To enter the garden landscape at the Greenwich Historical Society's museum campus in Cos Cob is to take a step back in time. The historic site presents a recreation of how this group of structures, gardens and plantings appeared at the height of the Cos Cob art colony era, a period lasting from about 1890 to 1920. During these decades the Bush-Holley House - then a boarding house run by Josephine and Edward Holley, and later their daughter and son-in-law Emma Constant Holley MacRae and Elmer Livingston MacRae - became the center of Connecticut's first art colony and the cradle of American Impressionism.
The Historical Society stands on land that was hunted and cultivated for centuries by the Wiechquaskeck, a Munsee-speaking group of the Lenape people. European settlers arrived in the 17th century, and the Bush-Holley House has stood on this site since circa 1730, originally home to the Bush family. David Bush built a tide-powered grist mill in 1768 where Strickland Brook runs into the Cos Cob Harbor, which anchored the waterfront business district known as the Cos Cob Lower Landing. At this time the house was surrounded by fields planted and maintained by enslaved laborers and hired hands.
Historic photographs and paintings were used to determine how the gardens and plants surrounding these historic structures appeared at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Diaries and letters from the period offer glimpsees into the vegetables and fruits that were planted, harvested and eaten at the Holley table. Today, the flower and vegetable gardens, historic plantings and fruit trees that surround these buildings offer direct connection to the past and speak to the legacy of careful tending by the many individuals who lived and worked here.