Khakum Wood
Greenwich, CT

Round Hill Road Entry
Round Hill Road Entry

Looking from Road Hill Road into Khakum Wood circa 1926

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Lake Avenue Road Entry
Lake Avenue Road Entry

Looking from Lake Avenue Road into Khakum Wood circa 1926

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photo-album-02924-02-ph50_17127388908_o

Looking from Clapboard Ridge Road into Khakum Wood circa 1926

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Round Hill Road Entry
Round Hill Road Entry

Looking from Road Hill Road into Khakum Wood circa 1926

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Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

The stately homes among Greenwich's private Khakum Wood neighborhood enjoy a secluded, wooded landscape dotted with ponds and creeks. The roads meander along the hillsides and glades edged by fieldstone walls. For the discerning homebuyer, the prestige of the neighbor's historic estates and pastoral setting is a major selling point. 

The neighborhood's growth begins with the reversal of fortune for Isaac Newton Stokes Phelps and his wife Edith, owners of the property. The immense cost of collecting materials for the six-volume The Iconography of Manhattan Island had not been recouped by sales, and financial strain was beginning to build1. In 1925, the Stokes wrote to the Olmsted Brothers seeking their help in subdividing the property for development. The landscape architects considered how future development might affect the use and enjoyment of the main residence and prepared several sketches exploring potential layouts.

The most economical approach for development yielded 37 separate lots, 36 of which could be sold. The remaining lot, consisting of 20 acres, would remain around the existing summer residence and buffer it from development lower on the hill. The plan also made judicious use of self-imposed "restriction lines" near meaningful natural elements such as rock ledges, brooks, significant trees, and desirable views. The deliberate intent by the landscape architects to preserve these features during and after development allowed for the character of the landscape to become expressed rather than eliminated.

However, some of the more natural-looking features of Khakum Wood arose as the result of construction. The two main ponds, historically known as swamps on prior surveys, were deepened to function as catchment areas for runoff. Rubble stone dams four to five feet in height impound the water and control its discharge to the surrounding brooks. A larger upland dotted with moist soils and scattered trees, became a lake on the general plan, excavated out 60,000 cubic yards of muck to catch significant volumes of runoff from the adjacent parcels and convey it slowly down the brooks to the lower ponds. Grading plans by the firm show that most of the work was done below the water line with an effort to protect the bank vegetation. However, the change in hydraulics almost certainly impacted the functioning of the wetland system. In modern times, such work would not be allowed!

The landscape architects took a lighter touch with the infrastructure, choosing to route the electric lines and water service within the roadway corridors. Drainage pipes under roadways and within certain properties to control runoff were designed to avoid open ditches or damage to trees. Mr. Stokes added signage at each entrance to the subdivision to announce the availability of private lots to potential buyers. Construction of these improvements and the watercourse excavations was completed in 1926 before the first buyers arrived.

 

The haste of the work appears to have resulted in a number of headaches for Mr. Stokes. In a letter of July 17, 1929, he lamented to the Olmsted Brothers that the quality of water pipes had proven to be very poor, and that the dredging of the lake area was not nearly as deep as had been intended. He told Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. that he intended to keep the retainage from the site contractor to defray his out of pocket expenses in fixing the problems2. He wound up settling the claims for $500 to avoid the hassle of litigation.

Real estate speculators were undeterred by these potential issues. In 1928, the Real Estate Board of Greenwich commissioned architect Julius Gregory to design a model home in the Tudor revival style that would serve as an example for the others to follow. It was listed and quickly sold for a sum of $140,000. Christened Brae Tarn, the home received tremendous acclaim from its 1930 publication in Country Life magazine3.

 

Despite widespread economic crisis from the Great Depression, there were numerous homebuyers eager to purchase lots and begin building. To keep the neighborhood feel consistent, the Board devised a series of recommendations for architectural and site features. Homes would be constructed of stone in the Georgian or Tudor revival style, a requirement that became relaxed in later years as fireproofing materials became common. Driveways would approach the homes indirectly and feature a circle or porte cochere at the front door. A Khakum Wood Association was formed to unite the homeowners together in administering their common goals and interests.

As more lots sold, Mr. Stokes became less involved with the design and ceded that responsibility to the Association. His later correspondence with the Olmsted Brothers firm relates to minor land improvements and maintenance questions. Meanwhile, the Association wrote separately to Edward Clark Whiting, project manager at Olmsted Brothers, to garner his opinion on a number of matters. Reflective signs, under drain pipes, and a new stone wall for the Clapboard Ridge Road entrance were a frequent topic of inquiry.

The firm continued to consult on the design for Khakum Wood through the 1940s and 1950s as additional homes were constructed. Individual homeowners sought out their advice on plantings, grading, drainage, and other features that would best complement the intended architectural style of the home. As late as 1977, the firm continued to receive and review materials sent to them by property owners seeking their opinion.

Today, the neighborhood retains much of its Olmstedian character. The young saplings and juvenile shrubs have become mature forests and thickets. The lake, pond, and brooks have continued to flow freely. Stone walls still dot the landscape. defining property edges and articulating viewsheds. That the environment looks natural and free from heavy-handed intervention is a testament to the longevity and strength of the development concept.

 

The neighborhood is one of the best-preserved examples of work by the Olmsted Brothers firm in Connecticut. Unfortunately, no public access is available due to the private ownership of the grounds by the Khakum Wood Association. Very little of the interior landscape is visible from the adjacent public roadways.

Historic Plans & Images

Site Analysis
Site Analysis

August 1925 field notes overlaid on sketch of existing conditions indicating suitability for certain proposed improvements.

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Concept Plan
Concept Plan

1925 plan for Khakum Wood including roads, home sites, ponds, and other improvements, later revised in 1937.

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Pond Grading Plan
Pond Grading Plan

1925 plan showing grading improvements to be made to the existing ponds on the site.

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Site Analysis
Site Analysis

August 1925 field notes overlaid on sketch of existing conditions indicating suitability for certain proposed improvements.

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Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

 

Project Data and Further Reading

Job # 2924 (1926 -1979)

This site is CLOSED for public visits because the Khakum Wood Road, Khakum Drive, and Konittekock Road are private and managed by the Khakum Wood Association. Please respect the privacy of the residents and do not visit unless you are an invited guest.


Scans of Original Plans and Documents

1: Olmsted Legacy Trail: Stokes Residence
2: Library of Congress: Khakum Wood Subdivision Correspondence
3: Greenwich Free Press: Historic “County Life House” in Khakum Wood for Sale, Remarkably Intact