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Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Judge's Corner: Recollections Incident to the 90th Birthday of Oliver D. Mead-The Story of Field Point-"Cousin Oliver" Mead, A Remote Cousin of Oliver D. Mead

Source: The Greenwich Press. January 5, 1933.

The recent publication in The Press of the 90th birthday of Oliver D. Mead has brought inquiries as to the lineage of Mr. Mead and as to his real estate inheritance. The news article spoke of a cousin and gave a hint of a defective title, healed by a law suit. There was just enough revealed to whet the curiosity of people who had no knowledge of Greenwich 40 or 50 years ago.

The history a Field Point Park presents an intriguing story, unlike any applying to New England farm, for that is exactly what it was up to a half a century ago. In those days the public was told of Ocher Point at Newport and how much it had cost for development. But it was no circumstance to Field Point the deed for which carried a stamp of $500 – a dollar a thousand.

But the story cannot be repeated here. In the volume "Other Days in Greenwich," it is told with illustrations. Of that book only a few copies are left and as the type has been distributed there will be no other edition and it will soon be added to the list of those "out of print."

The story of Field Point is tinged with romance. The 27 proprietors of the town in the 17th century do not appear to have highly regarded it. They apportioned what seemed to them the most desirable portions of town to those who did not bear the name of Mead. It is frequently assumed because of the number of families of the name of the town was settled by John Mead. But he did not appear here until 1660. All of the rest of the proprietors except himself and Joseph Mead bore other names.

And it was not be forgotten that Greenwich was Old Town and that our present center was not acquired until 1686 the name of Horseneck Plantation. Angell Husted, the Palmers, Lockwoods and Ferrises had for some years been attracted by this eminence nearly 100 feet above sea level and much higher at points farther north. A committee was appointed to look into the matter and after a favorable report this territory was acquired.

But before that, the famous Field Point, then common land, had been used as a horse pasture and later the proprietors gave it the formal name of Horseneck Field Point. From that the name Horseneck was applied to the village as it grew rapidly after the acquisition by Old Town.

A century later Abraham Mead was conducting a pottery on the point where Held House afterwards stood. He went by the name of the Deacon Potter, because of his occupation. A recent pageant at the Second Congregational Church presented him as one of the characters. He had two sons, Isaac and Zophar. The latter settled in the southerly end of Field Point and was the father of Oliver. Isaac settled in the northerly portion, and was the father of a Augustus, our first judge of probate.

It is often suggested that Oliver D. Mead was the son of Oliver. But Oliver died a bachelor at the age of 87, leaving as his nearest heirs the two sons of Judge Mead, the late Nelson B. Mead and Augustus I. Mead. Oliver D. Mead is a remote cousin. And indeed during the long life of Oliver Mead he was blessed with a little army of cousins. Apparently every one bearing the Mead names or whose mother did, addressed him and spoke of him as "Cousin Oliver."

This disposition to prevail upon Oliver has often been attributed to his wealth. But it was less sordid than that. It was inspired by respect and pity for a sweet-tempered old man who from his early youth had been an invalid. It is true that he was able to go about with the aid of a cane, but when he tied his horse to a stone hitching post in front of Avery & Wilson's store he supported his trembling form by the wagon shaft until he reached the horse's head. He was not only a kindly, sweet-tempered old man but he was charitable. The wants of other people and the necessities of public charities and institutions were never out of mind. Especially in those matters he was aided by Miss Sally Mead, another cousin who occupied the position of housekeeper for many years until her death.

Quite as remarkable as any exhibition of his generosity was the fact that he turned Round Island and its beach over to public use for a long period of years. No church between Bedford and the Sound contemplated any other place for its Sunday School picnic than Round Island. And there were daily throngs often treading on his growing crops for free bath on the beach. And this invasion of private property often extended to Bank's Rock and the extremity of Field Point.

Of course the read will remember that conditions were different from those of the present time. The local population was small and means of transportation from outside communities was limited. But nevertheless it was a remarkable exhibition of generosity to those he never had met and had never addressed them as "Cousin Oliver."

For the period in which he lived Oliver Mead was a man of large wealth. His farm was always a source of profit. Such men as William Ellenton and Jerome Reeves led his force of employees. He enjoyed the sight of this growing crops; those fields of waving corn and grain. He admired the great loads of potatoes that found their way to the New York market through the storage vault or potato cellar on Round Island, still existing and bearing the date 1829. The New York produce merchants never had to look twice at the importations from Field Point. It was enough to see "O.M." stenciled on the containers.

But feeble as he was, the administration of this great farm, as long as he lived, it was within his own control. Money accumulated but there was no disposition to be miserly and his estate inventoried, besides his real estate, more than $100,000 of choice securities. His inclination to improve the farm was seen in the stone basins he built for the outflow of springs and for the massive stone walls, portions of which are still visible. The approach to the homestead was over a private way beginning at what is now the head of the Shore Road. Along the private road he set out a line of standard pear trees which gave it the name of Peartree Lane. For many years he cared for these trees yielding abundant crops that were mostly consumed by the public as they passed to and fro to the bathing beach.

People have usually assumed that the acquisition by Oliver D. Mead of Field Point was because of relationship. But it was far too remote to exercise any influence in the matter. It is not generally realized that Daniel Smith Mead, the father of Oliver D., and his family were always closely associated with "Cousin Oliver." Their lands adjoined at Indian Harbour and on the north side Field Point. They have many interests in common. Judge Mead, another son of D. Smith Mead, now deceased, had much to do with the handling of the investments.

Some of those who extended their congratulations to Oliver D. Mead on his attaining the age of 90 were not unmindful of the fact that as a man in the prime of his life he and his family gave up their village home to live on a farm to devote themselves to the comfort of "Cousin Oliver" it his declining years. His arrival at 90 was not as so much a cause for congratulations as that he is enjoying excellent health and that in memory he can live over again those years when until the end of the old man's life they became like father and son.

The same house, built by Deacon Abraham Mead for his son, Oliver, and 1792, shelters the family. It is covered by the original handrove shingle. Its form is unchanged. It has all the features of a house built just after the Revolution. Within are panel work about the rooms, artistic mantles and open fire places in front of which the original owner found so much comfort in the closing years of this life. 

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