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Twelve-year-old Edward Rhatigan of Centerport was one of the first American casualties of World War I. He was shot in Northport the day after Congress declared war on Germany.

Although the United States stayed out of the war for over two years, tensions with Germany had been mounting. In the spring of 1916, the U.S. government seized control of the German owned Atlantic Communication Company’s wireless plant in Sayville, which was one of the few stations in America capable of sending radio transmissions to Berlin. When the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany in February 1917, all German or potentially pro-German employees of the wireless station were replaced with Navy personnel. Troops were also sent to guard the grounds. Additional troops were sent to Northport to guard the Long Island Lighting Company power plant, which provided electricity to the wireless station.

Two months later, on Saturday, April 7, Edward Rhatigan, a bugler in the local Boy Scout troop, was a passenger in a car driven by his 17 year old friend Thomas Hall. The two boys were driving into Northport to see a movie. Shortly before they arrived in the village, one of the pumps at the power plant failed causing lights in the village to dim. Fearing sabotage, the marines assigned to guard the plant stopped all cars approaching the plant, which was located on the water side of Woodbine Avenue south of Main Street. Hall’s car was reportedly approaching the plant at “a lively rate of speed.” The marine guard ordered him to stop. Hall later said he thought the soldier was kidding. Two more orders to stop were given and ignored. One of the marines fired at the car. A bullet struck Rhatigan killing him immediately.

Rhatigan would not be the last Huntington casualty of the war. Of the more than 1,000 young Huntingtonians who served in the armed forces during the short war, thirty-nine gave their lives.

Huntington was involved in the war effort in several other ways as well from training pilots to planting victory gardens and knitting sweaters. Here is a snapshot of some of those efforts.

The Yale Unit

War had been raging in Europe for over two years before the United States entered.  Although isolationist sentiments were strong, many saw American involvement in the war as inevitable.  One of those who anticipated America would not be able to remain on the sidelines was a Yale sophomore from Locust Valley, Frederick Trubee Davison.  Trubee Davison’s father had assumed leadership of Morgan & Company when J.P. Morgan retired in 1913.  He was one of the most powerful and influential men in the country, as well as one of the wealthiest.

Young Davison’s perspective on the inevitability of the United States being dragged into the war was no doubt shaped by his experiences driving an ambulance in France during the summer of 1915. Trouble on the Mexican border in March 1916 reinforced the view that the country needed to be prepared for conflict. He returned to Yale and after the spring 1916 term, Davison with a small group of classmates formed an aero club to learn how to fly with the hopes of eventually helping to staff a string of air stations to be set up to watch the American coast for hostile ships and creating a naval air reserve corps.  It was barely more than a dozen years since the Wright Brothers’ first flight and American military leaders were not convinced of the utility of aircraft as a tool of warfare.  According to one navy report, “the aeroplane was a toy.”

It may, therefore, be no surprise that Davison was unsuccessful in securing official recognition or support from the navy for his proposal.  His father financed the flying club and hosted the dozen young members at his estate in Locust Valley.

In the summer of 1916, the students, working with a single plane based in Port Washington, learned to fly and maintain an airplane.  At the end of the summer, Davison proved the worth of the proposed coastal defense system by locating two American ships off Fire Island as part of a demonstration meant to convince the navy of the value of aircraft.

When they returned to Yale in the fall, the students continued textbook study of aviation as part of the school-recognized Yale Aero Club.  On most Sundays, they traveled to New London to continue flying and to work spotting ships from the Groton naval base.  To the surprise of officials at the navy base, they even successfully spotted submarines because they left a telltale trace after diving or when using a periscope.

In early 1917, after Germany resumed attacks on all shipping—including ships from neutral countries such as the United States, President Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.  The Yale students finally received official recognition from the navy.  They were permitted to withdraw from Yale and enlist as the navy’s first air reserve squadron, officially known as the First Yale Unit. Newspapers, however, dubbed them the Millionaire’s Unit.  It was a fitting description considering the members’ backgrounds.

Now officially a part of the navy, but still paying their own expenses, the unit embarked for training in Palm Beach. Shortly after they arrived in Florida, Congress declared war on Germany. The men learned to fly and maintain their planes in Florida until the heat and mosquitoes made Florida unbearable. Colonel Thompson, their navy overseer, searched for an appropriate site on Long Island to continue the training. He settled on the 75 acre Cartledge Estate in Huntington Bay. Now the site of the Bay Hills section, the property provided a quarter mile of beach on the Bay where Thompson had hangars, runways, a machine shop, a radio shed, and docks built. The estate was converted into a real military base—although the airmen slept in the Cartledge mansion and had their meals prepared by a private chef.

The unit now had enough planes that each member was able to fly every day. Soon each member had flown solo. In addition to their required military maneuvers, the pilots would fly low over nearby beaches and estates. Their early morning start upset at least one neighbor, but his complaints were ignored—after all, there was a war to be fought.

The Yale Unit at Huntington Bay

Trubee Davison’s sister and other young women from Long Island were also stationed at the Cartledge estate where they were trained as radio operators. Several of the pilots and radio operators later married.

There were a few crashes and one tragedy when a sailor was hit by a propeller he had been cranking. The engine backfired and his arm was caught in the end of the prop knocking him into the spinning propeller. He died later that night.

Tragedy also came for Trubee Davison on the unit’s last day in Huntington. July 28 was testing day. The pilots had to climb to 6,000 feet, spiral down and cut the engine at 3,000 feet and then glide to a landing within 200 feet of a mark. During his descent, Davison’s plane was buffeted by wind. He ended up corkscrewing nose first into the water. He had to be freed from the cockpit by one of the officers observing the test. He was rushed by his father’s yacht, which had been loaned to the unit, to St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. He survived the crash, but never saw combat in the war.

The other 27 members of the unit passed the test. A few days later, a German submarine was spotted off the South Shore. The Yale unit was ordered to send an armed patrol. After two hours of fruitlessly searching for the submarine, the pilot and his observer—Trubee’s brother Harry—return to Huntington Bay. Perhaps frustrated by the failure to engage the enemy, Harry fired the plane’s machine gun while the plane floated in the waters of Huntington Bay. He managed to shoot the plane’s propeller to pieces.

Two members of the unit were sent to France to join the fledgling American aviation forces. Most of the other newly minted pilots were sent to new air bases to train other pilots for the new aerial fighting force.

Brindley Field

Renowned as a cradle of aviation, it should be no surprise that Long Island served as the prime training ground for war’s newest weapon—the airplane. Two large fields in central Nassau County—Mitchel Field and Hazelhurst (later Roosevelt) Field—had been used by early aviators since 1911. In 1916, they were re-oriented to military uses. Two smaller air fields were established after war was declared, Lufbery Field near Wantagh and Brindley Field in Commack.

The government leased William H. Randall’s 90 acre farm at the northeast corner of Jericho Turnpike and Larkfield Road in early June 1918. Randall was a gentleman farmer who probably could afford to give up farming for the duration of the war. Nonetheless, he was compensated for lost crops and trees in addition to receiving annual lease payments. The new airfield opened on June 15. A few weeks later, the government realized it needed additional land, so it sought to lease three additional properties—an acre and a half parcel from Daisy Sammis, 15 acres from Gottlieb Weber, and 14.3 acres from Frederick Peck, who wanted 50% more in annual rent and more than double in compensation for crop damage than the government was willing to pay. In the absence of his consent, the government initiated condemnation proceedings to seize Peck’s farm.

Originally named Chapman Field, the base was renamed in August in honor of Major Oscar A. Brindley who was killed in a plane crash near Dayton, Ohio three months earlier. Brindley had trained under the Wright Brothers and was the chief instructor of the American military pilots.   Also killed in that crash was Colonel Henry J. Damm, for whom an air field in Babylon was named.

Randall’s farmhouse was used as the Field’s headquarters. For the first six weeks, the men slept in tents. By August, barracks had been built. The camp brought electricity to Commack for the first time. The new power lines from Northport had to be moved west away from Larkfield Road because they were too close to the Field’s runways.

Pilots received advanced training at Brindley before shipping off for Europe. There were about three or four dozen Curtis Jenny training airplanes. The number of men stationed there fluctuated from a few hundred to as many as 1,000 as pilots cycled through their training.

Huntingtonians were treated to the spectacle of flight, something that was still very new. Unfortunately, the training was not without accidents. On one flight, the airplane caught fire. The pilot, surrounded by flames, managed to make an emergency landing in a corn field three miles from Brindley Field. His mechanic was badly burned. Several other pilots suffered broken bones in crashes. But the worst accident occurred on August 16, 1918 when the wing on a plane participating in a mock dogfight broke. The plane crashed to the ground on the Havemeyer property east of Town Line Road. While the pilot, Harold F. Maxson, survived the crash, he died soon after. His passenger, G.S. Gedeon hit the ground with such force that an imprint of his body could be seen in the field. He died instantly. These were the only two deaths at Brindley Field during its short existence.

The new airfield attracted so much attention that soldiers were stationed in front of the camp to protect the soldiers and other pedestrians from speeding cars. The Long-Islander reported that “the roads at Commack near the aviation field are lined with automobiles, people coming from miles to see the flying and it is an interesting sight.”

Airmen of Brindley Field

The opening of Brindley Field had an immediate effect on six local bars in East Northport, Commack, and Kings Park which were ordered closed because they were within five miles of the camp. There was a question as to whether Hall’s and Ward’s in Centerport were within the five mile limit. That question would have been rendered moot if the Town Board had acted on a request to have the whole town declared dry.

The Northport Yacht Club offered the use of its clubhouse as a recreation hall for the soldiers while the YMCA provided a secretary to take charge of it. Northport residents also raised $1,150 to support the project. In addition to the rooms at the Yacht Club, Northport also hosted a carnival for the Commack airmen featuring baseball and water sports followed by a dance.

Likewise, two weeks after the Field opened, Huntington residents met to discuss opening a canteen to provide a respite for soldiers on weekend leave. Huntington merchants arranged for a jitney to run from Commack to Huntington village (10¢ each way). In Huntington, the community provided not only a recreation hall, but also sleeping accommodations for 50 soldiers who visited the village when they were given leave on weekends. The canteen and cots were set up in the new firehouse on Main Street. Residents also hosted soldiers in their homes.

Organizers solicited donations of books, newspapers, and magazines for the soldiers to read. The Huntington canteen also featured a piano around which the soldiers would gather to sing the latest tunes.

But Huntington’s hospitality was undercut by the Town’s Board of Health which imposed a curfew “in order to protect the visiting soldier and the visiting villagers from temptation.” Huntingtonians strongly objected to the curfew, which was supported by the local representative of the Commission on Training Camp Activities, also known as the Fosdick Commission. The Commission had been set up to provide advice on questions relating to the moral hazards in military training centers, such as venereal diseases and alcohol abuse. The Commission also promoted the establishment of recreation facilities on and off military bases.

Aerial View of Brindley Field

Perhaps insulted by the curfew and the implications that arose from it, the soldiers boycotted Huntington village. Some of the young women in Huntington, upset with the curfew, would not be deterred. They drove to Northport where the soldiers were still welcome.

In response to the outcry from residents, including no doubt the merchants who were losing potential customers, the curfew was lifted on July 16, “as a number of undesirable persons are said to have left the community since the passage of [the curfew].” It is unclear if Huntington really was home to a “number of undesirable persons” or if that was just an excuse for reversing an unpopular measure.

Over the course of one weekend the following month, 92 soldiers spent the night at the firehouse and about four dozen more stayed in private homes. In all 264 meals were served at the canteen that weekend. Residents provided entertainment at the Field as well in either the Knights of Columbus tent or the YMCA tent (the Y later replaced its tent with a proper wood building). The soldiers also entertained the residents. Just before Christmas 1918, after the war was over, the soldiers put on a show at the Palace Theater on New York Avenue. The event raised $300 for the Brindley Field Athletic Fund.

In October 1918, the soldiers at Brindley Field were quarantined in response to the influenza pandemic. The quarantine was lifted in early November which allowed many of the soldiers to celebrate Thanksgiving with local families.

Huntington’s hospitality was welcomed by the soldiers. Writing from a base in England, Sergeant Bob Ramey, thanked Huntingtonians for their hospitality. “None of us will ever forget Huntington and its fine people. Never have I been in a place where I felt so at home as I did there.” Another soldiers wrote, “I am sure you do not realize just how much your kindness and hospitality meant to us. It always seemed like home to us in the Canteen, and the people opened their homes to us just as if we were their own kin. I certainly appreciate it all and I know that the rest of the boys did. . . . I think Huntington the finest town on the map.”

After the war, the field was decommissioned. Brindley was slowly closed down over the course of the winter. In January 1919, the soldiers held a dance to which 40 young women came—along with a chaperone. The Huntington canteen and recreation center closed on February 1. The last two soldiers left Commack in May 1919.

Two of the large barracks buildings were relocated to the North Shore Holiday House Association’s newly purchased property on Huntington Road. The YMCA building was moved to Sunshine Acres, a Baptist Fresh Air camp on Town Line Road that is now a Town park (the building is long gone). The land that served as an airfield for less than a year reverted to the owners whose claims for damages persisted for a couple of more years.

Home Guards

An earlier military base of sorts had been established on Cold Spring Hill in 1905. Instead of airplanes, this base was home to horses. Squadron C, a Brooklyn based National Guard cavalry unit, purchased 82 acres west of Huntington village to provide a summer get away for its horses as well as its members

In July 1916, the Brooklyn men were mobilized for federal service on the Mexican border chasing Mexican revolutionary Poncho Villa after his attack on Columbus, New Mexico.  In March 1917, the unit was mustered out of federal service but remained as a National Guard unit.  Just four months later, the New York National Guard was called into service to fight in World War I.

While the Brooklyn men were preparing to fight in France, where they would be credited with helping to break the Hindenburg Line, the men of the Huntington Rifle Club met to consider forming a Home Defense Reserve, which would train at Squadron C Farm. At the initial meeting on July 13, 1917 at the Masonic Lodge, 24 men enlisted in a Home Defense League.  Sixty more joined at a meeting the next night.  Two volunteers had to be rejected from membership—Eugene Johnson, a veteran of the Civil War, was ten years over the age limit; and Thomas Miranda, an Italian immigrant, was not yet fully naturalized.

The League started drilling eleven days after its inception and made its first public appearance in the Town’s Labor Day parade that year.  The Huntington group intended to register as a Home Defense Corps under regulations promulgated by the Adjutant General of the National Guard, but Major C.S. DeBevoise of Squadron C recommended that they join the National Guard whose ranks had been depleted when its members were federalized.

The National Guard was seen as unable to perform its traditional duties, such as riot control or suppression of an uprising by the alien population (considered a real threat at the time).  Moreover, a trained force was needed as a back-up to federal forces engaged in Europe.  On September 26, 1917, 52 members of the Huntington group agreed to take the State’s oath of enlistment and became members of Troop K of Squadron C.  Troop K trained through the winter in Huntington village and along its highways.  The following June, horses arrived from the Armory in Brooklyn and cavalry training commenced at the squadron’s farm.  Huntington residents drove out to Squadron C Farm to observe the military preparations.

The local troop reached its greatest number in January 1918 when it had 64 members. The number dwindled as some joined the federal army and others dropped out as their enlistments expired and the Armistice obviated the need for the Guard.  After the war, the National Guard was reorganized and small, isolated units were transferred to armories throughout the state.  On October 30, 1919, Troop K was transferred to Brooklyn. The remaining 18 Huntington members were given Honorable Discharges on February 9, 1920.

Cold Spring Harbor Home Defense Guard on Main Street near Shore Road.

The men in Cold Spring Harbor, on the other hand, did form a Home Defense Guard. A few days before war was declared, Charles Davenport, director of the bio Lab, invited the men of Cold Spring Harbor to a meeting at the library to discuss ways to protect the community against a possible uprising by local German sympathizers. The result was the formation of a Home Defense Guard, which would drill regularly and stand ready to answer an emergency call for police duty. In July, the unit became part of the State Home Defense Reserve as the 97th Company. Under the leadership of H.H. Laughlin, who had served as a lieutenant in the Kansas National Guard, the Guard held weekly drills on land provided by Robert DeForest and Helen Titus on Goose Hill Road. By the time the unit disbanded on January 3, 1919, 96 men had received training as part of the Guard and 39 of them went into federal service.

A similar effort was made to form a Home Defense Guard in East Northport as well.

On The Home Front

During the year-and-a-half duration of American involvement in the war, Huntingtonians eagerly supported the war effort. Residents sowed the seeds of victory by planting war gardens. A canning kitchen was set up in the Trade School building where women put up nearly 5,000 jars of fruits and vegetables. The Trade School was also used by the local Red Cross chapter as a bandage rolling station. Women and children rolled tens of thousands of bandages to be used on the battlefields of Europe. The Northport branch of the Needlework Guild of America and the Cold Spring Harbor Sewing Club provided woolen helmet liners, wristlets, sweaters and socks and other items for the soldiers by the thousands.

Residents also provided financial support. Each Town on Long Island was given a quota of funds it needed to raise through the purchase of Liberty Bonds to support the war. In the fall of 1917, a Liberty Loan rally was held in Huntington village. Residents marched through the village from the new Bank of Huntington building (now the Bank of America) to encourage their neighbors to buy bonds. The next year, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at Heckscher Park to promote the sale of the bonds.

Another celebrity appeal came in October 1918 in support of the Fourth Liberty Loan.   Silent film star and Asharoken resident Edith Storey visited the Northport Theater prior to the showing of a film in which she played the lead. She pledged $1,000 which was increased to $10,150 by the audience. Northport held a parade and rally the following week.

The Fourth Liberty Loan solicitation was announced at the end of September 1918. Huntington’s quota was $641,300. Within a week $150,000 had been pledged. Saturday, October 12, Columbus Day, was rechristened Liberty Day. A.V. Sammis, chairman of the General Committee, organized a parade from the Heckscher ballfields through the village to Wets Neck Road and then back to the park where “patriotic exercises” were held. There were speeches, a float with a torpedo, a 145 piece band, and a series of tableaux relating to history and patriotism was presented by local students. Aviators from Brindley Field put on an exhibition of “fancy flying.” In the end, banks in Huntington reported that $1,623,000 had been raised for the Fourth Liberty Loan. The total raised in Northport and Huntington for the four Liberty Loans and the Victory Loan was $4,612,850, the equivalent of almost sixty million dollars today.

Poster for the Red Cross Pageant.

The biggest fund raising effort was the National Red Cross Pageant held on Roland Conklin’s Lloyd Harbor estate, Rosemary Farm, in October 1917. Leading actors of the day such as John, Lionel and Ethel Barrymore, Douglas Wood, and Ina Claire personified the allied countries and pleaded their cases before Truth, Liberty, and Justice. In the final scene America, played by Marjorie Rambeau, accompanied by a detachment from the Fighting Sixty-Ninth Regiment appeared and pledged support for the allies followed by a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

The pageant featured 500 performers. The audience of 5,000, who arrived by car, wagon and special trains from Penn Station, raised $50,000, which would be the equivalent of almost a million dollars today. As the audience members took their seats in the open air amphitheater designed by the Olmstead Brothers overlooking Cold Spring Harbor and the Long Island Sound, they enjoyed music from the 250 piece Great Lakes Naval Training Station Band under the direction of John Philip Sousa. There was also a fifty piece orchestra.

Ten year old Mary Saylor, whose mother had helped establish the local Red Cross chapter six months earlier, played the part of a Belgian refugee displaced by the war. Young Mary, in a costume of tattered rags, walked behind Ethel Barrymore, who personified Flanders.

The pageant was staged a few weeks later at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The outdoor performance was also filmed to continue the fund raising effort at theaters across the country. Unfortunately, no copies of the film are known to have survived.

Other residents contributed to the war effort in unusual ways. Up the road from Brindley Field near the train station in East Northport, Roy Knabenshue, a famous aviation pioneer who was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1965, used an abandoned doll factory to manufacture large surveillance balloons for use above the battlefield. Like the doll factory, which operated from 1911 to 1915, the balloon factory was a short-lived venture. The factory opened in May 1918; the war was over six months later.

Surveillance Balloon at East Northport Factory

Xenophon Kuzmier, one of the highest paid chefs in the country (Grover Cleveland invited Xenophon to the White House to prepare at least one state dinner), and his family came to Huntington in 1896 and settled on East Rouges Path. Although he retired in 1914 and became interested in real estate, he soon resumed his culinary activities by making dehydrated food for the soldiers in France in a factory in Huntington. Kuzmier and Auguste Gay patented a process for making dehydrated food in 1918.

Armistice

Even before the war ended on the eleventh hour of the eleven day of the eleventh month, Huntingtonians erupted in a noisy celebration. Two days before the official Armistice, happy residents marched in an impromptu parade from Town Hall to West Neck Road and back. Churches rang their bells; people swung noisemakers or beat tin pans, blew horns, or beat drums. A clock at Finnegan’s, which presumably is a holdover from the Huntington House which was managed by Andrew Finnegan during the war years, is still stopped at 11:00 in remembrance of the armistice.

Memorials

After the war, two memorials to the 39 Huntingtonians who died fighting in the war were dedicated. The first was erected by the American Legion in Heckscher Park on Decoration Day in 1921. The simple monument consists of a bronze tablet set in a boulder. Planning for a more elaborate memorial was already underway. Supervisor Abraham L. Field appointed August Heckscher chair of the war memorial committee, which had selected a design by architect Henry Bacon (whose most famous work is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.). The committee decided in late 1920, however, to postpone active fundraising “in view of the present difficult conditions, financial and economic.” The committee also noted that Huntingtonians had been asked to support a wide variety of worthy causes in recent years, such as the various Liberty Loans.

The new monument, featuring a slate tablet listing the names of the 39 Huntingtonians who died while in military service during the war, was built into the hillside on Main Street leading up to the Old Burying Ground. The memorial was unveiled during Decoration Day commemorations in 1923. Marchers in the annual parade stopped to decorate veterans’ graves in the Huntington Rural Cemetery before continuing to march down New York Avenue to Main Street, then to West Neck Road and then back to the new memorial, which was covered with an American flag. The flag was raised by the sister of Charles Frederick Wabberson, one of the first Huntington men to be killed in the war.

Town of Huntington World War I Memorial at the Old Burying Ground.

It is interesting that the memorial includes the name of a woman, Janet Ford., who was a graduate of the Huntington High School class of 1909.  She and her twin sister Eleanor graduated from Smith College four years later.

When the United States entered World War I, there was a need for clerical workers.   The 1916 law authorizing the creation of Naval Reserve Force did not specify that yeomen needed to be men.  Eventually, 11,275 women joined the Naval Reserve Force as yeomen, one of whom was Miss Ford (18 women from Huntington served in the military).  She died in January 1919—two months after the Armistice was signed but while she was still in the service.  At first the cause of death was reported as pneumonia—the same disease that had taken her father and mother 10 days apart in November and December 1918.  A later report attributed all three deaths to influenza.  The 1918 flu pandemic claimed tens of millions of lives worldwide (estimates range from 3% to 6% of the worldwide population died from the flu).  In the United States, some 500,000 to 675,000 people died.  In fact, ten times more people died in the United States from the flu than from the war.  Half of the American servicemen who died during World War I died from the flu.

In 1993, on the 75th Anniversary of the Armistice, the Town installed a tablet in Town Hall listing the names of the 1,153 Huntingtonians who served in the war and dedicated the flagpole on Veterans Plaza in front of the building to their honor. Of those who served, eleven received special citations, including five who were awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Other World War I Memorials in the Town of Huntington: from top left, Heckscher Park, Northport, Centerport, Greenlawn, Cold Spring Harbor

 

Three Huntingtonians who Fought

Leroy Randle Grumman (1895-1982)

 

Leroy Grumman graduated from Huntington High School in 1911 at the age of 16. At the graduation ceremonies, Grumman’s commence speech was on the future of aviation. After graduating from Cornell in 1916, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve and became a flight instructor. The Navy sent him to study aeronautical engineering at MIT and then to the Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company in NYC to supervise the building of monoplanes for the Navy. When the company was sold in 1929, Grumman, along with two other Loening engineers formed their own company on Long Island. Grumman Aircraft Company became one of the largest suppliers of planes for the Navy during World War II.

 

 

 

 

 

 August Henry Galow (1892-1934)

August Galow graduated from Huntington High School in 1912 where he was captain of the baseball team and art editor of the high school journal. He graduated from Pratt Institute in 1914 and continued his studies at New York University and at the Columbia and Beaux Arts School of Architecture. At the beginning of America’s entry into the First World War, he joined the Navy. Shortly after receiving his Navy Commission in 1918, he married Miss Mary Kouwenhoven, a noted pianist, also of Huntington and left for convoy duty to Europe on the U.S.S. Gold Shell. During his architectural career, he designed many schools, hotels and office buildings on Long Island, many here in Huntington, such as the Huntington Hotel at the corner of New York Avenue and Fairview Street, Central High School, and the Cold Spring Harbor Firehouse. He died in 1934 at age 42.

 

 

 

 

 

Michael A. Connell (1890-1955)

Michael Connell grew up in Huntington. From 1917 to 1919, he served in the U. S. Army 307th Infantry Division Band, playing the cornet. After the war, he returned to Huntington and learned embalming and started M.A. Connell Funeral Home in 1923. He married Florence McIntyre in 1930 and a year later they built the funeral home on New York Avenue in Huntington Station that continues to serve the Huntington community. He played “Taps” every Veterans Day at 11:00 in honor of all deceased veterans.

 

 

 

 

 

For a regional view of the war, read Long Island and World War I, by Richard F. Welch (History Press 2018).

 

 

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Long Islanders filled with eager anticipation crowded the sidewalks at two different opening nights separated by 84 years. One opening night was held in a small, but growing country town shortly before the Great Depression; the other was held in a mature suburban community shortly after the Great Recession. One crowded was entertained by vaudeville actors and Hollywood’s latest production; the other by an English singer songwriter.

Two different crowds, two different theaters; the same building.

The Huntington Theatre was the largest movie theater ever built in Huntington village. The Paramount is “the best club that’s ever been on Long Island,” according to no less an authority than Billy Joel, who has played at the venue several times.

The building’s story begins in the Roaring Twenties when Huntington, especially the three blocks of New York Avenue south of Main Street experienced one of the village’s greatest building booms. New office buildings, a 60-room hotel, and a grand theater—called the finest theater east of Brooklyn—were built within the last three years of the decade known for its booming economy.

The Huntington theater when it was new

The Huntington Theater, one of 19 theaters in a chain that stretched from Brooklyn throughout Long island, opened on May 5, 1927. The sold out crowd of 2,000 (twice that number were turned away) listened to speeches from the Town Supervisor, the president of the Chamber of Commerce as well as the owner and builder of the theater. Then they watched “Clothes Make the Woman,” a Technicolor movie about a wager by two men that they can transform any ordinary woman they find into a “stunner” with the proper clothes. The feature film was “The Better ‘Ole,” starring Charlie Chaplin’s brother Syd. The World War I film was the second full length film produced using the Vitaphone sound-on-disc process and may have the first word of spoken dialogue in a film if one believes those who can hear one character whisper the word “coffee” to Chaplin’s character. In between the two films were the vaudeville acts.

Visitors to the new theater could expect to enjoy five vaudeville acts, a big feature motion picture, a comedy, and other novelties accompanied by the sounds of a symphony orchestra. All that entertainment was available for 75¢ on a Saturday evening, less during the week.

It was predicted that the new theater would attract visitors from surrounding towns. In fact, people travelled from as far away as Queens rather than travel into Manhattan to see first run movies, which under studio restrictions could now be shown in theaters within a certain distance from each other.

Eventually the vaudeville acts were discontinued. After five decades, the movies stopped as well. By 1973, the theater was dark. A few years later, a rescue effort was attempted. Vincent Orlando, who was the director of a local dance company, hoped to create a theater that would attract dance troupes from around the world. The main floor of the old theater and its stage would be converted to a mini mall, while the 700 seat balcony would be transformed into the Balcony Theater with a new stage built expressly for dance performances. A screen for showing classic movies would also be included as part of the renovations. Working with the Balcony Film Club and Stars of American ballet, which hoped to make the renovated theater its permanent home, Orlando raised money through grants and fund raising. He hoped to meet his $25,000 goal from 100 supporters who would donate $250 each and become members of the Founders Club.

It was a dream that was to be only partially realized.

The $400,000 conversion project was stymied by construction delays. Orlando hoped to show off his new dance floor with a performance by his dance company on September 15, 1978, followed by the Murray Louis Dance Company in early October. Both performances had to be cancelled because of delays in laying steel and pouring cement. Disputes with the Town Building Department over state fire code issues further delayed the project. The delays continued into the summer of 1979, when the State Board of Review approved plans for a deluge curtain that, in the event of an emergency, would separate the stage from the audience with a wall of water.

In the meantime, the Balcony Film Club had already started showing films. In April, the Beatles graced the screen in Yellow Submarine and Let It Be. Although not new releases, they do not seem to be the vintage films that were originally anticipated and which caused such concern to the directors of the newly formed New Community Cinema, who worried about the competition for a limited audience.

Construction and fund raising continued in 1980. The project was now under the auspices of a newly formed not-for-profit organization called Ballet Continuum, of which Vincent Orlando was artistic director. That effort too foundered in part because Orlando’s wife, who provided much of the organizational work behind the effort, died.

By 1981, the Balcony Theater was rechristened as Spaceport and featured a 102-foot wrap around stage (billed as “the world’s longest screen”) for laser light shows. The inaugural show, “Rock Fantasy,” received tepid reviews. Meanwhile, work on converting the theater for dance performances was only 50 to 60 percent complete and completion would require another $100,000 of work.

Another type of dance was proposed for the main floor of the building. Thomas Damato and Joseph Lutz applied for variances to open an African themed dance club called “The White Elephant.” That venture also failed to get off the ground.

Two years later, the old theater finally found a second life when the Inter-Media Arts Center moved from Bayville. IMAC, as it was popularly known, was a not-for-profit organization run by Huntington residents Michael Rothbard and Kathie Bodily. In addition to live performances of music and dance on the stage, IMAC conducted workshops on videotape editing, camera technique, and studio television production. As one of 13 media arts centers across the state, its video production facilities were used by artist and not-for-profit groups to produce a variety of works including music videos and public service announcements.

Eventually the video production aspect of IMAC diminished and the 650 seat theater became known for presenting a wide variety of music including folk, jazz, blues, world music, and as Rothbard put it, “a type of music we really don’t have a name for.”

By 2009, however, declining funding, rising expenses, and a difficult relationship with their landlord forced Rothbard and Bodily to close IMAC. Rothbard died four months later.

Local business owners were concerned about the impact of IMAC’s closing on sales. The theater had attracted thousands of visitors to the village every week. In response, Town Supervisor Frank Petrone promised to convene a task force to explore ways to bring a new music venue to the village.

A little more than a year after IMAC had closed, a group of investors entered into a 30-year lease for IMAC old space as well as additional space in the building, including the main floor of the original Huntington Theater and started the process of converting it into a new state of the art music venue.

The three initial investors were Dominick Catoggio, a critically acclaimed designer and contractor with over 25 years experience in architecture, management, design and hospitality; Brian Doyle, a music industry executive with 38 years experience in music management working with artists such as Hall & Oates, Mariah Carey, John Mellencamp, Carly Simon and Taylor Dane; and Stephen Ubertini, a designer with over 35 years experience in design, sales, management and entrepreneurship, including the creation Matrix Polymers (prominent reseller of plastic resin) and 3 Water (innovative new product of caffeinated water). They were later joined by Jim Condron, who has 20 years of experience in radio management, marketing and promotion and currently serves as regional senior vice president of Connoisseur Media (WALK-FM, WKJY-FM, WBZO-FM, WWSK-FM and WHLI-AM).

The first hurdle to clear, as with so many projects in Huntington village, was parking. The proposal to expand the theater from 650 to 1665 seats required the owners to provide 438 parking spots or secure a variance. In exchange for a $9,000 annual fee, the owners secured permission from the Town of Huntington to use the upper Elm Street parking lot for valet parking and the Town Hall parking lot for staff parking. They also agreed to provide a free shuttle bus from the Huntington train station parking lot to the village.

Renovation of the theater, which cost in excess of five million dollars, presented its own challenges. According to architect Neal Hoffman, the biggest issue was how to recreate the original capacity of the former vaudeville theater, in what essentially had been the balcony level of that original theater.  A mid 20th Century renovation had split the original theater into four quarters, including two separate spaces on the second floor.  The front section had been used by IMAC. The back wall of the IMAC stage was removed and the floor was extended to the back wall of the building. This created the large, open floor space of The Paramount.

The original stage was still on the lower level. “We were also surprised to see the old proscenium [i.e. the part of a theater stage in front of the curtain] intact,” said Hoffman. A new stage was built above where the original stage had been. Dressing rooms were built beneath the stage.

“As in many renovations, removing obsolete construction is often an important part of accommodating a new use.  Walls, and finishes, including the old plaster ceiling was removed to expose the giant trusses above,” Hoffman explained.  “We were pleased to find that the trusses were strong enough to hang the new balconies we needed to obtain the required occupancy, without columns.”

The extended floor and stage from the old balcony

“We thought we would need, and did purchase a huge steel beam to support the remaining masonry above, but it turned out that the truss work was supporting the entire fly space, so that chunk of steel became the bar.”

“The huge front window that brought the theater out to the street was a unique feature that required some sensitivity to the historic theater facade. We designed it simply enough to make it a special feature of the overall facade without removing any existing details.”

The result of the renovations was a space with the versatility to host live events in a standing, hybrid or fully-seated configuration with a capacity of up to 1,573; a large main upper level floor, fixed side loge-balcony seating, mezzanine seating and a “Skybar.” The street level of the building was converted into the Founders Room, a private club designed to recreate the look and feel of a 1920s speakeasy with private rooms.

By September 30 2011, The Paramount was ready for its grand opening with a sold out concert by Elvis Costello. Since that night, The Paramount has become a top live entertainment venue, not only for music, but also for comedy, boxing and other special events. The Paramount hosts approximately 200 live events per year and quickly became popular not only with audiences, but also with performers.   English singer songwriter Ed Sheeran, who gave an impromptu sold out concert at The Paramount on July 5, 2014, praised venue: “I’ve played a lot of venues around the world and The Paramount is by far the best!” Pollstar Magazine ranked The Paramount as the #5 club venue in the world for 2017.

A sold out crowd enjoys the show

Top artists who have taken The Paramount’s stage include Billy Joel, Ed Sheeran, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Steve Miller Band, Judas Priest, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, ZZ Top, Rob Thomas, Steely Dan, John Fogerty, Pitbull, Jewel, Slash, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Michael Bolton, Melissa Etheridge and many other Grammy-award winning entertainers.

The Paramount Comedy Series has featured such names as: Sebastian Maniscalco, Kevin Hart, Jim Breuer, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin James, Joan Rivers, Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Steven Wright, Rob Schneider, Weird Al Yankovic and Frank Caliendo…just to name a few.

The Paramount Tribute Series regularly hosts the best tribute bands in the country to sold-out crowds, where fans can relive the sounds of their generation, spanning numerous decades and genres. In partnership with Joe DeGuardia’s STAR Boxing, The Paramount has hosted 30 nationally televised live sporting events as part of our “Rockin’ Fights” Series and is the hometown venue for former WBO Welterweight Champion – Chris Algieri “The Pride of Huntington.” The Paramount has also had their hand in creating and putting on special events such as the presidential town hall event with John Kasich during the 2016 presidential election, Long Island Music Hall of Fame, and the VH-1 Top 20 Countdown.

The Paramount also hosts numerous special events including; weddings, sweet 16’s, bar / bat mitzvahs, fundraisers and corporate rentals, as well as live music every week, and special VIP concerts for Founders Room Members Only.

The Founders Room

Another added feature is a state of the art radio studio located in an adjacent storefront space. In partnership with Connoisseur Media Long Island, “The Studio @ The Paramount” offers the artists who play the room a platform to promote their music to over 1.6 million listeners on CMLI’s five radio stations.

In September 2018, the Huntington Historical Society honored The Paramount and its four owners for rescuing the old theater and reimagining it as a centerpiece of Huntington’s vibrant cultural landscape.

 

While the early history of the Huntington Fire Department is obscure, it seems that in response to a rash of fires in the early 1840s, an informal organization relying on buckets of water to put out fires was formed in 1843. Three years later, a meeting was held to discuss acquiring a fire engine, which at that time would have meant a hand pumper to throw water on a fire instead of relying on buckets. Whatever the decision reached at that meeting, no fire engine was secured.

In 1848, Fayette Gould, a local watchmaker and jeweler (who also operated the first photography studio in town), took steps to form a Fire Protection Company. The new. unincorporated organization’s equipment was still limited to leather buckets and ladders. Ten years later, Mr. Gould, who became known as the Father of the Fire Department, took steps to formalize the organization by securing the approval of the Town Board. He was motivated by his service on a jury in Riverhead which had kept him away from his store for a week, costing him income. Firefighters were exempt from jury duty. The volunteers would still provide a very important public service, but closer to home and for a few hours at a time instead of for a full week or more.

On the eve of the Civil War, steps were taken to improve the company’s fire-fighting capabilities. In 1861, a well was dug near the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street for use by the fire company. A Hook and Ladder wagon was built at the carriage factory on Green Street and arrangements were made to purchase a used hand pumper from the Flatlands Fire Company in Brooklyn. The reconditioned pumper was delivered by train to Syosset, then the end of the line, and from there towed to Huntington. The new pumper, nicknamed the “Mercheen,” was greeted enthusiastically when it arrived in the village. It was initially stored in a lean-to shed behind Zophar Oakley’s store on the north side of Main Street where New York Avenue is now located. The pumper was later moved to a shed behind George W. Conklin’s feed store, which was just west of the Oakley store. The fire department still has this early piece of equipment.

The Mercheen in the 175th Anniversary Parade.

Although approved by the local Justices of the Peace, the fire company sought a state charter in order to assure that its members could enjoy all the benefits afforded to fire fighters under state law. The New York legislature in April 1862 approved the charter, which limited membership to 75 volunteers.

In 1869, a new firehouse was built at 10 Wall Street. The two-story wood frame building housed the pumper and hook and ladder wagon on the first floor and meeting rooms on the second floor. The local Temperance Society for a time also used the second floor meeting rooms. In 1899, as the fire company acquired more equipment, an addition was built on the south side of the firehouse.

The Wall Street Firehouse before the addition was built.

By 1887, the company had reached its 75 member limit. To accommodate additional volunteers, a separate Hook and Ladder Company was created. The following year, a fire district was established to provide tax funding. The original Engine Company and the Hook and Ladder Company formed the Huntington Fire Department.

In order to better alert firefighters, a new bell was purchased to replace the bell that the firemen had inherited from the old Huntington Academy. A tower was erected behind the firehouse to hold the 730-pound bell. After an electronic alarm system was installed, the 1890 bell was used to sound the alarm for brush fires. By the early 1950s, suburban development had made brush fires in the village area a rare occurrence. The bell was retired from service, gilded and used to create a memorial to fallen firefighters, which sits outside the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building.

By 1893, hydrants had been installed throughout the village. This development called for the formation of a Hose Company, which was organized in October 1893.

In 1906, the department purchased its first gasoline-powered pumper, which was pulled by a team of horses. In one of the first fires fought with the new pumper, the 15,000 gallon cistern on August Heckscher’s estate was pumped dry. In 1910, the department purchased its first motorized truck to pull the pumper. The first of what would now be thought of when the name fire engine is used was purchased in 1922.

With the motorized equipment, it became apparent that a new, larger firehouse was needed. Despite the 1899 addition, the Wall Street firehouse was not big enough. In October 1911, the voters of the fire district approved the construction of a new two-story brick firehouse on Main Street, diagonally across the street from the library and half a block from the recently completed Town Hall, which had been built a year earlier. The new firehouse, which still stands, was dedicated on September 10, 1912.

The Main Street Firehouse

With the explosive post-war growth of Huntington, the centrally located firehouse soon proved to present difficulties for the volunteers responding to an alarm. A four-acre parcel north of the village, between Wall Street and New York Avenue, was acquired in 1957. A proposal was then made to build a new firehouse on that property. In a letter to the volunteers, the department explained, “the growth of our town and the present location of Headquarters, makes it almost impossible to get through traffic quickly and safely to our quarters. The first few minutes mean a lot to defend our District properly in saving human lives and property.” The new site would also provide ample parking.

The new firehouse was dedicated on May 23, 1959. The firehouse has been expanded over the years. The most recent building project included the creation of a museum to display the department’s antique equipment.

The Huntington Fire Museum

One hundred and seventy five years later, the Huntington fire department continues to be professionally staffed by volunteers.

Huntington village was crowded with hundreds of shoppers on the night of Saturday, July 26, 1913 when the fife and drum corps of the Huntington Fire Department led a parade down Main Street to the corner of Wall Street.  The marchers came to rally support for women’s suffrage.  A new symbol of their cause—a Revolutionary war era wagon—added to the controversy of their cause and led to a confrontation with local anti-suffragists.

Women had been agitating for the right to vote since at least the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848.  The effort made little headway over the next seven decades until a new generation took up the cause, working at both the state and national levels to secure votes for women.

Long Island women were particularly active in working for the right to vote.  One prominent leader of the movement on Long Island was Edna Buckman Kearns, a young mother, writer, and editor from Rockville Centre.  In addition to writing about the movement in local newspapers, she led marches and rallies across Long Island.

In 1913, the movement received a gift that would help to draw attention to the cause—a wagon built by a Huntington patriot during the American Revolution.  Dubbed “The Spirit of 1776,” the wagon was used to ferry Mrs. Kearns and her six-year-old daughter Serena from village to village and served as a speakers’ platform at rallies.  The wagon was given to the suffragists by the Brooklyn based I.S. Remsen carriage manufacturing company.  A.F. Wilson, president of the Remsen company, remembered that as a small boy shortly after the Civil War, he knew of an old farmer names Daniel Hewlett.  Years later, in 1892, Wilson purchased Hewlett’s old wagon from one of the family’s employees.  For the next twenty years, the I.S. Remsen company used the wagon—said to be the oldest on Long Island—as an advertising gimmick.

The Spirit of 1776

On July 1, 1913, the company donated the wagon to the suffragists to use to promote their cause.  The wagon was said to have been built in 1776 by Ebenezer Conklin, a Huntington native and supporter of the Revolutionary cause.  Just as the men of 1776 fought taxation without representation, so too did the women of 1913 fight for the same cause.

Suffragists, most notably Rosalie Jones of Cold Spring Harbor, had used wagons before to promote their cause.  General Jones, as she became known, travelled across Long island with a yellow wagon to rally support for the cause.  She later led a 140-mile march from New York City to Albany in December 1912 in order to petition the newly elected Governor, William Sulzer, to support votes for women.  Six weeks later, General Jones led her army on a 245-mile march from New York City to Washington to petition the newly elected President, Woodrow Wilson.  Coincidentally, General Jones was a descendant of the Hewlett family, who had once owned “The Spirit of 1776” wagon.

The Spirit of 1776 at Long Beach

Likewise, “The Spirit of 1776” wagon travelled throughout Long Island during July 1913.  On July 26, Mrs. Kearns and her daughter brought the wagon to Huntington.  The suffragists met at the home of Ida Bunce Sammis, who had founded the Huntington Political Equality League two years earlier.  Mrs. Sammis hosted regular meetings at her home at 70 Main Street, which still stands today next to the entrance to the YMCA.

The suffragists, led by the Fife and Drum Corps, marched down Main Street to the First National Bank building on the northeast corner of Main and Wall Streets.  When the parade reached its destination, Mrs. Oliver L. Jones, mother of Rosalie Jones, stopped the parade and demanded to know by what right the suffragists were using her ancestor’s wagon to promote votes for women.  Mrs. Jones was a fierce anti-suffragist.  She pointed out that the Hewletts were Tories during the Revolution and that their wagon should not be used to promote the suffrage cause.  Mrs. Jones threatened legal action, but it is not known if she ever followed through on the threat.  One wonders what the dinner conversations were like in the Jones mansion overlooking Cold Spring Harbor.

The suffragists finally succeeded in New York State when they gained the vote in 1917.  In the first election in which women could vote the following year, two women were elected to the New York State Assembly.  One of them was Huntington’s own Ida Bunce Sammis.

The wagon remained in the Kearns family until Mrs. Kearns’ granddaughter, Marguerite Kearns, donated it to the New York State Museum around 2003.  It has been exhibited in 2010, 2012 and most recently in 2017-18 as part of an exhibit to mark the centennial of women securing the right to vote in New York State.  It is expected to be on display again in 2020 to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the United State Constitution.  With a better understanding of the history of wagon development, the museum concluded that the wagon was probably built some time between 1820 and 1840.  It is in the style of a nineteenth century pleasure wagon; eighteenth century wagons didn’t have springs.  Whatever its true age, the wagon was always a symbol and one that helped in some small way to secure votes for women.

The Spirit of 1776 at the New York Museum

A historical marker to commemorate the 1913 rally was unveiled on the corner of Main and Wall Streets on April 24, 2018.

All photographs herein are from the archives of Edna Buckman Kearns, courtesy of Marguerite Kearns.

To learn more about the local fight to secure votes for women, read Long Island and the Woman Suffrage Movement, by Antonia Petrash (History Press 2013).

 

 

Huntington Station is home to two Teich Houses.  The better known is the house where Dr. Samuel Teich had lived and had his medical office for over 50 years.  The other is a smaller home nearby on Academy Place which is where Dr. Teich lived when he was growing up, and which is now the first historic landmark property in the vicinity of the Huntington train station..  The house on Academy Place is owned by the Town of Huntington and will be available to be used by community groups and also has exhibits about the Teich family, Huntington Station, and the Station’s African American history.  The Town Board designated the house a historic landmark on April 10, 2018.  This is the story of that house.

On July 15, 1899, Allison E. Lowndes filed a subdivision map for property on the west side of New York Avenue in what was then known as Fairgrounds, now Huntington Station. The subdivision, which stretched from the intersection of New York Avenue and Lowndes Avenue south to Railroad Street, was one of the first residential subdivisions in the fast growing area. Over the next 15 years, much of the land around the train station as far west as Oakwood Road and as far east as Lenox Road (south of the tracks) and Kelsey Avenue (north of the tracks) would be subdivided.

The Teich House on Academy Place

Even before the subdivision had been filed with the County, Janet F.L. Drake had contracted to buy lots in the development, which was referred to as Lowndesborough[1] (although the name does not appear on the subdivision map and does not appear to have stuck). Mrs. Drake began construction of three cottages immediately.[2] Two cottages, including the subject house, were on the north side of Academy Place (then known as Hillside Avenue); the third was across the street.

By August at least one of the new cottages was available for rent.[3] Mrs. Drake, who owned several parcels of land in Huntington, seems to have been an active real estate investor and developer. However, by 1916, she suffered a reversal of fortune. At least three properties she owned were sold at foreclosure, including the property on Academy Place.[4] The two houses on the north side of Academy Place were purchased at auction by Roswell S. Baylis,[5] who in turn sold the lots to John I. Colyer two years later.[6] And two years after that, in 1921, Mr. Colyer sold the two houses to Rosie Teich, wife of Max Teich.[7]

Max Teich, who had worked in the grocery business, operated Hillside Dairy from the property, which included a cow barn in the rear yard. The Teich family had been instrumental in forming the Huntington Hebrew Congregation and were active members of the Huntington Jewish community.

Mrs. and Mrs. Teich raised two children in the house—their son Samuel and daughter Fay.   After Samuel Teich graduated from Huntington High School in 1924, he attended Cornell University and then the Long Island College of Medicine. He purchased the Murray House at 1090 New York Avenue and set up his medical office there in 1935. During his 50 years of practice, Dr. Teich became a well-loved member of the community, delivering thousands of babies and also caring for other residents.

Dr. Teich’s sister Fay Merksamer remained the house on Academy Place after her mother died in 1961.[8] Her son Jay lived in the house until it was purchased by the Town in 2012 as an extension of Gateway Park.

For the most part, the house retains its original appearance. The front porch has been enclosed and the kitchen enlarged, but otherwise the massing and appearance are intact.

The house was designated a s a historic landmark because it represents the early suburban development of Huntington Station. In fact, it was one of the first suburban houses built in that area. . It is a good example of turn of the twentieth century vernacular architecture. Furthermore, it is closely identified with the Teich family, who were active members of Huntington’s early Jewish community. Dr. Teich continues to be a well-known figure in Huntington Station’s twentieth century history.

 

[1] The Long-Islander, May 6, 1899, page 2

[2] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 19, 1899, page 14

[3] The Long-Islander, August 26, 1899, page 1.

[4] The Long-Islander, March 10, 1916 and November 3, 1916

[5] The Long-Islander, January 26, 1917, page 4

[6] The Long-Islander, August 29, 1919, Page 5

[7] The Long-Islander, December 9, 1921, page 9

[8] The Long-Islander, January 26, 1961.

A house with one of the most spectacular settings in the Town of Huntington has been resurrected at least twice in its 130-year history. But now, it has run out of second chances.

Known as East Point, the rambling home sits on a three-acre peninsula jutting out into Huntington Harbor commanding sweeping views of the harbor in three directions.

In 1888, Dr. Daniel E. Kissam, a direct descendant of Dr. Daniel W. Kissam (whose 1795 house on Park Avenue is now a museum preserved by the Huntington Historical Society), purchased the peninsula and 10 acres of uplands from the Scudder family, which had extensive land holdings along the east shore of Huntington Harbor since the colonial period. Dr. Kissam, who lived in Brooklyn, was an active member of the Huntington community, serving on the Huntington School Board and hosting fund raising events for St. John’s church at his home.

Dr. Kissam died in December 1903. Five months later, John Green, a 24-year old millionaire owner of a Colorado mine (in the 1910 census, his occupation was given as “Corporation Office, Investment Securities”), purchased the property. At the same time, his fiancé, the well-known actress Deronda Mayo, announced her retirement from the stage—an announcement that made news in papers across the country.   Deronda was the daughter of Frank Mayo, who was also a famous actor, best known for playing the Mark Twain character Pudd’n-head Wilson on Broadway. Deronda’s sister Eleanor had also been an actress before her marriage to James Elverson, the owner and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Point Siesta in 1909

After spending a summer at what was called Locust Point or Kissam’s Point, Green had the house remodeled and modernized. Green, who had spent part of his childhood in Huntington, christened the house Point Siesta. Unfortunately, Deronda Green died just seven years after the couple had married. Shortly after her death in 1911, he sold the property to his brother-in-law (by marriage) James Elverson.

Elverson used Point Siesta as a summer home. He died in January 1929; his wife died less than three months later. At the time, the property was valued at more than $100,000 (the equivalent of $1.5 million today). In order to pay Elverson’s debts, the contents of the house were sold at auction in August 1931. The items to be auctioned included:

Several complete bedroom suites, carved post bed with canopy, antique chests of drawers, colonial mahogany dining room suite, Steinway grand piano, radio, a large variety of wicker and willow furniture, English china, glassware, clocks, 40 semi-antique Persian rugs, sterling silver tea set and flatware, Sheffield trays and platters, fine fur coats, electric refrigerator and kitchen equipment, a Packard Town Car and Dodge station wagon, a power lawnmower, and the furnishings of the 11 servants’ rooms over the garage.

The auction did not go smoothly. John Green had been living at Point Siesta, but was evicted by order of the Surrogate shortly before the auction. He was also the residual legatee of the Elverson estate. Green objected that some of the items in the house were his and should not be auctioned off. He had also unsuccessfully sought to remove the executor and administrator because, Green claimed, they had taken actions that resulted in large losses to the estate. After Green was evicted from the house, an inventory was taken. It was discovered that 250 cases of wines and liquors bottled between 1840 and 1850 and valued at $50,000 had disappeared. Green and his representative were arrested. To make matters worse, a portion of the dining room ceiling fell during the auction, injuring two prospective purchasers.

In 1935, the Elverson estate filed a motion to show cause why the house and property should not be sold. A year later the administrator of the estate died and Green and a Philadelphia lawyer were appointed to take his place. In 1937 and 1939, the property was listed by the village of Huntington Bay as having not paid real estate taxes.

It is unclear what happened to the house over the next two decades. In 1962, Arthur and Ruth Knutson purchased the run down house. They restored it and added the swimming pool and raised their children in the house, which they called East Point. Twelve years later, the Knutsons moved to Cold Spring Harbor.

It took several years to sell the house, which again fell into a state of disrepair with burst pipes and an infiltration of raccoons. Gloria Smith, who owned the Yankee Peddler antiques shop, and her husband purchased the house and it was once again restored. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Smith made the house and property available for photo shoots.

Following Mrs. Smith’s death in 2013, the house was again put up for sale.

The house in March 2018

While the house was in need of work, it had not descended to the sorry state it had been previously. Nonetheless, it is now just a memory.

The house in April 2018

 

Erratum:  After the original posting of this entry, the size of the property has been corrected from five acres to three acres.

After federal recognition of George Washington’s birthday was moved to the third Monday in February, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day and honors all the nation’s chief executives.  Of the 44 men who have held the office so far (Grover Cleveland is counted twice since he served two non-consecutive terms), how many have visited the Town of Huntington?  Local historians are quick to answer that only two sitting presidents have come to our town.  If one removes the qualifier “sitting” and includes pre- and post- presidential visits, the number is higher.

The first president to visit Huntington was the first president.  The capital of the new United States was in New York when George Washington was president.  On April 20, 1790, Washington crossed from Manhattan to Brooklyn to begin a tour of Long Island.  It is thought that the purpose of the tour was to thank the citizens of the Island who helped the patriot cause during the Revolution, especially those who helped by spying on the occupying British army.  After traveling along the South Shore, Washington turned north to Setauket and spent the night there at the house of Captain Roe.

At 8:00 on the morning of Friday, April 23, the party set out for the “small village” of Huntington with a stop in Smithtown to water the horses.  In Huntington, the president and his party dined at the Widow Platt’s Tavern on Park Avenue, just south of what is now known as East Main Street.  Washington described Widow Platt’s as “tolerably good.”   Although Washington did not make a record of it in his diary, it is believed that he addressed a large crowd outside Widow Platt’s, perhaps even a majority of the Town’s 2,000 or so inhabitants at the time.  He is also thought to have toured the Old Burying Ground, which at end of the war seven years earlier had been the site of a British fort.

Platt’s Tavern after it had been moved to Halesite about 60 years after Washington’s lunch. The building was demolished around 1917.

As he left the Town of Huntington, crossing the meadow at the head of Cold Spring Harbor, he observed workmen building a one room schoolhouse for the community.  Legend has it that he helped raise a rafter on the new schoolhouse or that he left a silver dollar for the workers.  That schoolhouse would continue to serve the community until 1896.  The Bungtown School, as it was known, continues as West Side School in its third building as part of the Cold Spring Harbor School District.

The most frequent presidential visitor to Huntington was probably Theodore Roosevelt, which makes sense since he lived right next door in Oyster Bay.  His most famous visit to Huntington was on July 4, 1903 when he came to help celebrate the Town’s 250th anniversary.  However, Roosevelt would have been a frequent visitor to Huntington.  He visited his friend Henry L. Stimson at Stimson’s estate in West Hills.  Roosevelt was also known to row from Sagamore Hill to Lloyd’s Neck and picnic under the Big Oak.  It is also reported that he would visit the men of Squadron C at their farm on Cold Spring Hill (see Squadron C: A Summer Home for Brooklyn Horses, posted on this site in July 2013).

President Theodore Roosevelt addresses his Huntington neighbors, including the women in white who were the founders of the Huntington Historical Society.

Ulysses S. Grant may also be considered to have visited Huntington when he was president.   The place where he went had been part of Huntington, but was no longer part of Huntington when he visited.  In 1875, Grant’s brother-in-law, James F. Casey (the men’s wives were sisters), purchased the Jacob Conklin Farm in what was then known as West Deer Park.  Today, the area is known as Wyandanch.  President Grant visited Casey’s farm on September 1, 1875.  He “expressed himself as highly pleased with the farm of his friend and its picturesque surroundings, and pledged himself to visit Babylon soon again.”  According to later press reports, President Grant visited the Casey farm “once or twice.”[1]  The lack of contemporaneous reports is puzzling.  The visits may not count as visits to Huntington because the farm sat just south of the new town border established on January 1, 1873 when the Town of Babylon split off from the Town of Huntington.

In the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, several presidents visited Huntington either before or after their time in office.

As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the principal speaker at an election rally held in Huntington a week before election day in 1916.  Following a parade through Huntington village, local Democrats gathered at the Bijou Theater on Wall Street to hear Roosevelt speak about the accomplishments of the previous four years, the state of the Navy, and the need to elect the entire Democratic slate in the upcoming election.[2]

FDR returned to Huntington in 1931 as Governor of the State.  He spoke at Old First Church in an event organized by the local masonic lodge to celebrate of Constitution Day (see Happy Constitution Day, posted on this site in September 2013).  Roosevelt, who arrived two and a half hours late by car with a motorcycle escort from New York City (he joked that the name should be changed to Longer Island), spoke on the adoption of the Constitution.  His great, great grandfather was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.[3]

A detailed account of Governor Roosevelt’s visit can be found at http://www.jephtha.com/discover/jephtha-lodge-history/franklin-d-roosevelt-visits-jephtha-lodge-in-huntington/

 

Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt (second from left) at Old First Church with Masons John Boyle, Charles H. Johnson, and Guernsey T. Cross.

Two years after securing victory in Europe, General of the Army and Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower came to Huntington to help celebrate Henry L. Stimson’s 80th birthday.  Stimson, who had served in every presidential administration from Theodore Roosevelt’s to Harry Truman’s (with the exception of Warren Harding’s) had been Secretary of War during World War II.  He had also had an estate in West Hills since 1903.  The future president was joined by Secretary of State George C. Marshall, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal and 16 other top-ranking current of former government officials in wishing Stimson a happy birthday.[4]

In 1960, back when presidential candidates campaigned on Long Island, both major party candidates were met with large, enthusiastic crowds at the Long Island Arena in Commack.  While the arena was not in Huntington, it was only half a mile over the town line.  Richard Nixon’s Commack rally was held in late September.  He capped off a whirlwind day of campaigning in a rally attended by 8,000 people inside the arena and another 3,000 outside.[5]  John F. Kennedy appeared at the arena the Sunday before the election.[6]  Although Kennedy received as warm and enthusiastic a reception as Nixon had, on Election Day, he received 17,000 fewer votes than Nixon in the Town of Huntington (and 52,000 fewer votes in Suffolk County).[7]

Although the candidate did not technically appear in Huntington, John F. Kennedy’s mother visited with 300 women during the 1960 campaign at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Nicholas LaCarrubba on Laurel Hill Road in Northport in September 1960.[8]

Jimmy Carter made Huntington the first stop on his national book tour for Living Faith in 1996.  Four thousand people waited in a line that stretched for blocks to hear the former president speak and sign books at Book ReVue.[9]  Carter had previously visited Huntington when he was a little-known candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in February 1976.  Robert Mrazek, then a Suffolk County Legislator and later a Congressman, hosted a reception for Carter at his home in Centerport.[10]

Bill Clinton visited Huntington as a best-selling author.  In August 2004, he signed copies of his memoir, My Life, for hundreds of admirers at Book ReVue.  He returned to Book ReVue, three years later to promote his book Giving.[11]  But Clinton had been to Huntington many years earlier.  As a college student in the 1960s, Clinton would come to Huntington to spend Thanksgiving with his college roommate, Tom Campbell, who lived on Lloyd’s Neck.[12]  Clinton also was in Huntington in 2010 when he officiated at the wedding of Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin and congressman Anthony Weiner at OHEKA.[13]

Finally, Donald Trump  also signed books at Book ReVue during his 1997 book tour for Trump: The Art of the Comeback.  In addition, Trump has been known to have visited OHEKA.[14]  In 2016, Trump was rumored to be interested in developing condominiums at OHEKA, but he was in the midst of campaigning for the presidency, so that was one deal that never got made.[15]

 

 

[1] South Side Signal, September 4, 1875 (thanks to Babylon Historian Mary Cascone for the citation);  Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 26, 1902, page 9

[2] The Long-Islander, November 3, 1916, page 3.

[3] The Long-Islander, September 18, 1931, page 1

[4] Henry L. Stimson, The First Wise Man, by David F. Schmitz (Scholarly Resources Inc., Wilmington, DE 2001), page xiii.

[5] Newsday, September 29, 1960, page 1.

[6] Newsday, November 7, 1960, page 3.

[7] The Long-Islander, November 10, 1960, page 1 and 2.

[8] The Long-Islander, September 15, 1960, page 1; and September 29, 1960, page 2.

[9] The Long-Islander, November 21, 1996.

[10] The Long-Islander, February 12, 1976, page 5.

[11] The Long-Islander, November 29, 2007, page 1.

[12] The Long-Islander, November 8, 2012, page 2.

[13] New York Times, July 9, 2010

[14] EHEKA Castle, by Joan Cergol and Ellen Schaffer (Arcadia Publishing 2012), page 95.

[15] Newsday, September 9, 2016.