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Greenwich Landmarks Series: Burns—One Family, Two Historic Homes

The Leander Burns home was built first, around 1849.

Two 19th century homes originally belonging to a father and son of the Burns family of Greenwich still sit in the western part of town.

The first, which was the property of Leander Burns, was built around 1849 on land purchased from William R. Smith for $125. Two-and-a-half stories, the house in Colonial style retains quite a number of original elements. Stone walls lining the property are of historic vintage, and in the basement a complex arrangement of beams overhead, hand-hewn or sawn, supports the first floor, alongside the fieldstone walls so typical of the era. Steps to the cellar entrance display a variety of Masonic symbols and an 1867 inscription date.

To the rear, facing a hillside, there’s an original four-paned attic window in a gable and a curvilinear bargeboard end below. Inside, the front parlor, the northeast bedroom on the second floor, and the main staircase still have the original molded chair rails. The main staircase also features early turned balusters and a molded handrail.

In both the 1850 and 1860 census reports, Leander was listed as a blacksmith. By 1880, he had become a machinist.

Burns was one of the first three members of the Union Society in the Riversville area, along with Josiah Wilcox and David Peck. The Society was organized in 1867 as a Sunday school and for church services by an ecumenical group of Congregationalists, Methodists and Baptists.

Livingston Burns built a Second Empire-style home next door to his father in the 1870s.

Next door is the fancier Second Empire-style home built by Leander Burns’ eldest son, Livingston R., on land purchased from David Peck in 1871, the same year that “Boss” Tweed built the Americus Club (also in Second Empire style) as a rendezvous site for his Tammany Hall members. Livingston Burns was an employee of the Tin Tool factory, according to the 1870 census.  A decade later, he was listed in a totally new career as a cigar-maker.

The Livingston R. Burns house, another two-and-a-half story house, has the typical Second Empire mansard roof and is cloaked in clapboards. The three-bay façade of the original home overlooks the Byram River. The front porch has posts and pilasters that rest on paneled pedestals and are topped with prominent capitals that, in turn, support an arched valance with curved keystones. A distinctive balustrade has stick balusters topped with “v” shapes that support the porch railing. Twin gabled dormers project from the slate-covered roof.

Inside, the front hall shows an open-string stairway with a massive newel post. The fireplace mantel in the living room has fluted pilasters, and the dining room has paneled pilasters accenting the hall entry and a recessed alcove.

Expanded and modified, both homes have survived together for more than 140 years.

—Written by Susan Nova, for the Greenwich Historical Society

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