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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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Votes for Women!

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

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

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

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

The Spirit of 1776

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

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

The Spirit of 1776 at Long Beach

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

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

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

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

The Spirit of 1776 at the New York Museum

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

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

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

 

 

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A Teich House

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

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

The Teich House on Academy Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point Siesta in 1909

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The house in March 2018

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

The house in April 2018

 

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

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Hail to the Chiefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] New York Times, July 9, 2010

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

[15] Newsday, September 9, 2016.

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In 1906, August Heckscher purchased a large part of the Prime property at the northeast corner of Main Street and Prime Avenue (see the previous post, Mr. Prime’s Thimble Factories).[1]    Mr. Hecksher’s initial plans for the property are not known.  Eventually, the bulk of this land would become one of the greatest gifts the people of Huntington ever received.

Mr. Heckscher’s first philanthropic use of the property came two years after his purchase.  In 1908, a proposal to replace the wooden 1858 Union School building across the street from Mr. Heckscher’s property with a modern brick building was being considered.  The new building (which today is Town Hall) would be in the same location as the old building.  Moving the old school building to a different part of the property was impractical.  Mr. Heckscher offered a solution: classes could be held in the old Prime mansion free of charge.  The large rooms and wide halls of the mansion were big enough to accommodate the high school classes and perhaps one or two grammar classes until the new building was ready.[2]  The new high school building was completed in January 1910.[3]

At the east end of the old Prime farm along Sabbath Day Path, a baseball field was laid out and as early as 1910 the Huntington Baseball Club played their home games there.

A few years later, Mr. Heckscher, working with the newly formed YMCA of Huntington, transformed the eastern side of the Prime property into a more diverse mix of athletic facilities including tennis courts, a running track, baseball diamond, and soccer field.[4]  The six acre fields were made available to the residents of Huntington during the summer of 1914.  In September, Mr. Heckscher announced plans to give the fields to an incorporated, self-perpetuating organization, which was made up of the same men who organized the local YMCA.  The property was transferred in 1915 to the Recreation and Playground Association, which immediately announced plans to raise funds to make improvements and to hire an athletic director.[5]

The Prime Mansion made available by Mr. Heckscher for use by the High School and the North Shore Holiday House.

Meanwhile Mr. Heckscher made the old Prime mansion available for use as part of the Fresh Air Fund organized by the New York Tribune.  The two week camp gave underprivileged girls from the city a two week stay in the country.  Five sessions were held, accommodating 25 girls in each session.   This effort eventually grew into the still operating North Shore Holiday House, which utilized the Prime Mansion during the summers of 1914 and 1915.

In 1914, when Huntington’s leading citizens were exploring options for a hospital in town, Mr. Heckscher suggested transforming the old Prime mansion for that purpose.[6]  A few months later Cornelia Prime settled the question of where the new hospital would be located by purchasing land nearby on Park Avenue and making it available for a new hospital.

Then in August 1915, Mr. Heckscher announced plans to transform most of the remaining property (other than the athletic fields) into a park. The pond that Ezra Prime had created fifty years earlier as a trout pond and a source of ice, would be deepened and enlarged, and stocked with fish.  Small islands in the pond would be connected to the mainland by rustic bridges.  A Swiss chalet would be built.  A driveway would transverse the park from Sabbath Day Path to New York Avenue.  It was anticipated that when completed Mr. Heckscher would present the park to the town.[7]

The man chosen to lead the physical transformation of the land was Roland Von Waldburg.  He was born in Brunswick, Germany in 1873.  He came to the United States in 1897.  He became a citizen in Pennsylvania in 1900 and was living in North Hempstead in 1910.  He had an engineering and contracting business in Flushing before coming to Huntington, where he was superintendent of Rosemary Farm, the Roland Conklin estate in West Neck that is now the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception.[8]  He also later worked on the Roosen estate in Greenlawn known as Laurel Lodge.

Mr. Von Waldburg favored the use of large boulders to create rustic landscapes as can be seen in the amphitheater at Rosemary Farm, the stone entrance gates at Laurel Lodge, and most significantly at Heckscher Park, which features stone entrance gates, a stone cottage, a stone gazebo, and a stone fountain.  The landscape designer is credited with planning and carrying out “to the minutest detail the wonderful amount of labor which makes possible the feast to the eye of those who visit this delightful pleasure resort.”[9]

View of Hecksher’s Park showing the stone gazebo and the stone cottage.

Workmen excavating the park to realize Mr. Von Waldburg’s design found silver coins, some with Napoleon’s image engraved on them.  It was supposed that these coins had been intended to be melted down by Ezra Prime to be turned into thimbles.[10]

A specific opening day for Heckscher’s Park, as it was originally known, has not been determined, but the July 28, 1916 edition of The Long-Islander included a poem by F.W. Webber extolling the virtues of the park.  Two lines from that poem were placed on a bronze plaque affixed to a boulder near the entrance to the Park from Main Street and Prime Avenue:

Here coming generations, seeking rest,

Mid verdure, bloom and overarching trees,

From Nature’s loveliness will draw new zest,

New inspiration from the perfumed breeze.

The park was opened to the public by the fall of 1916, but the work was not completed.  The stone fountain was not completed until May 1917.[11]  Work on the stone retaining wall around the shores of the pond was also continuing.  And the planting of trees from the Heckscher estate at Wincoma continued in the spring of 1917.[12]  Even in its incomplete state, at least two postcard views of the park had been published.

Mr. Heckscher hired Lars Reitan, an immigrant from Norway, to be superintendent of the park.  Mr. Reitan, who lived in the stone cottage by the lake, quickly became well-liked by the residents of town.  One Huntingtonian was even moved to write a poem about the new Superintendent:

Lover of Nature, with her, hand in hand

Amid her work he toils from day to day,

Rendering service neath her gentle sway

Such as will make more beautiful the land.

 

Rich in the skill that makes the soil obey

Each order that his busy mind has planned;

In leaf and bloom, tree, plant and flower stand

Thriving apace in beautiful array;

And Heckscher Park he makes a Paradise.

None can behold save with admiring eyes.

That the first letter of each lined spelled out the Superintendent’s name impressed him even more.[13]

Ice skating on the pond.

Ice skating on the pond was very popular that first winter of 1916-17.  When Superintendent Reitan hoisted the red ball, it was safe to skate.  The next summer, fresh water swimming was the attraction.[14]  There were ten bathhouses (five for women and five for men) available for a small fee and a diving platform.  Swimmers could also rent a bathing suit from the Superintendent.  Row boats were also available for rent.

Boating on Heckscher Pond.

Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher invited the Town Board to dinner for the Town Board at his estate at Wincoma, where he would outline an offer to donate the new park to a Trust to be established for that specific purpose.   He promised to provide an endowment of $70,000 (about $1.465 million in 2017).  He suggested giving 700 preferred shares of the American-La France Fire Engine Company, which paid 7% for an annual income of $4,900 ($102,000 in 2017 dollars).  Mr. Heckscher offered a list of alternative stocks or bonds, but the suggested stock was met with favor.[17]  The offer of an endowment was very welcome in light of the difficulty in raising funds to maintain the adjoining athletic fields.  Heckscher had set aside $12,000 as an endowment for that property, expecting residents to raise a matching amount.[18]

The actual gift of the park was made a day after Christmas 1917.  In a deed signed by August and Nannie Heckscher, the new 12.372-acre park was transferred to nine of Huntington’s leading citizens, including Supervisor Field (Town Supervisors were ex officio members of the Board), as trustees of the Heckscher Trust. The purpose of the trust was to hold and maintain the new park “exclusively for charitable and educational purposes in the form of a park or playground for the use and benefit of the public and especially of the school children of said Town of Huntington.”  Among other things, the board was authorized “to provide occasional music for the pleasure and instruction of the people.”

The trustees were to submit an annual report to the Town Board and the Town Board was given some say on filling vacancies on the Trust’s board.  The deed also specified that the park was to be known as Heckscher Park.  Reportedly, Mr. Heckscher’s original intent was to use the name Huntington Park, “but the popular sentiment overruled his intention and Heckscher Park is so called because the people would call it by no other name.”[19]

The most interesting provision of the deed was the right given to the trustees “to cut and collect ice from the lake in said park, and arrange for the storage thereof, and it shall distribute the same free of charge to the poor of the Town of Huntington.”  It is unknown if this power was ever exercised by the trustees.

The 1917 map of the area shows the Park and Community Fields as two distinct entities.

As promised, Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher donated 700 preferred shares of American-La France Fire Engine Company, Inc. at $100 par value per share, or $70,000 in total.  Mrs. Heckscher later added another $100,000 to the endowment.[20]  Following his wife’s death in 1924, Mr. Heckscher donated an additional $50,000 in the form of 500 shares of Anahma Realty Corporation, the company through which Mr. Heckscher owned his income producing properties in Manhattan.[21]  It should be noted that these values represent the par value of the stock, not necessarily the market value.  Long term government bonds issued to help underwrite the cost of World War I yielded 3% interest.  Assuming the yield on these shares would be the same, the market value of the initial gift would have had a market value of $163,333.  The endowment was further augmented by a bequest in the will of Willard Baylis, a prominent Huntington attorney who had served as president of the Heckscher Trust.  Mr. Baylis left $1,000 to the Trust.[22]  The market value of these gifts may have been as much as half a million dollars, the equivalent in today’s dollars of about $7,000,000.

The Long-Islander greeted the gift enthusiastically and predicted that “The character of the trustees named in the deed are a guarantee that the trust will be administered wisely and with care and diligence.”[23]

The formal dedication of the park took place on Decoration Day (May 30), 1918.  The morning was filled with the usual Decoration Day activities, e.g. a parade and decorating of veterans’ graves.  The afternoon was devoted to a celebration of the new park with speeches by the donor, Supervisor Field, School Superintendent Robert Toaz, and Dr. S. Parker Cadman.  Mr. Heckscher modestly deflected the praise heaped on him:

In the evolution of this little Park which to-day goes to our people and most of all to the little children, I have had so much satisfaction and so much pleasant anticipation that I am entitled to no praise; and I believe I am speaking for Mrs. Heckscher also when I say that the gift has been for both of us one of unalloyed gratification.[24]

The Park’s dedication rock.

A bronze tablet affixed to a large boulder had been placed in the park in time for the dedication.  The tablet repeated the words Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher had used when they first made the offer to donate the park to the people of Huntington the previous summer.  Their letter had said the park would be for the little birds that migrate and the children who, fortunately, do not.

One important feature of the park was still missing.  The Heckschers’ plans for a museum of fine art had to be put on hold due to material and labor shortages arising from the American entry into World War I in April 1917.  By August 1918, with the war winding down, Mr. Heckscher announced that he had completed plans for the museum.  Construction on the $128,000 ($2.25 million dollars in 2017) building would begin “as soon as the rush of war work is over so that the material needed may be had.”[25]

At the same time, it was also announced that the Park and the Community Field would be united under the ownership of one board.  This combination made the income from the Heckscher Trust endowment available to maintain the Community Field, where the grandstand was in need of repairs.[26]  The Recreation and Playground Association transferred the Community Field to the Heckscher Trust in April 1919.

The Fine Arts Museum

The corner stone for the classical style museum building designed by Maynicke & Franke[27] was laid on May 21, 1919.  The following year, on July 10, 1920, it was dedicated as a gift to the citizens of Huntington on a perfect summer day during which thousands of people came to hear speeches and thank Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher for their continuing generosity.  According to William McAdoo, former secretary of the Treasury and a summer resident of Huntington Bay, in the aftermath of the destruction of the Great War, the gift was not just to the people of Huntington; “it is made to the whole country, to the entire world in fact, for it is an example and an inspiration.”[28]

Perhaps memories of the recent war affected reactions to the gift, but the museum was seen as much more than a building in which to hang pictures.

If the lesson of the occasion is taken to heart the people of Huntington, now and in the future, will accentuate the broad significance of the Heckscher gift by striving to make the town, even more than the Heckschers have made it, a center from which will radiate the spirit of human brotherhood and social uplift.[29]

August Heckscher speaking at the July 10, 1920 dedication ceremony.

August Heckscher accepted the gratitude of the crowd with characteristic modesty.  At 3:00, as the dignitaries took their seats after a 90 minute concert by the 35 piece Seventy-first Regiment band, they were greeted to a surprise fireworks show.  The aerial bombs from high in the air released a large American flag and a streamer that bore the inscription “Heckscher Park.”  When Mr. Heckscher rose to speak, the band played “Hail to the Chief.”  Mr. Heckscher referred to his modest collection of paintings that he did not wish to see scattered to the four winds.  He almost made it sound like Huntington were doing him a favor by keeping the collection together.

Of course, the Heckschers were always mindful of the children.  It is not surprising that while the adults toured the new building, the children “were treated to ice cream, cake and orangeade.”

Museum Interior

The fountain, “Youth Eternal” that sits in the circular alcove at the west end of the museum lobby was not completed until two months after the dedication.  The three children in the sculpture represent the Heckschers’ grandchildren.[30]

Lars Reitan continued to serve as superintendent of the park.  In fact, he would oversee the park until his retirement in 1948.  In 1935, he was also appointed to the Board of the Heckscher Trust.  But the intervening years were not without their share of conflict.  Financial pressure on the endowment brought on by the Great Depression put a strain on the park’s operations.

The Depression eroded the value of the Trust’s endowment.  In the early 1930s, the income produced by the endowment had fallen too low for the Trust to maintain the park and museum.  August Heckscher asked Town Supervisor William Watt to make up the shortfall with town funds.  The Supervisor refused, arguing the Town could not spend taxpayer money on property it did not own.  Mr. Heckscher promised to repay the Town when the investments recovered.  Based on the opinion of Town Counsel Fred J. Munder (later to be a county judge), the Supervisor reluctantly allocated $3,000 to help maintain the Trust’s property.[31] The Huntington School District, which used the athletic fields for its teams and physical education classes, also allocated funds for maintenance of the park.  An income and expense report for 1933 shows dividend revenue from the endowment of $1,125.85 and $3,000 from the Town.  Tennis Court rentals brought in another $360.50.  Expenses were $3,787.82, including $1,500 for the Superintendent’s salary.

By 1935, the Town’s allocation increased to $5,000; along with $1,000 from the school district.  The 1935 report showed no income from the endowment.[32]  In fact, no income from the endowment was reported between 1935 through 1937.  In 1938, endowment income amounted to only $618, less than 10% of that year’s total expenditures.  The value of the endowment by the end of 1943 had been reduced to $18,230.  Without access to the records of the Trust it is impossible to determine how much of this reduction is a result of the sale of some investments to cover expenses, or simply a loss of value caused by the Depression.  The value of the 500 shares of Anahma Realty Corp that Mr. Heckscher donated in 1924 in memory of his wife had fallen from $50,000 to just $2,750.

Supervisor Watt was also able to allocate WPA funds for improvements to the athletic fields in 1934.  Two years later, however, Mr. Heckscher was concerned about a $12,000 project to complete the tennis courts as a WPA project.  He asked Ira Lewis, the Supervisor of Local projects for the WPA, to hold off on that project because he feared the Trust would not be able to repay such a large amount.[33]

Nonetheless, with the Town’s support, which grew to $6,000 a year, the Park remained open throughout the Depression.  The doors to the museum, however, were kept locked; “but there is an obliging curator [i.e. Park Superintendent Reitan] who will unlock them cheerfully and with no desire for gain.”[34]

August Heckscher, who had sold his Huntington Bay estate in 1923, died in 1941.  By that time the Park seems to have become somewhat overgrown and visitation was down.  In June, the Trust’s Board “felt that steps should be taken to increase the public interest in the splendid gift of the Park and the Museum which Mr. Heckscher had established for the benefit of the people of Huntington.”[35]  Three sub-committees were formed, each aligned with one aspect of Mr. Heckscher’s gift:  The Fine Arts Committee, Parks Committee, and Playground and Athletic Field Committee.

The most far reaching recommendations seem to have come from the Fine Arts Committee, which was headed by Albert Delmont Smith, a painter turned art historian.  Mr. Smith was the first professional associated with the care of the museum’s collection.  Previously that responsibility had fallen to the Park Superintendent Reitan, who had a background in landscaping, not paintings.  Residents were incensed to learn that the committee proposed changes to the museum displays and, even worse, holding public art sales in the museum.  In 1944, a petition submitted to the new Town Supervisor Walter Fasbender demanded that the paintings moved to storage “be returned to the walls of the Fine Art Building in Heckscher Park, in the manner in which Mr. Heckscher left them and desired them to be hung there in their entirety permanently.”[36]  William Hartmann, claiming to represent 2,000 residents as the Managing Director of the Huntington Civic Planning Association, sent a letter to Charles Noyes, president of the Trust, claiming that August Heckscher “declared himself emphatically averse to permitting the use of the walls of his museum for any exhibit of paintings other than those of his own collection.”[37]

Despite the objections, the Trustees voted at their January 2, 1943 meeting to allow the exhibit of paintings on loan from other museums.  The first exhibit of loaned paintings opened on May 22, 1943 with 21 paintings from American artists, including Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, and William Merritt Chase, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[38]  Perhaps to help assuaged the hurt feelings of those opposed to the display of loaned art, the Trustees used the opening of the exhibit to unveil a portrait of August Heckscher that had been in storage at the museum for 20 years.[39]

The Park Superintendent was also unhappy with some of the proposed changes, even though he was also a member of the Heckscher Trust Board of Trustees.  Although Mr. Reitan apparently did not share his disagreement with his fellow trustees at Board meetings, he did share his displeasure with fellow residents.  After he abruptly left a meeting at which his status as an employee and trustee was discussed, the Board voted to remove him as Superintendent.  At a subsequent meeting to consider removing Mr. Reitan from the Board, he voluntarily resigned from the Board, but asked to be retained as Superintendent.[40]  He worked four more years until his retirement in April 1948 due to ill health.[41]

Mr. & Mrs. Reitan in the stone cottage

Mr. Reitan, who had favored maintaining the beauty of the Park over increasing visitation, was given a $75 a month pension by the Trust.  The Town Parks Department assumed responsibility for maintaining the park and the cottage, in which Mr. Reitan had lived for over 30 years, was to be made available to the Town Recreation Committee, otherwise known as the YMCA.  It was reported that refreshments would be available at the cottage for park visitors.[42]   Mr. Reitan moved to a house on Madison Street across from the entrance to the park.  He died in 1954.

By 1948, J. Taylor Finley, chairman of the Athletic and Park Committee, could report “that the park was being used as never before.”  It was used even more in 1949.  The uses included the first High School commencement in the park, the Police Athletic Association’s annual boxing matches, the Municipal Band Concerts on the steps of the museum and musicals held in the museum.  The YMCA ran its summer camp for 210 children between the ages of 7 and 11.  Baseball leagues and a basketball league rounded out the frequent users of the park.  “Also,” Mr. Finley reported, “more people are ‘just visiting’ the park, all of which I believe was intended by Mr. Heckscher when he gave this beautiful spot to the town.”[43]

Use of the park continued to increase.  It was estimated that in 1952, 100,000 people would visit the park, including the average of 50 children a day who made use of the new wading pool donated by the Huntington Rotary Club.[44]  The park was truly a center of activity in the Town of Huntington.  When plans were being made by the Huntington Tercentenary Committee to celebrate the Town’s 300th anniversary in 1953, the logic place to hold the anniversary pageant was in Heckscher Park.  The committee, chaired by Robert L. Simpson, secured permission from the Heckscher Trust to use the park from June 25 to July 7.[45]

A year before the Tercentenary Committee requested use of Heckscher Park, a local attorney raised serious objections to the use of Town funds to maintain the park.  Albert M. Levert of Centerport had earned a reputation as a gadfly with his lawsuit challenging the Town’s purchase of 22 acres in Centerport for use as a Town beach.  Mr. Levert was such an irritant to the powers that be that someone in Town Hall prepared a summary of the nine lawsuits initiated by Mr. Levert against the Town between 1951 and 1955.

In the midst of the Centerport beach lawsuit, Mr. Levert appeared at the Town Board’s budget hearing on November 1, 1951.  The meeting at the Woodbury Avenue School was sparsely attended and lasted all of 15 minutes.  Yet Mr. Levert managed to strike fear in some Town employees, who worried he might take steps that would tie up their salaries.  His main complaint about the 1952 budget was that it continued to allocate taxpayer money for the maintenance of the privately owned park.  Since 1936, when the Town first adopted formal annual budgets, the Town Board allocated $6,000 a year for maintenance of Heckscher Park.  By 1946, the allocation was $8,000; and the 1952 budget included $14,500 for the park.  Not only was the use of taxpayer money for non-town owned property illegal on its face, Mr. Levert also objected because as a private park, the Heckscher Trust could exclude anyone it wished from the park.  Mr. Levert threatened to put someone in jail if such illegal expenditures were not removed from the budget.[46]

The Town Board ignored the attorney, noting that no one else objected to the use of Town funds to maintain the park.  The following spring, Mr. Levert made good on his threat by commencing legal action against Town Supervisor Walter Fasbender and the Heckscher Trust.  The plaintiff in the case was Mr. Levert’s wife Louise.  The suit sought an injunction against spending the $14,500 included in the 1952 budget and recovery of the $72,000 spent by the Town for maintenance of the park since 1944, the year Supervisor Fasbender took office.[47]

At the initial hearing, William Titus appearing as counsel for the Supervisor, pointed out that the Leverts were the only ones who ever raised an objection to the Town’s support of Heckscher Park.  And that their share of the expenses spent on maintenance of the park amounted to only 82 cents.[48]  The court did not grant Mr. Levert’s request for a temporary injunction barring the continued use of Town funds while the lawsuit was pending.[49]

At the semi-annual meeting of the Heckscher Trust in July 1952 held at Linck’s Log Cabin restaurant in Centerport, the Trustees rejected Mr. Levert’s suggestion that the Trust transfer ownership of the park to the Town (according to Mr. Levert, the suggestion to transfer ownership was made by the Supervisor’s attorney, Mr. Titus).  The trustees were confident that they would prevail.[50]

Meanwhile, the park continued to be used more than ever by the high school, the new Little League, the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, and the Township Concert Band.  The museum also saw increased visitation.

But that all came to a screeching halt as 1953 began.  On January 6, Supreme Court Justice Percy D. Stoddart ruled in favor of Mrs. Levert as against defendant Fasbender and enjoined the Town from spending any more taxpayer money on the park.  The court based its decision on the previous ruling in the Centerport Beach case.  The court also entered a judgment against Supervisor Fasbender personally for $101,534.54, which was the total amount spent by the Town since 1944 plus interest to December 31, 1952.[51]

A week after the court’s decision, the Trust closed the gates to the park and posted signs:

WE REGRET

That this Park has been temporarily

~ CLOSED ~

as a result of a lawsuit instituted by

Mrs. Albert Levert which has cut off the

Funds necessary for the maintenance

of this park.

HECKSCHER TRUST

 

Mr. Levert admitted he had seen the signs, but would not say if he planned to take action against the Trust because of the signs. [52] 

Supervisor Fasbender at the opening of a historical exhibit in 1948.

Supervisor Fasbender sought leave, which was granted, to amend his answer to assert a cross-claim against the Trust seeking reimbursement for the judgment against him.  Mr. Levert also filed a motion to recover attorney’s fees.

In February, the Trust announced that without Town funds the park would be open only one day a month—the third Saturday of the month.[53]  The Town’s Tercentenary pageant was relocated to Squadron C Farm at the other end of the village.  The Park was open during the summer thanks to the volunteer efforts of the YMCA.[54]

By July, the Town was considering a settlement along the lines proposed the previous year—transfer of the Park to the Town.  Supervisor Fasbender and the Town Board appointed a committee to consider such a settlement.  The committee recommended that the Town purchase the property, including the museum and the art collection, for the amount of the judgment against the Supervisor.  Of course, no money would actually change hands.  The Trust would transfer the park property in lieu of reimbursing the Town for its past expenses for maintenance.[55]

On December 29, 1954, the Town Board—at the last meeting with Mr. Fasbender as Supervisor—approved a resolution “arranging for the conveyance of Heckscher Park with its buildings, improvements and appurtenances to the Town of Huntington.”  The Heckscher Trust soon agreed to the transfer and a further Town Board resolution adopted on February 2, 1954 authorized the Supervisor, now Joseph Cermak, to execute the contract of sale.[56]  As part of the settlement, Mr. Levert received $12,000 in attorney’s fees.

Heckscher Trust conveyed the park, including the art collection in the museum, to the Town by deed dated May 12, 1954.  Under the terms of the deed, the Town was required to hold the property “in perpetuity exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, in the form of a park and playground to be known as “Heckscher Park,” for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the Town of Huntington and especially of the school children of the said Town of Huntington, and shall carry out as nearly as possible the purposes for which the Trust was established by August and Nannie A. Heckscher by Indenture dated December 26, 1917.”  If the Town failed to honor this requirement, “then title to the whole of said premises shall . . .  revert to the parties of the first part [i.e. Heckscher Trust], their successors and assigns, and the party of the second part [i.e. the Town] shall forthwith convey said premises to the parties of the first part.”[57]

The Town Board soon realized that it owned a building full of artwork, but it was not technically authorized to operate a museum.  The building was not open on a regular schedule and the art was being neglected.  To remedy this situation, the Town Board in April 1957 appointed a five member Board of Trustees to manage the building and collections.[58]  The new organization, known as The Heckscher Museum, was chartered by the New York State Education Department in June 1957.  Previously the building was called the Huntington Fine Arts Building.  Now with an organization named Heckscher Museum, that name was also applied to the building.

The Heckscher Trust continued to exist and continued to hold the endowment left by Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher.  Income from the Trust was used to make improvements to the park.  For example, in 1963, the Trust spent $3,325 for a new fence around the ball fields; in 1964, it allocated $3,540 to repair the museum’s roof; and in 1966 the Trust purchased a bandstand for the park for $5,785.

The 1966 band stand.

Fifteen years after conveying the park property to the Town, the Trust petitioned the court to terminate the Trust and distribute the remaining endowment funds—now with a value of $111,368—to the YMCA.  The trustees of the museum intervened in that proceeding arguing that the endowment should be conveyed for maintenance of the museum that Mr. & Mrs. Heckscher created, not to the YMCA, which was an unrelated organization.  In her affidavit urging the court to transfer the Trust’s assets to the Museum, Priscilla Williams pointed out that six of the nine trustees of the Heckscher Trust were also trustees of the YMCA, who may have suggested transferring the endowment to the YMCA to meet their fund raising obligations to that organization.

No one disputed that the Heckscher Trust should be dissolved.  The only question for the court was where the endowment should go—the YMCA or The Heckscher Museum.  The court decided in favor of the Museum “as the sole remaining private organization which is an offshoot of the original gift.”  The court found that while the YMCA was a worthy organization, it is, “except for accidents of geography and a partially interlocking board of directors, a complete stranger to the Heckscher Trust and the Heckscher Park.”  Clearly the court was not made aware of the fact that the YMCA had played a pivotal role in the creation of the athletic fields and had conducted most of its activities in the park until it acquired its own property nearby in the early 1950s.

Even with that historic connection to the Park, the YMCA’s claim would not have been as strong as Heckscher Museum’s.  The latter organization was formed specifically to oversee the fine arts collection on behalf of the Town.  In 1964, that relationship was formalized in an agreement between Heckscher Museum and the Town of Huntington.  The agreement provided that while the museum building and the original Heckscher collection are owned by the Town, Heckscher Museum (the organization) will have control of the maintenance and operation of the building and collections.  Any art works acquired by the Museum for display will be the Museum’s separate property.  The Town will provide funding to pay the salary of a professional museum director.  Perhaps the most important provisions of the agreement and the ones that probably gave rise to the agreement in the first place were those that authorized Heckscher Museum to raise funds and develop plans for an expansion of the museum building.  It was recognized that “the present buildings of the Museum have become overcrowded because of inadequate space to store and exhibit its collections.”[59]  It is unclear what buildings other than the 1920 museum are being referred to.

The Museum’s trustees announced its plans for expansion and a fund raising drive a week after the agreement was signed.[60]  The new addition would be built north of the museum.  It was hoped that the addition would be completed in time for the museum’s 50th anniversary in 1970.  Press coverage of the 50th anniversary celebration does not make any references to the plans for expansion, which had not been realized.

The question of expansion seems to have lain dormant until the American Association of Museums issued an accreditation report in 1983.  The Association expressed concerns about the museum’s overcrowding and indicated that if improvements were not made the museum may lose its accreditation.  The museum revisited the issue and announced new plans for an expansion in 1986.[61]  A 19 member town-wide advisory group had been formed to explore options, but the museum’s immediate neighbors opposed the loss of green space that would result from the expansion.  “If there’s a choice between the park and the museum, it’s very obviously the park,” said Elaine Capobianco, the head of the Huntington United Civic Association.[62]

The initial plans called for the new addition to be to the south of the museum building.  But the State Historic Preservation Office rejected the plan because it would adversely affect the symmetry of the original building.  A new plan with two wings on either side of the original building and each equal in size to the original building was approved by the State in 1993.[63]  The State Historic Preservation office described the plan as an “outstanding proposal” that is “completely compatible with both the historic Heckscher Museum and the surrounding park.”[64]

Fund raising efforts received a boost when the Museum’s chairman, John B. Hadley, pledged $3 million towards the project’s then $8 million budget.[65]  The National Endowment for the Arts also helped by making available an earlier $200,000 grant that the Museum feared it might lose because of the delay in construction.[66]

The proposed expansion.

After the Town Board adopted the Environmental Impact Statement, Huntington United Civic Associations, Inc., representing 20 civic associations, filed an Article 78 proceeding attacking the validity of the environmental study.[67]  The suit was dismissed five months later because the plaintiff lacked standing to sue.[68]  Three weeks after the suit was dismissed, the Town Board voted to approve the project.  Almost half of the construction budget had been raised.[69]  Other hurdles remained.  State legislation was needed to allow the conversion of parkland; and a wetlands construction permit from the State Department of Environmental Conservation was also needed.[70]  Those hurdles have been cleared, but the fund raising finish line has moved from $8,000,000 to $13,500,000 to probably more by now.

As any visitor to the park today can see, the expansion plans were never realized, although a new entrance plaza to provide handicapped accessibility to the museum was built in 1997.  While the museum expansion plans stalled, other changes were made to the park, which by the 1970s had fallen into such state of neglect that a local newspaper referred to the park as “Wreck”-scher Park.[71]

A shopping cart and garbage can were some of the debris found in the pond.

In 1978, the Town commenced a $500,000 improvement project.  One of the first tasks was to stabilize the sides of the pond, which had begun to cave in.  Boulders were shipped from upstate New York to replace those placed some 60 years earlier and that had sunk into the ground. The work required draining the pond so that only three feet of water remained.  In the process workers found two old garbage cans, a shopping cart and “enough beer bottles to pay off the capital debt.”[72]  Fish were removed from the pond and given a temporary home at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery.[73] 

New viewing platforms added to protect the lake’s edge from erosion.

The playground, which had been located to the west of the current bathroom building, was moved to its current location at the west end of the ball fields.  A maintenance garage was converted to accessible restrooms, replacing restrooms built in 1947.  New wood decks were installed as viewing platforms around the lake.  The white Pekin ducks that were always a favorite recipient of stale bread were removed as an environmental hazard.  Surprisingly, it was reported that “Canada geese will be encouraged” to return.[74]  Be careful what you wish for.

The Rainbow Stage

The most expensive part of the project was the construction of a new amphitheater to replace the bandstand installed by the Heckscher Trust in 1966.  The new $300,000 amphitheater was officially opened on July 6, 1979 when the Huntington Summer Arts Festival began its 14th season.  The program was a jazz concert by Clem DeRosa, featuring soloist Town Supervisor Kenneth Butterfield on the trumpet.[75]  Apparently, the site lines to the new amphitheater did not get good reviews.  The following spring 3,000 cubic yards of fill from a parking lot project at Huntington Hospital were brought in to help the audience see over the railing around the orchestra pit in front of the amphitheater.[76]  Raising the grade did cause some concern that 11 trees might be adversely impacted.  To lessen the impact wells were built around the trees.[77]

Shortly after his death in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway in July 1981, the Town Board voted to name the new amphitheater the Rainbow Stage in honor of singer and Huntington resident Harry Chapin.  The name refers to Mr. Chapin’s song “Flowers are Red,” which includes the line, “There are so many colors in the rainbow.”

The collapsed roof of the gazebo.

One structure in the park that did not fare well over the years was the stone gazebo, popular for its echo.  By the early 1990s, the roof had collapsed.  There was evidence of a fire at some point in the past.  Working with the Huntington Historical Society, the Town undertook a reconstruction project with plans by local architect Neal Hoffman.  The original roof timbers were too far gone to be re-used.  A template was made from the most intact of the beams and the laminated wood tension ring that supports the roof was supplied by an upstate silo manufacturer.[78]  As promised, not only was the gazebo restored, so was the echo.

The gazebo after restoration

In December 1999, the pond was again drained to dredge the muck and litter that had settled on the bottom.  The project was part of a $1.25 million effort to restore the park to its previous glory.  The project also included new asphalt walkways around the pond and additional landscaping.[79]  In addition to the expected muck, visitors found two guns in a plastic bag encased in cement; and a woman found her $15,000 engagement ring that she had dropped into the lake by accident a month earlier.[80]

The park continues to attract tens of thousands of visitors every year.  The work to maintain such a well-used park never ends.  While no major projects are planned, in anticipation of the Park’s centennial, the Town has applied for grant funding to replace the chain link fence around the park with a more historically appropriate steel fence.

And the 50-year old dream of finally expanding the museum lives on.

 

Thanks to Jess Beck, Heckscher Museum, John Coraor, Huntington Director of Cultural Affairs, Karen Martin, Huntington Historical Society, and Antonia Mattheou, Huntington Town Clerk’s Archives for their help with the research for this post.

 

 

[1] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 589, page 14.

[2] The Long-Islander, July 31, 1908.

[3] The Long-Islander, February 4, 1910.

[4] The Long-Islander, September 25, 1914.

[5] The Long-Islander, March 26, 1915; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 28, 1915.

[6] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 23, 1914, page 8.

[7] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 12, 1915, page 6; The Long-Islander, August 13, 1915.

[8] The Long-Islander, December 18, 1914, page 2.

[9] The Long-Islander, June 7, 1918, page 1.

[10] The Long-Islander, June 2, 1916, page 10.

[11] The Long-Islander, May 11, 1917.

[12] The Long-Islander, April 20, 1917, page 3; May 4, 1917, page 1.

[13] The Long-Islander, May 18, 1917.

[14] The Long-Islander, June 29, 1917.

[15] The Long-Islander, June 29, 1917.

[16] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 22, 1917, page 8.

[17] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 19, 1917, page 8; The Long-Islander, July 20, 1917.

[18] The Long-Islander, July 20, 1917.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Remarks of Willard N. Baylis at the Memorial Service for Anna Atkins Heckscher held at the Palace Theatre on August 31, 1924.  In the collection of the Huntington Historical Society.

[21] New York Times, November 9, 1924, page 20.

[22] New York Times, March 4, 1932, page 13.

[23] The Long-Islander, January 4, 1918.

[24] The Long-Islander, May 31, 1918.

[25] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 14, 1918, page 4; The Long-Islander, August 16, 1918.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The Long-Islander, March 21, 1919.

[28] The Long-Islander, July 16, 1920.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 24, 1920, page 9.

[31] The Long-Islander, January 15, 1953, page 1.

[32] Statements of the Heckscher Trust in the collection of the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 43.

[33] Letter dated May 8, 1936 from August Heckscher to Ira Lewis, in the Town Clerk’s Archives Box 0661A.

[34] William Oliver Stevens, Discovering Long Island, (NY 1939), page 31; quoted in August Heckscher: The Elusive Collector, by Megan Sniffin, on file with the Huntington Historical Society Archives.

[35] The Long-Islander, December 30, 1943, page 1.

[36] Petition address to Town Supervisor Walter Fasbender dated February 1, 1944 in the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 43.

[37] Letter dated June 1, 1943 from William Hartmann to Charles Noyes in the Town Clerk’s Archives.

[38] The Long-Islander, May 13, 1943.

[39] The Long-Islander, May 20, 1943, page 1.

[40] The Long-Islander, December 30, 1943, page 1.

[41] The Long-Islander, April 1, 1948, page 1.

[42] The Long-Islander, April 1, 1948, page 1.

[43] Report of the Park and Athletic Committees, July 13, 1949 in the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 0499C.

[44] Report on Heckscher Park Activities dated July 10, 1952, in the Town Clerk’s Archives, Box 43.

[45] Letter dated November 15, 1952 from Robert L. Simpson, chairman of the Huntington Tercentenary, Inc. to Arthur Smadbeck of the Heckscher Trust.

[46] The Long-Islander, November 8, 1951, page 1.

[47] The Long-Islander, April 17, 1952, page 1.

[48] The Long-Islander, April 24, 1952.

[49] The Long-Islander, July 17, 1952, page 1.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Huntington Times, January 14, 1953, page 1.

[52] The Long-Islander, January 15, 1953, page 1.

[53] New York Times, February 8, 1953, page 38.

[54] New York Times, December 13, 1953, page 135.

[55] The Long-Islander, September 3, 1953, page 1.

[56] Town Board Resolution adopted February 2, 1954 on file in the Town Clerk’s Archives, box 0187A.

[57] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber3693, page 204.

[58] The Long-Islander, April 18, 1957, page 1.

[59] Agreement dated July 28, 1964 between the Heckscher Museum and the Town of Huntington.

[60] The Long-Islander, August 6, 1964, page 3.

[61] New York Times, September 29, 1991 (Long Island section).

[62] Ibid.

[63] The Long-Islander, August 26, 1993.

[64] Newsday, August 25, 1993.

[65] The Record, January 15, 1992.

[66] Newsday, August 25, 1993.

[67] The Long-Islander, July 8, 1993, page 1.

[68] Newsday, December 9, 1993.

[69] Newsday, December 22, 1993.

[70] The Long-Islander, December 30, 1993, page 3.

[71] Sunday Digest, November 12, 1978, copy in the Huntington Historical Society archives.

[72] Long Island Press, July 11, 1975.

[73] The Long-Islander, June 21, 1979, page 3.

[74] Ibid.

[75] The Long-Islander, June 28, 1979.

[76] Newsday, April 22, 1980, page 27.

[77] The Long-Islander, April 17, 1980, page 7.

[78] The Long-Islander, August 5, 1993.

[79] Newsday, January 14, 2001.

[80] The Long-Islander, January 13, 2000, page 3.

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On a sunny summer day, a visitor to Heckscher Park will find children climbing on the playground sets, adults strolling around the pond, art lovers visiting the Fine Arts Museum, teenagers learning to play tennis, picnickers enjoying the shade of a stately old tree, and perhaps a softball game.  It is hard to imagine a time when this plot of land wasn’t used by Huntingtonians as a place for recreation and relaxation, especially since it has been a park for over a century.

Before it was a park, this area was an active industrial and agricultural venue.  If we begin, not quite at the beginning, but at the time of the American Revolution, the land was the home and farm of Zophar Platt, the wealthiest man in town.[1]  His home stood near what is now the southwest corner of the park.  Platt, who built the tide mill on the west side of Huntington Harbor in 1752, saw his orchards and fencing destroyed by the British when they built Fort Golgotha at the top of the Old Burying Ground in 1782.  A supporter of the Revolution, Platt was mistreated by the British, but survived the war and, as noted on his grave, died “in peace” in 1791.

By the 1840s, the land was owned by Albert W. Hendrickson, who sold it to Thomas C. Hendrickson in 1843.[2]  He, in turn sold the 27-acre farm to Ezra C. Prime in 1846.[3]  A few years earlier, the Commissioners of Highways had laid out a road through the farm and neighboring property from Main Street north to Mill Lane, which had been the dam for Huntington’s first mill in the seventeenth century.[4]  Prime moved from the nearby Prime family homestead on Spring Road to Zophar Platt’s old house.

Six years earlier, Prime had established a thimble factory in what is now the second house west of Prime Avenue on the north side of Main Street.  Ezra Prime was the great grandson of Ebenezer Prime, who served as the third minister of Old First Church from 1719 until he died in 1779.  Ezra was born in Manhattan in 1810.  His family returned to Huntington when he was four years old.  At sixteen, he became an apprentice in the silversmith shop of his second cousin George Platt.  After his apprenticeship, Prime entered into a partnership with John Roshore, who had also worked in Platt’s shop.  The new partnership did well operating at the head of Chatham Square in lower Manhattan.

In 1836, Prime, suffering from ill health, returned to Huntington and established a thimble factory.[5]  According to most sources the factory was on the north side of Main Street, two doors west of the highway laid out in 1839 (now known as Prime Avenue).  That property was owned by Ezra’s brother Claudius, who was also a silversmith.  It is possible the two brothers began the factory as partners.  While silversmiths had been making thimbles as part of their regular business for years, Prime’s factory is often referred to as the first thimble factory in the country.  However, this may be a bit of local boosterism.  The first thimble manufacturer in this country appears to have been Benjamin Halstead, who founded the first American thimble factory in 1794.[6]  “Another well known American thimble-making firm was Ketcham and McDougall of Brooklyn, New York, which produced nearly two-thirds of all the marked American thimbles at present in the hands of collectors.  The company began in 1832 and in various guises continued to make thimbles until 1932.”[7]  Even if Prime’s thimble factory was not the first, it was among the first.

Shortly after establishing the thimble factory, Ezra traveled to Oberlin, Ohio where he studied Greek and Latin.  In light of later mental health issues, his trip may have been motivated by more than the pursuit of academics.  Prime was described as having “an active, nervous temperament, doing with all his might whatever he undertakes.”[8]  The stay in Ohio may have been necessitated by mental exhaustion as well.

After two years at Oberlin, Prime returned to Huntington.  He married in 1842, but his wife died just two months later.  As noted above, in 1846, he purchased the land north of Main Street from Thomas Hendrickson.  He purchased the half acre of land on the northwest corner of Main Street and Prime Avenue from his brother in 1850.

In addition to his thimble factory, in the 1850s Prime had a jewelry store on the north side of Main Street, east of Wall Street.  According to the 1860 Gazetteer of the State of New York (Published by R. Pearsall Smith, Syracuse), Prime’s thimble factory employed 10-12 men and produced 5 to 6 gross of gold and silver thimbles a day.

In 1863, a second factory building was constructed at the southwest corner of Main Street and Spring Road.[9]  This factory utilized steam power, using water from the Meeting House Brook, which ran alongside the building. Five years later, he had the first factory building moved back from the road and converted to a residence. [10]

In addition to his thimble factory, Prime farmed his extensive lands on the north side of Main Street.  In 1850, he purchased from Jonathan Weeks an additional 19 acres to the west of the land he purchased in 1846.[11]  By 1860 he owned almost all of the land on the north side of Main Street from Sabbath Day Path on the east to Mill Lane on the north and as far as Carlos Stuart’s land on the west (i.e. Prime owned land as far west as the municipal lot behind the Elks Club).

He married for the second time in 1858 to Martha Smith Morrell.  The couple had four children, one of whom died when he was two years old.  After his marriage, he built a palatial 26 room house north of the old Zophar Platt house.  The living room in his new house was large enough to serve as a grand ballroom.[12]

The Prime Mansion

In 1864, Prime had a dam built north of his new house to create a pond in the swampy area that stretched from his property up to the harbor.[13]  The pond was stocked with trout. Perhaps inspired by the State fish hatchery in Cold Spring Harbor, which opened in 1883, Prime also had a hatchery.[14]  The pond became a primary source for ice locally.  The ice was 5 to 8 inches thick and clear as crystal.[15]  It also provided a place for skating.  Prime continued to enlarge and improve the pond over the years until it became “a perfect gem of beauty.”[16]

Prime’s third factory building.

The next year, Prime built a building adjoining the pond for E.C. Lefferts who planned to use the building for a sash and blind factory.  In 1871, Lefferts moved to a factory on Wall Street and the building became the third thimble factory operated by Prime.  Fayette Gould leased the building in January 1879 for the manufacture of his patented rowlocks.[17]  By the end of that year, however, thimbles were being made there and Prime added a story to the building in 1879 because business was so brisk.[18]  The various manufacturing uses in this building appear to have utilized steam power.  The nearby pond would have the source of water for the steam engines, but the pond’s spillway does not seem to have been used to provide water power.

The frantic pace with which Prime pursued his thimble business, his farming, and improvements to his property led to some sort of a breakdown.  In 1871, he was forcibly taken to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in Morningside Heights in Manhattan.  There was some disagreement about whether his confinement there was justified.  Nonetheless, despite one successful escape, he spent 63 days there.[19]

He continued his endeavors back in Huntington.  But in 1883, he was admitted to the Brunswick Home in Amityville, where he would spend the last 15 years of his life.[20]  The Brunswick Home had been set up to care for the “feeble-minded.”[21]

During his time at Brunswick, he left the thimble factory in the care of his sons, but they soon gave up the business.[22]

After Ezra Prime died in 1898, his children sold the ten northernmost acres of the farm between New York Avenue and Park Avenue to Henry C. Platt.[23]  The land west of Prime Avenue was subdivided into 49 lots in February 1906.  That same year, they sold the bulk of the farm, the land north of Main Street and east of Prime Avenue, to August Heckscher.[24]  Thus begins another interesting story.

 

[1] The Long-Islander, August 16, 1973, page 20.

[2] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 38, page 43.

[3] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 44, page 140.

[4] Town of Huntington Highway Book A 1724-1851, page 288.

[5] Some accounts give the date as 1837.

[6] Finding: The Material Cultural of Needlework and Sewing, by Mary C. Beaudry (Yale University Press 2006), page 99.

[7] Ibid, page 107.

[8] History of Suffolk County, New York, with Illustrations, Portraits, & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals  (W.W. Munsell & Company 1882), page 61

[9] This building was converted to a steam laundry by L.C. Gordon in 1883 (The Long-Islander, May 4, 1883) and later converted into a residence by Henry Saylor.

[10] New York Thimble Makers from Huntington, Long Island, by Elizabeth Galbraith Sickels (Antiques Journal, October 1964), page 21. Copies can be found in the archives of the Huntington Historical Society.

[11] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 54, page 246.

[12] Ezra Conklin Prime 1810-1898, by T. Ford Prime (1958-59), unpublished manuscript in the archives of the Huntington Historical Society, page 8.

[13] The Long-Islander, December 22, 1865.  Slater’s 1860 map of Huntington village shows a pond marked “Proposed.”

[14] The Long-Islander, November 7, 1884, page 2.  The short piece is about a dog that died in one of Prime’s trout hatching boxes.

[15] The Long-Islander, January 6, 1871.

[16] The Long-Islander, July 12, 1878.

[17] The Long-Islander, January 24, 1879.

[18] The Long-Islander, December 5, 1879.

[19] Munsell, pages 61-62.

[20] The Long-Islander, February 19 & 26, 1898.

[21] American Journal of Insanity, Vol 49, Issue 3, January 1893, page 556. Found at http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.49.3.556

[22] The Long-Islander, February 26, 1898.

[23] The Long-Islander, January 23, 1903.

[24] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office Deed Liber 589, page 14.

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