Selectmen endorse Lyon House move

Another small step has been taken in the effort to move a Greenwich historical site to a new location.

At its Oct. 25 meeting, the Board of Selectmen unanimously endorsed the efforts of the nonprofit Greenwich Preservation Trust to move the Thomas Lyon House from its current location at 1 Byram Road to a new spot up the nearby hill, allowing it to be preserved in what’s thought to be a better spot for it. By giving their approval to the effort, the selectmen have now paved the way for the trust to begin private fund raising for what is expected to be an extensive project.

Because the trust is a tax-exempt organization, the selectmen’s endorsement means individuals may now make donations and grants may be pursued.

This step comes after years of work from the trust to save the house, which had once been slated for demolition because of disrepair. The town had looked at either a massive renovation or tearing it down completely before the trust stepped in and First Selectman Peter Tesei said they had created “a groundswell for preservation.”

The trust had started as a small group in Byram, according to Jo Conboy, one of the trust’s founding members and its current chairman, that was put together by the Byram Neighborhood Association. The goal of the group has always been to preserve the Lyon House, and while it has moved on to other projects throughout town, it remains its main focus, Ms. Conboy said.

“We’ve dedicated ourselves to educating others in town and advocating for the preservation of this historic home,” Ms. Conboy said.

The Thomas Lyon House, which historians date back to the 1690s, is believed to be the oldest unaltered structure in Greenwich. Its history dates back to Thomas Lyon, one of the earliest settlers in Fairfield County. His son, Thomas, was the initial occupant of the house, which remained in the family’s possession for centuries. The property is currently owned and maintained by the town.

The house’s current location is thought to be unsuitable for a true restoration of the house because of concerns about parking, water runoff from the hill, and instances of vandalism since the house became vacant in 2003. Before the trust became involved, the Connecticut Circuit Riders of the Connecticut Trust had declared the Lyon House one of the “most threatened historic places in Connecticut.”

In 2010, the selectmen gave their unanimous approval for the trust to look into moving the Lyon House. Eric Brower, a vice chairman of the trust and chairman of the committee evaluating the ability to make the move, told the selectmen that a number of studies had been done to document the history of the property, its architectural significance and the building’s construction. Mr. Brower said an archeological study was also done to confirm that the proposed new site for the house is not “historically significant” so the work can be done there.

“The federal government does not allow you to relocate historic properties at the expense, potentially, of another historic property,” Mr. Brower said. “We’ve done all these studies over the last three years and completed the necessary documentation to take us to the next level.”

The project already has received an endorsement from the state’s historic preservation office, a key step Mr. Brower said, because that means once the Lyon House was moved it would retain its National Register designation.

“We’re pretty much good to go at this stage, but your endorsement is important because it allows us to move on to the next level of fund raising and study to prepare the working drawings and diagrams of how we’re actually going to stabilize the building and how it will be moved and how all the site work will be done,” Mr. Brower told the selectmen. “We’re putting together a construction package and we will come back to you for municipal improvement and a lease that would go hand in hand with the process.”

A municipal improvement (MI) designation would allow the work to be done on a town-owned property and clear the way for the trust to appear before the Planning and Zoning Commission. However, the MI request is not considered imminent, as additional fund-raising work must be done. The trust will likely pursue a $1 lease with the town similar to other projects that have cultural or historic importance but that would need approval not just from the selectmen but the Representative Town Meeting as well.

Mr. Brower said the trust hoped to be back before the selectmen in nine months with a firm plan.

Mr. Tesei said he had met with the trust members prior to the Oct. 25 meeting and that he had endorsed the efforts, but he wanted to give the other selectmen a chance to publicly express their views as well as publicize the fund-raising efforts.

“We’d love to ignite interest behind this and perhaps get people to support financially the overall goal of rehabilitation of this very treasured home,” Mr. Tesei said. “This is a great example of public/private partnerships in town.”

Selectmen Dave Theis and Drew Marzullo both gave their enthusiastic support to the project. Mr. Marzullo said it was especially vital to have this project for Byram because it can draw visitors there and called the project a “win-win” for the town.

“This is so important,” Mr. Theis said. “Once these structures are gone, they don’t come back. We are the gateway to not only Connecticut but New England, and there’s so much history that needs to be preserved.”

Mr. Tesei praised the trust and thanked it for its dedication and organization toward this effort over the last seven years.

More information is available online at Greenwichpreservationtrust.org.

 

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