The restoration and preservation of the Thomas Lyon House is one of Greenwich Preservation Trust’s most pressing priorities. Threatened with demolition in 2007, members of Greenwich Preservation Trust saved the house from the wrecking ball. Today, GPT is planning for the house to have a vibrant and safe future and continue to occupy a special place for those interested in preservation, architecture, genealogy, sociology and local history.
The Byram Neighborhood Association formed the Thomas Lyon House Committee in 2006 to insure that the c1695 structure would not be demolished and investigate possible uses for it. The Committee’s first goal was to document the age and condition of the house with a title search, historic structure report and dendrochronology study. The Town’s Conservation Commission, and its director Denise Savageau, funded the title search and the historic structure report. The dendrochronology study was done courtesy of the Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory. The Thomas Lyon House Committee established the Greenwich Preservation Trust in 2008.
The Thomas Lyon House is the oldest unaltered Colonial house in Greenwich. Probably built circa 1695, it remains relatively unchanged and retains a Colonial footprint established more that 300 year ago. Moved nearly intact in 1927 from its first site on the north side of Boston Post Road, this classic saltbox retains much of its original building material.
The house is also significant due to it's role in the Colonial American slave trade. Read more about it here:
Greenwich Preservation Trust has included the documentation of early Slave families and the larger Freedom Trail story as an integral part of their mission to tell the full story of the Lyon Family.
In 1922 the Atlantic Highway, which ran from Maine to Florida, was renamed Route 1, and changes to the 2,400-mile road began in many states. In Greenwich the road was slated to be widened in 1925, and town leaders began to look for a suitable entryway to Greenwich, and, by extension, to the rest of New England.
The road was part of the ancient Boston Post Road system and retains that name in many places. In Greenwich it is called Putnam Avenue or US 1 today.
Greenwich Preservation Trust takes it's commitment to preserving the house seriously. We continue to work with the Town to restore and find an appropriate use for the Thomas Lyon House. Knowing that many of Greenwich’s rich architectural heritage buildings were being threatened with demolition, Greenwich Preservation Trust broadened their mission statement to advocate for the preservation of ALL of the town’s historic structures.
When Julia Lyon Saunders (the last of six generations of the Lyon family to occupy the house) and her husband Chester realized her family’s home would be demolished to accommodate the new road, they accepted an offer from the Lions and Rotary clubs in 1925 to move it to the opposite side of the road, on land the Town had purchased for the new Byram School, to be used as the “Gateway to New England.”
Moving the house meant that much of the existing context would be lost. The foundation, outbuildings, fences, plantings, and potentially significant archeological data, were all lost. But most importantly, the house was saved. In addition, much of the interior furnishings are artifacts were also preserved by the Lyon family.
Read about one of Thomas Lyon's son Joseph's home "up the Byram River:
The house is a wonderful example of "colonial vernacular" construction and is one of the oldest unaltered houses in Connecticut. But it needs substantial restoration and stabilization. Our mission is to bring it back to life and open it to the public as a teaching museum. It will showcase many of the original Lyon Family artifacts that have been carefully preserved and catalogued. As a public space, a variety of seasonal historic and community events will be highlighted.
There is much work to be done. Previous plans to move the house a second time have been dropped in favor of preserving the house where it stands. Read more about that decision here:
Read more about this remarkable National Historic Register house and the Lyon Family here:
How did the house survive in a virtually unaltered condition for so long?
Starting in 1925, enough money was raised to move the house across the road in 1927 to land leased from the Town, but there was little left to restore the interior. The onset of The Great Depression in 1929 provided a poor climate in which to raise funds for historic preservation.
After five years, the two clubs decided to lease the house to The American Fence Company, who would use one downstairs room as an office and restore the interior and make it available for visitors interested in Colonial homes and history. An article in the Greenwich Press on April 7, 1932, states that “the shrine is not to be commercialized or its value as a historic spot lessened by offensive advertising.” Road maps and other information for the passing motorist would be provided and the clubs mentioned the possibility of a room set aside to display historical documents and relics.
Two months later, the Lions and Rotary clubs opened it to the public on June 28, 1932. Unfortunately, not enough tourists or passing motorists showed interest in visiting the site. The clubs then decided to rent the house and use the income for their philanthropies, which they did for nearly 70 years.
In 1980 the Rotary Club ceded their interest to the Lions Club Foundation. When repairs to the house became too costly, they gave the house to the Town, which assumed legal responsibility for it in January 2007. The Town maintains the site and has removed 20th-century material that marred the house’s exterior.
The Thomas Lyon House has attracted the interest of architectural historians throughout the 20th century. It was included in a Works Progress Administration study in the 1930s, the Connecticut Statewide Inventory of Historic Houses in 1966, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. It is mentioned in J. Frederick Kelly’s The Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut and Florence S. Crofut’s Guide to the History and the Historic Sites of Connecticut.