A Bit of History

The Indians called it Machamux “The Beautiful Land”. Wallups and Mohawks wandered in from the North and West, saw that the land was good, and set up their teepees on the slopes of Clapboard Hill, overlooking the glistening water of Long Island Sound.

Colonial settlement soon followed. The fierce Pequots, driven West from the New London area by Captain “John Mason’s band of soldiers and friendly Indians, were finally defeated in The Great Swamp Fight in Southport in July, 1647. Within a year English colonists, organized by Roger Ludlow, established the plantation that would become the town of Fairfield.

It was a farming community of livestock and crops, widening gradually as the virgin land was cleared. Cattle from the Fairfield plantation, searching for new grass, browsed their way westward followed by’ the pioneer herdsmen. Eventually they crossed the Sasco Creek to reach the lush pastureland along the present Beachside Avenue. And thus it was that the colonists discovered “The Beautiful Land” of Machamux, and came to know the friendly Indians who had settled here.

Soon five Fairfield farmers – including John Green and Daniel Frost – following the cattle trails to the top of Clapboard Hill, saw the promise of this coastal area and arranged to buy home lots from the Indians, stretching along the shore between (now) Frost Point and Fox (Sherwood) Island, and north to the Aspetuck River. By the end of 1648, these five pioneers – who came to be known as the Bankside Farmers – had been officially sanctioned by Fairfield to “sit down and inhabit at Machamux”, creating the first white settlement in the Green’s Farms area.

In time, the Bankside Farmers bought more land to the west and north from the Indians. Fairfield was about to put a stop to this Yankee initiative when Norwalk – set off in 1651 – put in a claim for all the shore land east to New Creek, thus kicking up a ruckus that would last for 50 years. Reversing its view, Fairfield began to look on the Banksiders as a useful buffer against Norwalk’s claims; and even allowed them to assume the role of self-administering “Proprietors”. Then, in 1708, the growing community at Machamux petitioned the colonial General Court to establish Bankside as a separate parish. Fairfield again disapproved; but when the Court granted the setting off of the “West Parish of Fairfield” (remembered today in our West Parish Road) in 1711, Fairfield sanctioned the organizing of an independent ecclesiastical Society, with both religious and civil functions.

A “Common” had been laid out by the Bankside settlers south of Clapboard Hill – part of which still exists as a small landscaped park on Green’s Farms Road at the foot of Morningside, the setting for the “Machamux Boulder”. There, in 1703, the area’s first schoolhouse was built. And there in 1711 the new Society built its first meeting house. That Society – with an unbroken history for over two and a half centuries, and symbolized by its fourth meeting house built in 1853 on Hillandale Road near West Parish Road – continues today as the Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

The Bankside area was renamed Green’s Farms in 1732, in honor of its largest landholder, John Green; and Frost Point was named in memory of Daniel Frost, another of the original Bankside Farmers. All lingering connections with Fairfield ceased when the Town of Westport was set apart by the State General Assembly in 1635, with Green’s Farms as its nucleus. (Thus, governmental hierarchy to the contrary – Westport is really a part of Green’s Farms, not vice versa!)

The American Revolution came to Green’s Farms, but George Washington never slept here. He did ride through in 1775, along the Country Road (Green’s Farms Road today), on his way to Cambridge, Mass., to take command of the Continental Armies. Four years later, moving westward along the same road, British troops under General Tyron burned about 15 Green’s Farms homes, a number of barns and stores, and the Jennings Tavern on July 8, 1779. The colonial meeting house was also destroyed, but its deacon saved the silver communion service by dropping it in a bag down the water well.

Over the years that followed independence “Our Beautiful Land” was slowly but steadily populated, and prospered as a farming community. Cattle dotted the gentle slopes above the Sound, and apple orchards and grain fields flourished. A tide mill first built in 1705 at the mouth of Mill Pond behind Sherwood Island (originally Fox Island, but later renamed for the family that owned the mill) ran by the water’s ebb and flow, and stood as a mark of this area’s productivity until it burned down in 1895. But Green’s Farms’ greatest agricultural prosperity came from vast onion fields set throughout the area in 1840-50, and cultivated until the end of the century. From here, thousands of shiploads of onions started on their way to Boston, New York and other Eastern population centers by fast sail-powered packet boats.

The generations came and went. The first colonial settlers were interred at “Burying Hill” on the Sound until 1725, when a new colonial burying ground was established (and still exists) west of Muddy Brook beside the Country (now Green’s Farms) Road. Little was left of the original cemetery when the Town of Westport took over Burying Hill for a town park and beach in 1893; and no evidence remains today of that spot’s “ancient history”.

The New Haven Railroad began operations in 1848 over the strenuous objections of Westport’s representative to the State General Assembly! The quaint Green’s Farms station was built on the common near Morningside in 1870 with the help of local farmers; and was moved east to its present location a generation later. By 1875 six trains stopped at Green’s Farms each day; and beginning late in the nineteenth century this was one route (the other was by steamer up the Sound) taken by flew York area people who had discovered Green’s Farms as a delightful place to spend their summers. Some eventually bought land and built summer homes here. But many more stayed at the imposing Beachside Inn – multi-storied and bounded by wide verandas which stood until 1919 just east of the present Green’s Farms Academy property. (Two of the inn’s “cottages” still stand, at Nos. 49 and 55 Beachside Avenue.)

Between the world Wars Westport took on the characteristics of an artist’s colony, and attracted increasing numbers of “outsiders”. But Green’s Farms remained a quiet and more rural section until relatively recent times. When Westport’s Zoning Regulations – first adopted in 1930 were upgraded in 1954, much of Green’s Farms was made a 2-acre residential zone, with some single and half-acre areas suitable to smaller home lots in the northern section near the Post Road. Meantime, the pace of commuter settlement – and corresponding development, both residential and commercial – began to quicken throughout Westport. It was, in fact, this quickening beat that marked the march of “Machamux” into modern times – and led to the founding of the present Green’s Farms Association.

The Winds of Change

Dramatic changes swept the country in the decade of the sixties; the changes in social mores and behavior, for example…in the posture of youth…and in tangible values besieged by inflation. And no change was more significant than the acceleration of change itself. Our quiet lands felt this onset of “Future Shock” no less than elsewhere…expressed in a speed-up of population growth and of commercial and residential development; in growing demand for Town services; and in spiraling costs for those same services.

The very character of Westport, and of Green’s Farms, was buffeted by the winds of change. Up to this time, a typical neighborhood zoning issue might involve the owner of 1.95 acres in a one-acre zone seeking to subdivide into lots of 1 – and .95 acres. But now the tempo quickened, the stakes got larger, and it began to look as if a tide of asphalt might be unleashed over our still-open fields by an army of developers. By the mid-60’s the Town administration moreover appeared to be tilting toward the side of the developers. This seeming bias was best symbolized in the creation and passage (largely unnoticed by the public) in 1966 of “Design Development District” zoning: regulations making possible, with Planning & Zoning Commission approval, the spot-rezoning of properties of 4 acres or more in any zone in Town, for a wide variety of business and commercial uses. The party line was that such land uses would broaden the tax base and reduce the amount of land still available for homes – homes which, theoretically, pay less in taxes than the added costs they incur for schools and other Town services.

Few established Westport families bought these rationales as a number of “DDD” applications in subsequent years highlighted the basic issues involved. Most of these schemes were fought by the neighborhoods potentially affected. (Only two “DDD’s” ever came into being; and one was the Stauffer Chemical Company in our former 52-acre Nyala Farm – the last true farm in this once-rich agricultural community.) The regulations have since been abolished by application to excise them from the regulations filed and presented by the Green’s Farms Association to remove the threat to residential areas. The significant effect of the “DDD” struggles did not bring what the developers and doubtless well-meaning Town officials intended. Rather, DDD served to rouse many of us out of a happy and generally apathetic state of well being, and dramatized the growing threat of over-development to the lifestyle we’d settled here to enjoy.

Birth of the Green’s Farms Association

With relatively more open land than other parts of Westport, Green’s Farms was a favorite target for non-residential land-use schemes. Typically, the neighborhoods that might be affected learned about such ideas at the eleventh hour, and formed opposition pick-up teams on a crash, ill-organized and often costly basis. Then, after a number of such skirmishes, the thought began to strike various area residents that there must be a better way! A small group of Green’s Farms homeowners started considering a permanent area zoning group in1967, as a more effective means of maintaining our residential lifestyle and property values. Over the next five years the discussion group grew, by-laws emerged in draft form, and progress was being made, slowly.

Then, in late 1971, a bomb exploded over Green’s Farms: a Midwest developer filed a “DDD” application for a huge shopping center on the Post Road between Turkey Hill and Maple Avenue that would cut a swath deep into Green’s Farms residential neighborhoods. Galvanized by this news the association planners and many other residents met, and acted quickly to convert thinking into fact. On November 21, 1971, a group of original Subscribers signed their names to the Articles of Association of the present Green’s Farms Association, and “GFA” was in business.

Over the next seven months GFA membership grew from a small nucleus to 311 families, representing close to half the homes then in Westport’s Voting District 5. (Green’s Farms has no official perimeter or governmental status. District 5 bounded by the Post Road, Fairfield line, Long Island Sound, and Hillspoint Road – was taken as the Association’s province, since it approximates the area generally accepted as Green’s Farms.) The new Association undertook the role of leader of citizen opposition to the proposed mammoth shopping center, and was indeed tested in this first of many issues we would face over the years. The work was long and the costs high; but the rewards were correspondingly great. By July 1972 the very professionally managed shopping center bid was conclusively defeated before the Town bodies; and the Green’s Farms Association was established as a force of homeowners to be reckoned with!

The originators of the GFA were concerned that many other homeowners’ groups (including an earlier group in Green’s Farms) had been organized to meet some major land-use issue only to wither and dissolve once the catalytic matter had been resolved. Although GFA was fired into being by a major zoning crisis, it was always the founders’ intent that this Association be a continuously active force on behalf of an ongoing membership.

Sound planning, professionalism, and steady work by GFA’s Directors and member volunteers on working committees, have ensured the Association’s continuity. The only threat to GFA’s permanence has been the necessary annual effort to obtain renewal and new memberships – essential in order to keep GFA’s constituency up to a significant share of Green’s Farms families. This has been a particular problem whenever the zoning scene is relatively quiet, with few evident threats to area homeowners. Suffice it to say here that maintaining a large membership is critical to GFA’s continuing to be successfully influential in the interests of the Green’s Farms residents – and thus our goal continues to be current membership of every family in District 5!

In addition to their concern for continuity, GFA’s Boards of Directors have been sensitive to the tendency of homeowners’ groups to be strictly “agin it” organizations. While some of the Association’s activities have inevitably cast GFA in such a role, we have also sought chances to work with Town officials and others for the betterment of Green’s Farms and Westport at large: e.g., open-minded participation in discussions on apartment zoning for Westport…help in selecting a permanent garbage transfer station site (even though the best unobtrusive location turned out to be in Green’s Farms) … participation in plans for expansion of Burying Hill Beach … and painting the interior of the Green’s Farms station.

Over the years, GFA has been involved in issues as potentially far-reaching as the shopping center application that brought us into being; and as limited as a bad road drainage problem affecting only a few homes. The sheer number is impressive. Far more important are the benefits this record has meant to the residents of Green’s Farms and in many cases to the whole town of Westport.

We have proven the effectiveness of a permanent homeowners organization, one that is ever watchful, informed, reasonable and geared to act on issues that do or might concern our members. Our resulting stature – as far-and-away Westport’s largest and most influential residents’ group – means that GFA is often able to influence issues even before they become matters of concern to our membership. It is not unusual for Town officials to invite GFA’s views and involvement in major questions of land use and zoning changes well before GFA might be obligated by its charter to take a stand “for” or “against.”

Having attained this stature – against a history of years of accomplishment and service to its membership, the area of Green’s Farms and the Town of Westport – the Green’s Farm’s Association looks back with gratification, and forward with confidence. So long as GFA is sustained by a large and growing membership – (and membership is the one critical action the GFA Board asks of every District 5 resident) – the Association can and will continue to help keep Green’s Farms “Machamux” – “The Beautiful Land.”