Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Wondrous Time for Returning Veterans

For a copy of Tod's Point, contact the Greenwich Library Oral History Project on the library's lower level.
In honor of the Greenwich Library Oral History Project’s forty-fifth anniversary, we are continuing to honor the life of Greenwich resident, Nicolas Thiel Ficker. Previously, referring to on an earlier interview, we revisited Ficker’s life in Greenwich between World War I and World War II. This month, through a later interview, we pick up his life upon his return home after serving in the Army during the Second World War. The following is from that interview, conducted in 1975 by Oral History Project volunteer, Marian Phillips. This blog post was prepared by volunteer, Joseph Campbell.

Work underway to convert the Tod mansion to apartments
As troops began returning home from overseas, housing shortages became common, and Greenwich was not immune to this immerging crisis. With so many veterans returning from the war, the town, with a push by some residents, took action. As it turned out, one of those resident’s was Thiel Ficker’s younger brother, David, who, along with other residents, worked to have the town acquire the Tod Mansion, part of an old country estate, on the Long Island Sound. Their goal was to turn it into apartments for veterans. The town reluctantly agreed to the petitions and proposals and bought the property from a hospital in New York eager to sell because they could no longer afford to maintain it. The town bought the property for around $550,000.  

Following the purchase, a group of veterans formed a housing corporation, which was spearheaded in part by Ficker’s brother, who had convinced Ficker to return to Greenwich from Virginia where he was living. In 1946, Ficker came back and became part of the housing corporation that began converting the mansion into apartments. Upon completion, there were thirteen apartments ready for occupancy. An additional unit was added later when a butler’s pantry large enough to be an apartment was discovered. 

In his interview, Ficker recalls the history of the converted mansion and what life in it was like. He tells of a local contractor who broke the mansion up into the apartments but who left it to the veterans and their families to do the finishing work, including all the painting and woodworking. Each apartment had its own bedrooms and kitchens and baths and small living spaces, but the residents shared common rooms. Even the children had their own common play areas. While residents enjoyed this degree of communal living with common areas and close living quarters, they were not spared the travails and emergencies of life. 

One such problem was facing down hurricanes. Ficker and his wife, for example, had to carry their children to higher ground on the property during a storm when the water rose around their car. It was waist deep before the family reached safety. Other times the problems were more mundane but nevertheless required immediate action. Ficker describes the Thanksgiving when the septic system failed. The men in the families spent the holiday rebuilding the entire system, making the day a Thanksgiving never to be forgotten. Then there was the incident of the skunk with its head stuck in a mayonnaise jar. The poor trapped fellow was finally saved by one brave individual, and the skunk, as Ficker describes it, once freed from the jar, scooted off, without so much as a thank you, maybe because it was covered in mayonnaise.  

Sadly, the cost of maintaining the building became unmanageably high, and eventually all the residents had to move out. Ficker and his family lived there for eight years before they had to move on from Tod’s Point.

The mansion was demolished in 1961. Ficker’s story gives the reader a real sense of how wonderful those years were to him. Though there were trying moments, he looks back with a sense of humor and appreciation, knowing he was part of something historic and very special. Because of this interview and Ficker’s recollections, we too can appreciate a time lost to us but not lost to history. After reading Ficker’s interview, go to Tod’s Point, and as you look out over the Sound, remember the veterans and their families who for wondrous years made an old mansion at the Point their home. 

To read this interview, Veterans' Housing in the Tod Mansion, go to the library’s first floor reference area or to the Oral History Project office, located on the lower level of the library.