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In 1906, August Heckscher purchased a large part of the Prime property at the northeast corner of Main Street and Prime Avenue (see the previous post, Mr. Prime’s Thimble Factories).[1]    Mr. Hecksher’s initial plans for the property are not known.  Eventually, the bulk of this land would become one of the greatest gifts the people of Huntington ever received.

Mr. Heckscher’s first philanthropic use of the property came two years after his purchase.  In 1908, a proposal to replace the wooden 1858 Union School building across the street from Mr. Heckscher’s property with a modern brick building was being considered.  The new building (which today is Town Hall) would be in the same location as the old building.  Moving the old school building to a different part of the property was impractical.  Mr. Heckscher offered the solution: classes could be held in the old Prime mansion free of charge.  The large rooms and wide halls of the mansion were big enough to accommodate the high school classes and perhaps one or two grammar classes until the new building was ready.[2]  The new high school building was completed in January 1910.[3]

At the east end of the old Prime farm along Sabbath Day Path, a baseball field was laid out and as early as 1910 the Huntington Baseball Club played their home games there.

A few years later, Mr. Heckscher, working with the newly formed YMCA of Huntington, transformed the eastern side of the Prime property into a more diverse mix of athletic facilities including tennis courts, a running track, baseball diamond, and soccer field.[4]  The six acre fields were made available to the residents of Huntington during the summer of 1914.  In September, Mr. Heckscher announced plans to give the fields to an incorporated, self-perpetuating organization, which was made up of the same men who organized the local YMCA.  The property was transferred in 1915 to the Recreation and Playground Association, which immediately announced plans to raise funds to make improvements and to hire an athletic director.[5]

The Prime Mansion made available by Mr. Heckscher for use by the High School and the North Shore Holiday House.

Meanwhile Mr. Heckscher made the old Prime mansion available for use as part of the Fresh Air Fund organized by the New York Tribune.  The two week camp gave underprivileged girls from the city a two week stay in the country.  Five sessions were held, accommodating 25 girls in each session.   This effort eventually grew into the still operating North Shore Holiday House, which utilized the Prime Mansion during the summers of 1914 and 1915.

In 1914, when Huntington’s leading citizens were exploring options for a hospital in town, Mr. Heckscher suggested transforming the old Prime mansion for that purpose.[6]  A few months later Cornelia Prime settled the question of where the new hospital would be located by purchasing land nearby on Park Avenue and making it available for a new hospital.

Then in August 1915, Mr. Heckscher announced plans to transform most of the remaining property (other than the athletic fields) into a park. The pond that Ezra Prime had created fifty years earlier as a trout pond and a source of ice, would be deepened and enlarged, and stocked with fish.  Small islands in the pond would be connected to the mainland by rustic bridges.  A Swiss chalet would be built.  A driveway would transverse the park from Sabbath Day Path to New York Avenue.  It was anticipated that when completed Mr. Heckscher would present the park to the town.[7]

The man chosen to lead the physical transformation of the land was Roland Von Waldburg.  He was born in Brunswick, Germany in 1873.  He came to the United States in 1897.  He became a citizen in Pennsylvania in 1900 and was living in North Hempstead in 1910.  He had an engineering and contracting business in Flushing before coming to Huntington, where he was superintendent of Rosemary Farm, the Roland Conklin estate in West Neck that is now the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception.[8]  He also later worked on the Roosen estate in Greenlawn known as Laurel Lodge.

Mr. Von Waldburg favored the use of large boulders to create rustic landscapes as can be seen in the amphitheater at Rosemary Farm, the stone entrance gates at Laurel Lodge, and most significantly at Heckscher Park, which features stone entrance gates, a stone cottage, a stone gazebo, and a stone fountain.  The landscape designer is credited with planning and carrying out “to the minutest detail the wonderful amount of labor which makes possible the feast to the eye of those who visit this delightful pleasure resort.”[9]

View of Hecksher’s Park showing the stone gazebo and the stone cottage.

Workmen excavating the park to realize Mr. Von Waldburg’s design found silver coins, some with Napoleon’s image engraved on them.  It was supposed that these coins had been intended to be melted down by Ezra Prime to be turned into thimbles.[10]

A specific opening day for Heckscher’s Park, as it was originally known, has not been determined, but the July 28, 1916 edition of The Long-Islander included a poem by F.W. Webber extolling the virtues of the park.  Two lines from that poem were placed on a bronze plaque affixed to a boulder near the entrance to the Park from Main Street and Prime Avenue:

Here coming generations, seeking rest,

Mid verdure, bloom and overarching trees,

From Nature’s loveliness will draw new zest,

New inspiration from the perfumed breeze.

The park was opened to the public by the fall of 1916, but the work was not completed.  The stone fountain was not completed until May 1917.[11]  Work on the stone retaining wall around the shores of the pond was also continuing.  And the planting of trees from the Heckscher estate at Wincoma continued in the spring of 1917.[12]  Even in its incomplete state, at least two postcard views of the park had been published.

Mr. Heckscher hired Lars Reitan, an immigrant from Norway, to be superintendent of the park.  Mr. Reitan, who lived in the stone cottage by the lake, quickly became well-liked by the residents of town.  One Huntingtonian was even moved to write a poem about the new Superintendent:

Lover of Nature, with her, hand in hand

Amid her work he toils from day to day,

Rendering service neath her gentle sway

Such as will make more beautiful the land.

 

Rich in the skill that makes the soil obey

Each order that his busy mind has planned;

In leaf and bloom, tree, plant and flower stand

Thriving apace in beautiful array;

And Heckscher Park he makes a Paradise.

None can behold save with admiring eyes.

That the first letter of each lined spelled out the Superintendent’s name impressed him even more.[13]

Ice skating on the pond.

Ice skating on the pond was very popular that first winter of 1916-17.  When Superintendent Reitan hoisted the red ball, it was safe to skate.  The next summer, fresh water swimming was the attraction.[14]  There were ten bathhouses (five for women and five for men) available for a small fee and a diving platform.  Swimmers could also rent a bathing suit from the Superintendent.  Row boats were also available for rent.

Boating on Heckscher Pond.

Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher invited the Town Board to dinner for the Town Board at his estate at Wincoma, where he would outline an offer to donate the new park to a Trust to be established for that specific purpose.   He promised to provide an endowment of $70,000 (about $1.465 million in 2017).  He suggested giving 700 preferred shares of the American-La France Fire Engine Company, which paid 7% for an annual income of $4,900 ($102,000 in 2017 dollars).  Mr. Heckscher offered a list of alternative stocks or bonds, but the suggested stock was met with favor.[17]  The offer of an endowment was very welcome in light of the difficulty in raising funds to maintain the adjoining athletic fields.  Heckscher had set aside $12,000 as an endowment for that property, expecting residents to raise a matching amount.[18]

The actual gift of the park was made a day after Christmas 1917.  In a deed signed by August and Nannie Heckscher, the new 12.372-acre park was transferred to nine of Huntington’s leading citizens, including Supervisor Field (Town Supervisors were ex officio members of the Board), as trustees of the Heckscher Trust. The purpose of the trust was to hold and maintain the new park “exclusively for charitable and educational purposes in the form of a park or playground for the use and benefit of the public and especially of the school children of said Town of Huntington.”  Among other things, the board was authorized “to provide occasional music for the pleasure and instruction of the people.”

The trustees were to submit an annual report to the Town Board and the Town Board was given some say on filling vacancies on the Trust’s board.  The deed also specified that the park was to be known as Heckscher Park.  Reportedly, Mr. Heckscher’s original intent was to use the name Huntington Park, “but the popular sentiment overruled his intention and Heckscher Park is so called because the people would call it by no other name.”[19]

The most interesting provision of the deed was the right given to the trustees “to cut and collect ice from the lake in said park, and arrange for the storage thereof, and it shall distribute the same free of charge to the poor of the Town of Huntington.”  It is unknown if this power was ever exercised by the trustees.

The 1917 map of the area shows the Park and Community Fields as two distinct entities.

As promised, Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher donated 700 preferred shares of American-La France Fire Engine Company, Inc. at $100 par value per share, or $70,000 in total.  Mrs. Heckscher later added another $100,000 to the endowment.[20]  Following his wife’s death in 1924, Mr. Heckscher donated an additional $50,000 in the form of 500 shares of Anahma Realty Corporation, the company through which Mr. Heckscher owned his income producing properties in Manhattan.[21]  It should be noted that these values represent the par value of the stock, not necessarily the market value.  Long term government bonds issued to help underwrite the cost of World War I yielded 3% interest.  Assuming the yield on these shares would be the same, the market value of the initial gift would have had a market value of $163,333.  The endowment was further augmented by a bequest in the will of Willard Baylis, a prominent Huntington attorney who had served as president of the Heckscher Trust.  Mr. Baylis left $1,000 to the Trust.[22]  The market value of these gifts may have been as much as half a million dollars, the equivalent in today’s dollars of about $7,000,000.

The Long-Islander greeted the gift enthusiastically and predicted that “The character of the trustees named in the deed are a guarantee that the trust will be administered wisely and with care and diligence.”[23]

The formal dedication of the park took place on Decoration Day (May 30), 1918.  The morning was filled with the usual Decoration Day activities, e.g. a parade and decorating of veterans’ graves.  The afternoon was devoted to a celebration of the new park with speeches by the donor, Supervisor Field, School Superintendent Robert Toaz, and Dr. S. Parker Cadman.  Mr. Heckscher modestly deflected the praise heaped on him:

In the evolution of this little Park which to-day goes to our people and most of all to the little children, I have had so much satisfaction and so much pleasant anticipation that I am entitled to no praise; and I believe I am speaking for Mrs. Heckscher also when I say that the gift has been for both of us one of unalloyed gratification.[24]

The Park’s dedication rock.

A bronze tablet affixed to a large boulder had been placed in the park in time for the dedication.  The tablet repeated the words Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher had used when they first made the offer to donate the park to the people of Huntington the previous summer.  Their letter had said the park would be for the little birds that migrate and the children who, fortunately, do not.

One important feature of the park was still missing.  The Heckschers’ plans for a museum of fine art had to be put on hold due to material and labor shortages arising from the American entry into World War I in April 1917.  By August 1918, with the war winding down, Mr. Heckscher announced that he had completed plans for the museum.  Construction on the $128,000 ($2.25 million dollars in 2017) building would begin “as soon as the rush of war work is over so that the material needed may be had.”[25]

At the same time, it was also announced that the Park and the Community Field would be united under the ownership of one board.  This combination made the income from the Heckscher Trust endowment available to maintain the Community Field, where the grandstand was in need of repairs.[26]  The Recreation and Playground Association transferred the Community Field to the Heckscher Trust in April 1919.

The Fine Arts Museum

The corner stone for the classical style museum building designed by Maynicke & Franke[27] was laid on May 21, 1919.  The following year, on July 10, 1920, it was dedicated as a gift to the citizens of Huntington on a perfect summer day during which thousands of people came to hear speeches and thank Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher for their continuing generosity.  According to William McAdoo, former secretary of the Treasury and a summer resident of Huntington Bay, in the aftermath of the destruction of the Great War, the gift was not just to the people of Huntington; “it is made to the whole country, to the entire world in fact, for it is an example and an inspiration.”[28]

Perhaps memories of the recent war affected reactions to the gift, but the museum was seen as much more than a building in which to hang pictures.

If the lesson of the occasion is taken to heart the people of Huntington, now and in the future, will accentuate the broad significance of the Heckscher gift by striving to make the town, even more than the Heckschers have made it, a center from which will radiate the spirit of human brotherhood and social uplift.[29]

August Heckscher speaking at the July 10, 1920 dedication ceremony.

August Heckscher accepted the gratitude of the crowd with characteristic modesty.  At 3:00, as the dignitaries took their seats after a 90 minute concert by the 35 piece Seventy-first Regiment band, they were greeted to a surprise fireworks show.  The aerial bombs from high in the air released a large American flag and a streamer that bore the inscription “Heckscher Park.”  When Mr. Heckscher rose to speak, the band played “Hail to the Chief.”  Mr. Heckscher referred to his modest collection of paintings that he did not wish to see scattered to the four winds.  He almost made it sound like Huntington were doing him a favor by keeping the collection together.

Of course, the Heckschers were always mindful of the children.  It is not surprising that while the adults toured the new building, the children “were treated to ice cream, cake and orangeade.”

Museum Interior

The fountain, “Youth Eternal” that sits in the circular alcove at the west end of the museum lobby was not completed until two months after the dedication.  The three children in the sculpture represent the Heckschers’ grandchildren.[30]

Lars Reitan continued to serve as superintendent of the park.  In fact, he would oversee the park until his retirement in 1948.  In 1935, he was also appointed to the Board of the Heckscher Trust.  But the intervening years were not without their share of conflict.  Financial pressure on the endowment brought on by the Great Depression put a strain on the park’s operations.

The Depression eroded the value of the Trust’s endowment.  In the early 1930s, the income produced by the endowment had fallen too low for the Trust to maintain the park and museum.  August Heckscher asked Town Supervisor William Watt to make up the shortfall with town funds.  The Supervisor refused, arguing the Town could not spend taxpayer money on property it did not own.  Mr. Heckscher promised to repay the Town when the investments recovered.  Based on the opinion of Town Counsel Fred J. Munder (later to be a county judge), the Supervisor reluctantly allocated $3,000 to help maintain the Trust’s property.[31] The Huntington School District, which used the athletic fields for its teams and physical education classes, also allocated funds for maintenance of the park.  An income and expense report for 1933 shows dividend revenue from the endowment of $1,125.85 and $3,000 from the Town.  Tennis Court rentals brought in another $360.50.  Expenses were $3,787.82, including $1,500 for the Superintendent’s salary.

By 1935, the Town’s allocation increased to $5,000; along with $1,000 from the school district.  The 1935 report showed no income from the endowment.[32]  In fact, no income from the endowment was reported between 1935 through 1937.  In 1938, endowment income amounted to only $618, less than 10% of that year’s total expenditures.  The value of the endowment by the end of 1943 had been reduced to $18,230.  Without access to the records of the Trust it is impossible to determine how much of this reduction is a result of the sale of some investments to cover expenses, or simply a loss of value caused by the Depression.  The value of the 500 shares of Anahma Realty Corp that Mr. Heckscher donated in 1924 in memory of his wife had fallen from $50,000 to just $2,750.

Supervisor Watt was also able to allocate WPA funds for improvements to the athletic fields in 1934.  Two years later, however, Mr. Heckscher was concerned about a $12,000 project to complete the tennis courts as a WPA project.  He asked Ira Lewis, the Supervisor of Local projects for the WPA, to hold off on that project because he feared the Trust would not be able to repay such a large amount.[33]

Nonetheless, with the Town’s support, which grew to $6,000 a year, the Park remained open throughout the Depression.  The doors to the museum, however, were kept locked; “but there is an obliging curator [i.e. Park Superintendent Reitan] who will unlock them cheerfully and with no desire for gain.”[34]

August Heckscher, who had sold his Huntington Bay estate in 1923, died in 1941.  By that time the Park seems to have become somewhat overgrown and visitation was down.  In June, the Trust’s Board “felt that steps should be taken to increase the public interest in the splendid gift of the Park and the Museum which Mr. Heckscher had established for the benefit of the people of Huntington.”[35]  Three sub-committees were formed, each aligned with one aspect of Mr. Heckscher’s gift:  The Fine Arts Committee, Parks Committee, and Playground and Athletic Field Committee.

The most far reaching recommendations seem to have come from the Fine Arts Committee, which was headed by Albert Delmont Smith, a painter turned art historian.  Mr. Smith was the first professional associated with the care of the museum’s collection.  Previously that responsibility had fallen to the Park Superintendent Reitan, who had a background in landscaping, not paintings.  Residents were incensed to learn that the committee proposed changes to the museum displays and, even worse, holding public art sales in the museum.  In 1944, a petition submitted to the new Town Supervisor Walter Fasbender demanded that the paintings moved to storage “be returned to the walls of the Fine Art Building in Heckscher Park, in the manner in which Mr. Heckscher left them and desired them to be hung there in their entirety permanently.”[36]  William Hartmann, claiming to represent 2,000 residents as the Managing Director of the Huntington Civic Planning Association, sent a letter to Charles Noyes, president of the Trust, claiming that August Heckscher “declared himself emphatically averse to permitting the use of the walls of his museum for any exhibit of paintings other than those of his own collection.”[37]

Despite the objections, the Trustees voted at their January 2, 1943 meeting to allow the exhibit of paintings on loan from other museums.  The first exhibit of loaned paintings opened on May 22, 1943 with 21 paintings from American artists, including Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, and William Merritt Chase, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[38]  Perhaps to help assuaged the hurt feelings of those opposed to the display of loaned art, the Trustees used the opening of the exhibit to unveil a portrait of August Heckscher that had been in storage at the museum for 20 years.[39]

The Park Superintendent was also unhappy with some of the proposed changes, even though he was also a member of the Heckscher Trust Board of Trustees.  Although Mr. Reitan apparently did not share his disagreement with his fellow trustees at Board meetings, he did share his displeasure with fellow residents.  After he abruptly left a meeting at which his status as an employee and trustee was discussed, the Board voted to remove him as Superintendent.  At a subsequent meeting to consider removing Mr. Reitan from the Board, he voluntarily resigned from the Board, but asked to be retained as Superintendent.[40]  He worked four more years until his retirement in April 1948 due to ill health.[41]

Mr. & Mrs. Reitan in the stone cottage

Mr. Reitan, who had favored maintaining the beauty of the Park over increasing visitation, was given a $75 a month pension by the Trust.  The Town Parks Department assumed responsibility for maintaining the park and the cottage, in which Mr. Reitan had lived for over 30 years, was to be made available to the Town Recreation Committee, otherwise known as the YMCA.  It was reported that refreshments would be available at the cottage for park visitors.[42]   Mr. Reitan moved to a house on Madison Street across from the entrance to the park.  He died in 1954.

By 1948, J. Taylor Finley, chairman of the Athletic and Park Committee, could report “that the park was being used as never before.”  It was used even more in 1949.  The uses included the first High School commencement in the park, the Police Athletic Association’s annual boxing matches, the Municipal Band Concerts on the steps of the museum and musicals held in the museum.  The YMCA ran its summer camp for 210 children between the ages of 7 and 11.  Baseball leagues and a basketball league rounded out the frequent users of the park.  “Also,” Mr. Finley reported, “more people are ‘just visiting’ the park, all of which I believe was intended by Mr. Heckscher when he gave this beautiful spot to the town.”[43]

Use of the park continued to increase.  It was estimated that in 1952, 100,000 people would visit the park, including the average of 50 children a day who made use of the new wading pool donated by the Huntington Rotary Club.[44]  The park was truly a center of activity in the Town of Huntington.  When plans were being made by the Huntington Tercentenary Committee to celebrate the Town’s 300th anniversary in 1953, the logic place to hold the anniversary pageant was in Heckscher Park.  The committee, chaired by Robert L. Simpson, secured permission from the Heckscher Trust to use the park from June 25 to July 7.[45]

A year before the Tercentenary Committee requested use of Heckscher Park, a local attorney raised serious objections to the use of Town funds to maintain the park.  Albert M. Levert of Centerport had earned a reputation as a gadfly with his lawsuit challenging the Town’s purchase of 22 acres in Centerport for use as a Town beach.  Mr. Levert was such an irritant to the powers that be that someone in Town Hall prepared a summary of the nine lawsuits initiated by Mr. Levert against the Town between 1951 and 1955.

In the midst of the Centerport beach lawsuit, Mr. Levert appeared at the Town Board’s budget hearing on November 1, 1951.  The meeting at the Woodbury Avenue School was sparsely attended and lasted all of 15 minutes.  Yet Mr. Levert managed to strike fear in some Town employees, who worried he might take steps that would tie up their salaries.  His main complaint about the 1952 budget was that it continued to allocate taxpayer money for the maintenance of the privately owned park.  Since 1936, when the Town first adopted formal annual budgets, the Town Board allocated $6,000 a year for maintenance of Heckscher Park.  By 1946, the allocation was $8,000; and the 1952 budget included $14,500 for the park.  Not only was the use of taxpayer money for non-town owned property illegal on its face, Mr. Levert also objected because as a private park, the Heckscher Trust could exclude anyone it wished from the park.  Mr. Levert threatened to put someone in jail if such illegal expenditures were not removed from the budget.[46]

The Town Board ignored the attorney, noting that no one else objected to the use of Town funds to maintain the park.  The following spring, Mr. Levert made good on his threat by commencing legal action against Town Supervisor Walter Fasbender and the Heckscher Trust.  The plaintiff in the case was Mr. Levert’s wife Louise.  The suit sought an injunction against spending the $14,500 included in the 1952 budget and recovery of the $72,000 spent by the Town for maintenance of the park since 1944, the year Supervisor Fasbender took office.[47]

At the initial hearing, William Titus appearing as counsel for the Supervisor, pointed out that the Leverts were the only ones who ever raised an objection to the Town’s support of Heckscher Park.  And that their share of the expenses spent on maintenance of the park amounted to only 82 cents.[48]  The court did not grant Mr. Levert’s request for a temporary injunction barring the continued use of Town funds while the lawsuit was pending.[49]

At the semi-annual meeting of the Heckscher Trust in July 1952 held at Linck’s Log Cabin restaurant in Centerport, the Trustees rejected Mr. Levert’s suggestion that the Trust transfer ownership of the park to the Town (according to Mr. Levert, the suggestion to transfer ownership was made by the Supervisor’s attorney, Mr. Titus).  The trustees were confident that they would prevail.[50]

Meanwhile, the park continued to be used more than ever by the high school, the new Little League, the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, and the Township Concert Band.  The museum also saw increased visitation.

But that all came to a screeching halt as 1953 began.  On January 6, Supreme Court Justice Percy D. Stoddart ruled in favor of Mrs. Levert as against defendant Fasbender and enjoined the Town from spending any more taxpayer money on the park.  The court based its decision on the previous ruling in the Centerport Beach case.  The court also entered a judgment against Supervisor Fasbender personally for $101,534.54, which was the total amount spent by the Town since 1944 plus interest to December 31, 1952.[51]

A week after the court’s decision, the Trust closed the gates to the park and posted signs:

WE REGRET

That this Park has been temporarily

~ CLOSED ~

as a result of a lawsuit instituted by

Mrs. Albert Levert which has cut off the

Funds necessary for the maintenance

of this park.

HECKSCHER TRUST

 

Mr. Levert admitted he had seen the signs, but would not say if he planned to take action against the Trust because of the signs. [52] 

Supervisor Fasbender at the opening of a historical exhibit in 1948.

Supervisor Fasbender sought leave, which was granted, to amend his answer to assert a cross-claim against the Trust seeking reimbursement for the judgment against him.  Mr. Levert also filed a motion to recover attorney’s fees.

In February, the Trust announced that without Town funds the park would be open only one day a month—the third Saturday of the month.[53]  The Town’s Tercentenary pageant was relocated to Squadron C Farm at the other end of the village.  The Park was open during the summer thanks to the volunteer efforts of the YMCA.[54]

By July, the Town was considering a settlement along the lines proposed the previous year—transfer of the Park to the Town.  Supervisor Fasbender and the Town Board appointed a committee to consider such a settlement.  The committee recommended that the Town purchase the property, including the museum and the art collection, for the amount of the judgment against the Supervisor.  Of course, no money would actually change hands.  The Trust would transfer the park property in lieu of reimbursing the Town for its past expenses for maintenance.[55]

On December 29, 1954, the Town Board—at the last meeting with Mr. Fasbender as Supervisor—approved a resolution “arranging for the conveyance of Heckscher Park with its buildings, improvements and appurtenances to the Town of Huntington.”  The Heckscher Trust soon agreed to the transfer and a further Town Board resolution adopted on February 2, 1954 authorized the Supervisor, now Joseph Cermak, to execute the contract of sale.[56]  As part of the settlement, Mr. Levert received $12,000 in attorney’s fees.

Heckscher Trust conveyed the park, including the art collection in the museum, to the Town by deed dated May 12, 1954.  Under the terms of the deed, the Town was required to hold the property “in perpetuity exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, in the form of a park and playground to be known as “Heckscher Park,” for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the Town of Huntington and especially of the school children of the said Town of Huntington, and shall carry out as nearly as possible the purposes for which the Trust was established by August and Nannie A. Heckscher by Indenture dated December 26, 1917.”  If the Town failed to honor this requirement, “then title to the whole of said premises shall . . .  revert to the parties of the first part [i.e. Heckscher Trust], their successors and assigns, and the party of the second part [i.e. the Town] shall forthwith convey said premises to the parties of the first part.”[57]

The Town Board soon realized that it owned a building full of artwork, but it was not technically authorized to operate a museum.  The building was not open on a regular schedule and the art was being neglected.  To remedy this situation, the Town Board in April 1957 appointed a five member Board of Trustees to manage the building and collections.[58]  The new organization, known as The Heckscher Museum, was chartered by the New York State Education Department in June 1957.  Previously the building was called the Huntington Fine Arts Building.  Now with an organization named Heckscher Museum, that name was also applied to the building.

The Heckscher Trust continued to exist and continued to hold the endowment left by Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher.  Income from the Trust was used to make improvements to the park.  For example, in 1963, the Trust spent $3,325 for a new fence around the ball fields; in 1964, it allocated $3,540 to repair the museum’s roof; and in 1966 the Trust purchased a bandstand for the park for $5,785.

The 1966 band stand.

Fifteen years after conveying the park property to the Town, the Trust petitioned the court to terminate the Trust and distribute the remaining endowment funds—now with a value of $111,368—to the YMCA.  The trustees of the museum intervened in that proceeding arguing that the endowment should be conveyed for maintenance of the museum that Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher created, not to the YMCA, which was an unrelated organization.  In her affidavit urging the court to transfer the Trust’s assets to the Museum, Priscilla Williams pointed out that six of the nine trustees of the Heckscher Trust were also trustees of the YMCA, who may have suggested transferring the endowment to the YMCA to meet their fund raising obligations to that organization.

No one disputed that the Heckscher Trust should be dissolved.  The only question for the court was where the endowment should go—the YMCA or The Heckscher Museum.  The court decided in favor of the Museum “as the sole remaining private organization which is an offshoot of the original gift.”  The court found that while the YMCA was a worthy organization, it is, “except for accidents of geography and a partially interlocking board of directors, a complete stranger to the Heckscher Trust and the Heckscher Park.”  Clearly the court was not made aware of the fact that the YMCA had played a pivotal role in the creation of the athletic fields and had conducted most of its activities in the park until it acquired its own property nearby in the early 1950s.

Even with that historic connection to the Park, the YMCA’s claim would not have been as strong as Heckscher Museum’s.  The latter organization was formed specifically to oversee the fine arts collection on behalf of the Town.  In 1964, that relationship was formalized in an agreement between Heckscher Museum and the Town of Huntington.  The agreement provided that while the museum building and the original Heckscher collection are owned by the Town, Heckscher Museum (the organization) will have control of the maintenance and operation of the building and collections.  Any art works acquired by the Museum for display will be the Museum’s separate property.  The Town will provide funding to pay the salary of a professional museum director.  Perhaps the most important provisions of the agreement and the ones that probably gave rise to the agreement in the first place were those that authorized Heckscher Museum to raise funds and develop plans for an expansion of the museum building.  It was recognized that “the present buildings of the Museum have become overcrowded because of inadequate space to store and exhibit its collections.”[59]  It is unclear what buildings other than the 1920 museum are being referred to.

The Museum’s trustees announced its plans for expansion and a fund raising drive a week after the agreement was signed.[60]  The new addition would be built north of the museum.  It was hoped that the addition would be completed in time for the museum’s 50th anniversary in 1970.  Press coverage of the 50th anniversary celebration does not make any references to the plans for expansion, which had not been realized.

The question of expansion seems to have lain dormant until the American Association of Museums issued an accreditation report in 1983.  The Association expressed concerns about the museum’s overcrowding and indicated that if improvements were not made the museum may lose its accreditation.  The museum revisited the issue and announced new plans for an expansion in 1986.[61]  A 19 member town-wide advisory group had been formed to explore options, but the museum’s immediate neighbors opposed the loss of green space that would result from the expansion.  “If there’s a choice between the park and the museum, it’s very obviously the park,” said Elaine Capobianco, the head of the Huntington United Civic Association.[62]

The initial plans called for the new addition to be to the south of the museum building.  But the State Historic Preservation Office rejected the plan because it would adversely affect the symmetry of the original building.  A new plan with two wings on either side of the original building and each equal in size to the original building was approved by the State in 1993.[63]  The State Historic Preservation office described the plan as an “outstanding proposal” that is “completely compatible with both the historic Heckscher Museum and the surrounding park.”[64]

Fund raising efforts received a boost when the Museum’s chairman, John B. Hadley, pledged $3 million towards the project’s then $8 million budget.[65]  The National Endowment for the Arts also helped by making available an earlier $200,000 grant that the Museum feared it might lose because of the delay in construction.[66]

The proposed expansion.

After the Town Board adopted the Environmental Impact Statement, Huntington United Civic Associations, Inc., representing 20 civic associations, filed an Article 78 proceeding attacking the validity of the environmental study.[67]  The suit was dismissed five months later because the plaintiff lacked standing to sue.[68]  Three weeks after the suit was dismissed, the Town Board voted to approve the project.  Almost half of the construction budget had been raised.[69]  Other hurdles remained.  State legislation was needed to allow the conversion of parkland; and a wetlands construction permit from the State Department of Environmental Conservation was also needed.[70]  Those hurdles have been cleared, but the fund raising finish line has moved from $8,000,000 to $13,500,000 to probably more by now.

As any visitor to the park today can see, the expansion plans were never realized, although a new entrance plaza to provide handicapped accessibility to the museum was built in 1997.  While the museum expansion plans stalled, other changes were made to the park, which by the 1970s had fallen into such state of neglect that a local newspaper referred to the park as “Wreck”-scher Park.[71]

A shopping cart and garbage can were some of teh debris found in the pond.

In 1978, the Town commenced a $500,000 improvement project.  One of the first tasks was to stabilize the sides of the pond, which had begun to cave in.  Boulders were shipped from upstate New York to replace those placed some 60 years earlier and that had sunk into the ground. The work required draining the pond so that only three feet of water remained.  In the process workers found two old garbage cans, a shopping cart and “enough beer bottles to pay off the capital debt.”[72]  Fish were removed from the pond and given a temporary home at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery.[73] 

New viewing platforms added to protect the lake’s edge from erosion.

The playground, which had been located to the west of the current bathroom building, was moved to its current location at the west end of the ball fields.  A maintenance garage was converted to accessible restrooms, replacing restrooms built in 1947.  New wood decks were installed as viewing platforms around the lake.  The white Pekin ducks that were always a favorite recipient of stale bread were removed as an environmental hazard.  Surprisingly, it was reported that “Canada geese will be encouraged” to return.[74]  Be careful what you wish for.

The Rainbow Stage

The most expensive part of the project was the construction of a new amphitheater to replace the bandstand installed by the Heckscher Trust in 1966.  The new $300,000 amphitheater was officially opened on July 6, 1979 when the Huntington Summer Arts Festival began its 14th season.  The program was a jazz concert by Clem DeRosa, featuring soloist Town Supervisor Kenneth Butterfield on the trumpet.[75]  Apparently, the site lines to the new amphitheater did not get good reviews.  The following spring 3,000 cubic yards of fill from a parking lot project at Huntington Hospital were brought in to help the audience see over the railing around the orchestra pit in front of the amphitheater.[76]  Raising the grade did cause some concern that 11 trees might be adversely impacted.  To lessen the impact wells were built around the trees.[77]

Shortly after his death in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway in July 1981, the Town Board voted to name the new amphitheater the Rainbow Stage in honor of singer and Huntington resident Harry Chapin.  The name refers to Mr. Chapin’s song “Flowers are Red,” which includes the line, “There are so many colors in the rainbow.”

The collapsed roof of the gazebo.

One structure in the park that did not fare well over the years was the stone gazebo, popular for its echo.  By the early 1990s, the roof had collapsed.  There was evidence of a fire at some point in the past.  Working with the Huntington Historical Society, the Town undertook a reconstruction project with plans by local architect Neal Hoffman.  The original roof timbers were too far gone to be re-used.  A template was made from the most intact of the beams and the laminated wood tension ring that supports the roof was supplied by an upstate silo manufacturer.[78]  As promised, not only was the gazebo restored, so was the echo.

The gazebo after restoration

In December 1999, the pond was again drained to dredge the muck and litter that had settled on the bottom.  The project was part of a $1.25 million effort to restore the park to its previous glory.  The project also included new asphalt walkways around the pond and additional landscaping.[79]  In addition to the expected muck, visitors found two guns in a plastic bag encased in cement; and a woman found her $15,000 engagement ring that she had dropped into the lake by accident a month earlier.[80]

The park continues to attract tens of thousands of visitors every year.  The work to maintain such a well-used park never ends.  While no major projects are planned, in anticipation of the Park’s centennial, the Town has applied for grant funding to replace the chain link fence around the park with a more historically appropriate steel fence.

And the 50-year old dream of finally expanding the museum lives on.

 

Thanks to Jess Beck, Heckscher Museum, John Coraor, Huntington Director of Cultural Affairs, Karen Martin, Huntington Historical Society, and Antonia Mattheou, Huntington Town Clerk’s Archives for their help with the research for this post.

 

 

[1] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 589, page 14.

[2] The Long-Islander, July 31, 1908.

[3] The Long-Islander, February 4, 1910.

[4] The Long-Islander, September 25, 1914.

[5] The Long-Islander, March 26, 1915; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 28, 1915.

[6] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 23, 1914, page 8.

[7] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 12, 1915, page 6; The Long-Islander, August 13, 1915.

[8] The Long-Islander, December 18, 1914, page 2.

[9] The Long-Islander, June 7, 1918, page 1.

[10] The Long-Islander, June 2, 1916, page 10.

[11] The Long-Islander, May 11, 1917.

[12] The Long-Islander, April 20, 1917, page 3; May 4, 1917, page 1.

[13] The Long-Islander, May 18, 1917.

[14] The Long-Islander, June 29, 1917.

[15] The Long-Islander, June 29, 1917.

[16] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 22, 1917, page 8.

[17] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 19, 1917, page 8; The Long-Islander, July 20, 1917.

[18] The Long-Islander, July 20, 1917.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Remarks of Willard N. Baylis at the Memorial Service for Anna Atkins Heckscher held at the Palace Theatre on August 31, 1924.  In the collection of the Huntington Historical Society.

[21] New York Times, November 9, 1924, page 20.

[22] New York Times, March 4, 1932, page 13.

[23] The Long-Islander, January 4, 1918.

[24] The Long-Islander, May 31, 1918.

[25] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 14, 1918, page 4; The Long-Islander, August 16, 1918.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The Long-Islander, March 21, 1919.

[28] The Long-Islander, July 16, 1920.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 24, 1920, page 9.

[31] The Long-Islander, January 15, 1953, page 1.

[32] Statements of the Heckscher Trust in the collection of the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 43.

[33] Letter dated May 8, 1936 from August Heckscher to Ira Lewis, in the Town Clerk’s Archives Box 0661A.

[34] William Oliver Stevens, Discovering Long Island, (NY 1939), page 31; quoted in August Heckscher: The Elusive Collector, by Megan Sniffin, on file with the Huntington Historical Society Archives.

[35] The Long-Islander, December 30, 1943, page 1.

[36] Petition address to Town Supervisor Walter Fasbender dated February 1, 1944 in the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 43.

[37] Letter dated June 1, 1943 from William Hartmann to Charles Noyes in the Town Clerk’s Archives.

[38] The Long-Islander, May 13, 1943.

[39] The Long-Islander, May 20, 1943, page 1.

[40] The Long-Islander, December 30, 1943, page 1.

[41] The Long-Islander, April 1, 1948, page 1.

[42] The Long-Islander, April 1, 1948, page 1.

[43] Report of the Park and Athletic Committees, July 13, 1949 in the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 0499C.

[44] Report on Heckscher Park Activities dated July 10, 1952, in the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 43.

[45] Letter dated November 15, 1952 from Robert L. Simpson, chairman of the Huntington Tercentenary, Inc. to Arthur Smadbeck of the Heckscher Trust.

[46] The Long-Islander, November 8, 1951, page 1.

[47] The Long-Islander, April 17, 1952, page 1.

[48] The Long-Islander, April 24, 1952.

[49] The Long-Islander, July 17, 1952, page 1.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Huntington Times, January 14, 1953, page 1.

[52] The Long-Islander, January 15, 1953, page 1.

[53] New York Times, February 8, 1953, page 38.

[54] New York Times, December 13, 1953, page 135.

[55] The Long-Islander, September 3, 1953, page 1.

[56] Town Board Resolution adopted February 2, 1954 on file in the Town Clerk’s Archives, box 0187A.

[57] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber3693, page 204.

[58] The Long-Islander, April 18, 1957, page 1.

[59] Agreement dated July 28, 1964 between the Heckscher Museum and the Town of Huntington.

[60] The Long-Islander, August 6, 1964, page 3.

[61] New York Times, September 29, 1991 (Long Island section).

[62] Ibid.

[63] The Long-Islander, August 26, 1993.

[64] Newsday, August 25, 1993.

[65] The Record, January 15, 1992.

[66] Newsday, August 25, 1993.

[67] The Long-Islander, July 8, 1993, page 1.

[68] Newsday, December 9, 1993.

[69] Newsday, December 22, 1993.

[70] The Long-Islander, December 30, 1993, page 3.

[71] Sunday Digest, November 12, 1978, copy in the Huntington Historical Society archives.

[72] Long Island Press, July 11, 1975.

[73] The Long-Islander, June 21, 1979, page 3.

[74] Ibid.

[75] The Long-Islander, June 28, 1979.

[76] Newsday, April 22, 1980, page 27.

[77] The Long-Islander, April 17, 1980, page 7.

[78] The Long-Islander, August 5, 1993.

[79] Newsday, January 14, 2001.

[80] The Long-Islander, January 13, 2000, page 3.

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On a sunny summer day, a visitor to Heckscher Park will find children climbing on the playground sets, adults strolling around the pond, art lovers visiting the Fine Arts Museum, teenagers learning to play tennis, picnickers enjoying the shade of a stately old tree, and perhaps a softball game.  It is hard to imagine a time when this plot of land wasn’t used by Huntingtonians as a place for recreation and relaxation, especially since it has been a park for over a century.

Before it was a park, this area was an active industrial and agricultural venue.  If we begin, not quite at the beginning, but at the time of the American Revolution, the land was the home and farm of Zophar Platt, the wealthiest man in town.[1]  His home stood near what is now the southwest corner of the park.  Platt, who built the tide mill on the west side of Huntington Harbor in 1752, saw his orchards and fencing destroyed by the British when they built Fort Golgotha at the top of the Old Burying Ground in 1782.  A supporter of the Revolution, Platt was mistreated by the British, but survived the war and, as noted on his grave, died “in peace” in 1791.

By the 1840s, the land was owned by Albert W. Hendrickson, who sold it to Thomas C. Hendrickson in 1843.[2]  He, in turn sold the 27-acre farm to Ezra C. Prime in 1846.[3]  A few years earlier, the Commissioners of Highways had laid out a road through the farm and neighboring property from Main Street north to Mill Lane, which had been the dam for Huntington’s first mill in the seventeenth century.[4]  Prime moved from the nearby Prime family homestead on Spring Road to Zophar Platt’s old house.

Six years earlier, Prime had established a thimble manufactory in what is now the second house west of Prime Avenue on the north side of Main Street.  Ezra Prime was the great grandson of Ebenezer Prime, who served as the third minister of Old First Church from 1719 until he died in 1779.  Ezra was born in Manhattan in 1810.  His family returned to Huntington was he was four years old.  At sixteen, he became an apprentice in the silversmith shop of his second cousin George Platt.  After his apprenticeship, Prime entered into a partnership with John Roshore, who had also worked in Platt’s shop.  The new partnership did well operating at the head of Chatham square in lower Manhattan.

In 1836, Prime, suffering from ill health, returned to Huntington and established a thimble factory.[5]  According to most sources the factory was on the north side of Main Street, two doors west of the highway laid out in 1839 (now known as Prime Avenue).  That property was owned by Ezra’s brother Claudius, who was also a silversmith.  It is possible the two brothers began the factory as partners.  While silversmiths had been making thimbles as part of their regular business for years, Prime’s factory is often referred to as the first thimble factory in the country.  However, this may be a bit of local boosterism.  The first thimble manufacturer in this country appears to have been Benjamin Halstead, who founded the first American thimble factory in 1794.[6]  “Another well known American thimble-making firm was Ketcham and McDougall of Brooklyn, New York, which produced nearly two-thirds of all the marked American thimbles at present in the hands of collectors.  The company began in 1832 and in various guises continued to make thimbles until 1932.”[7]  Even if Prime’s thimble factory was not the first, it was among the first.

Shortly after establishing the thimble factory, Ezra traveled to Oberlin, Ohio where he studied Greek and Latin.  In light of later mental health issues, his trip may have been motivated by more than the pursuit of academics.  Prime was described as having “an active, nervous temperament, doing with all his might whatever he undertakes.”[8]  The stay in Ohio may have been necessitated by mental exhaustion as well.

After two years at Oberlin, Prime returned to Huntington.  He married in 1842, but his wife died just two months later.  As noted above, in 1846, he purchased the land north of Main Street from Thomas Hendrickson.  He purchased the half acre of land on the northwest corner of Main Street and Prime Avenue from his brother in 1850.

In addition to his thimble factory, in the 1850s Prime had a jewelry store on the north side of Main Street, east of Wall Street.  According to the 1860 Gazetteer of the State of New York (Published by R. Pearsall Smith, Syracuse), Prime’s thimble factory employed 10-12 men and produced 5 to 6 gross of gold and silver thimbles a day.

In 1863, a second factory building was constructed at the southwest corner of Main Street and Spring Road.[9]  This factory utilized steam power, using water from the Meeting House Brook, which ran alongside the building. Five years later, he had the first factory building moved back from the road and converted to a residence. [10]

In addition to his thimble factory, Prime farmed his extensive lands on the north side of Main Street.  In 1850, he purchased from Jonathan Weeks an additional 19 acres to the west of the land he purchased in 1846.[11]  By 1860 he owned almost all of the land on the north side of Main Street from Sabbath Day Path on the east to Mill Lane on the north and as far as Carlos Stuart’s land on the west (i.e. Prime owned land as far west as the municipal lot behind the Elks Club).

He married for the second time in 1858 to Martha Smith Morrell.  The couple had four children, one of whom died when he was two years old.  After his marriage, he built a palatial 26 room house north of the old Zophar Platt house.  The living room in his new house was large enough to serve as a grand ballroom.[12]

The Prime Mansion

In 1864, Prime had a dam built north of his new house to create a pond in the swampy area that stretched from his property up to the harbor.[13]  The pond was stocked with trout. Perhaps inspired by the State fish hatchery in Cold Spring Harbor, which opened in 1883, Prime also had a hatchery.[14]  The pond became a primary source for ice locally.  The ice was 5 to 8 inches thick and clear as crystal.[15]  It also provided a place for skating.  Prime continued to enlarge and improve the pond over the years until it became “a perfect gem of beauty.”[16]

Prime’s third factory building.

The next year, Prime built a building adjoining the pond for E.C. Lefferts who planned to use the building for a sash and blind factory.  In 1871, Lefferts moved to a factory on Wall Street and the building became the third thimble factory operated by Prime.  Fayette Gould leased the building in January 1879 for the manufacture of his patented rowlocks.[17]  By the end of that year, however, thimbles were being made there and Prime added a story to the building in 1879 because business was so brisk.[18]  The various manufacturing uses in this building appear to have utilized steam power.  The nearby pond would have the source of water for the steam engines, but the pond’s spillway does not seem to have been used to provide water power.

The frantic pace with which Prime pursued his thimble business, his farming, and improvements to his property led to some sort of a breakdown.  In 1871, he was forcibly taken to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in Morningside Heights in Manhattan.  There was some disagreement about whether his confinement there was justified.  Nonetheless, despite one successful escape, he spent 63 days there.[19]

He continued his endeavors back in Huntington.  But in 1883, he was admitted to the Brunswick Home in Amityville, where he would spend the last 15 years of his life.[20]  The Brunswick Home had been set up to care for the “feeble-minded.”[21]

During his time at Brunswick, he left the thimble factory in the care of his sons, but they soon gave up the business.[22]

After Ezra Prime died in 1898, his children sold the ten northernmost acres of the farm between New York Avenue and Park Avenue to Henry C. Platt.[23]  The land west of Prime Avenue was subdivided into 49 lots in February 1906.  That same year, they sold the bulk of the farm, the land north of Main Street and east of Prime Avenue, to August Heckscher.[24]  Thus begins another interesting story.

 

[1] The Long-Islander, August 16, 1973, page 20.

[2] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 38, page 43.

[3] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 44, page 140.

[4] Town of Huntington Highway Book A 1724-1851, page 288.

[5] Some accounts give the date as 1837.

[6] Finding: The Material Cultural of Needlework and Sewing, by Mary C. Beaudry (Yale University Press 2006), page 99.

[7] Ibid, page 107.

[8] History of Suffolk County, New York, with Illustrations, Portraits, & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals  (W.W. Munsell & Company 1882), page 61

[9] This building was converted to a steam laundry by L.C. Gordon in 1883 (The Long-Islander, May 4, 1883) and later converted into a residence by Henry Saylor.

[10] New York Thimble Makers from Huntington, Long Island, by Elizabeth Galbraith Sickels (Antiques Journal, October 1964), page 21. Copies can be found in the archives of the Huntington Historical Society.

[11] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 54, page 246.

[12] Ezra Conklin Prime 1810-1898, by T. Ford Prime (1958-59), unpublished manuscript in the archives of the Huntington Historical Society, page 8.

[13] The Long-Islander, December 22, 1865.  Slater’s 1860 map of Huntington village shows a pond marked “Proposed.”

[14] The Long-Islander, November 7, 1884, page 2.  The short piece is about a dog that died in one of Prime’s trout hatching boxes.

[15] The Long-Islander, January 6, 1871.

[16] The Long-Islander, July 12, 1878.

[17] The Long-Islander, January 24, 1879.

[18] The Long-Islander, December 5, 1879.

[19] Munsell, pages 61-62.

[20] The Long-Islander, February 19 & 26, 1898.

[21] American Journal of Insanity, Vol 49, Issue 3, January 1893, page 556. Found at http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.49.3.556

[22] The Long-Islander, February 26, 1898.

[23] The Long-Islander, January 23, 1903.

[24] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 589, page 14.

The elegant home at 22 Fort Salonga Road was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 as the most distinctive example of vernacular Greek Revival style architecture in the Town of Huntington.   It is one of the earliest residences in Huntington to deviate from the standard, conservative local building traditions.  The house is also a good example of the tremendous resource the internet has proven to be for historical research.

The House at 22 Fort Salonga Road

When the house was listed on the National Register three decades ago, little was known of its history.  A Historic Inventory Form for the house prepared in 1979 shows the names of previous owners:   N. Velzer, Florence Draper (1909), A. Draper (1917) and James Van Alst.  That was the extent of the historical background included in the National Register nomination.  Now with the advent of online databases, such as census records and newspaper archives, a more complete picture has emerged.  Most surprising is that all the owners identified earlier are related.  The house remained in the same family for well over a century.

Of course, census records and back issues of newspapers have been available on microfilm for years.  Now that these records are searchable, historic research is much easier and quicker.  What previously may have taken weeks of research can now be completed in a day or two.

So what does the research tell us about the house that sits proudly on a hilltop overlooking Route 25A near the head of Northport Harbor?  This:

The house was built in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, most likely for a member of the Velsor family.  In 1867, John Velsor, who was born around 1786, owned a store near the head of Northport Harbor, which was rented to Charles Ketcham.  The store is believed to date from the late eighteenth century and was described in 1867 as “the old store.”[1]  That store still stands to the east of the subject property and has been designated as a Huntington historic landmark.[2] In the 1870 census, John Velsor is identified as a farmer.

In 1840, John Velsor, presumably the same man discussed above, conveyed six acres at the head of Northport Harbor to Nelson Velsor, presumably his son.[3] Nelson was the captain of a coaster, a ship that transported cargo up and down the coast.  He was born around 1819.  He married a woman named Harriet around 1849.  Their daughter Florence was born in 1850.[4]  The deed conveys the six acres and “buildings thereon”  indicating that the subject house may have been built before 1840.

In 1871, Nelson Velsor found “a perfect skeleton” on the property.[5]   It was thought to be the remains of an Indian, which is consistent with later archeological studies conducted in the early 1960s that found evidence of native settlements in this area at the head of Northport Harbor.  In 1888, Nelson Velsor is reported to have put “a new stoop on the old store adjoining his place.”[6]

Nelson’s daughter, Florence, also known as Flora, became an admired and respected teacher in the Centerport School.[7]  In 1880, Florence Velsor married John Henry R. Draper, who had come to the United States from England as a child.  Draper worked in the wholesale hat industry.  The couple lived on Staten Island and in Brooklyn, but spent a good deal of time in Centerport as well.

After Harriet Velzer died in 1903 and Nelson Velsor three years later, The Drapers used the Centerport house as a summer home.[8]  Florence Draper died in 1916.[9]  In addition to her husband, she was survived by two children, Arthur, who would become an editor at the New York Herald Tribune, and Edith.  As early as 1917, James Van Alst was a guest at the Centerport home.[10]  Two years later he married Edith Draper.  Edith’s father lived with the couple in Centerport until his death in 1930.[11]

James Van Alst, a World War I veteran, was an architect who studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University.  He favored Colonial and Georgian designs, perhaps inspired by the fine historical detail of the subject house.  His commissions included many public works projects throughout Long Island, especially school buildings.  Local schools designed by Van Alst include the Larkfield School, Washington Drive School, Birchwood School, Pigeon Hill School, Maple Wood School, and the Centerport School (now the Centerport Methodist Church) that replaced the schoolhouse in which his mother-in-law had taught.  He also designed Gloria Dei Church in Huntington Station, the Northport and Centerport firehouses, and the Long Island Arena in Commack.   His practice also included historic restoration projects including the restoration of the “Old House” in Cutchogue.  Van Alst served on the Huntington Historic Preservation Commission as well.

Van Alst’s architecture office was in one of the small wings of the house at 22 Fort Salonga Road.  In 1950, Van Alst moved his office to the building next door to the east. [12]  Van Alst died in 1970.[13]

By 1981, the subject property was owned by local attorney Susan O’Grady who proposed converting the two historic houses into offices and building luxury townhouses on the property between the houses and Northport Harbor.  The office conversion did not take place, but a condominium complex known as Bull Calf Landing was built.[14]

As of this writing, the Huntington Town Board is considering whether to designate the now vacant house as a historic landmark, which would protect it from demolition and inappropriate alterations.

 

[1] The Long-Islander, May 3, 1867, page 2

[2] Huntington Town Code §198-42B(53), added 1989

[3] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 39, page 10; the 1865 New York State Census lists a Knelson Velsor as the child of John Velsor.  The age of this Knelson Velsor matches the Nelson Velsor in the 1850 census.  Records for the Old Northport Burying Ground list a Harriet Velsor, wife of Nelson Velsor who died in 1857.  That Harriet’s age matches with the Harriet listed as Nelson Velsor’s wife in the 1850 census.  It could be that after his wife died, Nelson Velsor lived with his parents (the residence of his daughter is not indicated).  However, Nelson is listed with a wife named Harriet in the 1870 census as well.  That Harriet Velsor died in on February 3, 1903.  It may be that Nelson remarried another woman named Harriet who was about the same age as the first Harriet; or the Harriet Velsor buried in the Old Northport Burying Ground may be unrelated to the Nelson Velsor who owned the subject property.

[4] U.S. Census, 1850, Roll M432_601; Page 53A

[5] The Long-Islander, March 16, 1871

[6] The Long-Islander, August 25, 1888

[7] The Long-Islander, October 6, 1933

[8] The Long-Islander, October 7, 1910, page 6

[9] The Long-Islander, January 21, 1916, page 6

[10] The Long-Islander, June 1, 1917, page 6

[11] The Long-Islander, May 23, 1930

[12] My Architectural Journey, by Alfred DiGiacomo, A.I.A. (Self-published, Ithaca, NY 2016), pages 7-30.

[13] The Long-Islander, April2, 1970

[14] The Long-Islander, July 2, 1981

Although we know Huntington to be a great place in the summer, few of us think of our hometown as a summer resort. Yet in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Huntington was as popular a place for a summer vacation as the Hamptons are today.

Starting in the 1870s, summer visitors could avail themselves of a waterfront inn established by the famous and colorful boxer and Brooklyn saloonkeeper William Clark on the shores overlooking Huntington Bay.

Clark was a bare-knuckle bantamweight fighter, who was known as the “Belfast Chicken.” The nickname didn’t have anything to do with any lack of courage. He was known to fight outside his weight class and his most famous fight was with the English champion Jem Mace, which lasted 99 rounds until the police stopped the fight.[1]   In 1910, when Clark was 82, a boxing trainer from San Francisco, suggested a re-match with Mace, who was then 79 years old (Mace would die a few months later).[2]

Clark had come to New York from Belfast in 1851. He opened a couple of restaurants in lower Manhattan before moving to San Francisco, where he reportedly made “a good deal of money” before the Civil War. He came back to New York with suitcases filled with gold, which he sold for $40,000 (about $625,000 today). He opened a hotel in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, got divorced, returned to San Francisco, and then came back to New York and opened a saloon on Fulton Street, Brooklyn called Clark’s Shades.[3]

Portion of James Long Scudder's 1875 painting of the Hawkins House.

Portion of James Long Scudder’s 1875 painting of the Hawkins House.

In 1878, he purchased the old Hawkins House overlooking Huntington Bay on a hilltop west of Bay Road. The Hawkins House replaced an earlier home of the Fleet family. Clark opened “a magnificent summer hotel.”[4] Business at the Huntington hotel was good. There were 60 to 70 guests at the hotel most of the summer and Clark made plans to expand.[5] In 1879, a new road (now known as Locust Lane) was established to provide better access to the waterfront. That same year Clark enlarged his hotel. A typical advertisement for the hotel boasted that it was “one of the coolest and healthiest places on Long Island; no mosquitoes or malaria; rooms and table first class.”[6]

In 1883, Clark advertised the hotel for sale. There were no takers. Two years later, Robert Cornell Townsend took up summer residence at Clark’s hotel. Townsend was a descendent of a wealthy old family from Flushing. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle “Townsend was born with a golden spoon in his mouth and passed his youth as befitted a man of wealth who had the entrée into many of the best houses on Long Island, and among the best people of New York.”[7] His father had died when he was four years old. Townsend became “an amateur boxer of some note.” It was perhaps that avocation that led the 38-year-old Townsend to Billy Clark.

When Townsend came to Huntington, he was accompanied by a woman he introduced as his wife. Townsend purchased the hotel from Clark early in 1886. Although The Long-Islander identified him as the “new proprietor of the Clark House,”[8] the Brooklyn Eagle later reported that Townsend converted the hotel to a private residence.

Whatever the case may be, Townsend kept on the red haired Irish cook from Clark’s hotel. Mary Ann Murphy was a well-educated and refined immigrant whose father had had a large farm in Ireland. Unfortunately Mr. Murphy suffered a reversal that caused his daughter to emigrate and find work as a servant.   Townsend and Murphy soon fell in love. Who pursued whom is unclear, but by Christmas, they were married at St. Patrick’s church in Huntington (after receiving a special dispensation from the Bishop, not because Townsend was previously married, but because Townsend was not a Catholic). The other woman—the one presumed to be Townsend’s wife—was out of town at the time and a scene ensued when she returned. But she soon yielded.

By all accounts, Townsend’s new wife took good care of him, but ill health (his father had been only 44 years old when he died) and fast living soon took their toll. The Brooklyn Eagle later contended that Townsend “yielded more and more to the desire to drink which had been acquired in the fast life of his youth. . . . He sought the companionship of the hangers on in the village gin mills and was a great favorite of them on account of the liberal supply of stimulants which he always provided.”[9] A local newspaper simply noted that he had been “such a prominent figure in our village life.”[10]

Townsend died on May 20, 1888, almost a year and half after his marriage. His will left an estate diminished by his extravagant lifestyle; yet it still totaled about $75,000, or almost $2,000,000 in today’s dollars. Townsend’s East Neck property was sold by the executor of his will in early 1891 to Nelson May, who was connected with the Huntington Company, the firm that had developed summer cottages in Hale Site, just west of the hotel property.[11] May announced plans to enlarge the building to accommodate 250 guests—far more than the 60 to 70 guests at Clark’s hotel. The Long-Islander welcomed the news, noting that “What has been needed in Huntington for a long time will now be forthcoming, a first class hotel with first class accommodations,”[12] implying that Clark’s hotel did not provide “first class accommodations.”

The purchase of the Townsend property by a party connected to the Huntington Company fulfilled a plan first announced when James Dill and Albert Palmer purchased East Neck property five years earlier: to provide a club house with accommodations for 40 to 50 lodgers.[13]

May did not immediately enlarge the hotel. But he did add another attraction: sailboat races in front of his hotel, which was renamed Locust Lodge.[14] May’s hotel also hosted Fourth of July festivities featuring fireworks and dancing. Young Edith Cartledge, whose father later would purchase the George Shaw estate to the east of Locust Lodge, wrote in her diary about her summers at Locust Lodge. On July 4, 1893, she watched the fireworks from the hotel and then listened to a group of singers. On other summer days at the hotel, she went sailing, sat on the hotel’s piazza to sew, watched the boys play tennis, went swimming, and read. Locust Lodge was a wonderful summer retreat.[15]

Unfortunately, at the end of its third season under May’s ownership, the hotel was destroyed by fire. May built a new hotel that was much larger than the original. The new Locust Lodge was a 12,000 square foot, three story building with a 10-foot wide porch on three sides.

Even bigger changes were in store in 1906 when Locust Lodge was sold to three French brothers who ran a popular restaurant in Manhattan. Andre, Jacques and Louis Bustanoby had earlier purchased the Sammis farm on West Neck (now Lloyd Harbor), but disposed of that a year later when the Locust Lodge property became available.[16] They wished to create a Long Island compliment to their successful midtown restaurant, Café Des Beaux Arts, located in the Beaux Arts Studio building at Sixth Avenue and 40th Street.

The three Bustanoby brothers were immigrants from France. Andre, the oldest brother, had studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He and Louis arrived in New York and found work in restaurants starting as waiters and working their way up, ostensibly with the intent of learning all they could about the restaurant and hotel business. Andre said he had worked in various departments at 36 different hotels and restaurants throughout the country. With all that they had learned, they, along with a third brother Jacques, opened the Cafe des Beaux Arts.

The Bustanobys arrival in Huntington came at a very exciting time for the local community. Long Islanders eagerly awaited the construction of the Long Island Motor Parkway, or Vanderbilt’s Speedway as it was familiarly known at that time. The new roadway would make Long Island a destination for “automobilists” and it was assumed their favorite rendezvous point would be at the Bustonobys’ new hotel, which would also be a favorite port of call for yachts. Proposals were made to build a boulevard from the Great South Bay to the Sound.[17] Steps were taken to widen New York Avenue.[18] The trolley line from the harbor to the train station was to be electrified and extended to Amityville. Plans—never realized—were also made to extend the trolley right to the Bustanobys’ new hotel.[19] A new road from Mill Dam to the new hotel was also proposed, but likewise never built.[20] The Bustanobys even set aside room on their property for a landing strip for airships. “It may seem odd now, but it will be commonplace in a few years to see people in their aerial machines making a fifty or one hundred mile trip for dinner,” explained one of the brothers.[21]

The brothers planned to expand the Locust Lodge Hotel—renamed the Chateau des Beaux Arts—and hired the prestigious architectural firm of Delano and Aldrich to design a waterfront casino in the beaux-arts style that would accommodate diners at the water’s edge with broad terraces and a rooftop garden. The two story casino measured 140’ by 60’ with towers at either end. It was connected to the hotel by tunnels and between the buildings was a landscaped garden. A separate bakery building, with a footprint almost as large as that of the casino, was built into the hillside along the west side of Bay Road. Although called a bakery, this may have been where most of the cooking for the casino’s large dining room was done. The bakery was connected to the casino with a tunnel reportedly big enough to drive a pick-up truck through (these tunnels were reportedly used by rumrunners during Prohibition).   A long pier extended into the bay to accommodate yachts of any size. And, of course, garages were provided to welcome hundreds of automobilists.

Enthusiasm for the new venture ran high:

From the heat and bustle and noise of the metropolis a spin of an hour and a half over fine macadam highways, a dash across thickly wooded hills with glimpses of shaded ravines and quaint old towns and then! A bit of Paris! A bit of Venice! A European watering place transplanted to the shores of Long Island Sound! That is what automobilists are promised in the splendid new Chateau des Beaux Arts now rising like magic on the sloping shores of Huntington Bay, thirty-five miles out from New York.[22]

The former Locust Lodge, rechristened as the Chateau des Beaux Arts.

The former Locust Lodge, rechristened as the Chateau des Beaux Arts.

When it opened, the Chateau des Beaux Arts was a hit. In 1907, even before the casino and pier were completed, the New York Yacht Club included Huntington Bay on the itinerary of its summer outing.[23] The Harmsworth International Motor Boat races were held in the bay in front of the Casino in 1908 and from 1910 to 1912. Movie producers also took advantage of the Beaux Arts scene (social and otherwise) to film several silent movies—few of which survive. Tales of gambling tables misapprehend the meaning of the name “casino.” Any resort of any size would have had a casino, meaning a clubhouse for social and recreational pursuits. While there may have been money wagered at a card table from time to time, there certainly were no roulette wheels—gambling was illegal. [24] Nonetheless, Huntington Bay was the place to spend the summer.

The Casino des Beaux Arts from the Chateau.

The Casino des Beaux Arts from the Chateau.

The brothers soon announced plans to develop the property beyond the hotel and casino. They hired local surveyor Conrad P. Darling to lay out 34 residential lots on the 50 acres south of the hotel. Beaux Arts Park, as the development was called, featured curving streets and large lots. Purchasers would receive a garage lot of 25’ x 100’ as well as two bathing cabins. A promotional piece described the offerings:

Beaux Arts Park is entrancing. The fervor and fire of Byron is needed to do justice to its charms. The rolling hills, the undulating lawns, the bold cliffs and rugged headlands, the splendid beach, the sapphire sea water, the majestic sound, the passing night steamers, like fairy palaces of light, the white sails of yachts—the whole panorama from dawn to dawn (sic) is a constant kaleidoscope of color, grace, charm and splendor.[25]

Although it was reported that several lots had been sold, no houses were developed under this plan. In 1911 a new plan was filed containing 114 lots on the same 50-acre site. The lots of a third of an acre and larger were to be developed with French villas and chateaus.   Those buying property from the brothers were not just buying a house, they were buying a lifestyle:

Cooks, chambermaids, waiters, butlers or other household help, will be furnished by the hour, day, week, month or season, on application of our purchasers.

The property is fully protected by reasonable restrictions so as to preserve and enhance all of its natural charm and beauty.

All necessary suburban improvements are provided, and arrangements have been completed for the erection of a number of bungalows, chalets and villas.

The property is being developed and homes will be erected, with artistic taste and touch for which the French Nation is so justly noted, and of which, as is generally conceded, Bustanoby Brothers are the leading exponents in this country. The American features of convenience and comfort, however, will be carefully combined, so that Beaux Arts Park will appeal to people of discriminating taste and artistic mind, and shall be known as the “Home of Fine Arts, beauty, comfort and luxury,” a blending of “La Belle France” and “Practical America.”[26]

In August, workers used dynamite to clear stumps for the roads in the new development. Only five houses were built in accordance with this plan.   The five houses survive and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Beaux Arts Park Historic District.

The five houses of Beaux Arts Park/

  The five houses of Beaux Arts Park.

The roaring success of the brothers’ enterprise came to a screeching halt just four months later. Two years earlier, there had been a falling out between Andre and Jacques on one side and their brother Louis on the other. Louis claimed his brothers were trying to drive him out of the partnership. Andre and Jacques agreed to pay Louis $100,000 for his one third interest in the business. The first of four payments was made. But when it came time to make the second $25,000 payment, Andre and Jacques decided to pay other creditors and give Louis a chattel mortgage and asked him not to file it to avoid alarming the other creditors. Louis did file the lien, which did alarm the other creditors. Faced with demands for payment on their debts, Andre and Jacques made an assignment of their assets for the benefit of the creditors.[27]

The brothers’ attorneys estimated the firm’s assets at $400,000, with liabilities slightly greater than that. Court filings a few months later revealed that the brothers’ liabilities amounted to $504,216, while their assets totaled only $247,083. There were 400 creditors, the largest of which was Elizabeth M. Anderson who held a $189,974 mortgage on the Huntington Bay property (she was also the purchaser of the Lloyd Harbor property the brothers sold after they acquired the Beaux Arts property and her husband was the landlord of their restaurant on Sixth Avenue and 40th Street). The brothers’ personal assets amounted to a trifle: Andre listed assets of 50¢ cash and $8 in the bank; his brother Jacques had 40¢ cash and $5 in the bank.

After giving up the Chateau, Andre and Jacques established other restaurants in Manhattan, but never reached the heights they had in Huntington Bay. Andre died at age 44 in 1916.[28] Louis died the following year, also at 44 years of age.[29] Jacques, the youngest of the brothers, continued in the restaurant business in Manhattan. He lived until 1942 when he died at age 62.[30]

With the Bustanobys’ bankruptcy, the fate of the Chateau was up in the air. The hotel apparently operated during the 1912 season.[31] There was some talk of the New York Yacht Club buying the property for use as a Long Island station, replacing the club’s Glen Cove location, but that talk amounted to nothing.[32]   The property was sold at a foreclosure auction held in front of the Suffolk Hotel on Main Street. The purchaser was Elizabeth Anderson, who held the mortgage on the property.

Subsequent newspaper reports seem to indicate that the property was sold a month later, but that appears not to be the case because Mrs. Anderson retained an ownership interest until 1920. However, she may have been one of the investors in a venture organized by prominent real estate investor Milton L’Ecluse.[33] Huntington Bay Heights Association, which had been incorporated in 1909,[34] had previously purchased 330 acres south of Beaux Arts Park. This large parcel consisted of the Henry and Gilbert Scudder farms (238 acres), the George S. Conklin farm (60 acres), and the Grant Hamilton property (32 acres).[35] The land contained large orchards with thousands of peach and pear trees as well as “magnificent groves of old trees.” The company, which was “composed of several wealthy New York and Long Island capitalists,” hired “Civil Engineer and Landscape Artist Conrad Darling” to prepare “plans for laying out the tract in accordance with a park scheme, with rounding roads and walks, and in from three to ten acre plots.”[36] The developers also hoped to open up the tract by building a 70-foot wide boulevard from East Main Street through the property to Beaux Arts Park. It was also hoped that the new trolley line would also be extended to the tract.[37]

It was the plan of the company in 1909 “to secure some shorefront so that each resident of the colony may have shore privileges.”[38] The purchase of Beaux Arts Park would fulfill that aspect of the plan. In 1913, the new road—today’s Huntington Bay Road—was laid out to connect East Main Street to the hotel property 1¾ miles away (the new roadway was accepted as a public road by the Town Board 15 years later). [39]

The hotel—renamed yet again, this time to Huntington Bay Lodge—continued to operate. During the 1913 summer season, it was under the management of Elmer E. Garretson.[40] In 1914, the hotel was operated by James Ranelman. Unfortunately for Mr. Ranelman, he took on so much debt running the hotel that he had to file for bankruptcy by the end of the year.[41] Perhaps realizing that the hotel was not a financially viable option, a new venture was organized. In 1915, Milton L’Ecluse, George Taylor and others incorporated the Huntington Golf and Marine Club to lease the hotel property.[42] Nine holes of a new golf course were laid out within a month; the second half of the course was expected to be ready by July 4, 1915 (although later reports indicate the second half of the course was not completed until 1924). The golf course was laid out in a links pattern starting about one hundred feet or so south of the hotel building and continuing along one side of Huntington bay Road to a point about 225 yards south of today’s Copter Court. The course then swung to the northeast and then back to the northwest near today’s Golf Lane. Then the course turned west to Huntington Bay Road and north back toward the hotel. The club also included tennis courts and horses for hire. The hotel and cottages were still available to accommodate 100 guests. But now the venture’s finances were enhanced by 125 dues paying members of the club.[43]

Beaux Arts Park in 1909 (left) and 1917 (right)

Beaux Arts Park in 1909 (left) and 1917 (right)

Nonetheless, the venture lasted only five years. In 1920, the property was sold and the formation of a new club was announced. In May 1920, Mrs. Anderson sold 110 acres to the East Neck Holding Company, the president of which was former Secretary of the Treasury George B. Cortelyou.[44] Simultaneously, a new club was formed to lease the property from the holding company. The Huntington Bay Club was opened to “only those of unquestioned social standing. . . . It will include some of the best people on the north shore of Long Island. It will be maintained as an ultra-fashionable society resort.”[45] Unlike the short-lived Golf & Marine Club, where the initiation fee was $25 and annual dues were also $25, members of the new club would be required to purchase a $1,000 bond and to pay annual dues of $200. The intent was for the holding company to lease the property to the club until the club had raised enough money to buy the land at cost. [46]

The club became well known for its annual horse show organized by Frederick D. MacKay.[47] In 1925, the Huntington Bay Club Corporation, which had an identical membership as the club, was formed to hold the real estate. The Corporation leased the land to the Club. Membership fell to its lowest point in 1933, but rebounded the 1935. Nonetheless, the Club was not able to meet its obligations. The golf course was turned over to the newly formed Nathan Hale Golf and Marine Club, with the expectation that the new club would soon have bathing privileges as well.[48] The Bank of Huntington foreclosed on the golf course portion of the property in 1935.

Soon, the ill-fated property was leased to the newly formed Huntington Crescent Club. That club grew out of another foreclosure proceeding. The Brooklyn based Crescent Athletic-Hamilton Club had purchased the Roy Rainey estate on East Main Street and Washington Drive in 1930 to establish a country base. In addition to the Rainey estate, the club purchased 32 acres on the shore and built its own casino and beach facilities. But less than ten years later, the Great Depression caught up with the club and the golf course parcel was sold at auction to the East Neck Corporation (not be confused with the earlier East Neck Holding Company) and leased to a newly formed club known as the Huntington Crescent Club. Many of the members of the new club had been members of the Brooklyn based club. The foreclosure sale did not include the beachfront property (which is now the Town’s Crescent Beach). Instead East Neck Corporation acquired eight and a half acres of the old Beaux Arts property and leased it to the newly formed club.[49]

In the first year, the Huntington Crescent Club renovated the casino, but razed the old hotel for parking.[50] In the 1950s, the Huntington Crescent Club was facing some financial difficulties due to the loss of Brooklyn membership that had not been fully replaced by local members and perhaps in part by the loss of the clubhouse to fire in 1951. It was decided to separate the beach and golf operations. In 1957, East Neck Corporation sold the Beaux Arts property to East Riding Company, Inc.[51] East Riding Company in turn leased the property to the Head of the Bay Club, which had been incorporated in November 1956.

Shortly after the Head of the Bay Club’s lease term started in May 1958, the new club decided to demolish the Casino building noting that it “was in a state of disrepair and constituted a hazard to the residents of the area.”[52] It is believed that the action of the tides against the sea wall that constituted the north wall of the casino slowly undermined the structure. A new, smaller, clubhouse was built in its place. The large bakery building and small storage building were also demolished leaving few traces of the grand resort.

As for the Bustanobys’ planned community of French villas and chateaus, East Neck Holding Company filed a new subdivision map for a part of the property in 1925. The plan altered some of the streets, but was consistent with the 1911 plan. Most of the land remained wooded and undeveloped into the late 1940s. Edwin Johnson, president of a national construction company based in Brooklyn purchased the land and built a home for his family near the club property. Johnson’s firm had built the atomic research laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a naval training station in Geneva, NY, and hundreds of homes throughout the country. Closer to home, they built the iconic Tryon and Perisphere and several of the concession buildings for the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing and the west wing of Huntington Hospital (built in 1933).

In 1950, Johnson filed a subdivision plan for the remaining land of Beaux Arts Park at the south and east ends of the property along Bay Road. The new subdivision was named Fleetwood Acres, which seems like a nice recognition of the Fleet family, owners of the land in the nineteenth century. But that was just a coincidence. The name refers to one of the models of houses the Johnson firm built.

Beaux Arts Park is the section of Huntington Bay  outlined in red.

Beaux Arts Park is the section of Huntington Bay outlined in red.

[1] The Herald Democrat (Leadville, Colorado), December 1, 1910; New York Times, March 19, 1916; The Sun, March 19, 1916

[2] The Columbia Republican (Hudson, NY), June 10, 1910.

[3] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 28, 1885

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Long-Islander, September 6, 1878

[6] The Long-Islander, May 11, 1884

[7] Brooklyn Eagle, November 2, 1891

[8] The Long-Islander, April 4, 1886

[9] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 2, 1891, page 6

[10] South Side Signal, May 26, 1888

[11] May’s attorney on the transaction was James B. Dill, the first to purchase lots at Bay Crest in 1886 and credited with “discovering” East Neck (i.e. Huntington Bay). Earlier real estate transactions were also in May’s name but he quickly turned those other properties over to the Huntington Company. This property was, however, to be held by May and used for hotel purposes.

[12] The Long-Islander, January 17, 1891

[13] The Long-Islander, October 2, 1886

[14] The Long-Islander, September 10, 1892

[15] Huntington Bay Hills History & Heritage (Bay Hills Property Owners Association 1992)

[16] They may a 140% profit on the Lloyd Harbor transaction. The Long-Islander, December 20, 1907, page 2.

[17] New York Times, September 22, 1906.

[18] The Long-Islander, December 21, 1906.

[19] The Long-Islander, July 21, 1911, page 2

[20] The Long-Islander, January 11, 1907

[21] The Long-Islander, July 31, 1908. The article did not indicate which brother made the statement.

[22] The Long-Islander, May 3, 1907

[23] The Long-Islander, August 9, 1907

[24] The Long-Islander reported on May 31, 1912—after the Bustanobys had lost the hotel—“We are reliably informed that plans are entertained to make a gambling resort of the former Bustanoby Chateau at East Neck. The people of Huntington are unalterably opposed to any such project, and if such infringement of the law is attempted, local officers will see that the undertaking comes to a speedy end.”

[25] The Long-Islander, December 4, 1908, page 2

[26] Beaux Arts Park promotional brochure

[27] The Long-Islander, December 22, 1911, page 3

[28] The Long-Islander, February 11, 1916

[29] The Long-Islander, August 10, 1917

[30] New York Times, March 24, 1942

[31] The Long-Islander, September 6, 1912. This article about a small fire at the Chateau refers to a bellboy and the proprietor indicating the hotel had been in operation.

[32] The Long-Islander, March 15, 1912, page 5

[33] A 1914 article refers to L’Ecluse as “part owner of the [Huntington Bay Lodge] property.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 29, 1914

[34] Suffolk County News, November 19, 1909.

[35] The Long-Islander, June 25, 1909, page 5

[36] The Long-Islander, July 2, 1909, page 3.

[37] The Long-Islander, June 25, 1909.

[38] ibid

[39] The Long-Islander, May 23, 1913, page 1; The Long-Islander, January 6, 1928.

[40] The Long-Islander, May 23, 1913

[41] The Long-Islander, January 1, 1915

[42] New York Times, April 4, 1915

[43] The Long-Islander, May 14, 1915

[44] The New York Times, August 1, 1920.

[45] The Long-Islander, July 9, 1920.

[46] The Long-Islander, May 21, 1920

[47] The Long-Islander, May 31, 1935

[48] ibid.

[49] The Long-Islander, May 4, 1939, page 1

[50] The Long-Islander June 22, 1939, page 1; and December 14, 1939, page 8

[51] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 4348, page 533

[52] Affidavit of George J. Stengel, president of the Head of the Bay Club, dated May 15, 1961 and submitted to the Village of Huntington Bay in support of an application to enlarge the new clubhouse that was built to replace the casino.

History is a process of discovery.  Even when we are not actively researching a particular topic, we learn new facts and interpretations that led to a more complete understanding of some other topic.  Such was the case when I recently saw a photograph on display in a London gallery that led me to reconsider the story of Richard Smith and his bull.

In April, I wrote about the long running dispute between Huntington and Smithtown concerning the two town’s overlapping claims to the same territory.  The dispute involved several lawsuits in both the English and the Dutch courts and wasn’t finally resolved for over two centuries.  At the end of that post I wrote: “As for the story about the Indians granting to Richard Smith all the land he could encircle in one day, there’s a reason the animal he rode was a bull.”

image

But perhaps there is some historical basis for the story.  My reassessment started at a special exhibit in London’s Guildhall Art Gallery.  The photographs on display were taken by Martin Parr, the City of London’s photographer in residence since 2013.  Mr. Parr captured the color and pomp of some of London’s  ancient traditions.  These are not the well-known and tourist friendly ceremonies of the Royal family.  They are the activities of London’s medieval guilds and churches.  Most of the ceremonies and groups shown had unusual sounding names.  One series of photographs was particularly obscure.  They were titled “Beating the Bounds on Ascension Day.”  One showed school children in uniform beating the ground with very long sticks.^

The photographs in the exhibit had no explanations beyond their titles.  So when I returned home I searched to find out what Beating the Bounds was all about.  It is a medieval Anglo-Saxon church custom to confirm the borders of a parish.  The priest would lead parishioners along the boundary of the parish, stopping along the way to beat the boundary markers–and sometimes young boys as well.  Not that the boys did anything wrong. Rather the intent was to impress upon those who could carry the memory of the boundary farthest into the future the importance of the event.  Sometimes a painful experience is easier to remember.  When he’s an old man, the boy will remember where he was hit with a stick.  Establishing parish boundaries was important because in pre-Reformation England, the parish was the basic division of jurisdiction.  The parish priest had to know which paupers he was responsible for care of;  over whom he had authority; and, perhaps most important, who was required to provide support for his parish.

Although the Reformation diminished the importance of the parish in civic affairs, the tradition continued–and still continues in some English parishes as evidence by Mr. Martin’s photograph.  English settlers in the New World carried the tradition with them; not to confirm parish boundaries, but to confirm town boundaries.*  In the colonies, there was less emphasis on beating  and prayers; what was required was to walk the boundary with representatives from the neighboring town.  This became known as perambulation.  The only states that still require perambulation are Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  But compliance is far from universal.  A similar tradition of walking the boundary line with one’s neighbor is depicted in the Robert Frost poem, Mending Wall.

The requirement was imposed in New York by the Duke’s Laws, promulgated on March 1, 1665 by Governor Richard Nicoll soon after the English seized New Amsterdam from the Dutch. The comprehensive Duke’s Laws included a section requiring each town to “sett their bounds within twelve months after their bounds are granted” and every three years thereafter.  The process was to be initiated by the “Ancientest Town.”  Three of the overseers from each town would perambulate the bounds and “renew their Marks.”  Such perambulations to take place between the 20th and the last of February.

It just so happens that two days after he issued the Duke’s Laws, Nicoll issued a patent to Richard Smith confirming his title to what we now know as Smithtown.  It is not only possible, but entirely likely, that Richard Smith followed the requirement in the Duke’s Laws to set out the bounds of his property within 12 months after the grant.  His perambulation could understandably be the basis for the bull story.  Sometimes even legends and tall tales have some basis in fact.

^To see the photograph by Martin Parr that inspired this additional research,visit https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/feb/19/photographer-martin-parr-eccentricity-city-of-london  It is the sixth picture down after the headline.

*To read more about the transfer of this ancient English tradition to New England, see di Bonaventura, Allegra (2007) “Beating the Bounds: Property and Perambulation in Early New England,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities: Vol. 19: Iss. 2, Article 1.  Available at: h p://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol19/iss2/1

 

 

Everyone knows Huntington is a great place.  But in this case, I use “rocks” as a noun, not a verb.

Ask any Long Island grade school student and they will tell you, Long Island was formed thousands of years ago by glaciers pushing soil and rocks down from Connecticut.  When the glaciers melted, the soil and rocks stayed behind to form Long Island.  Most of those rocks were small, but occasionally exceptionally large boulders would be left behind.  These are known as glacial erratics.  Many of these glacial erratics have been put to use as memorials and landmarks.

Here are some of Huntington’s most notable rocks.

Perhaps the most famous rock in Huntington. An account of the Nathan hale memorial's history and travels can be found on this site at https://huntingtonhistory.com/2013/06/06/nathan-hale-memorials-2/

Perhaps the most famous rock in Huntington. An account of the Nathan Hale Memorial’s history and travels can be found on this site at

 

https://huntingtonhistory.com/2013/06/06/nathan-hale-memorials-2/

George Taylor, who was the man responsible for the Nathan hale memorial rock, had another large boulder moved from his Hale Site estate to the Huntington Rural cemetery for his use asa his family's grave marker.

George Taylor, who was the man responsible for the Nathan Hale memorial rock, had another large boulder moved from his Hale Site estate to the Huntington Rural Cemetery to mark his family’s grave.

 

Not too far from the Taylor family plot is the most visited grave in the Huntington Rural cemetery. The grave of Harry Chapin is also marked by a boulder.

Not too far from the Taylor family plot is the most visited grave in the Huntington Rural Cemetery. The grave of Harry Chapin is also marked by a boulder.

 

The eighteenth century burying ground in Crabmeadow has lost most of its grave markers to time, neglect, and vandalism. In 2003, this boulder was installed to replace the missing individual markers.

The eighteenth century burying ground in Crabmeadow has lost most of its grave markers to time, weather, and vandalism. In 2003, this boulder was installed to replace the missing individual markers.

Although the boulder at Gold Star Battalion Beach does not mark any graves, it does memorialize the 137 Huntingtonians who died fighting in World War II.

The boulder at Gold Star Battalion Beach does not mark any graves; it memorializes the 127 Huntingtonians who died fighting in World War II.

 

Similarly, this boulder in the Village Green recognizes the ultimate sacrifice made by 48 men during the Vietnam War. These men are also remembered with a living memorial of Kwanzan cherry trees.

Similarly, this boulder in the Village Green recognizes the ultimate sacrifice made by 47 Huntington men during the Vietnam War. These men are also remembered with a living memorial of Kwanzan cherry trees.

The Daughters of the American Revolution placed this memorial at the Old Burying Ground in 1909

The Daughters of the American Revolution placed this memorial at the Old Burying Ground in 1909.  In fact, the Burying Ground was in use four decades earlier than the DAR women thought.

 

The DAR also placed this boulder on the Village Green to commemorate the Town’s earliest history.

 

On the North Meadow adjacent to the Village Green is a memorial to the man who helped expand the open space in the heart of the Town Spot.

On the North Meadow adjacent to the Village Green is a memorial to the man who helped expand the open space in the heart of the Town Spot.  To find out more about the North Meadow, read the entry at

https://huntingtonhistory.com/2013/09/13/old-huntington-green-preserving-its-past-planning-its-future/

 

This small rock markers the western end of the line between the colonial Village Green or Town Common and the North Meadow. Its twin near Park Avenue is missing.

This small rock marks the western end of the line between the colonial Village Green or Town Common and the North Meadow. Its twin near Park Avenue is missing.

 

From the valley of Park Avenue to the highest point of Long Island, this boulder marks the summit of Jayne's Hill, a favorite spot for Walt Whitman to visit.

From the valley of Park Avenue to the highest point of Long Island, this boulder marks the summit of Jayne’s Hill, a favorite spot for Walt Whitman to visit.

 

This boulder was dredged from the bottom of Cold Spring Harbor. It was originally placed in front of the odl Cold Spring Harbor library on Shore Road to commemorate the hamlet's whaling history. When the library moved from that location in the 1980s, the boulder was moved to the Whaling Museum.

This boulder was dredged from the bottom of Cold Spring Harbor. It was originally placed in front of the old Cold Spring Harbor Library on Shore Road to commemorate the hamlet’s whaling history. When the library moved from that location in the 1980s, the boulder was moved to the Whaling Museum.

 

Near the waerfront in Northport village is perhaps the greatest concentration of memorial boulders in Town.

Near the waterfront in Northport village is perhaps the greatest concentration of memorial boulders in Town.

 

 

 

 

The Centerport memorial park utilizes both natural boulders and finished granite.

The Centerport memorial park utilizes both natural boulders and finished granite.

 

 

Heckscher Park has its share of boulders.

Heckscher Park has its share of boulders.  This is the most well known.

 

Heckscher Park also features the use of cobblestones. The design by Roalnd Van Waldenburg inspired many similar cobblestone walls throughout Town.

Heckscher Park also features the use of cobblestones, seen here on the entrance gate and the cottage.  The design by Roland von Waldburg inspired many similar cobblestone walls throughout Town.

 

The only famous Huntington boulder not moved by artificial means. Target Rock still sits where the glacier left it off the east side of Lloyd's Neck. (Although technically in Oyster Bay, we can claim it as Huntington's)

The only famous Huntington boulder not moved by artificial means, Target Rock still sits where the glacier left it off the east side of Lloyd’s Neck. (Although technically in Oyster Bay, we claim it as Huntington’s).  This bird could not have nested here when the rock got its name.

 

The rock was used by British warships for target practice, but the bulls eye was added much later.

The rock was used by British warships for target practice during the Revolution, but the bulls-eye was added much later.

 

Another painted rock now sits on the grounds of Huntington High School. This rock, which originally sat on the other side of the hill on the corner of Houldsworth Drive and Horizon Drive. Since 1961 it has been used by the students of Huntington High off and on. In 1986 the Rock was official moved from its NY Telephone location to its current location. In October of 1986 NY Telephone gave the school an official plaque to commemorate the move. The Rock has been used to mark reunions, graduations, congratulatory messages and such since its move.

Another painted rock now sits on the grounds of Huntington High School. This rock, which formerly sat on the other side of the hill on the corner of Houldsworth Drive and Horizon Drive has been used by high school students since 1961 (shortly after the high school moved to this location and Houldsworth Drive was created) to mark sporting events, birthdays, reunions, and other notable events.  The rock was moved to its current location at the exit from the high school in 1986.

 

Despite having been painted for more than 50 years, the layers of paint is not as thick as you might have suspected.

Despite having been painted for more than 50 years, the layers of paint are not as thick as you might have suspected.

 

Even Billy Joel gets a boulder.

Even Billy Joel gets a boulder.

Taking up just one page in the printed Huntington Town Records, the so-called Eastern Purchase seems straight forward enough. But this simple document spawned a dispute with Huntington’s eastern neighbor that would not be finally resolved for over two centuries.

In 1656, three years after the first Huntington purchase, Jonas Wood, William Rogers, and Thomas Wilkes traded seven quarts of liquor, two coats, four shirts, and eleven ounces of powder for all the land on the north side of Long Island between Cow Harbor (Northport) brook and the Nissequogue River.   The deed was given by Asharoken, the sachem or leader of the Matinecocks.

This new purchase encompassed a territory somewhat larger than the six square miles of the First Purchase. Yet the Huntingtonians seem not to have made an effort to settle there.

In a seemingly unrelated incident, the daughter of Wyandanch, the Grand Sachem of Long Island, was kidnapped on her wedding night by the Narragansett of Connecticut. Lion Gardiner, a military engineer and soldier who established the first English settlement in New York, had befriended Wyandanch and rescued the Grand Sachem’s daughter. In thanks for returning his daughter, Wyandanch gave Gardiner land in Nissequogue in 1659, three years after the Eastern Purchase. The exact bounds of this land are unclear.

In 1663, Gardiner conveyed the land to his friend Richard Smith. It is unknown if Gardiner sold the land or gave it as a gift—according to some accounts the land was lost in a card game. Smith had left England in 1635. He was in Massachusetts until about 1643 when he resettled in Southampton, shortly after that Town had been established. Despite holding a leadership position in Southampton, he was banished from the Town in 1656 because of “his Irreverent carriage towards the magistrates.”[1] Smith then moved to Setauket.

The statue of Richard Smith unveiled in 2015 as part of Smithtown's celebration of its 350th anniversary.

The statue of Richard Smith unveiled in 2015 as part of Smithtown’s celebration of its 350th anniversary.

In order to secure his claim to the land Gardiner had given him, Smith petitioned the General Court in Hartford, which had jurisdiction over Long Island, to confirm his ownership. The political landscape changed in the summer of 1664, when the English seized New Netherlands from the Dutch as a prelude to the second of three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth century. Long Island was now under the jurisdiction of the colonial governor of New York, Richard Nicoll.   So Smith secured a patent from Nicoll on March 3, 1665 confirming his ownership. The patent required that ten families be settled on the land within three years.[2] Smithtown celebrated the 350th anniversary of this patent last year.

Later that year Smith also received a deed from the Nissequogue Indians for land west of the Nissequogue River. He made sure to secure another confirming patent from Gov. Nicoll. Unfortunately, this patent, dated March 25, 1667, neglected to specify the western boundary of the tract. The patent covered the land bounded “Easterly by a certain run of water called Stony Brook, stretching north to the Sound, and southerly bearing to a certain fresh water pond, called Ronkonoma, being Se-a-tal-cott’s west bounds; which said parcel of land was heretofore granted by patent to Richard Smith by Richard Nicoll.”[3]

Just four months earlier, Governor Nicoll had issued a patent to the inhabitant of Huntington granting them the land from Cold Spring River on the west to the Nissequogue River on the east and from the Sound to the Sea.[4] Perhaps no one in the governor’s office was in charge of fact checking to make sure the two patents didn’t overlap. Or perhaps someone did notice the discrepancy and that’s why the western boundary in the later Smith patent was left out. Whatever the case, the conflicting boundaries would lead to years of litigation between the people of Huntington and Richard Smith.

The first indication of the dispute to be found in the Huntington Town Records is a promise by John Jones in 1668 to bear the cost of any lawsuit by Smith of Smithfield (as Smithtown was sometimes known) that may arise in connection with an allotment Jones had purchased from Richard Floyd.[5]  There must have been some action by Huntingtonians–either settlement or at least an assertion of a claim to the land–that caused Smith to commence legal action.

The dispute ended up before Governor Francis Lovelace and his council in New York on October 6, 1670. The dispute was not a question of someone conveying the same land to two different people. The dispute was about who had the right to convey the land—the Matinecocks or the Nissequogues.

Smith commenced the action to assert his claim to the land west of the Nissequogue. Smith’s attorneys presented the deed from Wyandanch to Gardiner, the deed from Gardiner to Smith, and the deed from Nesconset, sachem of the Nissequogue to Smith. Smith also introduced testimony that the Connecticut Council (“under whose Government that part of Long Island then held themselves to bee.”) suggested that Smith get a deed from the native inhabitants as well “to prevent all Disputes about it.”[6] Good advice, but it didn’t help in this case.

Smith also introduced testimony from over a dozen Indians to establish that Sachem Nesconset had the authority to dispose of the lands west of the Nissequogue River. Some of the testimony introduced at the Court of Assize in New York had been given in an earlier action heard in Southampton.

In the afternoon, Huntington presented its case. Huntington, which was involved in other litigation involving both Lloyd’s Neck and Eaton’s Neck, reminded the court that when the town lost the Eaton’s Neck case in 1666, the governor promised, the Huntingtonians “should bee noe further molested about their Land.”[7] Some of Huntington’s evidence was disputed. It was noted, for instance, that the Eastern Purchase deed presented to the court “hath noe Christian Witness to it; and the Marks are all made with one Hand Writing.” Two men were brought forth who were said to have witnessed the 1656 transaction, “But it [the deed] being shown them They say they know not the Paper, and that it was not the Paper they had put their hands to.”

The most convincing testimony seems to have been that of Jeremiah Wood. He was about 55 years old and due to ill health his testimony was taken at his lodging in the city by two Justices of the Peace. Wood was one of the purchasers from Nesconset of the disputed land. He testified that the purchase was for land on the east side of the Nissequogue River. When the purchasers said they thought there was too little land on the east side and that they wanted to include land on the west side of the River, Nesconset “told them that hee nor his Indyans had not any right to any Lands there on the West side, only a small Neck of Land, conteyning about halfe a Mile from the said great River to the Little Brooke.” This would appear to be the small stream of water that runs south from the mouth of the Nissequogue River to Harrison Pond.   Wood also testified that he told Smith that the Nissequogue owned no land west of the little brook and Smith said, “hee knew that well enough.”[8]

The 12 man jury considered the various documents introduced into evidence and the testimony. The next morning they delivered a verdict in favor of Huntington. The court added a condition: “That as the plaintiff Mr. Smith had been obliged to settle the families, if he had made good his title against the defendant the inhabitants of the Town of Huntington to the land in dispute, so the defendant shall within the space of three years after the date hereof erect alike ten families.”[9]

Smith was not happy. His wife presented a petition to the governor requesting an explanation of the verdict. On December 1, 1670, the governor and council ordered that Huntington submit an answer. The record is unclear but it seems the governor and council wanted to determine fair compensation for Smith so that “there be no further trouble or molestation concerning this matter.”[10]

Huntington’s answer, if one was filed, has not been found. Instead in February 1671, the Town made arrangements to settle the ten farms as specified in the Court’s decision. The inhabitants of Huntington were divided into ten groups. Each group would be responsible for settling one of the ten farms. The selected farmers, who had to be approved by the Town, would be responsible for all legal fees incurred.[11]

On April 16 and 17, 1672, James Chichester, Samuel Titus, Jonathan Rogers, and Joseph Bayly laid out the ten farms from the head of the Nissequogue River to Crabmeadow Little Neck (the area between what is now the Jerome Ambro Preserve and Blanchard Lake). Farms one through four (about 20 acres each) were located between Nissequogue River and Fresh Pond, farms five and six (7.8 acres) were between Fresh Pond and Crabmeadow; farms seven through ten (12 acres) were between Crabmeadow and the Cove (now Blanchard Lake). Each farm also had 40 acres of upland and the benefit of what meadow there was nearest to them.

Lots were drawn among the ten groups of inhabitants of the town to determine who should get which of the farms. Each group was given one of the farms. Each farm had three to five owners (except Farm 3 which had only two owners); there were 29 named owners in total.

In September 1672, thirty Huntington citizens, most of whom were also owners of the Ten Farms, pledged £500 to secure their promise to settle each of the Ten Farms by building, fencing, “planting” as many persons in each farm “as may Properly be a family” as required by the Court to perfect their claim to the land. These subscribers invited any person of Huntington who was of good character to settle on these farms after reimbursing the proprietors for their expenses incurred in defending the Town’s claim to the land. The settlers would be required to:

  1. Erect and maintain sufficient fences around any land they take from the Commons, and to manure the fruit trees;
  2. Refrain from directly or indirectly by their children, servants or dogs hurting or chasing any of the cattle, horses, or hogs;
  3. Satisfy any claims to the land made by the native inhabitants;
  4. Never sell any of the lands to a vicious person or a person of a truly evil report;
  5. Utilize a distinctive ear mark for their cattle and record such ear marks in the town records;
  6. Mark calves, lambs and pigs within 14 to 20 days of their birth; and
  7. Not mark any wild horse until they can prove ownership.[12]

It is unclear how many settlers moved to the Ten Farms (it may have been only four[13]). But even if there were some Huntington settlers on the disputed territory, Richard Smith wasn’t about to give up his claim. He petitioned the Governor again in October 1672 complaining that Huntington introduced false evidence at the trial in 1670 and asking for a rehearing of the matter. The Governor gave Smith until the first Thursday in December to convince Thomas Benedict and Henry Whittng (sic) of Connecticut to appear at the Court in New York or produce other evidence to support his claim to justify a rehearing.[14] Presumably these the two Connecticut men were expected to give evidence of Smith’s claim that Connecticut granted him a patent for the disputed land.

On the first Thursday of December, the Governor, perhaps weary of this dispute, ruled that the matter would be held in abeyance until the following May when he would be holding a general training and meeting of the troops on the east end of the Hempstead Plain. At that time disinterested persons from the east and west ends of the island would be selected to go to the disputed territory to make inquiries and see if they could settle the issue. In other words, the Governor hoped to settle the matter by mediation.

It is unknown if the inspection scheduled for May 1673 took place. But war intervened again. The Dutch recaptured New York in July 1673 during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Smith, never one to give up a chance to press his claims, commenced an action in the Dutch court. I have not located the records of this action, but Smith evidently sent a copy of a judgment in his favor to the inhabitants of Huntington. In July 1674, Huntington addressed a letter to “Neighbor Smith.” It is worth quoting in full:

By this yea may understand that what you left a paper for, at yea say the towne, in the hands of Joseph Whitman, written in an unknown tongue, to us, from whence it came or what it is, we know not, nether what you intend by it, we know not, but this we know, yet we shall take no notice of it, neither can we, and if you would have us know your mind you must speake and write in a knowne language to us; like wise take notice yt we heare, and intend to know more fully, shortly yt yoe or yours have ackted the part of theaves or robbers by usurping with impudent and shameless boldness to come upon our ground and to seize upon our peace for your owne use on unheard of practice and never practiced by honest men, therefor we doe by these presents, protest against your course and wee resolved first to defend our selves & our estates from the hands of violent usurpers, wth s, no more than the law of nature and nations allowed. Secondly, when the season comes, yoe may expect to have and except the due defeat of such demeritts.[15]  

By the time Huntington had received the indecipherable paper, the English had regained control of New York. Smith returned to the English courts and this time he prevailed. He asserted the deed produced by Huntington (i.e. the Eastern Purchase) was “a False bill of sale” and that Huntington produced false witnesses.[16] He claimed that in any event, the land was not Asharoken’s to sell. Smith said he had purchased the land from Neconsett, Sachem of the Nissequogue under authority of the Connecticut colony and that he had possessed it without incident for 7 or 8 years before Huntington disturbed him. Most importantly, Smith claimed that Huntington “hath not settled yt land according to Governor Lovelace direction.”[17]

Remarkably, the English court in September 1675 found that “the proceedings of the Dutch Court in this case to bee legall and judiciall, and therefore give judgment for the plaintiff.”[18] The outcome was remarkable, not just because it contradicted earlier English rulings, but because the English court was ratifying the decision of the Dutch courts less than two years after the two countries had been at war against each other. The reversal was most likely because Huntington failed to settle the Ten Farms as required by the 1670 decision.

The court’s decision was a compromise in two respects. First the Court granted to Smith only the eastern half of the disputed territory. Each side had claimed all the land from the Nissequogue River to Crabmeadow.[19] The court granted Smith only the land to the east of Fresh Pond. Second, while granting Smith ownership of the land, the Court ruled that the property was within the jurisdiction of Huntington because it was included in Huntington’s patent. This last point seems to have escaped the notice of later commentators.

In 1677, the Governor, now Edmund Andros, issued a patent to Smith confirming his title to the lands from Stony Brook to Fresh Pond.

But what of the Huntingtonians who had settled on the Ten Farms? The Court didn’t address that issue. A month after the court decision, those “poor farmers” submitted a petition to the Governor complaining that in reliance on the 1670 decision in favor of Huntington, the settlers “built upon, Cleared fences, Planted Plowed and so etc upon yt Land on the West side of Nessequauke River and Cutt and provided Hay for their Cattells Provizion this winter.”[20] Without some provision by the governor to allow them to rent or purchase the land, “Your poore Petitioners their wives and Children Must of necessity Inevitably and Ireparably bee ruined and undone.”

The governor apparently sent a letter to Huntington recommending that the Town supply the dispossessed settlers with comparable land within the bounds of the Town of Huntington. Huntington responded that it wasn’t their idea to settle the Ten Farms. They would have rather paid money for the land, but the Court’s decree obliged them to settle the land within three years or else forfiet all claims to it. Moreover, the town didn’t force the dispossessed farmers to move to the disputed territory; they settled there voluntarily. And they only had to reimburse the owners of the farms for the expenses the owners had incurred in asserting Huntington’s claim to the land, “which was an inconsiderable Sum for so much Land.” Regardless of the effort the settlers may have expended, the beneficiary of their building, fencing, clearing, and manuring was Smith.[21]

I have not located a record that bears upon this question, but Romanah Sammis writes that “individual ownership in the property, by some of those named in the ten-farm allotments, came about satisfactorily.” She cites Joseph Whitman—the settler to whom Smith had delivered the decision of the Dutch Court—who owned land near the Nissequogue River that stayed in his family until the early twentieth century.[22]

Even after all the controversy was finally settled, we find that the patent issued to Huntington more than a decade later in 1688 by Governor Thomas Dongan described the boundaries of the town as stretching from Cold Spring eastward to the Nissequogue River.   Six years later, however, a new charter issued by Governor Benjamin Fletcher changed the eastern border of the Town to the west side of Fresh Pond.[23] Three weeks later Smithtown and Huntington exchanged quick claim deeds for the land on the respective sides of Fresh Pond.[24]

Disputes between property owners as to the the exact location of the border were not fully resolved until 1884 when the Supervisors of the two towns finally settled on the boundary line and had marble monuments placed from the Sound to the Sea.[25]

As for the story about the Indians granting to Richard Smith all the land he could encircle in one day, there’s a reason the animal he rode was a bull.

image

Richard Smith’s bull, Whisper.

 

 

[1] Smithtown, New York, 1660-1929, Looking Back Through the Lens, by Noel J. Gish (1996), page 20.

[2] History of Long Island, Benjamin Thomson (1843), page 453.

[3] Thomson, page 454

[4] Huntington Town Records, Vol. I, page 92 (hereinafter HTR)

[5] HTR, Vol. I, Page 113

[6] Documents Relating to the History of the Early Colonial Settlements Principally on Long Island (Weed, Parsons and Company, Albany, 1883), page 640

[7] Early Colonial Settlements, page 641.

[8] Ibid, page 642.

[9] Ibid., page 643. Spelling modernized.

[10] HTR, vol. I, page 170

[11] HTR, Vol. I, page 176

[12] HTR, vol. I, page 193, et seq.

[13] Early Colonial Settlements, page 714, a 1675 petition by Huntington to the governor refers to “four farmers.”

[14] HTR, vol. I, page 197

[15] HTR, vol. I, page 210

[16] Smith wasn’t alone in questioning the integrity of the Huntingtonians. In October 1675, Mathias Nicolls, secretary to the governor, accused the inhabitants of Huntington, in particular Jonas Wood, Isaac Platt, Thomas Skidmore, and Thomas Powell with slandering the secretary’s good name by accusing him of falsifying the records of the colony particularly in connection with the land dispute between Huntington and Smith in April 1674. (Early Colonial Settlements, page 701).

[17] HTR, vol. I, page 209

[18] HTR, vol. I, page 213

[19] Although it appears Smith by this time restricted his claim to the land east of Fresh Pond. See HTR, vol, page 210.

[20] Early Colonial Settlements, page 702

[21] Early Colonial Settlements, page 713-15

[22] Huntington Babylon Town History, by Romanah Sammis (Huntington Historical Society 1937)

[23] HTR, vol. II, page 143

[24] HTR, vol. II, page 160.

[25] HTR, Vol. I, page 213 footnote