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            On the first anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, the members of the Dix Hills Fire Department dedicated a bell in his memory.  The bell now sits in front of the department’s first firehouse on the east side of Deer Park Road, south of the Expressway.  The bell was a gift from the Brothers of St. Francis, who had recently relocated from Dix Hills to Oyster Bay, and who were active in the fire department since shortly after its creation in 1947.

            The Brothers of St. Francis were teachers.  Locally, they taught at St. Anthony’s High School in the San Remo section of Smithtown (from 1933 to 1984 when the school moved to the former Holy Family Diocesan high school in South Huntington) and operated Camp Alvernia in Centerport.  To accommodate a growing number of young men entering the order, the Franciscans opened the St. Francis Novitiate on November 21, 1949 on a 30-acre property on the southeast side of Straight Path about a third of a mile from Deer Park Road.  The property had been left by Mrs. Elizabeth A. Collins to the Diocese of Brooklyn when she died.  The Brothers converted the house for school use and built several additional structures, doing all the work themselves except plumbing and heating.  The Brothers also grew vegetables and raised poultry and pigs on the property.

            When volunteers from the newly formed fire department began building their first firehouse on Deer Park Road, the Brothers stored one of the department’s trucks in their garage.  The Brothers provided a more lasting service to the fire department as dispatchers.  Originally, calls to the fire department were routed to the fire chief’s house.  The chief’s wife would then initiate a call tree by calling the homes of other firefighters alerting them to the emergency.  The calls would be relayed from one volunteer’s house to the next. This was not an ideal system, especially if no one was home to answer the call.  What was needed was a telephone that would be answered at all hours.  Since the Brothers were always on campus, they would always be available to answer the call. 

            When a call came into the Novitiate, the brother answering the call would note the type of fire and its location and then activate the siren at the firehouse.  The first volunteer to arrive at the fire house would get the information about the fire from the Novitiate and write the information on the blackboard for the firemen who came later.  The Brothers provided the service free of charge throughout the 1950s.  Their role was unknown to most residents of the community.

            Brother Bernard, who was in charge of the Novitiate, often gave the invocation at fire department dinners and was made an honorary member of the department.

            The close association between the Brothers and the fire department came to end after the Brothers purchased a 24-acre property in Upper Brookville in 1961.  The new site offered more room to house the increasing enrollment at the Novitiate.  Before the Brothers left, the fire department invited the community to a full dress review at the Novitiate on July 4, 1961.

            The property on Straight Path was subdivided in 1963.  Over a hundred houses now sit on Longworth Avenue, Ascot Court, Kent Place, Hastings Street, and Wentworth Drive.  No trace of the area’s former use as a training site for young Franciscans can be found.

            After they left, the Brothers had one more contribution to make to the fire department.  On November 22, 1964, the fire department dedicated a one-ton bell donated by the Brothers in memory of the assassinated president.  The bell, which was cast in 1872, is proudly displayed in front of the firehouse.

A more complete account of the early history of the Dix Hills Fire Department by ex-Chief Perry D. Hatch can be found here.

In 1956, archeologists from Fordham University conducted digs at 187 Park Avenue where several Indian artifacts were found leading the archeologists to conclude that the property was the site of a Matinecock village.  The Town Historian at the time speculated that this may have been the place where the First Purchase was signed.  But there was no evidence to support that claim.

The house at 187 Park Avenue is said to have been built around 1740.  Some accounts assert it was built as a wedding gift for Amelia Lloyd, but she wasn’t born until 1760.  It is unclear what support there is for the 1740 construction date.  The first deed for the property is dated 1811 when Amelia Lloyd sold the eight-acre property to Mary Long.

Amelia Lloyd married John Lloyd II in April 1783.  John was 39, Amelia was a month shy of her 23rdbirthday.  John had grown up on Lloyd Neck; Amelia in Danbury, CT.  In September 1783, five months after their wedding, John wrote from Stamford to Amelia in Danbury.  He advised of his plans to visit Long Island before “returning to the arms of my Amelia.”  He said their separation must be “born with patience especially as it is to prepare a residence for the enjoyment of our mutual affections and esteem.”  It has been supposed he was referring to the house on Park Avenue.  However, it seems more likely that he was referring to the Manor House on Lloyd’s Neck, which he had inherited from his uncle, Joseph Lloyd.  John Lloyd II died in 1792.  Amelia may have purchased the Park Avenue house after his death.  Indeed, a letter to her dated 1794 is addressed to her at the Manor of Queens Village, i.e. Lloyd’s Neck.  A year later she received a letter addressed to her at Huntington, NY.

John, who had supported Independence, inherited much of the land on Lloyd Neck from his father and uncle, Joseph.  That inheritance included Jupiter Hammon, the first published writer of African descent in the country, who had been enslaved by the Lloyd family since his birth in 1711.  

As noted above, Amelia sold the Park Avenue property to Mary Long in 1811.  She died seven years later in Danbury.  The eight-acre parcel more or less ran from Park Avenue to the creek and from Creek Road south to Mill Lane.

Mary Long was the wife of cabinet maker Richard Long, who died in 1818.  Mary Long sold the eight-acre parcel to William Coburn, who was also a cabinet maker.  Coburn was one of the earliest members of the Methodist Church in Huntington.  When a church was built in 1829 on Main Street, Methodists who lived near the harbor and didn’t wish to travel to the village for services, worshiped in the loft of Coburn’s cabinet shop, which was reportedly in the eastern most room of the house. 

In 1833, Coburn sold the property to Elbert Walters, who was yet another cabinet maker.  Walters was also one of the founders of the Huntington Mutual Fire Insurance Company and served as Overseer of the Poor and Town Trustee as well as school district trustee.  In 1838, he raised a company of light infantry and was granted a Captain’s commission by the Governor, later promoted to Major.  In addition to his wife and six children, two apprentices and two Black servants (one of whom was an 11-year-old girl) lived in the house.

Waters also acquired land on the west side of the Creek.  From that property he sold small lots to Nelson Smith and Peter Crippen in 1854 and 1864 respectively.  Smith and Crippen were founders of Bethel A.M.E. Church

According to William A. Rushmore, who lived in the house for almost 90 years, the original house is the four-bay east section.  A small addition to the west proved too small and was replaced by the current west wing in the 1860s or 70s.  The original west wing was moved to Creek Road where it was used by a Black family.  This may have been used by one of the three Black families listed on the 1870 census on Creek Road–Peter Crippen, Nelson Smith and George Smith.

In 1865, Walters moved his shop to Wall Street and sold the Park Avenue property to Daniel K. Youngs of Oyster Bay.  Youngs was a descendant of an old Long Island family–his ancestor hosted George Washington during the president’s 1790 tour of Long Island.  Youngs was an expert agriculturalist.  He was one of the founders of the Queens County Agricultural Society.  In 1875, The Long-Islander pointed to Youngs’ gardens on Park Avenue as an example of the value of a good kitchen garden.  According to his obituary in The Long-Islander, Youngs “was a thoroughly practical market gardener and his fields of onions, rhubarb and asparagus opened the eyes of many of the farmers in this vicinity of the possibilities and profits of market gardening.”

Youngs’ father died in 1874 and he seems to have then moved back to Oyster Bay.  In 1877, Captain Meade, Commandant of the Marine barracks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, leased the premises.  Charles Kohlman leased the barn and gardens.

Youngs sold the house to William H. Rushmore on March 1, 1884 for $3,000 (Suffolk County Deed Liber 280, page 505).  Thirty days later Rushmore sold the property to his cousin Rebecca J. Sutton for the same price (Suffolk County Deed Liber 280, page 507). 

The cousins moved to Huntington from Brooklyn in 1880 following the death of Rushmore’s wife and Sutton’s husband.  In the 1880 census, Rushmore and his two sons, William A. (age 12) and Henry (age 10) and Rebecca Sutton and her three children (ages 8 to 16) are listed as boarders in the household of Rebecca Sutton’s mother, Cornelia Sands.  

Rushmore was in the brick business and later a stock broker.  His son, William A. Rushmore, recalled an incident in 1888 when his father needed an operation for acute appendicitis.  William, Sr.’s brother, who was a well-known surgeon in Brooklyn, performed in operation in the living room of the Lloyd House.  William, Jr. reported that the doctors in Huntington were eager to watch the operation.  William, Sr. died in 1918.

William A. continued to live in the house.  He was born in 1867.  He started work at the City Savings Bank in 1903 and stayed there until he retired in 1932 after he had a slight heart attack.  As early 1899, William A. Rushmore was playing violin with the Huntington Orchestral Society.  By 1907 he was hosting meetings of the Chess Club at his house. He joined the Huntington Yacht Club in 1925.

When a sewer plant was proposed for Huntington in 1914, he objected to the proposed location on Creek Road.  In 1932 he was appointed to a committee to investigate problems at the sewer plant and possible expansion of the sewer district to include Halesite.

William A. didn’t acquire title to the house until 1947.  Two years later he sold it to his cousin Marian Statesir Smith.

After President Kennedy was shot, William flew in front of his house an American flag with a black border that his grandmother had added when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

Rushmore with the Blac- Banded Flag

William A. died in 1968.  The house was sold in 1973 to attorney Jordan Iserman, who converted it to office use.  The Daniel Gale Real Estate Agency moved its offices there in November 1973.  Kent Gale purchased the property less than a decade later.  Although the Daniel Gale agency moved its offices to 263 Main Street in the summer of 2022, the Gale family continues to own the Amelia Lloyd House.

he House in 1973

Two hundred and forty-six years ago, the Huntington Liberty flag was proudly carried into battle by members of the Huntington Militia.  The Liberty flag, which is now the official flag of the Town of Huntington, was created just a month earlier when Huntingtonians first received news that the Continental Congress had adopted the Declaration of Independence.  The Huntington Militia as part of the First Regiment of the Suffolk County Militia marched to Brooklyn to fight to make the words of declaration real.  Although the Battle of Long Island was a defeat for the Americans, many militia members continued the fight.

Today members of the Huntington Militia commemorated the battle with a wreath laying ceremony at the Sons of the American Revolution memorial in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building.

The Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia was formed in 1653 by the Town of Huntington to provide an effective defense against the hostile Dutch settlements of New Netherlands.  The militia held regular, public training exercises on the Town Common. Huntington was made part of the Colony of New York in 1664 and the Huntington Militia became part of the New York Provincial forces in 1666.  Over the years, trained volunteers from Huntington served honorably in the French and Indian Wars. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the Huntington Militia formed the nucleus of the first Suffolk County Regiment of Militia and raised several companies, which later fought in the Battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights and White Plains.


After the Battle of White Plains, the Militia as a unit did not follow the Continental Army into New Jersey, however some militiamen as individuals enlisted in various mainland regiments. The unit then dispersed. The militiamen not returning to Huntington formed a shadow organization of guerrilla fighters in Connecticut to raid occupied Long Island.
 

The militiamen who returned to their homes in Huntington during the British Occupation (1776-1783) were pressed into a forced labor company. When the Revolutionary War ended, Huntington reestablished the Militia. The Huntington Militia continued to be active under the New Republic and was called out for active service during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. In modern times, however, it was eclipsed as a military force by the National Guard System. Thereafter, it continued only as a social group whose members marched in annual parades until the 1920s.

The Huntington Militia was reactivated by The Town of Huntington in 1974, to serve in a ceremonial capacity as its official Colonial Guard and to continue as a permanent, living link with our proud heritage. The militia became a Revolutionary War reenacting unit in 1976 and continues to this day to preserve its heritage and recreate life as it was on Long Island in Colonial America. 

As we look forward to the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, it is important that we commemorate and honor the sacrifices made by our forebearers.  

Starting in the 1960s, as rail lines were being abandoned, efforts were made to convert those lines into hiking and biking paths. The movement has grown over the decades thanks to federal legislation enacted in 1983. Today, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reports there are over 2,000 rail trails, covering over 24,000 miles in the United States. But that total does not include two former rail rights of way that are now trails in (or near) the Town of Huntington.

The first of these trails is not actually in the Town of Huntington. It is just over the County line in the Town of Oyster Bay. And trains never rolled down tracks there. That right of way traces its origin to the 1850s. If things had gone according to plan, Cold Spring Harbor would have its own train station.  As it is, the station called “Cold Spring Harbor” is actually in West Hills.

When originally built in the 1840s, the Long Island Rail Road provided a link between Brooklyn and Boston.  Trains would leave Brooklyn every day, except Sunday, and about four hours later arrive in Greenport on the North Fork where passengers and freight would transfer to steamboats to take them to Connecticut to continue their journey to Boston by train.

This arrangement bypassed the villages along the north shore.  It soon became apparent that the rail road’s financial success depended on providing service to those towns.   In 1853, at the height of Cold Spring Harbor’s whaling activities and under the leadership of the Jones family, the Hicksville and Cold Spring Branch Railroad was incorporated to provide train service to our village.  The separately owned line would be leased to the Long Island Rail Road.  The new branch line reached Syosset the following year.  

Before the Civil War, a right of way was cleared and graded along the west side of the valley south of St. John’s church.  Grading was completed as far south as Stillwell Lane when the outbreak of war interrupted the work.  

After the war, The Long Island Rail Road decided to extend the line to Huntington.  Disputes over the purchase price for land in Huntington led the Rail Road to locate the line a mile and a half south of Huntington—and also Cold Spring Harbor.

The “Cold Spring Harbor” station was originally west of Avery Road in Woodbury; in 1903 it was moved to its current location.

While no trains run to the head of the harbor, hikers can walk the right of way that was cleared almost 170 years ago.  The Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, which starts next to the Cold Spring Harbor Library, crosses over Harbor Road about 1500 yards south of Lawrence Hill Road.  After running along the stream, the trail leads uphill to the unused rail road right of way.  Hikers walk through a narrow ravine dug out through the hillside and then over a narrow plateau created with the dug-out dirt.  The quiet beauty of the valley is never interrupted by the sound of a rumbling train.

The second rail trail did see active train use. When the Long Island Rail Road by-passed Cold Spring Harbor and Huntington villages in 1867, it also by passed Centerport. Like Huntington Station, the Centerport station was located well south of its namesake hamlet. Both stations grew to become independent and vibrant communities–Huntington Station and Greenlawn.

Further east, the rail line terminated at the intersection of Route 25A and Church Street, a mile from Northport’s Main Street, which is closer than the stations for Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, and Greenlawn are from their respective downtowns. When the railroad was extended further east to Port Jefferson, a second Northport station was built at Larkfield Road in 1873 The line to the old Northport station became a spur. Passengers used both stations until 1899 when passenger service on the spur was discontinued. The spur continued to be used for freight until 1978. The rails were dismantled in 1985.

The abandoned line remained unused until the Town of Huntington entered into a ten year license agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2008. In 2017, that agreement was extended on a month to month basis.

The Northport Rail Trail runs 0.65 miles from Laurel Hill Road to a point on the west side of Elwood Road 250 yards south of Route 25A. The old rail line east of Elwood Road is now a car wash with a very long driveway.

It is not surprising that one can stumble across pieces of Huntington history in any number of places throughout town.  But in Nashville, Tennessee?  A friend recently visited Belle Meade Plantation there and found a carriage made right here on Wall Street in Huntington village in 1884. 

The park drag or private coach, also known as a Tally Ho was the work of one of Huntington’s many nineteenth century carriage manufacturers.  William T. Downs, who had displayed a knack for building things as a school boy, learned carriage making at his uncle Frederick G. Sammis’ factory on Green Street.  During his apprenticeship, he developed the ability to build any type of carriage.  After a brief stint in Western New York, Downs returned to Huntington and opened his own carriage manufacturing business.  He soon developed a reputation for excellent workmanship. 

His success led to the need for a larger factory, which he built on the east side of Wall Street, half a block north of Main Street.  When the factory was completed in the Spring of 1884, he was also in the process of securing a contract to manufacture a large number of cabs for the New York Cab Company.  Unfortunately, at the same time, he became seriously ill and was not able to finalize the contract.

However, in August 1884, he was well enough to witness the delivery of his masterpiece—a Tally Ho for Francis T. Underhill of Oyster Bay (see postscript below).  A Tally Ho, also known as a Park Drag, was the conveyance for the wealthy set.  Coaching was a popular sport in England developed as a social and leisure activity based on the mail runs of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Apparently, the English aristocracy thought the mail carriers were having a lot of fun running their mail coaches through the countryside.  Of course, the aristocrats’ carriages were more luxurious than the mail carriages on which they were based.  Eager to emulate their English cousins, the American upper class took up coaching in the post-Civil War period.

A Tally Ho could seat up to ten passengers, who would sit on the outside of the carriage.  The carriage provided space to store equipment as well as food and drinks for picnics.  The high seats also provided a good viewing platform to watch horse races.  In New York City, an annual parade of these coaches down Fifth Avenue served to close the New York social season.

Underhill took delivery of his carriage on a summer Thursday morning accompanied by a party of eight.  A large number of residents gathered on Main Street to witness the state-of-the-art carriage led by four horses.  After showing off his new carriage in the village, Underhill and his party rode to Comac where two additional horses from the Carll Burr stables were added.  From there, they rode to Port Jefferson and then on to Bridgeport by ferry.  Their final destination was the White Mountains.

Three months later, Downs was dead at the age of 35.

The fate of the Underhill coach is uncertain, but it is unlikely that Downs had the chance to produce more than one Tally Ho.  The coach at display in the carriage house at Belle Meade Plantation was acquired by Edmund E. Richardson in 1888. It was used until 1896.  It was then stored in Mrs. Richardson’s carriage house at her St. Charles Avenue house in New Orleans. The donor purchased the coach in 1937. In 1966, it was donated to Belle Meade.

Downs’ Wall Street carriage factory continued in business under different ownership.  In 1905, it was purchased by Joseph Cantrell who developed his wood sided auto body to be placed on an automobile chassis.  Cantrell’s Deport Wagon was the forerunner of the suburban staple, the station wagon.

A 1949 Cantrell Station Wagon

Postscript: After this piece was posted, I received a comment from Steve Russell Boerner, archivist for the Underhill Society of America. It turns out The Long-Islander had the wrong name for the purchaser of the coach. It was purchased by 21-year-old Francis T. Underhill, not Frank A. Underhill as reported in the newspaper (no such name appears in the Underhill genealogy records).

Francis T. Underhill was a wealthy young man who was an avid horseman and yachtsman (he competed in the America’s Cup races). In 1896, he published Driving for Pleasure, or, The Harness Stable and its Appointments. Underhill, who served in the Spanish American War, was also an architect. He purchased a ranch in California and split his time between the coasts until 1900 when he moved to California permanently.

It turns out that carriage maker William T. Downs’ wife was an Underhill, perhaps explaining how he secured the order for Underhill’s park drag.

Published 1896

On a wet and cold Saturday afternoon in May 2022, the Long Island Chapter, National Society Colonial Dames, XVII Century recognized the Powell Cemetery where Thomas Powell, the founder of Bethpage, may have been interred three hundred years ago.

Powell was entrusted with delicate negotiations on behalf of the Town of Huntington with both the native population and the new governor of New York at a time of change for the young town.  Yet, almost immediately after completing that work, he left Huntington. 

Powell, whose father’s name was also Thomas, is thought to have been born in New Haven in 1641.  His father was part of the group of Puritans that travelled with the Rev. John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton first to Massachusetts, then to Connecticut where they established the colony of New Haven.  Thomas, the son, may have been born in New Haven shortly after the colony was established in 1638.

Thomas Powell, Jr. apparently came to Huntington as an apprentice.  Previous writings contend that he was apprenticed to Jonas Wood of Halifax.  However, the existing records seem, to me at least, to point to Thomas Mathews as his master.  In his annotations to the Huntington Town Records, Charles R. Street writes that “it appears by the Court records that he [Powell] had, when younger, lived with Jonas Wood nine years.” (HTR Vol. I, page 56 footnote).

The court records to which Street referred seems to be a 1662 lawsuit between Thomas Mathews and Joanna Wood, widow of Jonas Wood to collect a debt of £54 2s 2d.  The case involved a dispute about rum and wine.  Mathews, Wood, and Edward Higbee were involved in the rum and wine trade.  In an earlier deposition, Mark Megs testified that he had helped Mathews load rum and wine onto a boat.  Megs testified that he understood that Wood and Higbee had purchased the rum and wine from Mathews and that there was no partnership among the three men, that is Wood, Higbee and Mathews.  The truth of the matter is not important for our purposes.  It only goes to show that the existence or non-existence of a partnership among the three men was in question.  (HTR Vol. I, page 13). 

In the 1662 case, Powell testified that the writing in his master’s book was read to Wood or Higbee or both at Daniel Whitehead’s house in Oyster Bay and one of them (Wood or Higbee) agreed that the record was accurate.  He further testified that he had lived with his master for nine years and that his master’s records had never been questioned.  Mathews then testified that the entry in his book was a true entry and that the wines there mentioned were delivered on board a boat on account of “Edward higbe Jonas wood and him selff.” (HTR Vol. I, page 42). 

Street seems to have been confused by a line (underlined below) in the records which lacks punctuation and also seems to be missing the word “of.” 

Thomas powell deposed sayth, yt the writings yts in his masters books was redd to good higbe or good wood one or boeth of them he cannot tell which : viz : that particular accountes his master good wood and good higbe : touching the 6 pipes of wine and the pipe of rum. [a pipe is approximately 108 gallons]

Street appears to read “his master good wood and good higbe” as identifying wood as Powell’s master.  However, in light of Mathews’ testimony that that liquor was delivered “upon account for Edward higbe[,] Jonas wood[,] and him selff” that line should be understood to mean that Powell’s master read the particular account of three men: Powell’s master, Wood, and Higbee.  In other words, the word “master” must refer to Mathews, not Wood.

Further support for the supposition that Powell was indentured to Mathews, not Wood, is a transaction in 1665 in which Powell sold land as an agent for Mathews (HTR Vol. I, page 64).  Powell also acted as an agent for Mathews for a land transaction in Oyster Bay in 1669 (OBTR Vol. I, page 56).  If he had once worked and lived with Mathews, it would make sense that Mathews would appoint him to act on his behalf.  Mathews would have been less likely to do so if Powell had worked for his adversary in the earlier court case.

In 1663, Powell purchased a home lot on Park Avenue near the Town Common.  This is now the property on which the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House sits at 434 Park Avenue.  (HTR Vol. I, page 56).  Incidentally, Powell was also the recorder at the time.  He eventually owned several other parcels of land on both the north shore and south shore of Huntington (HTR Vol. I, page 128), including as part owner of one of the Ten Farms laid out in 1672 to counter claims to the Eastern Purchase asserted by Smithtown (HTR Vol. I, page 188).

Powell married Abigail Wood, daughter of Jonas Wood of Halifax, in 1664.  They had eight children.  Abigail died in 1688.  Powell’s second wife was Elizabeth Phillips, and they had seven children.  Over the years, Powell was entrusted with several public offices, such as layer out of land, overseer, and recorder.   

Powell may have converted to Quakerism in 1672 when George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, visited Long Island.  There had been Friends in Oyster Bay prior to Fox’s visit.  In fact, Fox timed his arrival to be at Oyster Bay for the half year meeting, which lasted four days.  After the meeting Fox stayed on Long Island for a few days and “had meetings in several parts thereof.”  (George Fox’s Journal, Abridged by Percy Livingston Parker, Isbister and Company, London, 1903, page 433).  Fox returned to Oyster Bay after a visit to Rhode Island and “had a very large meeting

Prior to this time, Powell had been chosen in 1667 to serve as Constable (HTR Vol. I, page 110).  But when selected to serve as Constable fifteen years later he refused to serve “having scruples of swearing as the law directs” (HTR Vol. I, page 334).  He also refused to take the oath required by law when he was chosen to serve as Commissioner in 1684 (HTR Vol. I, page 390).

Likewise, Powell refused to pay the minister’s rate.  Huntington’s first minister, William Leverich, left town around 1670.  Eliphalet Jones then occasionally preached in Huntington until 1676 when he became Huntington’s second resident minister.  In addition to being given 20 acres of land, Jones received a stipend from the Town paid by the residents—except for Thomas Powell, whose refusal to pay the minister’s rate from 1676 through 1681 was noted in the Town records. (HTR Vol. I, page 308).  As a Quaker, he did not wish to support the Congregationalist minister.

Despite his refusal to pay his share for support of the minister, Powell was called upon to represent Huntington’s interests before the new Royal Governor.

When Thomas Dongan, the new governor of New York, requested that the Town surrender the patent issued in 1666 and be given a new one—at a higher quit-rent, Powell was appointed to handle the negotiations.  Dongan had been appointed governor by the Duke of York in September 1682.  In March 1686, the new governor notified the towns on Long Island that he would auction to the highest bidder their excess lands, i.e., lands granted to them under their colonial patents, but not yet purchased from the Indians.  The governor also advised the towns that would have to renegotiate their annual quit rents.  (HTR Vol. I, page 436). 

At the annual Town meeting in April 1686, it was unanimously voted to not surrender the Nichols Patent, but to give the governor a copy.  The Town, of course, did not wish to pay for a new patent at a higher quit rent.  The fact that the governor was Catholic probably added to the Puritan townsmen’s refusal.

The townsmen voted to appoint Powell and three other men to negotiate with the Indians to settle the boundaries between the Town’s land and the Indian lands and to purchase more land from the Indians.  (HTR Vol. I, page 440).  Two years earlier, Powell and three others were appointed at a Town meeting to negotiate with Indians who settled on the Town’s lands to pay rent or leave (never mind the fact that it was the Indians’ land to begin with). (HTR Vol. I, page 393).  Powell had also been one of three Huntington men appointed to meet with the Chickenoe of the Massapauge Indians to confirm the line between Huntington and Oyster Bay on the south side of the Island (HTR Vol. I, page 90).

In October 1686, Powell was chosen, along with Isaac Platt, “to ackt to ye best of their discretion in our behalf” in discussions with the representatives appointed by the Governor to determine which lands had already been purchased from the Indians.  (HTR Vol. I, page 468).

On November 4, 1686, Powell was elected to represent Huntington in Southampton.  Two weeks later he was selected to represent the Town in New York—that would be quite a task to travel from one end of the Island to the other.  (HTR Vol. I, page 470).  By the end of November, the Town offered to pay £20 for a new patent with a quit rent of 20 shillings.

The new patent wasn’t issued until August 2, 1688.  In that patent, Governor Dongan appointed Powell as one of the nine trustees of the “Freeholders and Comonality of ye Towne of Huntington” to manage the Town’s common lands. (HTR Vol. I, page 533).  Less than two weeks later, Edmond Andros replaced Dongan as governor and Powell was sent back to New York to negotiate with the new governor.  It is unknown what the negotiations would be about, and Andros did not issue a patent to Huntington to replace the Dongan Patent.

When all the negotiations were done, Powell submitted his expense report, which detailed his trip to New York, his meetings with the Indians (which were accompanied by quantities of rum), and his work marking the boundaries.  (HTR Vol. II, page 7).

After two years representing the interests of the Town, travelling back and forth to New York, meeting with the Indian sachem Swanamee, and marking boundaries, Powell left Huntington.  A deed dated April 18, 1689, identifies him as “latte of Huntington.”  (HTR Vol II, page 38). 

Where had he gone?

In 1695, Powell received a deed, known as the Bethpage Purchase, from the Indian proprietors of Massapege for a 15 square mile tract of land straddling the county border and encompassing the present-day communities of Bethpage, Farmingdale, Plainedge, Plainview, and parts of Melville.  The deed notes that “part of above bounded lands having been in ye possession of ye sd Thomas Powell above seven years before the signing and dellevry hereof.”  In other words, Powell was living there since 1688, immediately after he submitted his itemization of his expenses for representing the Town of Huntington in connection with the Dongan Patent.  The following year, he secured permission from the Huntington Trustees to purchase that portion of the land located on the east side of the county line.  (HTR Vol. II, page 188).

It is possible that the death of his first wife in 1688 had something to do with his decision to relocate.

Powell lived out his life in Bethpage.  In 1698, he helped organize the Bethpage Preparative Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.  He died in 1722.

Painters and photographers who recorded our community in years past allow us to see the community as they saw it.  Often the view is very different today: some houses no long stand, roads have been widened and paved, whaling ships no longer lie at anchor in the harbor, vistas are now obscured.  It is with these images created long ago that we can get a better understanding of the past.

For a view of late nineteenth century Long Island, one painter is indispensable—Edward Lange.  The artist was an immigrant from Germany who lived in Elwood from 1871 to 1889.  During those two decades, he painted at least fifty locales in Huntington alone; he produced dozens more across Long Island.  Often proud farmers would commission Lange to paint their tidy farmsteads.  Sometimes, local entrepreneurs would hire him to paint their businesses to serve as advertising and help attract customers.  Lange also painted vignettes of town scenes.  He would then photograph the painting and offer to sell prints to the public.

Preservation Long Island has almost thirty of his works in its collection, representing about one sixth of Lange’s known oeuvre on Long Island.  PLI is currently conducting an in-depth investigation into Lange and his work.  Once completed, there will be an exhibit at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook and a new book about the artist and his work.

Lange’s paintings are a treasured part of many local historical society and museum collections.  An untold number of others are in private hands, including a Cold Spring Harbor scene that was recently discovered in South Carolina.  The 1881 painting depicts a mansard roofed house on Shore Road that disappeared decades ago and had not been known to local historians.  It is an exciting and confounding discovery.

Edward Lange, Residence of William Neale, Cold Spring Harbor, 1881, Watercolor and gouache on paper, 17.625 x 24.125 (unframed), Collection of Rebecca and Charles Wadsworth. Image courtesy of Preservation Long Island.

The painting was discovered thanks to an internet request for Lange paintings posted by Preservation Long Island.  The owner had purchased the painting at a tag sale in South Carolina.  The painting does not identify the house or location, presenting local historians with a mystery to solve.

Peter Fedoryk, who is the Edward Lange Curatorial Fellow at Preservation Long Island, surmised the painting may be of a house on Shore Road in Cold Spring Harbor.  However, there are no mansard roof houses on Shore Road and local historians were not aware of any such house ever existing on Shore Road.  Not wanting to let a good mystery go unsolved, Toby Kissam and I spent the next month obsessing over this painting.

To start the hunt, Toby searched the term mansard roof in the online archives of The Long-Islander newspaper, which produced an intriguing clue from the August 11, 1876 edition.  The item reported that a worker installing a mansard roof for Mr. Neale had fallen from the roof.  He was not expected to live.  This sad news was our first clue.

The following month the paper reported that Mr. Neale was soon to move into his new house, “one of the handsomest houses on Ocean avenue.”  Roads usually did not have official names in the nineteenth century; and it is conceivable that Shore Road could have been called Ocean Avenue.  The only other item found referring to the elusive Mr. Neale was a probate notice posted by his wife on April 13, 1883.

While researching the photograph collection at the Huntington Historical Society on another topic, I found apanoramic photograph of the outer cove of Cold Spring Harbor taken from what is now the driveway to Eagle Dock Community Beach.  Partially hidden behind trees is a glimpse of a mansard roof house along Shore Road.  The supposition that the house was in Cold Spring Harbor appeared to be correct.

A search of deeds on file with the Suffolk County Clerk revealed that William Neale purchased a three-quarter acre lot on the east side of Cold Spring Harbor from Susan Titus in 1872.  Without tracing deeds for the neighboring properties, it was unclear exactly where on the east side of the harbor this land was.  It was thought that it was perhaps the property identified as the Titus estate on an 1873 atlas.  

 Tracing the deeds for this property as well as neighboring properties confirmed that Neale had purchased the “Titus Est.” property.  But where exactly was that house.  Perhaps it was on the property now occupied by a house built in 1941—the only “modern” house along Shore Road (that house was built by Johnston de Forest as a wedding gift for his daughter Priscilla and her husband Doug Williams).  What happened to the house?  It was assumed that the house must have burnt down because there are no mansard roof houses on Shore Road.  Yet no article about a fire or other calamity could be found.

After a month of sleuthing, the answer suddenly became clear, especially after reading the early twentieth century deeds in Riverhead.  The house had not burnt down.  It was still standing at 72 Shore Road.  

72 Shore Road in 2022

William Neale’s widow sold the property in 1886.  Over the next five years, it changed hands five times.  Finally, in 1891, John P. Dole, who lived three doors down on Shore Road, purchased the property.  Dole died in 1902 and the next year his widow sold the property to their son Edward Everett Dole.  He in turn sold the property in 1916 to William A.W. Stewart, whose wife was the daughter of Robert W. de Forest.  Everett Dole continued to live on Shore Road; presumably he moved back to his parents’ house at 48 Shore Road, which he called Tide Crest (his mother died in 1925).

According to a historic structure inventory for the Titus House completed in 1979, for which Priscilla de Forest Williams (Robert de Forest’s granddaughter) is listed as the source, “The house was remodelled by Mrs. W.A.W. Stewart, Jr. about 1920, to more closely resemble a Southern plantation house.”  The date of the remodeling must be off by a few years because William A. W. Stewart, Jr. didn’t marry until 1933.  The family of his wife, Margaret Wetmore, was from New York City and Santiago, Cuba, which may or may not explain the decision to remodel the house as a southern plantation.

The inventory also cited a survey dated September 9, 1871 made for George Mowbray, who at that time owned 60 acres along Shore Road.  The survey included a sketch of the Titus House showing it to have been “a 3-bay 1 ½ story house with small eaves windows, sidehall entrance, and an interior end chimney on the north.”

 It seems that William Neale remodeled the Titus House in 1876 by adding a mansard roof and that half a century later Mrs. Stewart had it removed.  Mystery solved.  

The research also shed light on the other two nineteenth century houses at this end of Shore Road.  The one and half acre property immediately to the north (at 76 Shore Road) was purchased in 1828 by Eliphalet Rogers from the estate of John Lefferts.  The property stayed in the Rogers family for the next 80 years.  There had been two houses on the property into the twentieth century.   The first house built on the property was southwest of the existing house.  The panoramic photograph of the cove shows it to have been a modest house.  It was demolished some time after 1916.  The surviving house may have been added after Eliphalet Rogers died in 1862–or Eliphalet could have built it.  

The last Rogers family members to live there were Eliphalet’s son Charles and daughter Catharine.  But they didn’t own the house, their brother Henry did.  

Henry Rogers lived in Brooklyn and was well-off, although it is unclear what he did for a living.  In an obituary, Henry is identified as a manufacturer.  Later articles say he was a sea captain.  The 1880 census lists him living on Shore Road in Cold Spring Harbor, and gives his occupation as an architect/house builder.  In 1900, he is identified as a carpenter.  In any event, Henry Rogers seems to have been well off–his estate was valued at $65,650, which is equivalent of $1.8 million today.  His brother and sister, neither of whom ever married, were not so well off.  They were described as indigent and relied on their brother for financial support.

When Henry died in 1906, there was a dispute about his will, which had been drawn up shortly before he died.  The will left everything to his wife, leaving nothing to Charles and Catharine, who had been dependent on Henry’s support.  The will was disallowed.  During the administration of the estate, the property was auctioned off.   Edward Everett Dole, who had grown up down the street and whose summer house was next door in the Titus-Neale House (he also lived in Brooklyn), purchased the property from the estate.  He sold it a few months after Catharine Rogers died in 1916.  I suspect Dole let Charles, who died in 1914, and Catharine live out their lives in the homestead.  In the same deed, Dole also sold the Titus-Neale House to the south to Stewart.

The house to the north of the Rogers’ house was at one time a hotel.  Robert H. Bold, who appears to have immigrated from England in 1834, purchased the southern half of that property in two transactions in 1838.  He was identified on one of the deeds as a merchant.  On the 1850 census, he is identified as a Hotel Keeper.  Bold must have died sometime between 1850 and 1856 because by 1860, his wife Sarah had married a Portuguese immigrant, with whom she had a three-year-old daughter.  The two younger daughters of Robert Bold are listed in the household.  The oldest daughter would have been 18 by this time. 

Sarah Bold’s new husband’s name was given as Joseph Prayer on the 1860 census; Joseph Prairie on the 1870 census; and Joseph Perry on the 1880 census.  No telling how his name was really spelled.  He is identified in the census records as a boatman in 1860 and 1880 and as a watchman in a shipyard in 1870.  The Abrams boatyard was located across the street.

In 1884, the three daughters of Robert Bold sold the property to Elwood Abrams, who operated the shipyard across the street.  One could assume that their mother had probably died shortly before the land was sold.  According to the book Clamtown, written by Leslie Peckham, who lived nearby, Elwood Abrams operated an ice cream, soda, candy and tobacco store as well as a boarding house in the home.  After he died in 1917, his daughter Ella and her husband William Wright continued to run the boarding house.  William White also worked as a painter at his brother-in-law’s shipyard and Ella White was also a dressmaker. 

According to Maggie Norton, who was born in 1910 and grew up on Shore Road (and was the granddaughter of John & Jane Dole), the house was known as “Dirty Dick’s boarding house” and it was run by a widow and her son Raymond, whose erratic behavior the children of the neighborhood found scary—he would “spent the day walking back and forth on the porch tearing up tin cans.”  In the census records, no occupation is ever listed for Raymond, who died at age 42 in 1925.  Raymond’s father also died in 1925, so the boarding house was not operated by a widow.   William White must have stayed out of sight. 

Ella White died in 1930.  She spent the last year or so of her life with her daughter in Glen Cove.  In 1929, her brother Walter Abrams sold the house to Julia Fairchild, who added an addition to the north.

 In the 1870s, the Town of Huntington gained a one-mile road, but lost 114 square miles of land.

 Through numerous land purchases from the indigenous residents in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Huntington stretched from sea to shining sea, or at least from the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean, including the 114 square miles that is now the Town of Babylon.  Originally, European settlers established homes on the north shore.  The south shore was valued for the abundance of salt hay, which north shore farmers would cut to feed their livestock.  Every fall, the farmers would cross the island to cut, cure and cart the hay from the south shore to their farms.

 Eventually, Huntington South, as the area was known, attracted full time residents.  Three hamlets developed—Babylon, Amityville, and Breslau, now known as Lindenhurst.  As these South Side areas grew, their interests diverted from those on the North Side.  In addition, to attend to Town affairs, such as the annual Town meeting, they would have to travel across the Island.  By the 1850s, the Town meetings were held at Elias Smith’s house in Long Swamp  (on the east side of Beverly Road, north of Jericho Turnpike).  Intended to accommodate South Side residents, it must be admitted the location was closer to the north shore than halfway between the shores.

As early as 1852, there were proposals to split the town in two.  Thirteen residents gave notice that they intended to ask the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors to create a new town of Babylon from the lower half of the Town of Huntington.  The boundary line would run west from the southwest corner of the Town of Smithtown through Melville along Old Country Road. Nothing came of that effort.

Enter Henry Livingston, who on July 7, 1869 published the first edition a new newspaper, the South Side Signal.  Livingston was a booster of the South Side, particularly the village of Babylon.  By his third issue, he was advocating for succession: “The division of the town of Huntington is being talked of by those who object to going to the North Side to attend to town business.  In many respects there would be much to gain by a proper division of the Town, as it is full large for convenience.”

A few months alter, he was more explicit: “Huntington is large enough in territory to make two good-sized towns, while the rapid increase of population on the South Side will allow this half to govern itself. We feel kindly towards the North Side but the village of Huntington cannot much longer make laws for Babylon.” (South Side Signal, February 12, 1870). South Siders also contended that “they pay the largest share of the taxes, while the most lucrative offices are given to the people on the north side.” (The Brooklyn Union, January 16, 1872, page 4).

In addition to the convenience of being able to conduct town business closer to home, those agitating for a new town were incensed by the construction of a new road from Main Street in Huntington village to the harbor.  William A. Conant, Suffolk County’s representative in the Assembly, introduced a bill “for the laying out and opening of a highway in the village of Huntington.” The bill was approved by the legislature in May 1869.  The so-called “road bill” authorized the purchase of land for a street to run from Main Street opposite the center line of South Street (now New York Avenue, NYS Route 110) northward to the east side of Huntington Harbor, a distance of one mile.  

The bill authorized the County on behalf of the Town to levy a tax of $4,000 to cover the expense of constructing the road.  The cost of acquiring the land, which was to be determined by independent appraisers, would be raised by another tax.  To put that sum in perspective, in April 1871, the Town raised $200 for roads and bridges throughout the town.  The amount collected for “Contingencies,” i.e., general expenses, was $ $4,500.  In other words, construction of the road would almost equal all other Town expenses for the year (other than care of the poor, which was the largest annual expense at $7,000).  

The tax was not well received.  Several residents petitioned the Town Clerk to call a Special Town Meeting to consider “what measure, if any, shall be pursued by the taxpayers of this Town, to resist, as we consider the unjust expenditures intended to be levied and collected upon the assessed property of the whole Town” for the building of the new road.

 The Special Meeting was held at Long Swamp on June 15, 1870.  Opponents of the new road contended that the road bill was pushed by Assemblyman Conant “for his own personal benefit, and that of a few of his friends, in violation of the rights of the people, and contrary to the interests and wishes of his constituents.”  Furthermore, they contended that the road “is intended to benefit the few at the expense of the many; it is unnecessary and uncalled for; its construction will impose upon the Town a heavy taxation, for which no adequate benefit will be received.”

  “We condemn the whole scheme as selfish, oppressive, unequal, unjust and insulting to our people.”

 The vote in favor of the resolution against the road was 403 to 0.  Soon after the Special Town Meeting, an injunction was issued restraining the Commissioners with proceeding on the road project.  However, since the road was authorized by the State, only the State could abandon the project.  By July the road was complete from Mill Lane to the harbor and by Halloween it was completed from Main Street to the harbor.  Litigation continued even after the road was completed. But all proceedings were finally dismissed in April 1871.

In his annotation to the Town Records, Charles R. Street notes that “There was much public excitement over the matter and considerable of opposition to the road, resulting in a protracted lawsuit, but the Commissioners performed the duty imposed on them by law, and all their proceedings were sustained.  The utility of the road is now [in 1889] universally conceded.”

The energy directed at stopping the road was now directed to splitting the town.  In addition to the burden of paying the tax assessment to construct the road, arguments were made about the lack of representation for those who could not afford the time to travel long distances to town meetings.  Democracy required smaller towns, both in terms of geographic area and population.  The argument was not limited to the town of Huntington.  The same considerations applied to Brookhaven, Southampton and other large towns in both Queens and Suffolk Counties.  Yet only Huntington was divided.

 By September 1871, it seemed leaders on both the North Side and the South Side agreed that the town was too large to serve the interests of “convenience, unity or harmony.”  In December 1871, the Elias Smith House, which the Town had purchased in 1868 for use as the Poor House as well as a venue for Town meetings, burned down. (Coincidentally, the Poor House was offered for sale for $4,000—the same amount the State Legislature directed the County Board of Supervisors to tax for construction of New York Avenue.  The sale only realized a price of $2,600.)  With no centralized place to meet, it was thought the time to proceed with a division of the town was at hand.

On January 9, 1872, less than a month after the fire at the Poor House, residents of the first election district met at Euterpean Hall in Huntington village and adopted the following resolution:

Whereas A diversity of interests has been created within the last few years by the rapid growth and increase of the villages on the North and South Sides of the Town of Huntington, and 

Whereas, the Town House, where the people have heretofore held their Town Meetings has recently been destroyed by fire, and no appropriate or commodious building now exists in the central part of the Town, where Town Meetings can conveniently be held and 

Whereas, the People of the South side of the Town have, through their local Press and otherwise, exhibited a desire to have the Town divided and to erect a new Town, [it is] now therefore 

Resolved, That it is the sense of this meeting, that a fair and equitable division of the Town of Huntington would result in benefit to each section, and that we are in favor of such division. 

Resolved, That a written request be immediately executed and delivered to the Town Clerk for a Special Town Meeting to be held at or near the Town Farm at Long Swam at an early day as practicable, to take the sense of the people of the whole Town, on the Question of a division of the Town, and if favorable to such division, to decide upon a dividing boundary, and to take such further action as will effect the object. 

Resolved, That we deem an application to the Legislature for the passage of a suitable Act to be the best, most expeditious and most advisable method of procuring such division.

The residents also appointed a committee of three (Town Supervisor J. Amherst Woodhull, Henry C. Platt and former State Assemblyman William A. Conant) to confer with committees from the Town’s other four election districts.  The residents of the Babylon and Amityville election districts adopted a similar resolution.  In the Central or Long Swamp District, the residents expressed an interest in dividing the Town into three new Towns.  They felt that as currently constituted the residents of the middle of the Town could hold the more populous North and South Sides in check by aligning with whichever one was to their advantage on  a particular issue.  Being part of a Town with one or the other would leave them helplessly outnumbered.  The proposed central Town would include the area between the Main Line of the Rail Road and the northern branch line (i.e., the Huntington line).  

With a speed that would astonish the modern-day residents of Long Island, the wheels of government now turned quickly.  Representatives from each district met in Deer Park on January 17 and adopted resolutions calling for a town-wide vote on January 27 to decide whether to divide the Town into two parts, three parts, or leave it as is.

As we know, the vote favored the two Town proposition as follows:

DistrictTwo TownsThree TownsNo Division
Huntington15623983
Northport303195
Babylon21500
Amityville23004
TOTALS631242282

The central district chose not to hold a vote and instead planned to attack the division separately.

The voters also elected two representatives from each district to determine the dividing line between the Towns.  The Division Committee met the Monday after the election in Babylon and drew the dividing line a half mile north of the Melville Church, on Old Country Road, to run directly west to east, the same line proposed in 1852. Melville residents objected, preferring to stay in the Town of Huntington.  The line was then moved south about three miles to a line one mile north of the Rail Road’s main line. 

The legislation creating the Town of Babylon was passed by the State legislature on March 13, 1872.  An election for the new Babylon Town Board was held on April 2 and the newly elected representatives met that same day.

A valuable resource for researching the history of a particular area is a historic map or atlas. For Long Island, there are several available including the coastal survey of 1836/37; the 1858 Chace wall map, the 1873 Beers, Comstock & Cline atlas; the 1909 and 1917 E. Belcher Hyde atlases, and the 1931 and 1941 Hagstrom atlases. These maps and atlases are often the first place to start researching. I find that no matter how many times I have stared at these maps, I always notice something new.

For instance, while researching the history of West Hills, I came across the name Mrs. L.K. Elmhirst on the 1931 map of the West Hills/Melville area. Who was she?

1931 Hagstrom Atlas

The name was not a familiar one, unlike her neighbors Robert DeForest (who owned a large estate in Cold Spring Harbor) and Henry L. Stimpson (who served in virtually every presidential cabinet of the first half of the twentieth century). She owned a large parcel of property. Usually property is listed in the name of the husband. Perhaps she was a widow. Was her husband a local farmer? Were they city residents who acquired a large property for a country home as many others did in the early twentieth century?

By the time of the 1941 atlas, the property was owned by the Straight Improvement Company, Inc.

1941 Hagstrom Atlas

Whoever Mrs. L.K. Elmhisrt was, it seemed she had sold her property to a development company. For the most part, the property was never developed–most of it is now part of West Hills County Park.

Going back to earlier atlases, we see that the property had previously been part of Robert DeForest’s extensive land holdings in the area (most of which also became part of West Hills County Park).

The answer to the question, who was Mrs. L.K. Elmhirst, proved interesting, although not necessarily of great significance to Huntington’s history.

It turns out Mrs. L.K. Elmhirst was one of the wealthiest women in the country. Her maiden name was Dorothy Payne Whitney. She was the daughter of William C. Whitney, a financier and Secretary of the Navy under President Grover Cleveland. She was born in 1887 while her father was serving in the Cleveland administration. (Her older brother Harry Payne Whitney married Gertrude Vanderbilt, the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art). When Dorothy was 17, she inherited $15,000,000, equivalent to about half a billion dollars today. She felt that “wealth entailed social responsibility.” Therefore, she supported numerous philanthropic causes throughout her life.

During a trip around the world in 1906, Dorothy Whitney met Willard Straight in Mukden (now Shenyang), China. Straight, whose parents had been missionaries in Japan and China, was fluent in Japanese and Chinese. He graduated from Cornell and worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, then as a journalist during the Russo-Japanese War., before joining the State Department. Dorothy and Willard married in Geneva in 1911. They lived for a few months in China where Straight represented American business interests.

During her lifetime, Dorothy supported and established many charities. In her younger years, she led marches for women’s suffrage. She led the campaign to build a community home for working women through the Working Women’s Trade Union League. She led the effort to can fruits and vegetables that would have spoiled on the docks during World War I and was in charge of the Women’s Emergency Committee of the European Relief Council.

In 1914, she and her husband started The New Republic magazine to promote the ideas expressed by Herbert Croly in his book, “The Promise of American Life.” Croly advocated for a new political consensus based on nationalism with a sense of social responsibility and care for the less fortunate.

Discussions organized by Croly at the offices of The New Republic with a variety of progressive thinkers led to a proposal to establish an independent social science institute. The proposal became a reality when Dorothy Straight pledged $10,00 a year for ten years. The New School for Social Research opened in 1919 and operates today as The New School.

When the pledge for the New School was made, Willard Straight was in Europe. He had enlisted in the army as soon as the United States entered World War I. He died from the influenza pandemic in December 1918 while in Paris. He was two months shy of his 39th birthday. In 1925, Dorothy donated the student union building at Cornell in honor of her late husband. Willard Straight Hall continues to serve as a center of campus life at Cornell.

In 1920, the young widow met Leonard Knight Elmhirst. The son of an English rector who was studying agriculture at Cornell, Elmhirst was president of Cornell’s Cosmopolitan Club, which served foreign students. The two met during his fund raising activities for the Club. After completing his studies, Elmhirst worked on rural reconstruction projects in India.

The couple married in September 1925 and moved to England where they purchased the derelict fourteenth century estate, Dartington Hall. They restored the medieval buildings and established the Dartington Trust, which continues to operate various programs to foster progressive learning in arts, ecology and social justice.

Mrs. Elmhirst made headlines in 1935 when she renounced her United States citizenship. Since she was married to an Englishman, she was considered a British citizen. And since she was also an American citizen, even though she lived in England, her estate would be subject to American estate taxes. Her lawyer explained that the combined U.S. and British taxes would amount to more than 100% of the value of the estate. Therefore, she reluctantly gave up her American citizenship. Estate taxes did not become an issue for another three decades. She died in 1968–almost exactly 50 years after her first husband had died.

But what does all this have to do with Huntington?

Very little, other than the fact that between funding The New Republic and The New School, Willard Straight purchased land in West Hills from Robert DeForest. Although the purchase was reported to be of about 250 acres, the tract was actually 179 acres. (In a 1929 letter, DeForest identified Mrs. Elmhirst as “my friend.” Whether that friendship predated the sale is unknown.) A year earlier, in 1916, Straight had purchased the adjoining 41 acre Ezra Smith farm on Round Swamp Road. After the 1917 purchase, it was reported that Straight had no plans to build on the land. Instead there would be a limited amount of planting and farming of the available fields on the two tracts. Three months after she married Elmhirst, Dorothy Straight transferred her land in West Hills to the Straight Improvement Co., Inc.

In 1928, Mrs. Elmhirst dedicated to the State land at the north side of her property for the Northern State Parkway, which was not completed through this section until 1949. It is interesting to note that in his landmark profile of State Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, The Power Broker, Robert Caro describes the accommodations Moses made to the wealthy landowners in West Hills, men such as Otto Kahn, Henry Stimpson and Robert DeForest. Caro goes on to show that Moses made no concessions at all for the farmers–men with “neither wealth nor influence”–whose land was eventually seized for the parkway. Men like James Roth, whose farm on the west side of Round Swamp Road was cut in two by the parkway. Caro does not mention that Mrs. Elmhirst, who most certainly had wealth and influence, donated some of her land for the parkway, as did Robert DeForest, who donated a total of 50 acres in West Hills and other land he owned in Dix Hills near Deer Park Road (The New York Times, May 7, 1928, page 9).

In 1957, the Straight Improvement Company applied to the Town of Huntington to rezone its West Hills property on the south side of the parkway from two acres to one acre. In exchange, the company would donate to the State strips of land 150′ to 200′ wide along the parkway to “insure the preservation of the woodlands which border this beautiful stretch of parkway . . . and would serve as an additional buffer zone.” (The Long-Islander, July 4, 1957, page 1). The Town did not grant the rezoning. Moses said the state would find the money to buy the land “in order to preserve these fine woodlands which, because of their unique and rugged character, should not be stripped and bulldozed for building lots.”

In the 1970s, the Straight Improvement Company’s property east of Mount Misery Road was acquired for incorporation into West Hills County Park. The old Ezra Smith farm property at the southeast corner of the Parkway and Round Swamp Road is now the Thomas School of Horsemanship, which opened there in 1951, and Driftwood Day Camp, which opened on that property ten years later.

Post Script: While writing this, I noticed, for the first time, that Mrs. Elmhirst is shown on the 1931 map owning additional land on Hartmann Hill Road, south of Kingsley Road. There is always something new to see.

The Peter Crippen House is an important link to Huntington’s nineteenth century African American history.  Unfortunately, the house, which has been vacant for twenty years, has fallen into a state of serious disrepair.  The Town of Huntington purchased the property in late 2019 to use as a parking lot for the Town’s sewer plant, which is located next door.

Thanks to a Technical Assistance Grant from the Preservation League of New York State, the Town was able to hire a consultant to determine if and how the oldest section of the house could be relocated to a site more suitable to its long term preservation.  We are currently awaiting the results of that study.

The Crippen House was originally constructed, circa 1658, as a grist mill. The mill remained in use through 1672, when it was closed due to concerns about the unhealthfulness of its mill pond. The mill building was sold and around 1674 moved about 525 yards to the north to its current location close to the head of Huntington Harbor where it was converted to residential use. Preliminary analysis of the building confirms its construction as an industrial building rather than as a residence. Its heavy timber framing, dimensions, and sturdy proportions are reflective of industrial Dutch framing of the period. The building is a rare, early surviving example of this building type.

Crippen Aerial

The 1658 mill was built on Mill Lane near the blue arrow. The red circle is its current location.

Over the next two centuries, ownership of the mill building and the property on which it sits was transferred among various local residents, including members of the Scudder family, who appear to have built another mill on Creek Road, and later Zophar Platt who built a third mill further north in 1752.  John Brush acquired the Platt mill and the property containing the first mill building in 1785.  Some time before 1835, the first mill building was acquired by members of the Johnson family who sold it to Elbert Walters.  In 1854, Walters sold a small parcel immediately to the south of the first mill building to an African American named Nelson Smith.  Ten years later, he sold the converted mill building to Peter Crippen.

Crippen was born ca. 1809 on a Virginia plantation. Thomas Crippen, the Quaker owner of the plantation, manumitted all of his enslaved people, including Peter Crippen’s parents, privately in accordance with a 1782 Virginia law. As a result, Peter was born a free person. A lack of financial assistance, dangers related to travel, and legal challenges to the 1782 law prevented Peter’s family from immediately relocating. They remained on the plantation and in 1818, Sarah Crippen, who had inherited the plantation from her father, filed a new deed of manumission for Peter and his father.

By the 1830s, following the Nat Turner rebellion, life as a free black person in Virginia became increasingly difficult.  Peter’s father had died in the late 1820s. Around the same time, the owner of a brickyard in Huntington began actively soliciting workers from Virginia. Peter Crippen arrived at the brickyard by 1836.   Eventually, he lived in the Cold Spring Harbor section of town where he worked for a member of a wealthy family and later worked in the West Hills section.  When he lived near Huntington Harbor, he supported his family by fishing, clamming and gathering seaweed.  He also worked for local farmers and tended his own small garden.

Crippen played an important role in the local African American community. In 1843, he was one of the seven founders of the African Methodist Ebenezer Church in Huntington (now Bethel AME Church, which was listed on the National Register in 1985).  His neighbor to the south, Nelson Smith, was also a trustee in the AME church’s incorporation.  Census records over the years list Crippen as a laborer or fisherman.

While this property was on marginal land near the head of Huntington Harbor, the purchase reflected an important achievement for Crippen. As a landowner, he could assure a measure of safety and security for his family and for himself as he lived out his final years. The house was about a half-mile from the AME church and located within a small African American community. Land ownership by African Americans remained rare during this period. In addition to Crippen and Smith, Town assessment records confirm one other Black man was a landowner at the time.

Peter died in 1875, at about 65 years of age. The Crippen family continued to own the house into the early twenty-first century.

Crippen Mill Wing

The original mill building

While the house is in poor condition, it retains integrity and the ability to convey its historic significance. It is a remarkable and rare survivor illustrating two aspects of Huntington’s history, seventeenth century industry and early African American landownership.

In 1985, Town Historian Rufus Langhans inspected the house and recommended that the town acquire it and move it to another site that would be more suitable to its long-term preservation.  The matter was dropped until 2006 when the Town allocated funding for an archaeological study of the grounds and an architectural study of the house.  These studies were never completed because of questions about title to the property—the house had passed informally from generation to generation over the years since Peter Crippen had acquired it.  By 2019, those questions were resolved and the Town’s sewer district acquired the property with plans to demolish the house to build a parking lot.

Crippen 2006

In June 2020, the Huntington Town Board approved a contract with a local demolition company to raze the house in order to construct a parking lot for the sewer plant.  The Town proposed to try to save as many elements of the house as possible.  Media coverage of the plans to demolish the building was met with protest from many quarters.  In addition to emails pleading with the Town to reconsider the decision, an online petition garnered over a thousand signatures.  Soon, a group of Town officials and community leaders was assembled to consider alternatives to demolition and the Town Board postponed its demolition plans indefinitely.

The house sits on marshy land prone to flooding and is surrounded on two sides by the Town’s sewer treatment plant.  The committee agreed that the house should be relocated to a location that would be more suitable to its long term preservation and yet retain its historic context.  A vacant Town owned site on the other side of the sewer plant was selected.  The site sits on the major north south artery in the area and thus is much more visible.  At the same time, the selected site conveys the same context the house has on its current site.  The long-term plan for the house would be to make it a part of a future African American history museum. Volunteers are being asked to help establish an independent not-for-profit organization to organize and operate such a museum.

In November 2020, the New York State Historic Preservation Office determined that the Crippen House is eligible for listing on the National Register under Criterion B in the area of Ethnic History: Black for its association with Peter Crippen and under Criterion C in the area of architecture as a rare remaining seventeenth-century mill building on Long Island.

In addition, to widespread community support, the Town of Huntington’s African American Historic Designation Council as well as Bethel AME Church, and the NAACP, Huntington Branch support the Crippen House project. Preservation Long Island, the leading historic preservation organization in the region, has provided guidance and support for the project and has included the house on its 2021 list of Endangered Historic Places.

Crippen Artifacts

A few of the 513 artifacts discovered during the Phase I archaeology study.

A generous donation from the Manes Peace Prize Foundation funded a Phase I archaeology study of the property that was completed in February 2021. The dig received extensive media attention on local news sites, radio stations and all three New York City based television news programs.  Based on the results of the Phase I study, archaeological standards call for further study of the site.  Donations are being solicited for a Phase II study.

In February 2021, the Town Board voted to rename the street on which the house is located as Creek Road/Peter Crippen Way.  A historical marker is also to be installed on the site.  The contract with the demolition company has been canceled.