On Friday, April 17, 2015, the Town of Huntington kicked off a year long series of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The event was held outside the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building, in which the Huntington Historical Society unveiled its new exhibit on the Civil War. Below are the remarks I made.
We are standing today between the place where soldiers from Huntington were welcomed home after the Civil War and the monument built to honor those who did not come home.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Huntington like the rest of the country experienced a wide range of emotions. News of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee was met with the ringing of church bells and dinner bells, and the firing of large and small guns. Flags were hoisted and people were jubilant. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, the people of Huntington gathered at Euterpean Hall, the recently built meeting hall on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street, to celebrate the end of the war.
Rejoicing quickly turned to mourning. By noon the next day, Huntington residents received the devastating news that their president had been assassinated. That Sunday, which was Easter, the churches in town were draped in mourning.
The following Wednesday—a stormy, rainy day in Huntington and the day of Lincoln’s funeral in Washington—Huntington joined the nation in a day of mourning. All the stores were closed and draped in black.
Four months later, Huntington held a large reception for the men of the 127th regiment. In a vacant lot at the corner of New York Avenue and Elm Street, the town welcomed the soldiers and sailors home and thanked them for their sacrifices. The event was hosted by Rear Admiral Hiram Paulding, who lived in what is now known as Lloyd Harbor and who served as Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the war. The keynote speaker was Henry J. Scudder, who thanked the men for fighting to extend the ideals of the Revolution, for fighting to expand liberty and democracy and put an end to slavery. Fourteen hundred Huntington men fought in the Civil War.
After the speeches, musical performances by the Huntington Glee Club, and dinner, the returning soldiers walked over to F.G. Sammis property at Fairview Street for a target-shooting contest. You would have thought they’d done enough shooting in the war.
Even before the war was over, in December 1864, a concert was held in Euterpean Hall to raise money for the Huntington Monument Association. That effort finally reached fruition almost thirty years later when the building in front of you was completed. Built as the first permanent library building in town, it was dedicated to the men from Huntington who lost their lives in the War. The statue in front bears an inscription in Latin: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori; or in English: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.”
What did the soldiers and sailors return to? Huntington which at that time included what is now the Town of Babylon, had a population of less than 8,000.
In Cold Spring Harbor, the whaling industry was coming to a close and the hamlet would enter a period of decline. The brickyards in West Neck continued to produce millions of bricks each year. Centerport was small crossroads community. In Northport, with a population of just a little over a thousand, shipbuilding was at its peak with Jesse Carll’s yard earning a reputation for fast, dependable vessels built on time and on budget.
Transportation to New York was by steamboat, but the service was crowded and unreliable. The Long Island Railroad reached only as far as Syosset. Without the railroad, Huntington Station, Greenlawn, and East Northport did not yet exist as commercial areas. Those communities would later grow up around train stations after the Railroad stretched into Huntington shortly after the war.
In Huntington village, New York Avenue did not exist north of Main Street. The village’s one brick building, the Leaycroft building—better known in recent years as the Rubins Building—had been built in 1859. More brick buildings would follow in the post war years.
The 1860s was also a period of church building in Huntington. Behind you, the Second Presbyterian Church had been built the year before the war ended. Also in 1864, the Methodist Church on Main Street and Clinton Place had been rebuilt. St. John’s Church on Park Avenue was rebuilt in 1862. In the years after the war, St. Patrick’s Church would move to a new brick building on Main Street and the Universalist Church would move to New York Avenue.
Also in 1864, the tenant house on Main Street across from Prospect Street where Walt Whitman published the first editions of The Long-Islander was torn down and replaced with a new house for Dr. Woodend, who had lived in a house behind where you are standing tonight. Across the street from here were the home and gardens of Catherine Stuart.
Main Street was home to two hotels. On the corner of Main and Wall Streets was the Huntington House, where volunteers had enlisted to join the Union Army. The Suffolk Hotel was on the south side of Main Street, west of New York Avenue. A map included in the exhibit inside the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building shows the village as it was in 1860. A digital display of photographs gives us an idea of what the village looked like.
It was a small village of wooden buildings, dirt roads, and residents proud to welcome home their sons, husbands and fathers and to remember those who did not come home.
As we begin a year-long commemoration of the end of the Civil War, we ask that you also remember their sacrifices.