Tag Archives: Bankside Farmers

Unearthing History

Who is buried at Burying Hill Beach?

Local lore says it’s Native Americans.

Dr. Robert Liftig isn’t so sure.

A writer and teacher who has lived in Westport for almost 50 years, he recently retired after 4 decades as a Fairfield University professor. His courses focused on local Colonial history.

He’s done quite a bit of, um, digging, The small Greens Farms beach is beloved by many. Like others throughout town, they’ve often wondered about its name.

Burying Hill (top-center), and beach of the same name. (Drone photos/Brandon Malin)

First, some background.

In 1637, a band of Pequots — burned out of their Groton home — were chased by English settlers to a swamp between what is now the Southport Dunkin Donuts and Equinox. (A small memorial commemorates the Great Swamp Fight, the last battle of the Pequot War.)

They were burned and hacked to pieces in what Liftig calls the continent’s “first intentional genocide.” (A leader, John Underhill, is the man for whom Underhill Parkway is named.)

With the area safe for colonists, Thomas Newton, John Green and Henry Gray obtained a land grant to settle the area in 1648. Daniel Frost and Francis Andrews joined them soon. Andrews came from upstate; he, with Thomas Hooker and others, had founded Hartford in 1635.

The group were known as the Bankside Farmers (for Bankside, England, where some of the 5 came from). The area was later named for one of those 5: Greens Farms.*

An early map of Green’s Farms. The Bankside Farmers’ lands ae shown on Long Island Sound, next to “Burial Hill.”

Andrews hired a servant: 12-year-old Simon Couch. A few years later the boy married Andrews’ daughter Mary. He worked as a tailor, ran a horse saloon, and bought Andrews’ widow’s farm. At his death in 1688, age 53, Simon Couch was a wealthy man.

He also bought Forest Point, a “beautiful hill overlooking the sea.” It became a cemetery — perhaps for Andrews, along with Couch himself, his family, and some of their slaves. (It is unclear whether those slaves were Blacks or indigenous people.)

Liftig cites an excerpt from the book “History of Fairfield.” Simon Couch was

buried in land belonging to him at Forest Point, looking out upon the Sound, which he had set apart as a family burial place and which was long known as the Couch Burial Hill.

This spot could be pointed out until within the last few years [date of publication unknown], but now almost every trace of the tombs & graves have been obliterated.

Liftig believes Andrews — one of the founders of Hartford — is also there: buried below where the beach toilets are now located.

Bathrooms and lifeguard offices, at the top of Burying Hill. (Photos/David Squires)

Simon Couch, meanwhile, is listed on Find A Grave as occupying “Plot #1.”

When Green’s Farms Congregational Church established its first cemetery (at the current corner of Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector) in the early 1700s, subsequent Couches were buried there. (One stone honors “Thomas Couch lost at sea, taken by French or pirates.”)

The family grew quite wealthy, from the triangle trade. One branch moved to North Carolina. Another Captain Thomas Couch married into the Boone family, and moved to Kentucky.

Liftig has found that the Couches — and Daniel Boone — are related to his daughters Anya and Dorothy.

Liftig himself grew up in Avon, Connecticut. He joined the Peace Corps, met a “pretty Kentucky girl,” and married her. They moved to Westport.

Delving into the history of his town, he was stunned to find that his wife’s ancestors lived here.

He was even more surprised to learn of the Couch connection to Burying Hill Beach. His daughter Dorothy had a summer Parks & Recreation job, working at the front gate.

The entrance to Burying Hill now floods often. (Photo/Sally Fisk)

Parks & Rec administers the beach because in 1893, the town of Westport purchased the property for a picnic area. Ten years later, they added the swale nearby (called “Ye Olde Battleground”) — between the “burial hill” and what later became the Bedford (and later Harvey Weinstein) homes.

The Couches later married into the Bedford and Jesup families, Liftig says.

But when he inquired about the possibility of a plaque memorializing the bodies buried in the hill — including, possibly, a founder of Hartford — he was told there is no proof.

Cars should not drive on Burying Hill. It is a historic burial ground. (Photo/Rusty Ford)

Yet an old Westport Historical Society publication, “Buried in Our Past,” says:

We can surmise that the Couches shared the hill with some of the early settlers — the Greens, Andrews [sic], Frosts and Grays.

In his book “Greens Farms,” George Penfield Jennings, states he remembers seeing many gravestones on the hill, but by the time the State Legislature established the area as a town park in 1893, only one broken marker remained.

Now that marker is gone. Burying Hill has the distinction of being the first park on the Connecticut shoreline recognized by the State.

Neither Parks & Rec, the Westport Historical Commission nor the Westport Museum for History & Culture confirms Liftig’s findings.

But he is convinced: The burials in Burying Hill Beach are real.

And historic.

(Dr. Robert Liftig can be contacted directly: boblif@aol.com)

*Should there an apostrophe, making it Green’s Farms? That’s been a question ever since. 

(There’s plenty of history in Westport’s hills and beaches. “06880” unearths it all. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

Uncovering 300 Years Of Church History

In 2011, Green’s Farms Congregational Church celebrated its 300th anniversary.

The other day, operations director Claire England sent me a copy of a souvenir brochure, produced for that occasion.

I’m amazed I didn’t see it earlier. It’s filled with astonishing stories, intriguing sidelights, and tons of fun facts.

I’m sorry it’s taken me 6 years to get around to reporting on this. But after 3 centuries, that’s not so bad.

Here are a few things I learned:

† In colonial days, communities were led by their churches. The term “1st selectman” — for our town’s leader — dates back to the days when the secular leader of the church was “selected first.” Even after Westport was incorporated in 1835, Green’s Farms Congregational members served as 1st selectmen. In 1997, Diane Goss Farrell — a Green’s Farms congregant — was elected 1st Selectwoman.

Before services were announced by a drum or bell, early settlers were called to worship by the beating of 2 thin strips of board, from a high hill.

So, the brochure asked, was Clapboard Hill named for the excellent quality of building wood that was harvested there, or for its great location that allowed worshipers to hear the clapping of the boards?

An early map of Green’s Farms. Turkey Hill and Clapboard Hill are in the center. The 1st church site (now marked by Machamux boulder) is just below that. The 2nd site is marked “Colonial Church” (center left). “Third and Fourth” Churches are also noted at the top. Green’s Farms’ founding Bankside Farmers properties can be seen along Long Island Sound. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

 In 1742, Reverend Daniel Chapman — who had served as minister since the church’s founding 31 years earlier — was dismissed. The reason: He “hath led for several years an Eregular [sic] life …in being sundry times overtaken in drinking to excess.”

150 years later, then-Reverend Benjamin Relyea noted: “In those times, when it was an act of discourtesy in making pastoral calls to refuse to partake of something from the array of decanters which always stood upon the sideboard, the only wonder is that any minister ever went home sober.”

After the British burned the 2nd Green’s Farms Church (located near the current commuter parking lot, at the corner of what’s now the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road), services were held in private homes for 10 years.

Meanwhile, the new American government compensated our local church for its losses during the war with land in the Ohio wilderness, known as the “Western Reserve.” The church later sold its Ohio lands, to raise money for the new meeting house (on Hillandale Road, site of the current building).

Lucy Rowe’s headstone.

The original Bankside Farmers — founders of Green’s Farms parish — owned slaves. A century later, many freed slaves lived in Green’s Farms as respected residents. When slavery was finally abolished in Connecticut in 1848, the “last of the slaves” — Charles Rowe — was church sexton. He lived on Hyde Lane, near where Long Lots School is now. He and his wife Lucy are buried in the Green’s Farms Upper Cemetery (adjacent to the current church.)

The church’s original burial ground still stands, on the corner of Green’s Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector. The oldest gravestone belongs to Andros Couch, who died in 1730 at 57. Also buried there are the church’s 1st 3 ministers, who served for a total of 110 years; several sea captains, including Franklin Sherwood, and Dr. Ebenezer Jesup — a surgeon in George Washington’s army — along with his 3 wives.

In 1911, the church celebrated its 200th anniversary by commissioning a bas-relief plaque honoring past ministers. The artist was Gutzon Borglum — the same man who carved Mt. Rushmore. He seldom did small commissions — but friends in the congregation asked him for this one.

On November 25, 1950, the 100-year-old steeple crashed down during a hurricane. The weight of the bell carried it through the roof of the meeting house, into the Sunday School.

At the time, declining membership had already created doubts about the church’s future. Services attracted as few as 27 people, with the collection seldom reaching $5.

Insurance covered part of the steeple damage, and a subscription campaign raised the rest. Many non-members — calling the steeple a “landmark” and a “beacon” for sailors — contributed. That drive helped save the church. By 1957, membership had grown so large that 2 Sunday services were needed.

Part of the 1951 fundraising appeal.

There is much more of interest in the Green’s Farms Church’s 300-year historical brochure.

Here’s to its next 294 years!