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SHEDDING | Greenwich: A Long-Dead Suffragette Inspires a Town’s Revitalization

SHEDDING | Greenwich: A Long-Dead Suffragette Inspires a Town’s Revitalization

Portrait of Susan B. Anthony (date unknown)

The Village of Greenwich embodies the promise, progress, and challenges facing much of Upstate New York. An indubitably gorgeous town in beautiful Washington County, about equidistant from New York City, Montreal, and Boston; bordered by Lake George and the Hudson River to the west, and Vermont to the East, about one-third of the region’s land is agricultural. 

For such a rural, tranquil place, Greenwich has had an outsize role in major conflicts (important battles of the French & Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812) and provided fertile ground for future changemakers, most notably Susan B. Anthony, who spent her formative childhood years there.

Embroidered by Tisha Dolton, Town Historian in 2013. Photo: Yesteryear in the Town of Greenwich, NY

While experiencing the fallout of a post-industrial Upstate, including its share of derelict properties, brownfields, and broad social and economic challenges, Greenwich has enjoyed a Renaissance, thanks in many ways to women inspired by one of the greatest social scientists in history, hometown hero Ms. Anthony herself. Over the past decade, women have lead the way buying and restoring downtown storefronts and adding new businesses, of which Battenkill Fibers is but one (Battenkill Fibers founder, Mary Jeanne Packer, is featured in a New York Makers Magazine interview this month). A pioneer of sorts, Greenwich innovatively sported a few solar-powered street lights in 2007.   

In 2020, Greenwich was granted $30,000 in an Engineering Planning Grant EPG grant to improve wastewater treatment. It was also given $200,000 to complete Brownfield Opportunity Area Nomination study of 45 vacant, abandoned, underutilized or brownfield sites. Many of these abandoned sites are on Main Street, or in former factories on the waterfront. The funds will address the vacancies themselves, and in the process, rehabilitate them for environmental issues, create spaces for retail and restaurants and improve waterfront access to visitors and residents.  

On August 18th, 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an effort to stabilize and preserve Susan B. Anthony’s childhood home. The home was built in 1832 by Anthony’s father, when he moved the family there to manage a cotton mill on the Battenkill River. 

Anthony lived at the two-story brick home on Route 29 in Greenwich from ages 13-19. Projects will include repairs to the roof, masonry and drainage, as well as mold remediation and water damage. The $695,000 project also included the purchase of an adjoining four-acre site, home to a former tavern. While the plans for the space remain somewhat in flux, the plan is to honor Anthony with a museum and memorial that will be open to the public.  

We sat down with Deborah Craig, the recent president of the Washington County Historical Society, to learn more. Please read on.

NEW YORK MAKERS: I understand you have been part of the move to revitalize Greenwich. Can you tell me when you first realized this was an important project that you wanted to take on?

DEBORAH CRAIG: As soon as I was old enough to have a conversation, I realized that something needed to be done, especially about Susan B. Anthony’s house. I grew up in the area, and every time we drove by, my father would tell me, “Don’t forget her. She’s the reason you’ll be able to vote one day.” I asked him one day why it wasn’t a museum, and he said he didn’t know. A family purchased it in the 1970s, and it was falling apart. They cleaned it up, and it was a relief to see. But then they moved on, and it fell into neglect again. There was a potential buyer from California that I learned about in 2002, and I was thrilled because he wanted to retire there and open the house up to visitors, but then that plan fell through. 

NYM: It seems like there was a lot of back-and-forth over the house in the past few decades. What happened?

DC: There was. In 2006, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation bought the property, which at that point had gone through foreclosure, for $1. But the state didn’t do much until 2020, when Senator Betty Little and state Assembly member Carrier Woerner became determined to preserve the house, just knowing that it was not simply an important historical artifact, but a place that would attract visitors and much-needed foot traffic to the downtown.  

Susan B. Anthony lived in this Greenwich/Battenville home from age 13 - 19. Photo: Wikitour

NYM: If you could envision the perfect memorial, what would it be?

DC: The first step would be getting the house stabilized and up to par, which is already in the works. There is fungus growing out of the floor and walls, black mold. There’s a lot to contend with structurally, and that has to be handled first. Then, I would love to see it turned into a research museum and library. When she was living there, Anthony really came into her own. She formed her view of the world. While she was living there with her five brothers and sisters, her parents and her in-laws, a school was added to the house for Anthony’s children and the children of the workers at his mill to attend. Her father opened it after learning that his daughter’s teacher wouldn’t show her how to do long division. She learned, from her father, both directly and indirectly, that women are as capable as men. My dream would be to teach visitors that essential lesson and also link it to the other historical sites honoring Susan B. Anthony. She lived in Rochester for many years, and the house she lived in, where she was arrested on the front porch for voting in a presidential election in 1872, is a popular draw. Her childhood home should be, too. 

NYM: Do you think more people would come to Greenwich if her home were turned into a real historical amenity?

DC: Absolutely. Greenwich has had a lot of new businesses move in over the years. Restaurants, antiques shops, boutiques. It would be wonderful for more people to see it. People who love history could make this just one stop on a tour of the 350-mile Suffragette Trail.  

Anthony died in 1906 at age 86, 14 years before the 19th Amendment was passed. Yet for many women, she is honored and thanked quietly, every time they cast a vote. It’s inspiring to see that a woman who accomplished so much — and never lived to see it — continues to move so many of us to do better, do more, every day. It’s also a relief to see her happy childhood stomping grounds honored, so that children driving by today can be reminded by their fathers of how much they have to thank her for.