Greenwich Look

Spring 2016

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a Riverside-to-New York commuter train ticket from 1897, a photograph of an Italian immigrant on the streets of Chickahominy, a letter dated 1907 from Cos Cob resident Elmer MacRae to his mother, Josephine Holley, catching her up on the family news—these tiny bits of everyday life, so trivial when fi rst created, piece together with so many others to make a beautiful tapestry of Greenwich's history. Since 1931, Greenwich Historical Society has been sewing it all together through exhibits, lectures, programs, archives and the Bush-Holley museum. While the approach has changed over the years, the mission really hasn't. "I'd like to think it's about identity, community and leadership," says Debra Mecky, executive director of the Greenwich Historical Society for more than 20 years. A lot has changed since its founding more than 90 years ago. When it fi rst launched, "the emphasis was on saving history that was rapidly disappearing around them," said Mecky. "They were moving from an agrarian community to a lush suburb and desirable place to live and commute into New York City." When the historical society moved the archives to the Bush-Holley House (around the same time Interstate 95 opened) the emphasis shifted from saving ephemera to furnishing and telling the stories conveyed at the site. Bush-Holley History History of the Bush-Holley site dates back to 1728 and includes the family history of Justus Bush, a wealthy Dutch Greenwich farmer and town selectman, who bought the house in 1738. His son David Bush, a tide mill owner, later joined a number of buildings on the property to create the Georgian style home that stands today. Then David's son Justus Luke Bush, built a new storehouse next to the main house that later became the Cos Cob post offi ce and now houses the visitor center, museum gallery and shop. Beginning in 1882, Josephine and Edward Holley operated it as a boardinghouse for artists and writers, and it is the home's years as the Cos Cob Art Colony (from the early 1890s to the 1920s) that hold the Bush-Holley site's most signifi cant contributions to American history. The Cos Cob Art Colony played a major role in the development of American art. Here, leading impressionists came to paint and teach, including Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman and J. Alden Weir. The historical society purchased the property in 1957 from the widow Constant Holley MacRae and opened it as a museum in 1958. Local historian Susan Larkin led the research of and wrote a book about the years it served as Cos Cob Art Colony and its signifi cance. "There wasn't much written about American impressionism until that discovery," said Larkin. With that, came a new interpretation of the Bush-Holley house that represented both the colonial era and turn-of-the-century Greenwich. The house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Then in 2005, the Greenwich Historical Society was accredited by the American Association of Museums. Greenwich Historical Society Preserving the Past, Enriching the Future Since 1931, the Greenwich Historical Society has grown from a plucky group of local preservationists, to a premiere cultural enrichment establishment serving our region and beyond. By Kristan Sveda Photographs by ChiChi Ubiña PHOTO AT LEFT COURTESY OF GREENWICH HISTORICAL SOCIETY [ ] 018

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