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"Riverside” The Barclay Estate, 1860 
123 - 135 Rowayton Avenue

This lovely estate which stretched from McKinley Street all the way to Vincent Place was built for publisher George Palmer Putnam (among his writers were Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allen Poe.) Although he only owned the property from 1861 through 1867, George Putnam’s indelible influence upon Rowayton is still felt today. Probably first in his list of local accomplishments was his role in helping to bring a railroad to town. “He teamed up with Contentment Island resident, artist, and Washington insider Vincent Colyer to obtain approval at a time when trains between New York and New Haven didn’t even slow down when passing through town.”[1] Mr. Putnam was also instrumental in bringing the post office to Rowayton. To beef up local delivery and help justify opening a post office here, he forwarded mail from his Manhattan office to Rowayton. Putnam’s influence continued as one of the founders of the first, although ultimately unsuccessful, library in Rowayton, called the Lyceum Library Association. He had numerous books shipped from his publishing company to fill its shelves. The publisher also funded the children’s Sunday school at the Rowayton Methodist Church.

 

The estate was sold in1867 to stockbroker Robert Barclay, senior partner of Barclay

and De Coppet, his wife Mary or "Minnie" as she was known, and their family. Mr.

Barclay was an enthusiastic yachtsman, a loyal supporter of the Norwalk Yacht Club,

and the owner of considerable property including Big L’Hammock Island. His launch

Lou was a familiar sight on the Sound.

The couple remodeled the house into a handsome home in the 1890s, complete with barn and boathouse and a large expansive lawn lined with magnificent trees.  The Barclays lived there for many years, with a daughter and two sons, and eventually bought the property across the street, now called Barclay Court, where they built a home for their daughter Julia and several for the Barclay staff. Some of those cottages may have been Sears, Roebuck & Co. kit houses which had become popular in the early 1900s. 

 

The Barclays also developed some their land on the east side of Rowayton Avenue, including building the cottages at #6 and #8 Vincent Place. Both of these cottages were built using Sears, Roebuck & Co. kits. Just past the driveway of 8 Vincent Place is the entrance to Barclay Court.

Over the years, many Rowayton fundraising events were held on the spacious grounds of the Barclay estate and duly reported by the local paper. The annual Fair and Lawn Fete organized by the women of the Reliance Hook and Ladder Company was held there. “The affair was eagerly attended and was a success in every way. The grounds were beautifully decorated with colored electric lights, American flags, and cut flowers. There were many booths for [including] fancy articles, domestics, wheel of chance, cake, ice cream, and lemonade. The lower floor of the Barclay residence was thrown open for dancing, and many young people enjoyed it. The main feature of the evening was the water carnival which was held on the [R]iver at the rear of the grounds. Nine prizes were given for best, prettiest, and most unique water floats…entrance fee 25 cents. Music in the evening. Tea and sandwiches were served.”[2]

 

The property was put up for sale in the early 1950s. (Most likely at the time of Julia Barclay Kleinfelter’s death.) No buyers appeared. The town could have bought the land and buildings for $110,000 but turned down the offer. Finally a Darien developer bought the land.

 

A suspicious fire in the mid 1950s damaged the house so badly it had to be demolished. Only the boathouse and a barn survived.[3] Then a zoning change made it possible to sell to commercial interests. Part of the estate is incorporated into the building at 135 Rowayton Avenue. The Bounty Smith boatyard (owned by Les Smith) operated there for a while until Coldwater Seafood built an office building in 1977. That building was demolished in 2003.

The boathouse was moved to three separate locations at Jenkins/Ely Boatyard before being donated by Grove Ely and moved to its current home at 177 Rowayton Avenue. Historical Society board members Frank Raymond, Hank Gloetzner, and Fred Anderson and others spent countless hours turning the old boathouse into a maritime museum highlighting Rowayton’s relationship with the sea.

 

[1] Raymond, Frank E. Rowayton on the half shell.1993.

[2] Beth Duff, “George Palmer Putnam,” Darien New Canaan Rowayton Magazine, January 2007.

[3] The Barclay barn was remodeled into offices, most recently those of Dr. Shelley Trubowitz, D.D.S, and still stands, although unrecognizable as a barn.

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Barclay Boathouse with estate just behin
70.06.06 Robert Barclay and George McKay in front of the Barclay Estate on the Five Mile R

  The Barclay Estate from the River

The Barclay Tender "Lou"
with Mr. Barclay at the stern

Barclay Boat house moving down Row Ave_e
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The Barclay Boathouse moving to Pinkney Park and today, at its new home.

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