By Jack Morris
Sunridge Farm is a distinctive estate complex in the Quaker Ridge section of backcountry Greenwich. Its main house, guest cottage, pool and pump house, and potting shed sit among lovely plantings, which include an allee and a secret garden, on the 10-acre core of what was once a 115-acre property.
Located on the west side of Riversville Road, just south of Quaker Lane, the estate encompasses a portion of the ridge’s gently rolling crest. The main house, at the highest point of the property, 490 feet above sea level, is reached at the end of along, curving driveway. Built in 1923, the house is constructed of random-coursed, roughly cut granite blocks interspersed with sections of stucco-covered hollow tile and brick.
Its style seems North Italian or Tuscan but is essentially an informal version of the Italian Renaissance Revival, represented by stuccoed walls and chimneys, quoins, bracketed eaves, low-pitched roofs covered with curved ceramic tiles, and arched windows and porches.
A Midwesterner created this unique property. Charles Mott Woolley (1864-1956) had to leave school at the age of 15 to support himself and by 23 his a success as salesman of cast-iron radiators with the Michigan Radiator & Iron Company led to his becoming general manager. That firm became part of the American Radiator Company (later American Standard), where he rose to president and then chairman. He has been credited with the widespread introduction of indoor radiant heating throughout this country and Europe. On a personal level, despite little formal education, he was recognized as a man of culture and broad interests ranging from architecture, art, music, and philanthropy — even to polo. He served on the boards of Columbia and St. Lawrence Universities, both of which awarded him honorary degrees.
In 1915 he started acquiring the property in Greenwich that he transformed into Sunridge Farm, his home, with his wife and three children, from 1923 to 1944.
This rambling masonry dwelling is L-shaped, with intersecting, two-story wings facing west and south. The west wing contains main living areas, the south wing seven bedrooms. Throughout, as might be expected, are custom recessed radiators, in addition to numerous fireplaces. Among abundant architectural elements is a segmental-arched passageway allowing access to a north-facing front door. To its left a low quarter-round bay occupies the corner created by the two wings; it is covered by a low-pitched, copper-covered conical roof.
The current main entrance is sheltered by a rather elaborate shed-roofed entry porch, whose right side is attached to the older south wing. A cut-granite porch is open to the north and east, with each opening spanned by a round, cast-stone arch. A thick cast-stone Tuscan column at the northeast corner and a cast-granite pilaster at either end support the arch. The front door includes an ornate wrought-iron grille and an overhead, round-arched fanlight. Its porch opens onto a terrace of bricks laid out in a herringbone design. Several wide-cut granite steps lead from the terrace to the courtyard.
Attached to the south wing is the 1929 addition, designed by Robert Cowie (1885-1970), a New York City architect. The addition accommodates to changes in grade by a two-story, side-gabled section to the right and a one-story, hip-roofed section to the left, both sections constructed of stucco-covered brick, although the west elevation is constructed of cut granite and distinguished by three tall, round-arched windows lighting the left half of the first story. Projecting in front of these windows is a narrow wrought-iron balcony. The south elevation of this wing is dominated by a long cut-granite enclosed porch articulated by five round-arched windows, the central one including French doors. Above the porch is a second-story balcony enclosed by wrought-iron balustrades connecting cut-granite pedestals rising above the porch’s granite piers. At its eastern end, a rounded two-story, cut-granite turret connects the original house to the 1929 addition. The south elevation features an elaborately detailed balcony projecting from the left bay of the second story. The balcony is enclosed by a wrought-iron balustrade of projecting, curvilinear balusters and supported by three thick, curvilinear brackets.
The guest cottage, separated from the west wing by a walled terrace, is a two-story, side-gabled structure that conforms to the main house in its overall design, windows, and construction.
To the northwest side of the cottage is a gabled, cut-granite potting shed/root cellar partially situated below grade and covered with curved tiles. Further to the south is a hip-roofed structure, facing a swimming pool to the south and serving as a pool house and pump house. The structure is covered with stucco, except for the cut-granite north wall, which seamlessly merges with the stone retaining walls on either side, each featuring a dramatic curve extending upwards to meet the top of the pool-house wall. An open, centrally located passageway runs through the building from the south to the north, with small arched windows flanking this passageway at the north elevation. To the west, rising from another stonewall, is a tall gabled brick wall distinguished by an arched niche occupied by a Renaissance-inspired statue of a partially robed woman joyfully carrying a basket of fruit.
At the east end of the courtyard is a four-car garage of recent construction, showing stuccoed walls and a curved-tile roof to match the other buildings on the property.
The entrance to Sunridge Farm, on Riversville Road, is marked by an elaborate gateway, consisting of a bowed recess constructed of two curved walls of granite ashlar terminating to the north, at the eastern property line, with a tall granite ashlar pier with a gabled top. The gateposts are similar in design, supporting a low-pitched pyramidal roof covered with curved ceramic tiles. The outer piers and the curving walls of the recess are also covered with curved tiles. Between the inner piers is an ornate wrought-iron gate.
Beyond the gate is an estate that retains its distinctive charm today. Its past opulence, including a polo field and 10-car garage, merited inclusion in The Great Estates: Greenwich, Connecticut, 1880-1930, but its essence is still here.
Perrot Memorial Library, 1931
The 1930s, despite the nationwide Depression, was an auspicious time for Old Greenwich. The community decided to drop Sound Beach, its name for nearly 60 years, in favor of Old Greenwich, to reflect that it was the place where settlers in the Town of Greenwich made the first purchase of land from the Native Americans. Also, the community witnessed the transformation of 20 acres of marshy land into a public space around a scooped-out lake, which became Binney Park. And its public library, which had opened in 1904 on the second floor of the Sound Beach School and later moved to a storefront space a few blocks away, in May 1931, gained its own distinguished building, overlooking the lovely park expanse.
The Perrot Memorial Library is a much-admired public building that owes its existence to many public-spirited citizens and especially to one a former resident and to a summer resident. Ann de Camp Hegeman was a widow living on Shore Road when she became acquainted with a wealthy manufacturer of railroad locomotives, who swept her, along with her two children, off into a new life in Pittsburgh, as Mrs. Henry Kirke Porter. Still she cherished her origins, including as a great-granddaughter of John Perrot, who in 1766 opened what is believed to have been the first private school in the Town of Greenwich; coincidentally his school was near the site of the library that bears his name. Mrs. Porter, enlisted by friends of her youth to support their efforts to establish a local library, became an important patron, as did her daughter, Annie May Hegeman. (Among her donations, Miss Hegeman gave a marble bust of her mother, which was sculpted in by Adolfo Apollini and is displayed in the second-floor rotunda.)
The summer resident was D. Everett Waid, a prominent architect in the early 1900s with offices on New York’s Fifth Avenue, who summered in Old Greenwich. He became deeply involved in the movement to give the library its own place. He acquired and donated the site, then designed the building and not only did so at no charge but also was among the substantial donors to its construction.
The Perrot Memorial Library is dramatically situated at the intersection of Sound Beach Avenue and Laddins Rock Road, the two major routes into Old Greenwich from Putnam Avenue. Some of the planners worried that the location might be too far from the train station and the business center, but the setting has become celebrated, especially as members of the Binney family and Mr. Waid enhanced the site by purchasing the 10 acres east across Laddins Rock Road and donating it to the Town of Greenwich as a natural park. Helen Binney Kitchel also obtained and donated the small parcel diagonally across from the library, which she called the Reading Room and installed stone benches to entice those who might want to read next to one of the brooks that feeds into Binney Pond.
The Perrot Memorial Library is brick and granite structure of complex, distinctive Colonial Revival design. It consists of a high basement, with surface of random-coursed, rock-faced granite ashlar, and a very tall piano nobile (or second story), faced with brick laid in English bond of alternating layers. Both stories are trimmed with cast stone. The modest, ground-level main entrance is set in a projecting basement foyer. The entrance’s glazed double doors are flanked by Roman Doric columns that support a cast-stone lintel, inscribed “LIBRARY” in the style of the sign over its previous storefront door in town.
The main entrance is surmounted by a cast-stone belt course supporting a wrought-iron balustrade, above which rise the second-story’s very tall, round-arched window and a round blind window. Those windows lead the eye above a slate-shingled roof and another balustrade to an octagonal lantern. Each side of the lantern features a full-height, round-arched, multipaned window. A copper roof is crowned by a weathervane.
The facade essentially consists of the three exposed sides of an octagonal-shaped core, flanked by identical side wings, with a cast-stone belt course that continues to the right and left across the entire facade, separating the granite basement from the brick second story. The exterior walls meet at the rear, north end, in an elevation, in which are the library’s open book stacks.
Each of the second story’s sides has a very tall, round-arched window. These windows are connected by another cast-stone belt course that holds a keystone over each arch.
The interior of the library is most notable for its rotunda, especially at the second story, where its domed ceiling is supported to the south by two striking pairs of Composite columns. An oculus in the ceiling admits light from the lantern above the roof. Divided-flight staircases lead from the basement entry to the second floor, from which the park can be viewed to the south through arched windows.
At the library’s rear is a bridge that connects the second story of the original building with that of the 1998 addition, called the Radcliffe Children’s Wing (named for major donors Richard and Mary Radcliffe). It was designed by Mark Thompson, a Philadelphia architect who grew up in Riverside and whose father was a long-time member of the library’s board of directors, so as a youngster he knew the Perrot Memorial Library well. He used the same materials and a similarity of design, but appropriately deferred to the original structure’s more elaborate presence. The addition is topped by a small cupola with a domed roof.
A final note about D. Everett Waid, the architect and benefactor of the library: He was a charter member and on the executive committee of the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich (the original name of the Greenwich Historical Society), which had its first office and display room in the Perrot Memorial Library.
His design created a beloved community landmark with an architectural salute to the Colonial Revival movement prevalent in the design of many buildings throughout Greenwich and the country in the 20th century.
Edwin H. Paul House, 1959
The Edwin H. Paul House is a Contemporary dwelling situated on a wooded, four-acre lot on the east side of Taconic Road in backcountry Greenwich. Mr. Paul acquired the plot in 1956 while he was still a student of architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, because it was a troublesome site in a subdivision and the developer gave him a deal after Mr. Paul improved the layout for the subdivision. He built the house for his own use in 1959, while he was working as an architect for a New York City firm and doing residential projects on his own time, the first a waterfront residence in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
He envisioned the house for his family, a wife and two children at that time, at the very edge of a cliff under a roof that would seem to float over an open space with minimum structural support. Key to his initial design was use of 7-foot modules of plate glass, the largest available then, and 12 specially fabricated fiberglass boxes, 7 ½ feet in height and 2 ½ deep, to function both as walls and as storage units that would free the interior of closets, cabinets and similar furnishings. The innovations, including a system of forcing hot air through tiles to flow over the glass walls to avoid condensation, presented significant problems in getting approvals from the Building Department of the Town of Greenwich. As a result, when it came time in 1965 – he and his wife had four children then – he applied his experience in working on barn structures to come up with a simpler design, using vertical cedar siding.
The original 1959 section has a low-pitched, overhanging front-gabled roof, and the 1965 addition to the north has steeply pitched, intersecting roofs with a gabled front. The original section is divided into ten bays of equal width, divided by structural wooden posts that support the prominent projecting purlins that carry a sweeping gabled roof. At the northern three bays, the upper story is at ground level, while the following three bays include both upper and lower levels due to the change in grade. The remaining four bays decrease in height gradually with the slope of the roof to the house’s south corners, which are one story in height. At the upper level, the first, third, and fifth bays are occupied by projecting fiberglass storage units. At the lower end of the facade, the sixth bay is occupied by a glass wall flanked by storage modules identical to those of the upper level. The seventh and eighth bays of the facade are glass walled, with the seventh incorporating the glass door that serves as the main entrance. Both bays include clerestory windows located directly beneath the roof’s slope, while the ninth and tenth bays contain a gabled greenhouse, which was a later addition.
The east elevation reveals the house’s dramatic location, perched at the edge of a rock ledge, overlooking a wooded expanse. The arrangement of the glass walls and storage modules is almost identical to that of the facade except there are more glass-walled bays to increase the view. A wooden deck projects from the seventh and eighth bays.
The landscaping of the property is characterized by a variety of large native trees including oak, maple, tulip, and beech. Most predate the construction of the house and complement the house’s architecture.
The house was featured as an innovative design in The York Times Magazine in February 21, 1965, as well as in House & Garden. Mr. Paul credits the attention from this publicity as enabling him to set up a flourishing 40-year career of designing more than 100 residences in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island working from his house.
He also tells the story of how he acquired the barn to the northeast of the house. It is a side-gabled, 1½-story structure covered with vertical cedar siding, which he used as a workshop and for storing firewood. It now includes a two-car garage. In March 1970 he moved it from the Cos Cob estate that had belonged to Ernest Thompson Seton, who is credited with starting the Boy Scouts of America, and later to Maurice Wertheim, a New York financier and father of the author Barbara Tuchman.
After local Cos Cob boys vandalized Mr. Seton’s estate, called Wyndygoul, in 1902, he invited them to his home for a weekend, quartering them on straw-filled mattresses in his barn. He shared with them the lore and skills he acquired in his own youth from Indians in Canada. He and the boys were so satisfied by the experience that he formalized it as the League of Woodcraft Indians, which further evolved into the Boy Scouts. After Mr. Seton sold his property to Mr. Wertheim in 1913, his daughter later came to use the barn as a writing studio, notably for The Guns of August, which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1963 and so impressed President John F. Kennedy that he had it sent widely to his military leaders with the recommendation that they read it. Ms. Tuchman was acquainted with Mr. Paul and offered him the barn if he would move it after her father relocated to New York City and wanted to donate the property to the Town of Greenwich.
The Edwin H. Paul House is one of the comparatively few Contemporary dwellings that have survived the almost wholesale replacement of such houses in Greenwich during the last forty years. It is an excellent example of the style’s gabled subtype, which is generally characterized by overhanging eaves and exposed roof beams, revealing the influence of the preceding Craftsman and Prairie styles. The most significant feature of this house is its sweeping, front-gabled roof, its glass walls occupying 14 of its standard-sized bays, and its clerestory windows that intimately connect the house with its woodland surroundings.