Bush-Holley Historic Site

Frederick Childe Hassam, b 1859- d 1935, Elmer MacRae, b 1875- d 1953, Theodore Robinson, b 1852- d 1896, John Henry Twachtman, b 1853- d 1902, Julian Alden Weir, b 1852- d 1919
Greenwich Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road , Cos Cob, CT 06807 - view on Google Maps
203-869-6899
“The shining brass knocker upon the broad front door, ... the steep pitch of the rear roof and the massive chimney, all tell their story of long ago. The Holley House was a great, rambling, beautiful old accident.”
—Lincoln Steffens
The Bush-Holley House features two distinct time periods – the New Nation (1790-1825), when it was owned by a wealthy merchant, and its later life as a boarding house and home to the Cos Cob art colony (1890-1920). The house displays art and furnishings from both eras. The artists of the “Cos Cob Clapboard School,” as Childe Hassam dubbed it, found inspiration in the atmospheric old house.

ABOUT

For over two and a half centuries, this colonial saltbox has stood at the intersection of a millpond and a river flowing out to Long Island Sound from the once-busy coastal Greenwich village of Cos Cob, Connecticut. From this strategic spot, it witnessed the struggle for American independence and the birth of a new nation. Built by a wealthy merchant, the house continued to grow and its well-appointed rooms display fine furniture and floor-to-ceiling painted paneling that serve as a stark contrast to its austere attic slave quarters tucked above the kitchen.

In the 1890s, the “Old House” took on new life as the Holley Boarding House and with the addition of new windows and the second-story porch, it was an attractive setting for views of the harbor and a quiet retreat from the bustle and heat of New York City. Regular houseguests included noted artists such as John Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, Theodore Robinson and Childe Hassam as well as writers Willa Cather, Lincoln Steffens and Ernest Thompson Seton. It came to be known as the heart of the Cos Cob art colony, which consisted of 90 artists and 36 writers and performing artists. It was the cradle of American Impressionism and a center of intellectual exchange.

In addition to four New Nation rooms, four more rooms re-create life in the Holley boarding house and feature original works by Cos Cob artists, including resident artist Elmer MacRae, who was a student of John Twachtman and married the Holley’s daughter Constant in 1900. MacRae’s studio has been recreated based on period photographs and contains many original objects and images that inspired the art now on display. The rooms also provide a unique historical context to illustrate how the house, its occupants and the environs all served as subject matter for a new style of American art.

Did you know...?

Long-time resident Elmer MacRae was the treasurer and one of the organizers of the groundbreaking 1913 Armory Show.

SPECIAL RESOURCES

As the headquarters of the Greenwich Historical Society, the Archives of the Bush-Holley house reflect the long history of Greenwich and its inhabitants. Documents reveal the lives of those who lived in Greenwich: farmers as well as Gilded Age barons, politicians and civic leaders, artists and writers, bankers and shopkeepers. The activities of local churches, clubs, libraries, schools and municipal organizations are also recorded here. The scope of the collections is wide and varied, and includes personal papers, genealogical material, photographs, maps and plot plans, and the records of educational and religious organizations, businesses and associations.

Collections of particular note are the papers of the Holley and MacRae families, author Anya Seton’s personal papers and manuscripts, the listing files of the real estate companies Ladd & Nichols and Edson & Edson, and the papers of state and local politicians Florence Finney and Helen Binney Kitchell.

The Archives photograph collection, containing more than 40,000 prints, negatives, slides and glass plates, is an enormous visual resource for those interested in Greenwich history, especially its development from a nineteenth-century farming and shipping community to the commercial and residential center with strong ties to New York City that Greenwich is today.

The reference library contains many books on topics of local and regional interest.

WHAT TO DO HERE

  • Tour Bush-Holley House
  • Enjoy the period landscaping and heirloom vegetable garden
  • Visit the William E. Finch Jr. Archives and learn more about local history
  • View rotating exhibitions in the Storehouse Gallery
  • Attend lectures and programs at the Vanderbilt Education Center

YOU CAN ALSO SEE THE ART HERE:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Florence Griswold Museum
  • Wadsworth Athenaeum