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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.

 

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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

 

 

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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.

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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)

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

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

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

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

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

The Yale Unit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yale Unit at Huntington Bay

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

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

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

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

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

Brindley Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airmen of Brindley Field

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

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

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

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

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

Aerial View of Brindley Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Guards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Home Front

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

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

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

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

Poster for the Red Cross Pageant.

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

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

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

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

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

Surveillance Balloon at East Northport Factory

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

Armistice

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

Memorials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Three Huntingtonians who Fought

Leroy Randle Grumman (1895-1982)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 August Henry Galow (1892-1934)

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

 

 

 

 

 

Michael A. Connell (1890-1955)

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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A Theater is Reborn

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

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

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

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

The Huntington theater when it was new

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The extended floor and stage from the old balcony

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

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

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

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

A sold out crowd enjoys the show

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

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

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

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

The Founders Room

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Mercheen in the 175th Anniversary Parade.

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

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

The Wall Street Firehouse before the addition was built.

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

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

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

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

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

The Main Street Firehouse

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

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

The Huntington Fire Museum

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

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