lake Avenue enclave, the Fourth Ward's African American population has continued to this day, albeit sometimes with only a few families.
The First Baptist Church, which had been organized in 1897, bought a small lot with a house on Northfield Street in 1904 and greatly enlarged the house into the present-day edifice in 1910. The presence of two African American churches in a town with a comparatively small population was commented on at the time and can be partly explained by the large seasonal increase in domestics, whose wealthy New York employers spent their summers in Greenwich. Indeed, almost one third of the town's African American population of 485 in 1920 were live-in domestics. Even though African American residents of the Fourth Ward and other central Greenwich neighborhoods did not live in such circumstances, most were in some way directly or indirectly dependent on these affluent families for their livelihoods. In the Fourth Ward and similar neighborhoods, most African Americans were employed as laborers, laundresses, or chauffeurs, reflecting, interestingly, the general dependence of these neighborhoods as a whole on Greenwich's large wealthy population, albeit to a higher degree. In contrast, the outlying industrial communities of Byram, Glenville, and North Mianus counted virtually no African Americans.
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† Nils Kerchus, Consultant, The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, Fourth Ward Historic District, Greenwich, Fairfield County, Connecticut, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.