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Archive for the ‘Huntington Village’ Category

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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The historic building where girls learned to sew, boys learned to fix furniture, and immigrants learned English, and which for the past thirty years protected your community’s irreplaceable historic documents and photographs is now an empty shell.

Over the course of several months, volunteers carefully transported 350 years of Huntington history from the Trade School building on Main Street at the east end of Huntington village in preparation for a major project to restore the building to its original glory and to expand the building to provide more space to protect the existing collection of historic materials and to welcome new additions to that collection. This is the most important project undertaken by the Huntington Historical Society in over a generation. The Historical Society needs your help to make it a success.

To understand the project, let’s go back to the beginning—the very beginning. In 1903, Huntington celebrated the 250th anniversary of its founding. Thousands attended the three-day celebration over the Fourth of July weekend. The highlight of the celebration was a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt to a large crowd gathered in an empty field near the intersection of what is now New York Avenue and Gerard Street.

President Theodore Roosevelt at Huntington's 250th Anniversary celebration.

President Theodore Roosevelt at Huntington’s 250th Anniversary celebration.

A committee of local women gathered historic artifacts from attics, basements and barns around town for a display on colonial life in Huntington. That collection was kept together by the committee, which eventually became the Huntington Historical Society.

Fast forward some eighty years. The Historical Society by the 1980s operated two house museums—the circa 1750 Conklin House on High Street and New York Avenue, which was given to the Society in 1911, and the 1795 Kissam House on Park Avenue, which it had purchased in 1967. The small collection of colonial artifacts gathered in 1903 grew tremendously over the decades to include letters, diaries, business records, local newspapers, maps, deeds, family histories, and photographs—thousands and thousands of photographs of the way we were.

More space was needed to properly preserve this growing collection. In 1979, Town government had consolidated its offices in the old high school building across from Heckscher Park, making several buildings at the east end of the village available. The Tudor Revival trapezoidal shaped Trade School building caught the eye of the Historical Society.

The Trade School building was constructed over the course of the summer of 1905 to house the Huntington Sewing and Trade School. The school had started in the basement of St. John’s Church on Park Avenue in 1881. At first the school taught sewing to the girls of the church. Some of the items the girls created were sent to missions in the West and later during World War I to France.

By the mid-1890s, the curriculum was expanded to teach boys as well. The boys learned to mend and sew buttons and also to weave hammocks and fishnets. At around the same time, it was decided that the school should be moved out of the church basement to a location closer to the business district so as not to restrict attendance “to church or color.”

At the turn of the twentieth century, Miss Paulding’s Sewing School was providing instruction to up to 150 students a week in rented quarters in the village. In 1904, the school was formally chartered as the Huntington Sewing and Trade School. In 1905, the school began to look for a permanent location. Local philanthropist Cornelia Prime—who would later donate the clock tower in Huntington’s first Town Hall and the land for Huntington Hospital, among many other gifts to the community—agreed to erect a suitable building for the school. Dr. Oliver L. Jones donated land on the north side of Main Street across from the Old Burying Ground.

The architect's rendering of the Trade School building, 1905

The architect’s rendering of the Trade School building, 1905

Cady, Berg & See, the firm that designed the Museum of Natural History in New York, the Metropolitan Opera House as well as several academic buildings at New England colleges, was selected as the architect for the building. Twelve years earlier, the firm had also designed the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building, Huntington’s first library building. The new school building copied the library’s Tudor Revival style. The building also conformed to the site’s trapezoidal shape enabling a traveler from the east to see three sides of the building at the same time.

The cornerstone was laid on August 10, 1905. The first classes in the new building were held just four months later on December 2, 1905.

Emma Paulding, the school's director, lays the cornerstone for the new building , August 10, 1905

Emma Paulding, the school’s director, lays the cornerstone for the new building , August 10, 1905

The building saw a variety of uses over the years. During World War I, the local chapter of the Red Cross used the building for its home front activities. The curriculum expanded to teach vocational skills to immigrants. Courses were also offered to help immigrants learn English and civics to meet the requirements for naturalization.

The main floor of the Trade School building.

The main floor of the Trade School building.

Miss Lefferts taught dance classes, a Talmud Torah School rented space, the Red Cross taught “young mothers the feeding and care of children,” the Huntington Choral Society practiced here, to name a few of the building’s many uses.

In 1937, the Huntington School District took ownership of the building and used it for shop classes. Students from the High School (which is now Town Hall) walked over to the Trade School. Wood shop was taught on the first floor, electric and metal work on the second floor.

In 1965, the Town purchased the building to help alleviate crowding at the Old Town Hall building. Town government used the building for the Comptroller’s office and later the Town Supervisor and Town Attorney had offices there.

In the 1970s, the Town realized that operating out of multiple buildings in widely scattered locations was not efficient. As Town government grew, the school district found it no longer needed the large school building across from Heckscher Park. The High School had been moved to a new building on Oakwood Road in 1958 and the building was being used as a Junior High School.

Meanwhile, the Huntington Historical Society’s collections grew tremendously over the course of the twentieth century. The fireproof vault built at the Conklin House in the 1920s was no longer big enough to hold the priceless collection. With the aid of private donations and a National Endowment for Humanities grant, the Society paid the Town $50,000 for the Trade School building. Another $75,000 was spent to renovate the building: new heating systems, new roof, plaster repair, painting, new handicap accessible restroom, etc.

At first the archives collection and research room comfortably occupied the lower level. Within ten years, exhibit space on the main level gave way to the growing archives collection. Within another ten years, it was obvious that a more long-term solution was needed. Plans were made to build an addition in the vacant lot the Historical Society owned on the west side of the building.

Architect's rendering of the entrance plaza and the new addition, which is set back to preserve the architecture of the 1905 building.

Architect’s rendering of the entrance plaza and the new addition, which is set back to preserve the architecture of the 1905 building.

The project finally commenced in the summer of 2014. The project will restore the 1905 building. The windows will be restored. The old electric wiring, which still relied on early fuses, will be replaced. The HVAC systems will be replaced. Plaster walls will be repaired and painted. New carpets will be installed.

Restoring the fabulous diamond pane windows of the Trade School.

Restoring the magnificient diamond pane windows of the Trade School.

But most important, the capacity of the building to accommodate the Historical Society’s ever growing collection of historic material will be greatly increased. High density shelving on the lower levels of the old building and the new addition alone will triple the storage capacity of the building. Other space in the new addition will provide even more storage.

The project is important to the future preservation of Huntington’s history—not only the materials already being preserved, but also future donations. Without the additional space this project will provide, the history of the more recent past could well be lost to future generations.

 

NOTE: The Huntington Historical Society is still seeking donations to ensure the completion of this project. At the time of this posting, the Historical Society has raised through private donations almost $800,000. A grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation adds another $400,000 to the budget. The total project budget is $1.5 million, meaning an additional $300,000 needs to be raised.

If you love Huntington’s history, which you must if you read this blog, it is imperative that you support this project. It is no surprise that as Huntington Town Historian, I support the project. Many people assume my family has lived here for generations. Some even think I’m a WASP. In fact, I’m an Irish Catholic who moved to Huntington as a kid. My wife moved here after we were married. But it doesn’t take long to appreciate how special Huntington is and how important its history is to its unique sense of place.

That is why the largest charitable donation we have ever made is for this project. We urge you to show your support with a donation of any size. Large donations are important, but smaller ones also make a difference by showing foundations and other funding agencies that the project has broad public support. If everyone who follows this blog gave $100, the project would be $10,000 closer to its goal. Donations can be made in installments.  For example, a pledge of $1,000, which would be noted on the donor plaque, could be paid by making monthly donations of $35. Donors have until June 30, 2017 to complete their pledge.

Please make a donation today at www.savehuntingtonhistory.org or by mailing a check to The Huntington Historical Society, 2 High Street, Huntington, NY 11743. If you have any questions about the project, call Linda Walch, executive director of the Historical Society at (631) 427-7045, ext. 405.  Future generations of Huntingtonians will thank you.

 

 

 

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We cherish the vibrancy and charm of Huntington village and we are proud of the area’s historic character embodied in various buildings throughout the village. But many feel the village is threatened by fire and redevelopment. The rash of fires (five in the past six months) and proposals for three story buildings in the village may seem alarming, but fire and taller buildings have long been a part of the village scene. In fact, several major fires directly shaped the village of today.

The fire that produced the most dramatic change in the village landscape was in October 1869. To understand its impact, you have to understand the early development of Huntington.

When Huntington was established in the middle of the seventeenth century, the settlement clustered around the Town Common on Park Avenue. The area we now know as downtown Huntington was marshy and sparsely settled. The area was bisected then as now by Main Street which connected Oyster Bay to the west with the area near the Town Common. Only five other streets existed where downtown Huntington is now. On the north side of Main Street were the road to the west side of the harbor (Wall Street), and the road to Lloyd’s Neck (West Neck Road). To the south there was the road to Long Swamp (New York Avenue). Near the Conklin House, New York Avenue forked to the southwest to reach West Hills (now High Street and Oakwood Road). Finally, Woodbury Road led to the settlement of the same name.

Nathaniel Williams’ inn stood on the north side of Main Street, opposite the road to Long Swamp (we now call that road New York Avenue; Long Swamp is the area near the intersection of Depot Road, Maplewood Road and Melville Road). Nathaniel’s son Timothy succeeded his father in running the inn and also operated a store and for a time the post office from the same building. In 1828, Timothy Williams sold the inn to Zophar Oakley, who a few years earlier had purchased property at the northwest corner of Main Street and Wall Street to operate a general store. Oakley’s purchase encompassed 12 acres on the north side of Main Street from Wall Street east to what is now the Trade School property.

Oakley continued to operate the Williams store, which was a true general store offering a wide variety of merchandise—“almost every article called for in the country.” Oakley prospered at his new location and became a very successful and well-respected merchant. In 1845, he built a house northeast of his new store. The property included a spring fed pond, greenhouses, gardens, and orchards. It was considered one of the garden spots of town. At the southwest corner of his property, along Main Street near Wall Street, Oakley rented stores to other merchants. By the 1850s, this row of stores on the north side of Main Street from Wall Street to what is now New York Avenue was known as the Empire Block.

In 1856, Oakley’s son-in-law, Carlos Stuart, and a partner, William A. Conant, took over Oakley’s store and purchased the Empire Block. Less than two years after the sale, Zophar Oakley died. Stuart then gave up his partnership with Conant and transferred his interest in the property to Conant. A year later, Conant, who would later represent Huntington in the State Assembly, sold the property to William Miles of New York City. Miles leased the old store to Baylis & Wells starting in 1862. In 1865, Timothy Baylis purchased the property apparently for his son Hiram Vail Baylis, one of the partners operating the store. Hiram soon gave up the store because of ill health and went into farming. But he held onto the property and rented the store out.

Around this time, at the close of the Civil War, the railroad reached Huntington. Previously, the best route to the city markets was by water. The railroad, of course, was located two miles south of the village. It was thought that a direct road connection between the harbor and the railroad station would be desirable. William Conant by now was the area’s representative in the State Assembly. He introduced a bill to create such a link. The new road would also help to drain the marshy land along the route, but would be expensive to build, which arose opposition from residents who would have to foot the bill. A debate also arose concerning the proper location for the road. The most direct route would extend the existing road through the old general store and continue up to the east side of the harbor where the Town dock was located. An alternate suggested route would start the road east of the terminus of the South Road (as New York Avenue was then known), between the Baylis property and Zophar Oakley’s old property now owned by his daughter Catherine and her husband Carlos Stuart. That route would not be conducive to the smooth flow of traffic.

There the debate stood until October 1869. On the night of October 13, the circus was in town. The old general store was now run by the Mamlok brothers, who closed the store at 8:00 that night. Perhaps they went to the see the circus. When they arrived back at their store at 12:30 a.m., they were surprised by three thieves, who assaulted them, tied them up, stole their cash ($472), and set fire to the store presumably to cover their crime. The brothers managed to escape. But the fire destroyed their store, the adjoining house of landlord Hiram Baylis and the flour and feed store of Pearsall & Conklin to the west. Other buildings on the block were damaged as well.

Baylis began building a new brick house slightly to the east within a couple of weeks. That house still stands on the northeast corner of Main Street and New York Avenue. Conklin also rebuilt his store, but that structure has since been replaced.   The most lasting impact of the fire was that it cleared the way for the extension of New York Avenue to the harbor directly across from the existing road. The State Legislature passed the Road Bill on April 22, 1870. The road was still not popular with the local residents. In June they voted 403 to 0 in opposition to the road. But it was too late; construction was well underway. By July 1870 the road extended from the harbor down to Shoemaker Lane—now known as Mill Lane.

One of the tenants who lost everything in the 1869 fire was lawyer Thomas Young, who had an office on the second floor. Young eventually moved his office across the street to a block of buildings owned by the Brush Brothers. And there, bad luck followed him.

Two decades after the fire that opened the way for the New York Avenue extension, the block on the south side of Main Street east of New York Avenue was occupied by a row of wood frame buildings. On the corner was the general store of Henry S. and James M. Brush. Next was the Bank of Huntington, started by the Brush brothers and Douglass Conklin as a private institution in 1886 and receiving a state charter on July 1, 1888. Then were the stationery store of Edward C. Grumman and the jewelry store of George F. Barr. On the second floor above the stores was the law office of ill-fated lawyer Thomas Young. At the end of the Brush block was the post office and above that the law offices of Charles R. Street, who was the postmaster. To the east of the Brush block were the carriage factory of Ebenezer Jarvis and the harness shop of James B. Scudder and the Second Presbyterian Church.

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, September 12, 1888, an employee of the Brush firm noticed smoke rising from the rear of the post office, which was in the middle of the block. He quickly alerted the Brush family who lived in quarters behind their store. The family barely got out of the house in time and took refuge in Hiram Baylis’ house across the street. The night watchman soon discovered the fire and rushed to retrieve the books and papers from the bank. Soon the alarm at the firehouse on Wall Street was sounded. The paints in the Brush store and the oils in the carriage factory accelerated the fire, which quickly spread both east and west. To the west it stopped at New York Avenue; to the east, it spread as far as the Second Presbyterian Church. Seeing that the church could not be saved, residents worked to save the manse next door by covering the wood roof and sides of the building with wet carpets. They were successful.

The fire destroyed every building along Main Street from New York Avenue to the manse. Fortunately, many of the contents of the buildings were removed before they too were destroyed. In the aftermath of the fire, the Brush brothers built one of the most imposing structures ever erected in Huntington village. Work commenced the month after the fire and by April of the next year, the three-story brick building was ready to receive tenants. As it turned out most of the former tenants returned to the building from temporary quarters throughout the village.

The Brush Block Built 1889

The Brush Block Built 1889

The building still exists, although it has lost its third floor. The third floor on the western one third of the building was removed in 1927, supposedly to make the building more attractive. It may be that the extra space was removed to save on property taxes. The rest of the third floor was removed in 1937 when the Long Island Lighting Company extensively rebuilt that part of the building.

The Brush Block was not the first three-story building in the village. The Leaycraft building at the southwest corner of Main Street and New Street (most well known in recent years as the site of Rubin’s Luggage and torn down in 2004) was a three-story brick building erected in 1859. Other prominent three story buildings include the O.S. Sammis building at the northwest corner of Main Street and New York Avenue (built in 1884); the Masonic Lodge on New York Avenue (built in 1905); Gallagher’s Hotel at 25 Wall Street (built in 1908); and the Romano building at 307 Main Street (built in 1909).

A fire a few years after the Brush Block fire also resulted in a new three-story building. In 1895, the carriage factory on Green Street was completely destroyed. It was replaced by the three-story brick building that still stands at 7 Green Street.

During the building boom of the Roaring Twenties, the three-story Hotel Huntington at the corner of New York Avenue and Fairview Street was built. Two years earlier, another three-story building was built on New York Avenue, the Huntington Office Building. The office building opened on May 1, 1927 “In the center of the growing city.” It featured six stores, a bowling alley and billiard parlor on the first floor; offices on the second and third floors; and the first elevator in town.

The building still stands at 375-377 New York Avenue, but without its third floor thanks to a devastating fire in February 1960. The fire was one of three Monday night fires in a two-month period, raising suspicions that an arsonist was to blame. The fire burned for eight hours through the night as firefighters poured three million gallons of water on it. Like other village fires there was no loss of life; although an attorney working late in his office had to be rescued from the roof of the building by an aerial ladder.

The next day, the west side of New York Avenue was closed in front of the building due to fears that the ruined shell would collapse. The owner was ordered to either make the building safe or demolish it. He indicated he would demolish it. But three months later, he instead applied for a building permit to partially demolish the gutted building to two stories and rebuild. The building we see today is mostly a reconstruction with only two floors instead of three. In 1964, the building welcomed the newly created district court.

The fires of 2014, thankfully, have not been as destructive as some earlier fires. But some, like the March 1 fire at 425 New York Avenue, may result in new three-story buildings. That too would be consistent with Huntington’s earlier building practices (an inspection by the National Board of Underwriters in 1900 revealed that 98% of the buildings in the village were two or three stories high). Whether it will be as welcome as the Brush Block is another question.

 

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The first war memorial in Huntington, a list of 40 men who had died during the Civil War, contains familiar old Huntington names such as Sammis, Conklin, and Brush.  The second war memorial in Huntington, created in 1923 to commemorate the 39 Huntingtonians who had died during World War I, reflects Huntington’s changing ethnic make up.  In addition to the old Huntington names, the list includes names such as Algerio, Romano, Solomoff, Sickenberger, and Tivola.  More interesting is that the list includes a woman, Janet Ford.

Huntington's World War I Memorial on Main Street.  The Memorial also serves as an entrance to the Old Burying Ground where many of Huntington Revolutionary War veterans are buried.

Huntington’s World War I Memorial on Main Street. The Memorial also serves as an entrance to the Old Burying Ground where many of Huntington’s Revolutionary War veterans are buried.

Janet Ford was a graduate of the Huntington High School class of 1909.  She and her twin sister Eleanor graduated from Smith College four years later.  Not much is known about Janet Ford.  She and her sister were involved with the Huntington Red Cross chapter.  She was prominent enough to be included in a couple of New York Times columns about the social doings in Huntington.  Her father was employed as an expert accountant with Olney & Company in New York City.  He seems to have tried his hand with farming for a while on West Neck Road in the 1890s   The family eventually purchased the house at the southwest corner of Lawrence Hill Road and Carley Avenue.  They continued to spend time in Brooklyn as well.

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.  Eighteen women from Huntington served in the military; one was Janet Ford who served as a Navy Reserve yeoman in Manhattan.  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.

Even though she died far from the battlefield and after the Armistice, Janet Ford has always been counted among those Huntingtonians who gave their lives in the War to End All Wars.

Janet Ford is the second name in the second column.

Janet Ford is the second name in the middle column.

The title of this post may be subject to dispute.  After all, 18 Huntington women served in World War I.  Janet Ford is the only one to die during her service.  I hope I can be allowed a little latitude with the claim that she was the first woman veteran.

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As the Great Depression was just beginning, Florence Baker looked around her town and was disgusted by what she saw:  littered roadsides, ugly billboards, neglected properties.  Perhaps nowhere was the neglect worse than in Huntington’s ancient Green on Park Avenue—worse because it was one place that civic pride would dictate it should be well kept.  After all, the few acres of land had been set aside three centuries ago and held in trust for every Huntington resident.  But a place that belonged to everyone seemed to have no one willing to take responsibility for maintaining it.

Florence Baker and some wealthy and influential friends made sure that changed.  Their efforts went far beyond cleaning up a small park at a busy intersection.  They expanded their scope to include the area from the Green to the harbor.  They expanded their vision from cleaning up litter and clearing weeds to preserving open space and historic structures.  Some 75 years later their vision has been adopted—often unknowingly—by other residents as well as town officials.

Baker served as chairwoman of Huntington’s Roadside Committee, an offshoot of the Long Island Chamber of Commerce Roadside Committee.  Formed at the outset of the Great Depression, these committees were dedicated to beautification projects that also served to provide jobs for the unemployed.  In 1931, the Huntington Roadside Committee worked with the Town Highway Department to remove discarded automobiles from the town’s roadsides, clear brush along the town’s streets, and remove illegal signs.[1]

Baker soon turned her attention to the Town Common, better known today as the Village Green.  In 1924, the Green was described as “an unhealthy looking, swampy, mosquito breeding marsh [containing] rotten, broken down trees, masses of rubbish and weeds, and enthroned upon all the hulk of a deceased Ford automobile.”[2]  She was joined by residents such as Marshall Field of Lloyd’s Neck, Raymond Ingersoll of Duck Island, Henry H. Saylor, the Reverend Dr. Edward Humeston of Old First Church, Russell Sammis and most importantly Henry W. Cannon.  Cannon was the president of Chase Manhattan Bank and owned a large tract of land on the east side of Park Avenue across from Sabbath Day Path.  They called themselves the Committee on the Preservation of Old Huntington.  The first order of business was to convince the Town Board to clean up the Green, not only for the sake of civic pride, but also as a way to provide jobs at the depths of the Great Depression.

The Town Common was set aside soon after the Town was first settled in 1653.  Over the years adjoining landowners encroached upon the Green.  The situation became intolerable by the 1730s.  Neighbors demanded that Thomas Wickes, Jr. relinquish parts of the Green that he had occupied.  He did so by a 1739 deed that was worded in such a way as to be misinterpreted to the effect that it appears he created the Green and gave it as a gift to his neighbors.  In fact, he was being paid off to ensure he returned what was not rightfully his in the first place.  This original Green is a rectangular piece of land running along the west side of Park Avenue from the entrance to the Flanagan Community Center (formerly the Village Green School) to a point 329 feet north of Main Street.

Expanding the Village Green

The triangle of land bounded by Main Street, Park Avenue and Sabbath Day Path was at the time mostly privately owned.  The Town Common only included a small triangle at the southeast corner of that plot.  The remaining six acres had been the Mathew Hoban Farm.  Hoban was an Irish immigrant who acquired the land in 1849 from the estate of Thomas C. Hendrickson.[3]  The conveyance was subject to a six foot wide “footway” from “the highway that leads from Huntington Harbour (sic) past the Episcopal Church to Henry Lewis” (i.e. Park Avenue) and ends at the southeast corner of the Presbyterian Meeting House.  Such was the beginning of Sabbath Day Path.[4]

The dwelling on the Hoban Farm—located just north of Main Street—may well have been the town’s original schoolhouse built in 1660.  The first Catholic masses in Huntington reportedly were celebrated at this house.§

At the beginning of the twentieth century the Hoban Farm was acquired by Richard W. Kenney, who the same day transferred ownership to his friend Edward P. Cringle.[5]  Kenney had been living in the old Hoban House as early as 1901 when his friend Cringle and his family visited him.[6]  Cringle was a deputy tax commissioner in New York City.  His son Edward J. Cringle would go on to become a doctor and serve in the army medical corps during World War I.  Edward Cringle, the father, died in 1907.[7]  His widow and son continued to split their time between Manhattan and Huntington.  In 1914, Sarah Cringle had the property subdivided into 25 building lots.  She also tore down the old farmhouse and had “an attractive new home” built.[8]  Mrs. Cringle sold that house to lawyer—later judge—Isaac R. Swezey in 1918.[9]

Dr. Cringle married in 1922.  The following year he began to build houses on Sabbath Day Path, including one for his new family.[10]  Taking advantage of the go-go real estate market of the Roaring Twenties, the doctor formed Edward J. Cringle, Inc., a real estate company.  The directors were the doctor, his wife, and his mother.[11]  Cringle was involved in real estate transactions throughout town, not just on the old Hoban property.  But he soon had financial difficulties.  In 1931, the Bank of Huntington foreclosed on a two-acre tract at the north end of the old Hoban Farm.[12]  The following year, Henry Cannon purchased that tract, which was across from his home, from the Bank of Huntington.[13]  Cannon died just a few months later.  His widow decided to donate that parcel to the town as a memorial to her late husband.  The gift was conditional: it must remain as a park “and never be used as a dumping grounds or for any objectionable purpose.”[14]

Thus began a quest to preserve open space in the heart of Huntington village.  Fifteen years earlier, August Heckscher donated his namesake park to the children of Huntington.  Mrs. Cannon’s donation of what came to be known as the North Meadow was a bridge between the old Town Common and Mr. Heckscher’s park.  In 1935, the Town expressed interest in acquiring land along East Main Street.   The Main Street frontage had been divided into four different lots, one of which contained the house Mrs. Cringle had built in 1914.  A fifth lot was located between these lots and the North Meadow.  The remaining pieces of the Hoban Farm had been divided into eight small lots on Sabbath Day Path, each with a house.

Following Mrs. Cannon’s lead, the members of the Committee on the Preservation of Old Huntington—by now known as Old Huntington Green Association—set out to secure the other plots.  They worked in secret for fear that property owners would inflate their asking prices if they knew a group of wealthy residents was interested in buying their land.

  • In 1938, Clarence Brush, a partner in a local real estate and insurance agency and acting as a straw man, acquired the second lot in from Sabbath Day Path from Frank Patterson.  Ten days later he conveyed it to Old Huntington Green Association.[15]
  • Two years later Brush acquired from Alice Gardiner the lot with the house Mrs. Cringle had built.  Marshall Field provided the $4,500 purchase price.  Six days later Brush conveyed the house lot to Old Huntington Green.[16]  The house was rented to the Reverend Humeston, who had just retired from the pulpit of Old First Church.[17]
  • The back lot was acquired by the Association from William Jenkins in 1941 after the owner failed to pay the property taxes.[18]
  • The final piece was acquired by Mrs. Ingersoll in 1952.  She conveyed it to the Association in 1954.[19]

These four lots were consolidated and the 1.62-acre parcel was deeded to the Town of Huntington in 1957.[20]  Although the Association had been incorporated in 1939, its existence remained unpublicized until the 1950s.  The first newspaper reference to the group was in 1953 and the gift in 1957 was its first public announcement of its work.[21]  Eight years later, the Association built a memorial fountain with the mill stones from Huntington’s first mill.  The fountain was designed by Mrs. Baker and dedicated to the memory of Raymond Ingersoll.  The fountain sits on the property the Association had deeded to the town in 1957.

green

Lots north of Main Street

Now the only property in the triangle not in public hands were the eight houses on Sabbath Day Path and the lot at the corner of Main Street and Sabbath Day Path.  The owner of that last lot, Dr. Frank C. Ciafone, announced plans to erect an office building on the property.  A year after the gift from Old Huntington Green, the Town Board, at the prodding of the Association, voted to acquire the property from Dr. Ciafone for $20,500.[22]

The Association now turned its attention to the eight houses Dr. Cringle had built on Sabbath Day Path.  They were the only interruption on a wide swath of public open space extending from the Town Common through the North Meadow and across to Heckscher Park.  The Association decided to buy and demolish these houses and turn the vacant land over to the Town.  Their first purchase was of the fifth house from Main Street in 1955.[23]  Ten years later, the Association acquired the first and third houses from Main Street.[24]  A fourth house was acquired in the 1970s.

The Association has transferred ownership of two of its Sabbath day Path houses to the Town of Huntington and they were demolished.  The Town also acquired two other houses that have also been demolished.  Today, four of the original eight houses remain: the Association owns and rents out two; and two others are privately owned.

The Master Plan

Old Huntington Green, Inc. was concerned with more than just preserving open space in the Village Green area.  The group also wanted to preserve historic structures.  First it had to determine which early buildings remained in the valley stretching from the Green to the harbor.   After exhaustive research, 32 buildings were identified.  In 1937, Lester B. Pope, supervisor of the Pratt Institute’s Architectural Department and district officer of the Interior Department’s Historic American Building Survey on Long Island, was asked his opinion of the historic value of Huntington’s old buildings.  He replied that “Old Huntington offers, I believe, one of the most unique historic areas that we have—certainly on Long Island.  It presents an old township which with ease could be restored to its original historic layout and atmosphere.”[25]  Today, of those 32 houses, all but six still stand.  Of those that remain, all but four are now protected by local landmark designation.  The Association’s plan called for preserving these historic structures and moving other historic buildings—such as the Historical Society’s Conklin House—to the Village Green area for protection from unsympathetic development.

Pratt Institute was retained to prepare a map showing the 32 houses.  A photograph album with descriptive captions of each building was assembled.  Old Huntington Green, Inc. hired Armistead Fitzhugh Brinkerhoff, president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, to prepare a master plan for the entire valley.  The Brinkerhoff plan was unveiled in November 1939.  The group was impressed by the scope and beauty of the plan that would be a Long Island version of Colonial Williamsburg, which had been started just 13 years earlier.  Then Marshall Field asked how much it would cost to implement.  Brinkerhoff estimated the total project as envisioned in the plan would cost one million dollars—equivalent to about $16.7 million in 2013.  After giving it a few days thought, Field said he might be able to take on a project with a budget of $50,000 to $75,000.

The grand plan would have to wait.

Influence on Other Developments

While the association continued through the war years, it was dormant from 1948 to 1951.  When it resumed activity, it found a town undergoing explosive growth.  New houses were springing up all over town—even along Park Avenue just south of the Village Green area.  The Green itself was protected, of course.  But surrounding properties were ripe for redevelopment.

The old gas station at the southeast corner of East Main Street and Park Avenue was to be rebuilt.  The Association prevailed upon Mobil Oil to build a “Colonial style” gas station—surely a style for which no historic precedent could be found.  Likewise the newly established YMCA planned to build a multi-story flat roofed building right across Main Street from the association’s property.  The association again convinced the property owner to construct a “colonial style” building instead (although it has been greatly altered by later additions).

A gas station proposed for the northeast corner of East Main and Park Avenue was not built.  Instead a saltbox house designed by Florence Baker’s husband, architect Norman Baker, was built and was used as a real estate office.

A proposal by the American Legion to build a clubhouse on the North Meadow was defeated as were numerous other proposals for the property.  One project the association had a direct hand in was at the northwest corner of Park Avenue and Parkview Terrace.  Mrs. Cannon had purchased the old Platt House at that location and had given it to the association.  The house was in a poor state and structurally suspect.  It was decided that it would cost too much to restore it.  Instead, the property was sold to the newly formed North Shore Medical Group, who agreed to build a “colonial style” medical office, which remains today.  The money from the sale of this property helped to finance the acquisition of lots on the old Hoban Farm.[26]

Continuing Legacy

Old Huntington Green has had an ongoing influence of developments in the Village Green area.   Concerned residents and government officials have pursued plans that track the association’s Master Plan, even though they may not have been aware of the plans existence.  The enduring goals set down by the association are slowly being realized.

Many private homeowners in the Village Green area have restored their homes.  The first was the Metcalf family, who purchased the Jarvis-Fleet House, part of which is considered to be the oldest house in Huntington, in 1941.  They began restoration of the house in the 1940s and that work has been continued by their son, Rex Metcalf, who continues to live in the house.  Likewise, other homes along Park Avenue have been restored by their owners.

The Historical Society joined the effort when it purchased the house at 434 Park Avenue in 1967.  Originally identified as the Powell-Jarvis House and thought to date from the seventeenth century, later research and examination has confirmed a construction date of 1795 for Dr. Daniel W. Kissam.

In 1980, the Huntington Town Board created the Old Huntington Green Historic District, which gives legal protection to the historic structures along Park Avenue from its intersection with New York Avenue to a point a few doors south of its intersection with Linda Place.  A few years later a smaller historic district containing properties from View Acre Road to Sunny Pond Farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Association’s goals were unknowingly invoked almost 70 years after the group had been founded when another group of concerned residents rallied to prevent the development of eight acres of steeply sloped woodland just off Park Avenue about a half mile south of the Village Green.  Explaining the residents’ concerns, Scott Johnson, then chairman of the Town’s Historic preservation Commission, said, “In the past, there have been those who want to preserve open space and those who want to preserve historical sites, and they’ve never really come together.”[27]  But, of course, they had seven decades earlier.  In November 2001, the group nominated the property for acquisition under Huntington’s new Environmental Open Space and Park Fund program.  The property was to be the beginning of a Heritage Trail that would snake through the open space left on the ridge above Park Avenue, continue to the Village Green and eventually on to the harbor. A year after the nomination, the Town and County purchased the land.  Over the next few years, additional smaller parcels were added.

The biggest obstacle to the completion of the Heritage Trail was the 7.2 acre Park Avenue Dairy site at the corner of Park Avenue and Woodhull Road.  The property not only was mostly open fields and woods, it also contained a wealth of historic structures.  First settled in the seventeenth century, the land had been used for some 266 years to graze cattle.  It also was the site of a tannery; and during the American Revolution Hessian troops camped there.  The property includes houses from the seventeenth, eighteenth and twentieth centuries as well as a 1915 cement dairy barn and tile silo.  The property was a dairy until 1958.

But the property had been earmarked for other purposes.  In the 1990s, a developer proposed building a 100 bed congregate care facility on the property.  It was later acquired by a group looking to build a synagogue.  When plans for the synagogue fell through, the owner filed a subdivision plan.  Finally late in 2012, the developer agreed to sell five acres to the Town of Huntington.  Two of the historic houses are to be sold to private owners.

The third historic house—the1790 Chichester House—will be moved across Park Avenue to the Sunny Pond Farm property.  Here, owner Tom Hogan will unknowingly implement another part of the Old Huntington green Association’s plan—preservation and repurposing of historic buildings.  Mr. Hogan acquired Sunny Pond Farm after an unsuccessful effort to build additional housing on the property.  Mr. Hogan has restored the 1881 house on the property and has already moved the eighteenth century Ketcham house from Fort Salonga.  The Chichester House will be joined with the Ketcham House and both will be converted into office space.  The result will be an office campus comprised of historic houses in an open setting adjoining the Historical Society’s Kissam House property.  Nothing better illustrates the Association’s vision for Huntington’s historic core.

In the end, the fate of one property may well determine how enduring the Old Huntington Green’s goals are.  The “colonial style” gas station on the southeast corner of East Main Street and Park Avenue has been closed for a number of years.  The building has been adopted by a local artist who paints murals of historic scenes.  He recently completed a mural commemorating George Washington’s visit to Huntington in 1790 when the president stopped for lunch at Platt’s Tavern, which once stood on this corner.  The former gas station and the deli next door are inconsistent with the association’s vision.  Over the years plans have been made to rebuild Platt’s Tavern on this site.  There would be no time better than now when the gas station is idle.

But who will take the lead to implement this vision?


  • § Masses were held as early as 1840.  The first St. Patrick’s Church was built in 1849, the same year Hoban acquired the house near the Town Common.  If masses were held here in the 1840s, it would mean that Hoban had been renting the house prior to purchasing it.

[1] The Long-Islander, November 13, 1931

[2] The Long-Islander, July 11, 1924

[3] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 51, page 217

[4] Huntington Highway Book A 1724-185, page 315 (May 6, 1848, recorded September 18, 1848.  According to Romanah Sammis in Hunting-Babylon Town History, the right of way was first established in 1799 (page 51).  She also reports that Hoban’s petition to discontinue the path in 1858, because it was “no longer necessary,” was granted.

[5] Suffolk County Clerks’ Office Deed Liber 572, page 413 and 414.

[6] The Long-Islander, May 31, 1901

[7] The Long-Islander, June 28, 1907

[8] The Long-Islander, March 20 and 27, 1914

[9] The Long-Islander, June 21, 1918

[10] The Long-Islander, December 1, 1922; May 11, 1923

[11] The Long-Islander, August 7, 1925

[12] The Long-Islander, July 17, 1931

[13] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 1665, page 200

[14] The Long-Islander, September 7, 1934

[15] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, Deed Liber 4032, Page 326

[16] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, Deed Liber 4032, Page 331

[17] The Long-Islander, April 18, 1940

[18] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, Deed Liber 4032, Page 335

[19] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, Deed Liber 4032, Page 338

[20] (get deed reference)

[21] The Long-Islander, May 28, 1953 and March 14, 1957

[22] The Long-Islander, October 30, 1958 and November 13, 1958 (Legal Notice).

[23] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, Deed Liber 3936, page 197

[24] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, Deed Liber 5762, page 497; and Deed Liber 5834, page 176

[25] Unpublished manuscript history of Old Huntington Green, Inc.  on file in the Huntington Town Historian’s office and at the Huntington Historical Society.

[26] The Long-Islander, March 12, 1953

[27] Newsday, November 3, 2002, “History Trail Nearly Reality”

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The building at the southwest corner of Main Street and New York Avenue in Huntington village has an unusual shape.  It’s as if someone chopped off the western third of the building.  And, in fact, that is what happened.

The first building at that location was erected by Stephen C. Rogers in 1860.[1] Rogers and David C. Brush had opened the Suffolk Hotel just to the west of the corner lot in 1840.[2]  In the summer of 1860, Rogers built what was initially called a “Village Hall.”  It was not built for governmental purposes, rather as a venue for lectures, concerts and meetings.  It was estimated that the 27’ x 56’ building would seat 600 persons, which seems an overly optimistic number.[3]  In September 1860, the new hall opened with an address by the Reverend Hiram Crozier on the science of music, which was appropriate because the new venue was known as Euterpean Hall, named for the Greek muse of music.  The address, of course, was followed by a concert.[4]

Euterpean Hall was used not only for concerts, but also for lectures, religious services and town meetings.  Both the Central Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church used the hall for religious services when their church buildings were being constructed.  The Hall was used as a drill room when men were training to defend the village from a supposed Draft Riot at the West Neck brickyards (see The Irish in Huntington, posted on this site on March 17, 2012).

Town meetings and annual elections were also held here.  In the nineteenth century, town matters were decided by the citizens of the town in an annual meeting held in April.  The Hall was not big enough to accommodate all the town’s residents, so the Town Supervisor would announce the propositions to the crowd from the rear staircase.   Matters were decided by voice vote unless there was some doubt on which position received the loudest response; in which case a show of hands was requested.  Residents, who came to the village for the annual meeting, took advantage of the large crowds to do some business.  They would swap horses and cows and conduct many lines of business.  The trading wasn’t limited to livestock; votes were openly bought as well. The bars did a good business that day and impromptu horse races were held on Main Street. [5]

The ground floor of the building housed the grocery business of Stephen Morris and the feed store of Russell Hurd.  The grocery business was later assumed by Sammis & Baylis and the feed store became the meat market of Burling & Higbie.[6]   Rogers retired from the hotel business in May 1864, but continued to own the land until 1875 when he sold it to Samuel Hubbs.[7]

The 1899 Building

The 1899 Building

In 1899, the executors of Hubbs’ estate sold the property, which included the Euterpean Hall building, to Edward Carll, the son of Northport’s famous shipbuilder Jesse Carll.  At the time of the sale, it was announced that the Euterpean Hall building would be taken down and replaced with a wider two-story building that would cover the alley between Euterpean Hall and the hotel and contain three stores.[8]  Within just a couple of weeks, the two businesses in the Euterpean Hall building were relocated to a new building on New York Avenue and the old building was torn down.[9]  A month later the new building was completed and Sammis & Baylis as well as Burling & Higbie moved back to Main Street.  The second floor was used as sleeping accommodations for the Suffolk Hotel.[10]  After the hotel was torn down in 1927, the second floor rooms were converted to office use.

Edward Carll died in 1913 and left the Main Street property in trust for his family.[11]  The heirs sold the property in 1921.[12] The following year, the portion of the building containing corner grocery business of Sammis & Baylis and the middle store occupied by the Barr & Willis jewelry store was purchased by Henry M. Woessner.[13]  Woessner and his brother-in-law John F. Semon owned a pharmacy on Main Street opposite the Bank of Huntington.[14]  Woessner made several improvements to the store including installing large show windows and a soda fountain.[15]  The new store opened on July 29, 1923.  Within two years, Woessner had transferred the pharmacy business to Harris A. Tomashoff.[16]

In the westernmost storefront,  David W. Trainer conducted his stationery and newspaper business.  In 1928, the drug store was re-divided and the middle storefront was used for a shoe store.[17]

The Building Today

The Building Today

In 1934, just as the drugstore (now the Max Rosen Pharmacy) and the shoe store were about to be taken over by Walgreen’s, fire swept through the building.  Believed to have started from an oil burner in the drugstore, the early Saturday morning fire gutted the stores and second floor offices.  Above the drugstore and shoe store were two dental offices.  Above Trainer’s stationery store was the law office of Theron Sammis.  Although it was one building, there were two owners.  The two storefronts to the east were owned by H.T. and S.E. Corporation (H.T. was Harris Tomashoff and S.E. was Sol Elkins).  The western most storefront and office above was owned by Trainer.  It was thought the entire building would have to be razed.[18]

Tomashoff and Elkins decided to restore their portion of the building.  Trainer decided to start over again with a new brick building.[19]  The result is Huntington’s lopsided building.


[1] A later account (The Long-Islander, March 25, 1899) indicates that Rogers raised the second floor of an existing building.  Contemporaneous accounts confirming this assertion have not been located.

[2] The Long-Islander, August 3, 1860

[3] The Long-Islander, July 27, 1860

[4] The Long-Islander, September 28, 1860.  It should be noted that there had previously been a Euterpian Hall in Huntington. In 1852, the Odd Fellows Hall was re-dedicated as Euterpean Hall (The Long-Islander, November 12, 1852).  The location of this hall has not been determined yet.  Euterpean Hall later relocated to a third building at the northeast corner of Main and Wall Streets.

[5] The Long-Islander, March 25, 1899, March 20, 1925, and April 1, 1927

[6] The Long-Islander, March 25, 1899.

[7] The Long-Islander, September 11, 1885

[8] The Long-Islander, March 25, 1899

[9] The Long-Islander, April 8, 1899

[10] The Long-Islander, May 6, 1899

[11] The Long-Islander, September 5, 1913

[12] The Long-Islander, November 4, 1921

[13] The Long-Islander, December 15, 1922

[14] The Long-Islander, October 29, 1942.  Semon later entered the real estate business and built Columbia Hall on New York Avenue in Huntington Station, the first three story office and business building in that section of town.

[15] The Long-Islander, April 6, 1923

[16] The Long-Islander, March 20, 1925

[17] The Long-Islander, September 21, 1928

[18] The Long-Islander, March 30, 1934

[19] The Long-Islander, April 20, 1934.

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Early in the last century there were two businesses on Wall Street operated by Huntingtonians named Thomas Gorman.  One was born in 1884; the other was born in 1887.  At one time they each conducted business from the store directly behind the First National Bank building, which was at the northeast corner of Wall and Main Streets.  Each man’s paternal grandfather was named Daniel Gorman.  One was a tinsmith; the other sold fish.

Thomas Henry Gorman, the tinsmith, was the son of William and Anna Mullen.  His father had been in the fruit and vegetable business.  He had four sons and three daughters.  His son Thomas found employment in William H. Stoyle’s tinsmith store on Main Street.  In 1918, after 20 years with Stoyle, Thomas started his own business at 6 Wall Street (an addition to the back of the First National Bank building).  His business eventually occupied the upper two floors of the building comprising nearly 2000 square feet in addition to the 13’ x 18’ storefront.  Ten years later, the business grew to such an extent that Thomas needed a bigger building.  He purchased land across the street at 13 Wall Street and built a brick structure.  The new facility was considered the largest sheet metal works east of New York City.

In addition to repairing and cleaning stoves, ranges and heaters, Thomas installed metal work, such as gutters, tin ceilings and ventilating ducts at construction projects throughout the Island.  Local projects included Huntington High School, the Lowndes Avenue School, Central High School and the Hotel Huntington.  Thomas’ two brothers, Walter and Joseph, joined him and  in 1929 incorporated as Thomas H. Gorman Brothers, Inc.

In 1935, the business moved to Thomas’ home at 102 Woodbury Road, where he died in 1959.

The other Thomas Gorman was the son of Peter J. Gorman.  During the 1890s, Peter worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish hatchery.  In 1899, he purchased the saloon of James Garity on Wall Street.  James Garity’s wife was the sister of Peter Gorman’s wife.  The 1900 census identifies Peter as a saloon keeper.  In 1910, he was listed as working at a saw mill—in 1915 there was a notice that he had retired as an engineer at the Brookside Mill, which was a steam mill on the west side of New York Avenue, north of Main Street.  In 1920, Peter’s occupation was given as day labor; and in 1930 as a fish market dealer.  His sons, Daniel and Thomas meanwhile were identified as masons and later as plasterers. (In the 1915 New York State census, Daniel was identified as a trolley car conductor).

But in 1919, Thomas and Daniel Gorman purchased the Wall Street Fish Market.  A photograph of Gorman’s Lobster Grill shows an address of 6 & 8 Wall Street, meaning that the fish store was in the same building as the tinsmith shop.   It should be noted that the picture probably dates to after 1934 because italso advertised that there was “Beer on Draught.”  The 1922 Sanborn insurance map shows three stores in that location:  closest to Main Street is “Fish,” next is “Rest’rt,” and the northernmost store is “tin shop.”

Thomas F. Gorman of the fish market was a World War I veteran.  He, his brother, two sisters, his brother’s daughter and his mother lived in the brick house at the top of Carver Street.  Thomas continued to live there until the late 1960s when he moved to Walnut Creek, California, where his niece lived.  Thomas died in 1970.

The First National Bank building, which included the fish market and tin shop was torn down in the early 1950s.

Because their paternal grandfathers had the same name and they operated their businesses in the same building, it may be thought that the two Thoamses were related.  Perhaps their fathers—Peter and William—were brothers, making the two Thomases first cousins.  But the 1870 census, when William was 13 years old, does not list Peter, who was 5 years old that year.  Moreover, Peter’s mother’s name was Ellen; William’s mother’s name was Ann.   It seems just a coincidence that Thomas H. Gorman and Thomas F. Gorman shared a name, a grandfather’s name, and a business address.

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