Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

In 1965, the Town of Huntington placed a historical marker on the southwest corner of Main Street and Spring Road to commemorate Huntington’s Earliest Church:

Besides emphasizing a rather insignificant fact—the sales price—the marker compounded the error by using “LBS” to designate English currency instead of using the symbol £.

In September 2017, Harvey Spencer, an English ex-pat living in Northport, mentioned the error to me. Then a few months later another resident sent me an email complaining that “5 LBS is a measurement of weight, not money. 5 POUNDS should have been used, or perhaps the symbol. Most amusing, but reflects poorly on the town’s intellect.” Ouch.

As far as I know no one else had raised the issue in the 53 years the sign had been there—certainly not in the 18 years since I became Town Historian.

Of course, the English unit of currency originally did correspond to a unit of weight.  In the Middle Ages, silver coins were the common currency of several European countries. If one weighed 240 of those silver coins, he would find they weighed a pound.  Under the old system, a British Pound was made up of 20 shillings and each shilling was made up of 12 pence; or 240 pence to a Pound. After decimalization in 1971, a British Pound has only 100 pence, not 240. And a pound of silver is worth much more than a Pound (about 181 times more).

But that doesn’t excuse using Lbs in place of £. The lack of the proper symbol so offended Mr. Spencer that he and his wife Lesley agreed to pay for the not insubstantial cost of a new marker.

Surely, there must be something more to say about Huntington’s earliest church than the price it was sold for. Actually, there is not much more recorded about the original church. Nonetheless, the wording could be more complete:

The new mark recently installed on the southwest corner of Main Street & Spring Road.

One question still remained: exactly where was the first church building*?  As Al Sforza pointed out in his book Portrait of A Small Town II, Huntington, New York “In The Beginning,” there is some question in the historical record as to the location of Huntington’s first church building. Dr. Sforza cites three records to support a location on the north side of Main Street.

First, a footnote on page 306 of Volume II of the Town Records published in 1888, says the church was “on ‘meeting house brook’ (now Prime Avenue).” Since Prime Avenue is north of Main Street, this reference indicates the church was on the north side of Main Street. However, it is possible that the footnote refers to the road as it runs south of Main Street even though on the 1873 map of Huntington that road is labeled as Spring Street.

Another source, the 1882 History of Suffolk County, was written by Charles R. Street, who also provided the footnote above. That text asserts that the church stood “about where the thimble factory of Ezra C. Prime now stands.” The fact that the historical marker for Prime’s thimble factory is on the north side of the street seems to support the conclusion that the church was also on the north side of the street. However, by 1882, Ezra Prime had converted his first thimble factory on the north side of Main Street into a residence and had opened a second factory on the south side of Main Street.

The third reference is from Romanah Sammis’ 1937 book Huntington Babylon Town History, which states that the church was “on the north side of Oyster Bay Path and beside the stream which then became Meeting House Brook.” Mrs. Sammis may have been relying on Mr. Street’s statements.

In any event, each of these sources was written more than two centuries after the church was built and 167 years after it had been dismantled. In other words, there is no definitive support for either location, so the new marker was installed in the same location as the 1965 marker.

The current confusion about the location of the 1665 church mirrors the controversy about where to build a new church in 1715. As early as 1711, the townspeople agreed that a new church was needed. Forty men pledged various amounts ranging from £30 to 3 shillings to build the new church “in the hollow in the same place where the ould meeting house now standeth or near there abouts.” The total amount pledged was £228. 13s+. At the time, there were at least 132 heads of household living in Huntington.

No further reference to building a new church are found in the Town Records until four years later when notice was given to the inhabitants of town that “the Majer part of sd in habitants Doth agree to gitt timber for a new meeting house; to be sett upon the East hill.” So much for building in the hollow.

The dispute pitted the West End men against the East End men. The West Enders favored building in the hollow where the old church was. The East Enders wanted to build at the top of the hill to the east. It is hard to imagine that each side objected to having to walk an extra 200 yards up hill either before or after Sunday services. There must have been more to the dispute than a longer walk, but whatever it may have been has been lost to history.

By 1715, 14 of the men who had pledged to donate to build the new church in the hollow had changed their minds. There were an additional seven identified as “west end men” whose names had not appeared on the 1711 list who also consented to build the new church on the East Hill. Twenty-four of those who had pledged in 1711 did not consent to building on the East Hill; they were joined by 16 men who were not on the 1711 list of potential donors. So the supporters of building in the hollow remained at 40 in number, less than a third of the men of the town.

In March 1715, the East Enders suggested arbitration. Each side would select a minister and those two ministers would select a third to settle the matter after each side presented its case. The offer was made “for peace and quietness Sake that Soo we may be united amoung us and that wee may live to gether like Christians as wee ought to do.” The West Enders accepted the suggestion and by mid-April each side selected ten men to make its case before Mr. Magnis, minister of Jemeco (perhaps Jamaica), Mr. Pomarary, minister of Newtown and Mr. Wolcy, minister of Oyster Bay.

The ministers were apparently successful in resolving the dispute. In June 1715, the West End men agreed to locate the new church on the East Hill. It seems that they had previously taken matters into their own hands and began to build a new meetinghouse near the old church. As part of the agreement, the East End men agreed to reimburse the West End men for the expense in money and labor for erecting the framing for a new building and to move it to the hill. Once the new church was completed, the West End men “are to have Equall priveledge in and with the sd. House as if the whole town had built the sd. House in Equall proportion according to Estates.” The agreement was made “for uniting and Continuing us all in peace Love and unity.”

Two years later, Mr. Wolcy of Oyster Bay was invited to come to Huntington to assist Mr. Jones as minister of the new church. As for the old church, it was auctioned off to Jonas Platt, Jr. for £5. 2s. Mr. Platt was given a year to pay. What he did with the old building is not known.

And what of that new church built on the East Hill in 1715?  It served the community until the American Revolution.  At first the occupying British troops used the building as stable.  Then it was dismantled to build a fort on top of the Old Burying Ground.  Soon after the war, a third Old First Church was built.  It continues to be a place of worship today.


*  That original church or meetinghouse was built to comply with the newly enacted Duke’s Laws, promulgated by the Royal Governor soon after the English took control of the area from the Dutch. The Duke’s Laws provided that

Whereas the publique Worship of God is much discredited for want of painful & able Ministers to Instruct the people in the true Religion and for want of Convenient places Capable to receive any Number or Assembly of people in a decent manner for Celebrating Gods holy Ordinances These ensueing Lawes are to be observed in every parish (Viz.) 1. That in each Parish within this Government a church be built in the most Convenient part thereof, Capable to receive and accomodate two Hundred Persons.


+ To put that sum in perspective, in 1713, Jacob Conklin paid £96. 10s. 6d. for 2,792 acres of land in Half Hollow Hills. Charles Street notes in the Town Records (Vol. II, page 317 footnote), “How he acquired the large sums of money which he disbursed during this period in the purchase of lands was a mystery never fully solved.” According to legend, Conklin had been a member of the pirate Captain Kidd’s crew—either voluntarily or by force. At one point, Captain Kidd sailed into Cold Spring Harbor to replenish the ship’s water supply. Conklin, who had been born in Huntington, managed to escape with a tidy sum of money, which was either his wages or treasure he stole from the captain. Whether that’s true or not, it is a good story.

Read Full Post »

We are living in a historic time.  Never before have we experienced a pandemic like the current COVID-19 pandemic.  The closest event is the pandemic of 1918 (there are been three other pandemics in the last century, in 1957, 1968 and 2009).  With advances in medicine and public health policy, the connection between today and events a century ago may seem tenuous.  But sometimes the connections are personal and profound.  The first recorded death in Huntington from the 1918 influenza pandemic was Pasquale BiFulco, a 38 year old Italian immigrant who died at Huntington Hospital on October 13, 1918.  A century later, on April 1, 2020, Mr. BiFulco’s grandson, Dr. Al Sforza, the beloved historian of Huntington Station, died in the same hospital from COVID-19.

What was life like in Huntington during the 1918 pandemic?  What can we tell future generations about life during this crisis?

I will try to provide an answer to the first question.  I hope you will help to provide the answer to the second question.

The country was, of course, at war in 1918 and perhaps the worst of the pandemic was experienced in army camps.  The first cases in the United States were at an army base in Kansas in March of 1918.  At the end of September 1918, it was reported that there were 300 cases of influenza at Camp Mills in Nassau County, including one death.  A local doctor, Nathaniel Meyers, had left his thriving medical practice in Huntington to train as a surgeon in order to serve in Europe.  The 29 year old doctor died in New York City.  He is listed on the Town’s World War I monument at the Main Street entrance to the Old Burying Ground (at least three of the 39 Huntingtonians listed on the memorial died as a result of the pandemic).

As the trauma of the war subsided, the tragedy of the pandemic was accelerating.  In 1918, the Jos family lived on 8th St. in Huntington Station.  Nine year old Rose and her younger brother Joe contracted the flu.  Their mother Louisa used a conventional method of treating colds and applied mustard plasters to their chests.  The children recovered, but their mother became very ill.  Her husband and an older son raced to the nearest telephone which was located at Mullen’s Hotel near the train station.   Louisa died during the night on
November 8th before the doctor arrived the next morning.  She was 36 years old and left her husband with five children.  Rose Jos remembered watching her mother being taken away down the stairs; one of her brothers was crying.  She also remembered hearing all the church bells in the area ringing when her mother was laid out. It was Armistice Day.

The disease was known as the Spanish Flu not because it originated in Spain, but because Spanish newspapers were the first to report on the disease.  As a neutral country during World War I, Spanish journalists weren’t subject to censorship as journalists in the warring countries were.  Reporting on the pandemic was scarce in Germany, France and Britain.  (In Spain, the 1918 disease was referred to as the French Flu. We won’t get into a discussion of why the current disease is not the Chinese Flu.)

By late September, notices were published in the local papers to prevent “the alarming spread of the Spanish influenza all over the country.”  People were advised to “Keep out of crowds and away from theatres, movie houses and other places where people come together in large numbers.”  Use of handkerchiefs was encouraged.  Spitting was discouraged.  Those with colds were advised to gargle three times a day with a mix of “half a teaspoonful of table salt, half a teaspoonful of baking soda and six ounces of water.”

On October 4, The Long-Islander devoted one and a half columns to the Surgeon General’s report on the epidemic.  The report presented a review of previous epidemics back to 412 B.C. as well as the little that was known about the current manifestation of the disease.  The main step to be taken to avoid contracting the disease sounds familiar: avoid crowds.  However, unlike our current situation, the Surgeon General claimed that “the disease is too mild to make it advisable to stop all the activities of a city.”  He did recommend that “masks for sick-room attendants are advisable.”

Copies of this poster could be ordered from the Surgeon General’s office.

The Surgeon General concluded by noting, “The most dangerous form of human contact in the presence of epidemic influenza is, in all probability, that with coughers and sneezers.  Coughing and sneezing, except behind a handkerchief, is as great a sanitary offense as promiscuous spitting, and should be equally condemned.”  So much for asymptomatic spreaders of a virus.

The editor of The Long-Islander sought to allay people’s fears: “Don’t get frightened after reading that learned dissertation in our columns this week on Spanish influenza and take to your bed.  It is after all the old-fashioned grip and every time you cough or sneeze it does not signify you are going to have it.  Keep your courage up and avoid overcrowded cars and other meeting places.  Do not get too tired from overwork and eat moderately.  Live in the open air as far as possible.”

Two weeks later, the situation in Huntington took a turn for the worse.  By mid-October, it was reported that 151 children at the Union Free School in Huntington were home with influenza and four teachers were also sick.  One teacher, 22 year old Gertrude Ross, had died.  To put the impact of the disease in perspective, the graduating class of 1918 had 26 students, which means that the 151 sick students may have been about half the student population.  School officials asked Dr. Gibson, the Town’s Public Health Officer, whether they should close the schools.  Dr. Gibson said disease was “of a mild type” and advised that closing the schools was unnecessary, but that children showing symptoms of influenza should be sent home at once.  Within a week, the schools were ordered to be closed.

Pastors of the protestant churches in town canceled Sunday services.  The pastor of St. Hugh’s Catholic church held mass out on the lawn.

The shutdown didn’t last long.  Theatres and dance halls reopened on Saturday, November 2; churches on Sunday; and schools on Monday.  Time missed from school would be made up during the Christmas break and Lincoln’s birthday.

On November 8, the virus was reported to be “rapidly on the wane all over the country.”  The Huntington Board of Health was congratulated for taking the steps necessary to halt the spread of the disease.  A week later it was claimed that “the spread of influenza has been completely checked and there is no further danger.”

Another week passed and East Side School in Cold Spring Harbor had to be closed “owing to the sudden outbreak of the influenza in the village, several families being ill.”  By the end of the year, it was reported that “the influenza has broken out again in Commack and nearly every family has one or all members down with it.”  Before long, Teresa Rommandato of Commack had lost her husband, a son, and a daughter to the disease. Four other sons and two daughters survived and another son was born a few weeks later.

A notice from January 1919

During the course of the epidemic, like now, the shortage of nurses was noted.  People were also discouraged from hoarding–in 1918 it was coal that was in short supply.  Many miners had been sidelined by the disease.  Homeowners with wooded lots were encouraged to burn wood instead of coal.

Four months after declaring victory over the disease in November, the threat continued.  “It is said to be on the decrease just now on Long Island.  Let us hope it will soon run its course.”  The advice for staying healthy: “It is best not to overwork or what is more important, not to overeat.  Get full hours of sleep, avoid excitement and preserve a cheerful, sunny frame of mind.”

Although the basic advice to avoid crowds and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing remains true today as it was in 1918, our current experience of the disease is much different.  Other than for a few days in late October, public life did not pause in 1918.  People went about their daily routine until struck down by the virus.  And decisions about whether to close schools and other public gathering places was made on a local level, varying from town to town.  Now these decisions are made on a statewide basis and rather than recommendations, the edicts are mandatory.  Those failing to maintain social distancing (i.e. staying six feet from others) may be subject to a fine.

Because the archives are closed, I have not been able to see what documentation there is, if any, about people’s experiences during the 1918 pandemic.  What did they do, what did they think, how did it affect them?  These are the types of questions I hope you will help us to answer for future generations looking back on 2020 and the extraordinary measures we have taken.

The Association of Public Historians of New York State is seeking your help in recording how we came through this crisis:

We are living in a historic moment in time! The COVID-19 crisis is reshaping our daily lives and our communities. In the future, others will look back and learn from our experiences. This is why it is so important to begin recording the history of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on New York State’s people and communities. What is happening to us right now must not be forgotten! We need to document our experiences so that they can inform the response to future crises.

The Association is seeking answers to questions such as:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What are you hearing and seeing around you?
  • What are you doing, and what effect is this having on you, your family, your neighbors, and your community?
  • How is your life different now than it was before the pandemic?

To help you record your answers, the Association has prepared a Google Form, which can be found at https://forms.gle/ZUxePXJLcQC2fKCK8.  The form requires a Google account.  If you don’t have an account and don’t want to create one, you can leave a comment here or send an email to me at rhughes@huntingtonny.gov.

Thank you for your help.  Be well.  Stay Home.






Read Full Post »

Getting Here From There

Over the centuries, the road connection between the west and east sides of Cold Spring Harbor has varied.   Originally, the road ran over the meadow at the foot of the harbor. This right of way was later converted to a footpath and the road was moved to run over the dam that formed St. John’s Lake.

Because the road ran over the dam, the front door of St. John’s Church practically opened on to the road. The lake and dam were privately owned by members of the Jones and Hewlett families. They were responsible for keeping the road in good repair.

The road passing the front door of St. John’s Church

Even the best maintenance practices could not have saved the road from the washout on February 29, 1904 that broke the dam. The rush of water washed the bridge down to the gristmill on the east side of the harbor and soon created a breach 100 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The ponds at the Fish Hatchery were flooded allowing many fish to escape into the harbor. Town officials immediately began discussing whether to repair the dam or build a new roadway over the meadow where it had been originally.

The breach in the dam

A temporary footbridge was quickly built to allow access over the breached dam. This bridge flooded at high tide. Charles Walters, superintendent of the Fish Hatchery, ferried people across the stream. Carriages and wagon had to detour south through Woodbury or hazard the snow and ice to get to the upper dam at the second lake. The village milkman even made use of the never-used railroad embankment that ran through the valley.

The temporary footbridge

The decision to build a new road over the meadow was more or less settled within a few months. A formal meeting of the highway commissioners of Huntington and Oyster Bay was held in Hicksville in August 1904. The contract for a new concrete bridge was awarded unanimously. The expense of the new bridge was shared by the two Towns. Each Town was responsible for the road on its side of the bridge.

The Jones and Hewlett families as owners of the lake decided to hire the same contractors to rebuild the dam and a new bridge. That bridge is now used exclusively by the pastor of St. John’s Church and his family who live on the opposite side of the lake from the church.

The new bridge

The 1905 bridge was replaced in 1999 as part of a $6.7 million project to reconfigure Route 25A from the Lawrence Hill Road intersection past the top of Fish Hatchery Hill.

Read Full Post »

In 1957, a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was established in Amityville.  One of the early members was Naomi Williams Giffiths, who suggested the chapter be named after her ancestor Dr. Gilbert Potter (1725-1786), who had lived in Huntington village.  On Saturday, October 5, 2019, members of the Gilbert Potter chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution held a ceremony to honor the memory of Dr. Potter and his wife Elizabeth and to place special DAR markers on their graves.  Below is an account of these two American heroes. 

Gilbert Potter’s original headstone and the DAR tablets for him and his wife Elizabeth.

Gilbert Potter was born on January 8, 1725 in Huntington.  He studied medicine with Dr. Jared Elliot of Guilford, CT.   At the age of 20, he served as surgeon on a privateer against the French during King George’s War which was a sideline to the War of Austrian Succession.  Dr. Potter returned to Huntington and married Elizabeth Williams on February 23, 1749.

The Potters had seven children, only three of whom lived to adulthood.  A son named Peleg was born in May 1750 and died nine months later on February 27, 1751.  Another son was born a year and a day later and also named Peleg.  He died at age 13 in 1764.  His epitaph is moving:

To this sad Stone whoe’er thou art draw near
Here lies the Youth most loved the Son most dear
Who ne’er knew joy but Friendship might divide
Or gave his father Grief but when he died.

The couple’s third child, Sarah, lived to adulthood and married Captain William Rogers, who was lost in a storm on the Long Island Sound in October 1780.  Sarah died in 1823.

A second daughter, named after her mother, was born in 1758 and died before her second birthday.  A third son, Nathaniel, was born in 1761.   Nathaniel Potter was a silver smith who also served in the New York State Assembly and as a judge.  When he died in 1841, he left a generous bequest to further the education of indigent children.

Daughter Saraphina, was born in 1762.  She died at age 15 in 1782, when the British occupied a fort built at the top of the Old Burying Ground near the family plot.  Consequently, Saraphina is buried elsewhere in the cemetery.

Gilbert and Elizabeth’s last child, Martha, was born in 1764.  She married Gilbert Williams, who died in 1809.  Martha died in 1813, leaving behind several children, whom her bachelor brother Nathaniel raised.

In 1756, Gilbert Potter served as a captain during the French & Indian War at Ticonderoga. In 1758, he was put in charge of an army hospital in Schenectady.   After the war he returned to Huntington to continue his medical practice.

In February 1771, at a Town meeting it was decided that small pox inoculations could only be given by Gilbert Potter or Daniel Wiggins.  The two doctors had to provide a hospital to quarantine the inoculated.  Potter’s hospital was in Cold Spring Harbor.

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Dr. Potter was a leading advocate in Suffolk County for the patriot cause.   At a meeting in Smithtown on September 5, 1775, officers were chosen for the First or Western Regiment of Suffolk County.  Potter was elected Lieutenant Colonel.

A few months after his election as Lieutenant Colonel, as war with Great Britain became more likely, Potter wrote a letter to John Sloss Hobart, who was representing Suffolk County at the New York Provincial Congress.  Potter complained that the residents of Queens County (which at that time included what is now Nassau County) were opposed to the patriot cause and were working to undermine the effort.  He advocated for a force sufficient enough to subdue the loyalists in Queens.  He wrote:

Huntington, Dec 10, 75

SIR—You will receive this by Major Brush, who is appointed by the Committee to lay before the Congress, the state of the town as to their slackness in military preparations, as also that we have great reason to believe all methods are used by our neighbors to make them indifferent in this great contest.  We not only beg your advice but assistance, for it is my opinion, if there is not a sufficient number of men immediately sent to effectually subdue Queens Co., and to intimidate the people among us a great many from here will soon be in a little better condition than the rebels of Queens Co., which we have great reason to believe is making interest with our slaves and other servants.  I have exerted myself in my station but if nothing is done by your House, I must be obliged to desist; but as to myself as an individual, I am determined to live and die free.

 I am sir, your most humble servant,

 Gilbert Potter.

 To John S. Hobart Esq in Pro. Congress.


The next month, Gilbert Potter and 17 other prominent men were chosen as a war committee for Huntington.  When news of the Declaration of Independence arrived in Huntington on July 22, 1776, the citizens celebrated by burning an effigy of King George III on the Town Common and then continued the celebration at Platt’s Tavern where they drank thirteen patriotic toasts.  Dr. Potter gave a speech during which he quoted a poetic summary of the patriot cause:

Rudely forced to drink tea, Massachusetts in anger,

Spills the Tea on John Bull; John falls on to bang her,

Massachusetts, enraged, calls her neighbors to aid,

And give Master John, a severe bastinade,

Now good men of the law pray, who is in fault,

The one who began, or resents the assault?

As the Battle of Long Island commenced in Brooklyn in August 1776, Potter wrote a hasty letter to Brigadier General Nathaniel Woodhull.  Potter had just return to Huntington from Jamaica and reported being told that British ships had landed a number of troops near Wading River and began shooting cattle.  Potter expected the British ships to arrive in Huntington the next day.  Potter mustered the militia to prepare to defend the town.  He concluded by reporting that “Our women are in great tumult.”

The next day Potter sent 100 men to Jamaica to assist General Woodhull in driving cattle on the Hempstead Plain to keep them falling into British hands.  The effort was unsuccessful and Woodhull was killed.

After Huntington was occupied by British and Loyalists forces on September 1, 1776, residents were ordered to swear an oath of allegiance to the king.  A majority of the male inhabitants of Huntington—549 to be exact—signed the oath of allegiance.  Gilbert Potter was not one of those 549 men.  Instead he fled to Connecticut.

Dr. Potter was in his fifties during the war and is believed to have confined his activities to clandestine operations.  He would reportedly sneak back into to Huntington from Connecticut to visit his wife and family and to spy on the British troops.  Although not part of the now famous Culper Spy Ring, Dr. Potter provided a similar service for the patriot cause.

In the meantime, Elizabeth took care of the family and also assumed her husband’s medical practice.  She was reported to be as good a doctor as he was.  One of the patients she treated was a young English sailor named Hardy, who was not much older than her teenage son Nathaniel.  Midshipman Hardy, who was stationed on a British navy ship in Huntington Bay, somehow contracted smallpox.  He was taken to the smallpox hospital on Park Avenue where Elizabeth Potter tended to him.  She eventually had him moved to her house on Wall Street where she continued to care for him and where he struck up a friendship of sorts with her teenage son.  Eventually, the sailor fully recovered and returned to his ship.

After the war, Dr. Potter returned to Huntington and resumed his medical practice.  He died in 1786 and Elizabeth died in 1811.  But the story doesn’t end with their deaths.

Shortly after Elizabeth died, the United States was again at war with Great Britain.  Again, British war ships patrolled the waters off Long Island.  By now Nathaniel Potter, Gilbert and Elizabeth’s son, was a successful silversmith and also owned a sloop called the Amazon.  On a trip from Huntington to Albany, the Amazon was seized by the British.  One of the crew on the Amazon was Nathaniel Potter’s nephew Henry.

The young American sailor was vocal in denouncing the British.  He damned the British, their flag, and the Commodore, who put Henry in irons.  Nathaniel Potter was taken out to the ship to ransom his ship back from the British and look after his nephew.  He was shocked to see that the commander of the British fleet was the same sailor his mother had tended to during the Revolution more than 30 years earlier.  Realizing who the intemperate American was, Commodore Hardy ordered him released.  The next day, the Commodore hosted Nathaniel Potter at a lavish dinner on board the British ship where he gave a glowing tribute to the woman who had saved his life.


Read Full Post »

There are 125 historical markers throughout the Town of Huntington.  Each has a story to tell.  Probably only one is the subject of a 358 page book by a New York Times bestselling author.

In some ways, Isaac Ketcham may have been the most influential Huntingtonian during the years the country fought for independence from Great Britain.  That’s because he alerted authorities to a plot to kill George Washington in the months leading up to the Declaration of Independence and the Battle of Long Island.

It is a story visitors to Firemen’s Park in Cold Spring Harbor may be aware of thanks to the historical marker there, but few, if any, know the full story.

Isaac Ketcham

A new book by the History Channel’s Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch gives much more detail about the story than the few words on the marker.  Ketcham, a widower with six children, was recruited by brothers Israel and Isaac Young (or Youngs) of Cold Spring Harbor to purchase the special paper needed for their counterfeiting scheme.  Even though Ketcham had a change of heart at the last minute and never secured the paper, he was arrested and imprisoned in Manhattan.  While in jail, he overheard other prisoners talking about a plot to assassinate Washington.  Ketcham alerted the authorities and the assassination plot was foiled.

You can read a much more detailed version of the story in Meltzer’s book, which tends to repeat itself in the way many television history programs do for the benefit of those who may have forgotten a previous segment during the commercial breaks.  The story could have been told in half as many pages, but the book is a quick read nonetheless.

The story was previously told in the pages of the Long Island Forum (“Cold Spring Harbor Mysteries #1 The Counterfeit Plot of 1776,” by Andrus T. Valentine, August 1979); The Journal of Long Island History (“Long Island’s Revolutionary Counterfeiting Plot,” by Edward J. Smits, Volume II, Number 1, Spring 1962); and The New York Historical Society Quarterly (“Narratives of the Revolution in New York,” page 143, et seq., 1975).

Poor Isaac Ketcham.  The important role he played in the early months of the Revolution was almost lost to history, he was arrested for a crime he never committed, and even his first name is wrong on the historical marker.


First Conspiracy



Read Full Post »

The Great Depression of the 1930s affected Huntington as much as any place else in the country.  And various New Deal relief efforts were utilized here as well.   For example, Toaz Junior High School in Huntington Station and the Larkfield Avenue School in East Northport were built as WPA projects.  Another popular New Deal program was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided employment for unmarried young men.  In 1934, a CCC camp was established on an old horse farm behind what is now the Walt Whitman Mall.

Historical marker on New York Avenue near Saddler Court.

The property that eventually became the CCC camp was occupied for at least 80 years before the federal government made use of it.  The earliest deed found for this property is dated May 2, 1851 (Liber 64, page 249).  David Ketcham conveyed 100 acres to Jeffery Smith of Huntington for $2,500.  The property was bounded on the west by the road from the Turnpike towards the house of Oliver Baylis (i.e. Old South Path, now New York Avenue); on the south by Timothy Carll’s land; on the east partly by the highway from Long Swamp to Wolf Hill (i.e. Melville Road) and partly by land formerly belonging to John Carll, deceased; and on the north partly by land formerly belonging to John Carll and partly by land of Henry Hendrickson.

The deed conveyed the land together with the building thereon.  Smith borrowed money in 1854 and 1855 secured by mortgages on the property.  It is possible that Smith borrowed the money to build a new house on the property.  This would be consistent with the conclusion reached by the Historic Preservation Commission following an inspection of the house on the property.  The physical evidence—sawn spruce framing, rubble foundation topped with brick, pre-Victorian styling—points to a construction date in the 1850s.   J. Smith appears as the owner of a structure in this area on the 1858 atlas.

Smith sold the property to John O’Neill of Brooklyn for $3,000 in 1861 (Liber 115, page 229).  Apparently O’Neill defaulted on the mortgages and the property was sold at public auction on the steps of the Suffolk Hotel in March 1871.  The successful bid of $300 was made by Russell W. Adams of Brooklyn, to whom the $1,400 mortgage had been assigned (Mortgage Liber 121, page 368).  Just a year later Adams sold the property to William Peet of Manhattan for $8,250 (Liber 184, page 187).

Some time in the decade following his purchase of the property, Peet died and the property was sold by his executors to William P. Book and James S. Book, both of Jamestown, NY, in 1882 for $6,500 (Liber 265, page 239).  The sale was subject to a $3,000 mortgage given in 1875 (Mortgage Liber 121, page 362) and a lease of the property to Joseph S. Baitter from June 1881 to March 1884.

In 1894, William P. Book (still of Jamestown) and James S. Book (now of Huntington) conveyed the property to Ella J. Book, wife of James Brook for $6,000 subject to two mortgages totaling $3,000 (Liber 414, page 401).  A year later Ella Book leased the property to D.O. Lang of Brooklyn for nine months beginning June 1, 1895 (Liber 426, page 463).  Lang agreed to pay $250 in rent and was given the option to purchase the property for $5,250: $3,000 cash accompanied by a $2,250 mortgage.  The lease refers to timberlands as well as ploughed fields.  Lang was permitted to cut timber for his own use as firewood or fencing.  He was also authorized to make alterations to box stalls 10 to 22, but had to restore them at the end of the lease.  Evidently, the property was now being used to raise animals—a subsequent deed identifies the property as the Suffolk County Stock Farm.

A year after the conveyance to Ella Book, she and her husband sold the property to Charles Cyril Hendrickson of Queens for $4,800 (Liber 437, page 464).  By this time, the property was known as the Suffolk County Stock Farm (The Long-Islander, January 4, 1896).  Hendrickson, who was in the construction business (he had the contract for erecting the Cullum Memorial Building at West Point (The Long-Islander, February 29, 1896)), worked to improve the property.  By the beginning of 1896, he had had the house, barns and stables painted and repaired.  He also began clearing out the woods and had plans to install a steam engine in the barns for pumping water and heating.  The farm featured a half-mile track for the 18 horses Hendrickson had on the farm—a number he intended to increase (The Long-Islander, January 4, 1896).  Apparently, Hendrickson defaulted on a loan and the property was put up for auction at the front door of the Huntington House.  A gentleman named Hyde submitted the winning bid of $5,000 (Liber 471, page 539).

Soon thereafter, Hyde, who was by then living in Massachusetts, was declared incompetent.  In 1903, the property was sold by his agent Edmund Hyde to John T. Leiper of Hempstead for $5,000 subject to a $2,500 mortgage (Liber 540, page 338).  The description of the property is similar to the description in the 1851 deed except that the names of the neighboring owners have been changed and the acreage is now given as 88 acres instead of 100.

Leiper was born in Pennsylvania in 1867 and played professional baseball in Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Oregon.  After he retired from baseball in the 1890s, he came to Long Island and lived on the grounds of the Meadow Brook Club where he served as huntsman.  After he acquired the property in Huntington, he raised and trained horses and hounds that he used in hunts throughout the then open countryside in Dix Hills, West Hills and Half Hollow.  He also raised gamecocks.

In 1931, he was elected Justice of the Peace for the Town of Huntington as a Democrat.  He was not re-elected in 1935 and was also unsuccessful in 1937.  He served as a commissioner of the South Huntington Water District from 1937 to 1954.  In his later years he returned to Pennsylvania where he died in 1960.  (The Long-Islander, August 1960).

An aerial view of the CCC Camp.

Perhaps due to his political connections, Leiper’s property was chosen as the site of the Civilian Conservation Corps camp from 1934 to 1938.  Considered one of the most successful New Deal projects, the CCC operated in a military style to undertake environmental improvement projects.  On Long Island, the CCC was concerned with Gypsy moth eradication.

By the 1950s, the Leiper property was being subdivided.  Leiper held onto about an acre and a half until 1959 when he sold to Vito and Louis Porcelli (Liber 4684, page 561).  The old 1850s farmhouse was replaced by a new house a few years ago.

Read Full Post »

In 2019, Huntington will mark the 366th anniversary of its founding. The number of years of Huntington’s existence matches the number of days in a leap year. That realization led to an exercise in visualizing the Town’s history in terms of a calendar year. In other words, if each year of Huntington’s history were a day in the calendar, the First Purchase would be January 1; last year, 2018, would be December 31.

What would the rest of the year look like?  Here are a few notable milestones.

January 4, Second Purchase (1656)

January 5, First school (1657)

January 6, First church established (1658)

January 12, British seize New Amsterdam from the Dutch (1664)

January 14, Governor Richard Nichols issues a Patent defining Huntington’s borders. (1666)

January 31, Suffolk County established (1683)

April 5, St. John’s Church established (1748)

April 18, Jupiter Hammon becomes the first published African American poet (1761)

May 1, Huntington adopts the Declaration of Rights (1774)

May 3-10, Huntington occupied by British troops during the American Revolution (1776-1783)

May 11, Current Old First Church building erected (1784)

May 17, George Washington visits Huntington (1790)

June 15, Walt Whitman born in West Hills (1819)

June 24, Huntington Methodist Church built on Main Street (1828)

July 2, Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company formed (1836)

July 4, Whitman starts The Long-Islander newspaper (1838)

July 9, Bethel A.M.E. Church established (1843)

July 15, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church established (1849)

July 21, Whitman published Leaves of Grass (1855)

July 27-31, The Civil War (1861-65)

August 3, Long Island Rail Road reaches Huntington (1868)

August 8, Babylon Town separated from Huntington (1873)

August 10, Huntington Library Association formed (1875)

August 28, Electric service arrives in Huntington (1893)

August 29, Northport Village incorporated (1894)

September 7, Huntington celebrates its 250th anniversary and the Huntington Historical Society is formed (1903)

September 10, First synagogue established (1906)

September 12, Long Island Motor Parkway constructed, Huntington first park (Halesite Park) created (1908)

September 14, Old Town Hall built (1910)

September 15, LeRoy Grumman graduates from Huntington High School (1911)

September 20, Huntington Hospital built (1916)

September 21, First paved road (New York Avenue from main Street to the train station) in Huntington (1917)

September 22, One of the first two women elected to NYS Assembly (Ida Bunce Sammis) is from Huntington (1918)

September 24, Heckscher Museum dedicated (1920)

September 28, Village Huntington Bay incorporated (1924)

September 29, Village of Asharoken incorporated (1925)

September 30, Village of Lloyd Harbor incorporated (1926)

October 2, Huntington’s first Planning Board appointed (1928)

October 12, First woman elected to Huntington Town Board (1938)

November 3, Huntington Police Department merges into the Suffolk County Police Department (1960)

December 6-30, Frank Petrone serves as Town Supervisor (1993-2017)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »