Silent times in Old Greenwich

A question from a reader about Edwin Binney’s involvement with Binney Park (yes, the inventor Crayola crayons lived in Old Greenwich and contributed the land that formed the park bearing his name) reminded me that D.W. Griffth, among others, used to come out to Greenwich to shoot silent films across from the swamp that’s now Binney, in what was then Laddin’s Rock Farm.  The late Charlie Turner of Riverside was an authority on this era (1908-1920 ish) but I could find nothing written by him on the web. I did find this brief New York Times article, if you’re interested.

Nothing in the article about my grandmother Leatrice Joy filming here and I don’t remember her ever mentioning that she did but she was Griffith’s favorite star, or so she insisted, so she might have. It would be fitting if she had because she loved to sit in Binney Park across the street from Laddin’s Rock and watch the activity around the pond. After her death we donated an iron bench with her name on it to the town, with the request that it be installed at Binney’s pond. The bench was once  one of many, each  with a star’s name, gracing Hollywood Boulevard, and Grandmother brought it east when she moved here. It sat by the flagpole for many years but vandals enjoyed tossing it in the pond. The first time that happened we appealed to then First Selectman Tom Ragland to have park workers rescue it, which they did, but it disappeared again a few years later and I presume it’s now rusting away in the muck. So it goes.


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17 responses to “Silent times in Old Greenwich

  1. ISD

    You wasted tax payer money to have town employees rescue your grandmother’s bench?!?!?!

    • No you asshole, it was town property – what part of donate don’t you get? By your logic the town shouldn’t maintain Binney park itself because it belongs to Edwin Binney.

  2. ISD

    A “donation” with your grandmother’s name on it is a way to memorializing her name. A simple park bench would have sufficed and would have taken any of the quid pro quo out of the transaction. And you expect Greenwich taxpayers to maintain it for you?!?!? If it were any town bench, I doubt you would have been appealing the town to rescue it.

    I’m just ribbing you because, of course, I think it was a nice gesture by your grandmother and have no problem with the town expending resources to retrieve it from the muck. I question it only because as a “libertarian” you are always condemning wasteful spending….except when you are a beneficiary

    • In fact, there was a lot of history to that bench, including its link to movie history from Old Greenwich to Hollywood. And when it was still at my grandmother’s, Katharine Hepburn sat on it when she had tea with grandmother on a visit one day. Hepburn made the trip to see Leatrice because, according to Hepburn, it was my grandmother who inspired her to become an actress. Before it was destroyed, the bench offered a comfortable spot for park visitors to rest on and watch the world go by. I’m sorry it’s gone.

  3. Cobra

    As you know, Chris, I knew your grandmother, “Mrs. Gilbert,” as I called her. I recall riding in her split window VW bus, probably with you, Lori, and Gideon…a lot of fun back in the ’50’s.

  4. Magnetic resonance will find it.
    Get it back.
    Keep it.
    Or we can install it properly, lift proof from frost or flingsters.

  5. edgewater

    all who love binney park should know that its creation involved destroying acres of tidal wetlands, a transformation that would be prohibited today. in fact, much of the social assets we have, use and love would be impossible to develop today. i guess as a protest the ‘greens’ should boycott binney park [and 2/3 of washington d.c.].

  6. AJ

    According to my father, all the rocks that surround the pond we’re liberated from Tod’s point by Binney and his chauffeur who drove down to the point to harvest and transport them to his new park. The surrounding original wall at the point at some locations, like along the outer point and the former rose garden, was not too substantial, and it is possible to see that many of the rocks from the wall by the rose garden (you have to walk out on the salt marsh to see it) have been taken. Old Greenwich used to be a popular getaway for many New Yorker’s. Many people had cottages, or you could take the trolley and stay at the Harbour House or the tudor style Old Greenwich Inn that was torn down in the 60s that was located right next to Harbour House. If you’ve ever wondered why the house across from the Harbour House Inn sits on a sort of island surrounded on all sides by road (the back, south, road was blocked off a number of years ago), it’s because that little circle is where the trolley turned around and headed back to OG (according to the Greenwich Library website). It’s a shame to see that the old Binney house was torn down to be replaced by a McMansion. That old stone house blended beautifully with the landscape — something none of these huge new “look at me” houses do, something that would be antithetical to the intent of their construction.

    • More symmetry, AJ – my grandmother’s bench was rescued by her when a fellow star called her (in the 30’s? and told her, “Leatrice, they’re getting rid of our benches!” Grandmother summoned her chauffeur and the two of them drove down to Hollywood Boulevard, where the chauffeur lifted up the bench and deposited it in the back of granny’s Rolls convertible, whereupon they returned home. Should have grabbed some rocks, too, to help out Mr. Binney.

  7. Sound Beacher

    AJ: The Binney family home known as Rocklyn is still standing in OG. The Garden Education Pres. lives there and next to it is a home Mr. Binney built for his daughter called Oaklyn. Both have been on house and garden tours in the past and are beautiful. Oaklyn has been remodeled with a big addition and It may not look as it did in the days of the Binney family. fyi.

  8. AJ

    Sound Beacher, I haven’t been down that street in more than twenty years, probably longer, and just assumed it was torn down from the google satellite photos which look different than I remember it (not many Google street views in OG). I don’t think the big driveway was there, nor the dock and swimming pool. It looks like the small contemporary style house that used to belong to some writer (was it the one who wrote Winthrop Woman, I forget) on the corner of Binney and Fords La. has been replaced by a big monster. I used to spend a lot of time exploring in that neighborhood back in the 50s. One of the big highlights back in 1954, I think, was when a sea monster, which I had to go see for myself, washed up on the shore just south of Binney’s little beach at the end of Ballwood Road. It was a goose fish, which initially nobody knew at the time, which are a much bigger version of toadfish, something I’ve found a lot of by turning over rocks at low tide. Apparently, there are a lot of goose fish in Martha’s Vineyard: I’ve found dozens of goose fish jawbones washed up on the beach there.

  9. peeps

    I love the gardens in that house across from Harbor House, and think your comment about how it was the old trolley turn-around fascinating. It reminds me of taking a tour of old Rowayton years ago, before the renovation of the club next to Bailey Beach, and being told that the trolley used to take summer visitors out there for the old carousel.
    The Binney Park benches also interest me for a few reasons. One, a lovely girl named Alex Lehman had one dedicated in her name. I think that if there is a need for more benches and there are people willing to pay to dedicate a bench in one’s memory and for the public’s free usage, it’s a good thing. I also appreciate the benches because they are a nice spot for seated wedding photos and have given many a bride and a good rest on a busy, over-scheduled day, while the photographer continues his work, running around, squatting and focusing on her. They also a great spot for those who show up for the outdoor summer concerts unprepared, or for those taking a walk and need a rest.
    I plan to try to figure out which house was the Binney house. I always did and still do love Crayola crayons, for all the artistic possibilities they provide. It sound like a more serious medium if instead of calling them crayons, you call the medium of a finished work “Coloured wax on paper” They also still taste as good as they did back when I was four.

  10. Sound Beacher

    Ok AJ, you are mixing up your history here. Anya Seton wrote Winthrop Woman and she lived in the last house before Tod’s Point on the right heading into Tod’s. I think Clare Booth lived their later before she was Mrs. Luce. The house on Binney was torn down and rebuilt by Chip Kruger, he of the hedge fund and founder of Waterside School fame, with a famous daughter- fan of a certain Jets Quarter back… (He had a messy divorce and sold said house) Rocklyn and Oaklyn are 3 and 4 houses south of that one. fyi.

  11. peeps

    I remember that going into Tod’s on the left was Louise Robbin’s house and was so impressed with her artful ways and that she always made me feel so good about myself, even though I was of a much lower class. it doesn’t matter about what, but one day when I ran into her and she was very ill, she told me the things she admired about me…which were not so impressive and were just me being me. When a wealthy, x]classy lady does something like that, it’s extraordinary.
    I also remember Roger Shields living on that breezeway. A very smart and nice guy. God, I had fun in Old Greenwich back in the day! Wish I’d been around when the Crayola Kingpin was about. Oh, what I could do with a limitless supplies of crayons and my old free spirit in old Greenwich! Crayons! Old Greenwich! Sun ! Sand! Clams! Uh Oh, I’m overheating!

  12. Send in the Clowns

    I always heard that Binney purchased the property and donated it to the town as a park (at the urging of his daughters) because it was slated for residential development and the daughters were heartbroken that the land would be subdivided and built on.