Romanesque doesn’t describe most architecture in Greenwich.
Richardsonian Romanesque — even less.
Yet, one of the most distinctive buildings in the town’s historic municipal center exemplifies that late-nineteenth-century style of architecture.
The Havemeyer Building sits gracefully atop a gently sloping hill at the corner of Arch Street and Greenwich Avenue. No doubt the grand Syrian arch that frames the entrance and the elliptically-arched loggia that extends the horizontal line of the building to the north are curious features for those of us in New England who are so much more accustomed to Colonial, Georgian and Classical designs.
More intriguing still is that this handsome buff brick school building was given to the town in 1982 by Henry Osborne Havemeyer – the “Sugar King”. A Greenwich resident from 1882 to 1927, Mr. Havemeyer was an elementary school dropout.
Known in his early childhood as “a difficult, short-tempered student” according to his grandson, Harry W. Havemeyer. His formal education ended at the age of eight after a row with the principal!
Mr. Havemeyer became an apprentice in the family’s sugar refinery in Brooklyn at the age of fifteen, worked his way up the ladder, and became the principal partner in the firm by 1876.
Havemeyer’s architects, Loring & Phipps, who built the remarkably similar Miner Hall at Tufts University in Medford, MA, in the same year, borrowed from Henry Hobson Richardson’s interpretation of Romanesque design. He used massive solidity and strength to evoke a sense of permanence. The visual weight of his buildings was seen to “anchor them to earth”.
Though constructed as an elementary school, eventually high school classes were taught at the Havemeyer Building. Then, in 1907, the town opened its first dedicated high school at 27 Havemeyer Place. As other elementary schools opened around town, the Greenwich Board of Education moved in and is still headquartered there.
Mr. Havemeyer’s legacy extends to Old Greenwich as well. As related on page 519 of The School Journal, Volume 65, 1902, “The cornerstone for the new district school-house at Sound Beach, Conn., was laid on Wednesday, November 12 by H. O. Havemeyer. Mr. Havemeyer has given seven acres of land for the school site and $10,000 to enable a satisfactory building to be built. The district had already appropriated $20,000 for the school but, this sum was found to be insufficient for the building desired.”