Originally built in the late 17th century it has grown organically over time to its current size and shape reflecting the changing needs of its various owners.
The Knapp family owned the property from 1692 to 1814, building and expanding the Cottage over the years. Captain Israel Knapp, Jr. inherited the house from his father in 1729 and in 1754 applied for a license to keep “a publick house of entertainment where he could retail strong drink.” Thus, Knapp’s Tavern came into existence. It offered comfort to travelers making their way between New York and Boston. The Tavern also became an important meeting place for the local community to discuss the concerns of the day. It must have been a momentous day when George Washington and his troops stopped for lunch on February 26, 1776. A copy of his bill of fare is part of the memorabilia one can see when touring the Cottage. It was also here that the Mason’s (Union Lodge #5) signed their Charter on November 18, 1763.
Putnam Cottage has long been associated with General Israel Putnam and his heroic escape from the British during the Revolutionary War. Although this association highlights just a brief moment in its history, General Putnam’s influence is felt all over town. A few examples include Putnam Cottage, Putnam Avenue, Putnam Cemetery and most significantly the Town of Greenwich’s Seal depicting General Putnam and his horse riding down what is now known as Put’s Hill.
There is much conjecture about the circumstances surrounding Gen. Putnam’s infamous ride. Legend tells us he was staying at Knapp’s Tavern. On the morning of February 26, 1779, while shaving, he was alerted by one of his men that Gen. Tyron’s men were advancing on Horseneck (Greenwich.) Putnam ran out the back door of the tavern, jumped on his horse, barely escaping capture. Soon into his ride he came upon a steep hill (now known as Put’s Hill) located at the corner of Old Church Road and East Putnam Avenue. Sizing up the situation, he and his horse heroically rode down the steep slope. A British soldier fired a shot which passed through his hat (on display at the cottage), he shook his fist at him, cursed and rode off to Stamford for reinforcements.
The Knapp family sold the Cottage to the Tracy family in 1814 and they, in turn, sold it to Francis Tomes in 1855. There were a number of other owners until 1901. During this period of time many alterations were made to the Cottage. It was heavily “Victorianized”. Although some of the walls may have already been clad in plaster, the rest were plastered covering up many special elements of the original colonial building. Additionally, an outside porch was added, as was a water shed in the rear of the house and shutters on the windows. It would have been unrecognizable from the building you see today.
On November 30, 1901, Col. H.H. Adams, husband of Helen Adams, the first Regent of the Putnam Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), purchased the Cottage and one acre of land for $7,125. On November 13, 1902, the deed was presented to the newly formed Israel Putnam House Association (IPHA) to preserve and maintain the Cottage as a museum. The property has been held in trust for the use and benefit of the Putnam Hill Chapter of the DAR for over 100 years.
Extensive fundraising to furnish the house was necessary. It was opened as a tearoom for several years to help raise this money. On June 14, 1906, Knapp’s Tavern was opened to the public and rechristened “Putnam Cottage.”
In 1968, the discovery of the fieldstone fireplaces behind the plastered walls marked the beginning of a major restoration. It took a number of years but eventually it was returned to its appearance when it was Knapp’s home and Knapp’s Tavern. The colonial house you see today.
Putnam Cottage/Knapp’s Tavern Museum, listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, consists of the cottage, a barn, a carriage shed and a colonial “kitchen” garden tended by The Women’s Club of Greenwich.
The Israel Putnam House Association does not receive public funding. To help support the Cottage, the DAR holds two fundraisers a year, The Candle Light Open House in early December and Put’s Ride / Revolutionary Days! to be held, this year, on February 28th. Admission is $5 per person.
For over 100 years, these two organizations have been able to maintain the Cottage mostly with contributions. With so many organizations in town, vying for the same dollars, this has become harder and harder for us. We need the support of people who believe in the protection and preservation of this treasure. The Town of Greenwich needs Putnam Cottage so that current and future generations will be able to learn about the history of our past.