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Factory Town

In the waning days of the Great Depression, local business leaders addressed the issue of attracting industry to Huntington.  There were a few manufacturing concerns in Town at the time:  the Cantrell auto body factory, Kenyon Instrument Company, and Suffolk Leather Goods (see “Fighting Unemployment with Luggage,” posted December 2012).  But there were those who didn’t think Huntington was a place for industry.  Some of the older

members of a committee appointed to explore the issue recalled their boyhood employment in a camera factory on Park Avenue around the beginning of the twentieth century.[i]

A camera factory on Park Avenue 120 years ago?

Yes, Huntington manufactured more than just bricks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Huntington’s photographic venture appears to have started with chickens.

William H. Lewis, whose family’s involvement with photography and photo equipment dates back to the 1840s, purchased land on the west side of Park Avenue, north of Crooked Hill Road in the 1880s.  At first, he set up a gentleman’s farm called Hillside Poultry Farm.  In early 1891, the farm was home to some 300 chickens of various types.  Lewis hoped to expand his flock to nearly 2,000 before the next winter.  The chicken house was octagon shaped with separate pens on each side of the buildings’ eight sides.  His prize winning chickens were shown throughout New York and Connecticut in such places as the Huntington fairgrounds, the Mineola fairgrounds, and Madison Square Garden.  Lewis had “spared no pains or expense in fixing [the farm] up in good shape and now has as fine a summer home there as any gentleman coming out of New York city could desire.”  The farm was not as full time enterprise because the article explains that Lewis “no doubt greatly enjoys spending his time, when not engaged in business in the metropolis, at his hillside farm.”[ii]

Lewis continued to work at his family’s photographic factory in Brooklyn.  The business claimed to have made the first photographic equipment in the United States back in the 1840s.  Over the years, three generations of the Lewis family filed for dozens of photography patents, including one for the first bellows camera.[iii]

Although poultry farming seems to have been Lewis’s first endeavor in Huntington, he did engage local builder Hewlett J. Long to build a large building on his property[iv] and cottages.   For example in 1887, Long built for Lewis “another handsome Queen Anne cottage on his property on Park Avenue.”[v]

By the early 1890s, manufacturing of photographic equipment joined chicken farming.   Over the next two decades, the venture suffered from a variety of setbacks, but returned to business time after time.

Wm. Lewis Manufacturing

William H. Lewis House, front left, still stands at 595 Park Avenue. The octagon chicken house is on the right.

The first catastrophe occurred in 1895.  On May 27, at around 9:45 p.m. a neighbor returning from a Wild West show in the village noticed flames coming from the Lewis factory.  He sounded the alarm and the fire department quickly responded, but the factory and much of the inventory were a total loss.  Neighbors managed to retrieve some tools and books before the fire completely consumed the building.  Efforts to keep the fire from spreading to the nearby houses were successful.  The loss included door frames for a new cottage in East Neck[vi] indicating that the factory was not limited to photographic equipment, but also produced millwork.

Lewis wasted no time in rebuilding.  Within two weeks he had reached a settlement with his insurance carriers and commenced work on a new factory.[vii]  By October his new factory was up and running.  Twenty two men were employed to produce photographic equipment (69 cases worth in one week), trim for ten new houses in the village, and thermometers (2,000 to 7,000 a week).  Although Lewis endeavored to hire locally, the skill level required for his work sometimes necessitated bringing in workers from out of town.   Six new families moved to Huntington to work in the factory.  He also completed another cottage in his mini-factory town.[viii]

By November of 1897, fifty men were employed in the factory which was now under the management of Gouverneur E.  Smith & Co. of New York City.  They produced “tripods, racks, mounters, printing frames and other photographic sundries.  The products were sold to Siegel, Cooper & Co, Bloomingdales, and other large retailers.[ix]

But business was not good.  In 1900, Republic Savings and Loan Association commenced a foreclosure action against the Lewis concern.   The land, some 27 acres, was sold in late July.  The factory property was sold on August 11.[x]  The closing of the factory and the resulting unemployment caused Lewis’s cottages to be vacated one by one.

In October, The Huntington Photographic Supply and Novelty Manufacturing Company was incorporated.  The directors read like a who’s who of turn of the century Huntington business leaders:  James M. Brush and Henry S. Brush (of the Brush Block and the Bank of Huntington), Hiram A. Baylis, Douglass Conklin, and Willard N. Baylis, a well-connected lawyer, along with Lewis.  The new company purchased the old Lewis factory at the foreclosure sale.[xi]

At the end of 1901, James H. Smith Co of Chicago leased the factory for a term of years and promised to resume the manufacture of cameras in mid-January.[xii]  In 1902, the factory was again humming.  Now thirty men were employed and Lewis was the superintendent on behalf of the Smith company.  The cameras were not for the amateur market but for professionals working in studios.  The cameras and stands were considered attractive pieces of furniture as well as photo making equipment.  With the resumption of activity at the factory, the houses were once again occupied.[xiii]

But the prosperity was not to last.  In 1904, the Smith Company shipped the factory’s machinery to Chicago.[xiv]  Two years later, the factory was leased to the Hartford Optical Manufacturing Company to produce photographic lenses.  Initially the workforce would be similar in size as before, but it was hoped that it would grow to 300 to 400 employees.[xv]  That was not to be.  By 1920, the old factory was being torn down for its lumber.[xvi]

Today the land that once housed the photo factory is owned by the Town of Huntington as part of the Heritage Nature Trail which connects the Hillaire Preserve to the Village Green and Heckscher Park.

[i] The Long-Islander, April 24, 1941

[ii] The Long-Islander, March 21, 1891

[iii] http://www.historiccamera.com/cgi-bin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=wwhlewis

[iv] The Long-Islander, March 5, 1886

[v] The Long-Islander, December 10, 1887

[vi] The Long-Islander, June 1, 1895

[vii] The Long-Islander, June 15, 1895

[viii] The Long-Islander, October 19, 1895

[ix] The Long-Islander, November 13, 1897

[x] The Long-Islander, August 3, 1900

[xi] The Long-Islander, October 19, 1900

[xii] The Long-Islander, December 20, 1901

[xiii] The Long-Islander, October 17, 1902

[xiv] The Long-Islander, June 24, 1904

[xv] The Long-Islander, February 2, 1906

[xvi] The Long-Islander, March 5, 1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main floor of the Trade School building.

The main floor of the Trade School building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restoring the fabulous diamond pane windows of the Trade School.

Restoring the magnificient diamond pane windows of the Trade School.

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

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


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

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

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

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




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In January 2013, I wrote about the restaurant on the southeast corner of Jericho Turnpike and Round Swamp Road.  You can find the original article by selecting January 2013 in the box to the right.  Now thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we may know who transformed the architecture of the building to match the cuisine served inside in the 1950s.

Prior to 1955, the restaurant was a Spanish inn that served southern fried chicken, sirloin steaks and sugar cured ham steaks.  In February 1955, Peter Chinn changed the menu to Chinese fare and renamed it King Wah.  Chinn also arranged to have the building converted into a Chinese pagoda.  This is where the Internet helps to complete the story.

Local history is by definition of local interest.  But people are not strictly local.  They move around and work in various places.  A researcher trying to find out more about a Chinese American architect who never lived here and who did extensive work in Shanghai and New York City’s Chinatown would have no reason to look to Huntington for information. But she found in the architect’s scrapbook a picture of a Chinese restaurant named King Wah with no other identifying information as to its owner or location.  Naturally she entered the name in a search engine and that led her to a blog post about a closed restaurant in Huntington.

The unidentified photograph in Poy Gum Lee's scrapbook.  Courtesy of the Lee family archive and Elizabeth Chan and Kent Jue.

The unidentified photograph in Poy Gum Lee’s scrapbook. Courtesy of the Lee family archive and Elizabeth Chan and Kent Jue.

The researcher, Kerri Culhane, contacted me for more information.  Unfortunately, the Town Building Department records have no information on a building permit issued 60 years ago.  Nor did the archives of The Long-Islander newspaper offer any clues.  The architect, Poy Gum Lee, lived in Mineola for a time in the 1950s.  And although the restaurant owner, Peter Chinn lived in Greenlawn, Long Island’s Chinese population in the 1950s was quite small.  It would not be surprising that Mr. Chinn would have retained Mr. Lee is design the conversion of his restaurant.  Why else would the architect have a picture of King Wah restaurant in his scrapbook, unless he designed it?

So who was Poy Gum Lee?

Here is a brief summary from Ms. Culhane, who will curate an exhibition about Poy Gum Lee at the Museum of Chinese in America in Fall 2015.

Poy Gum Lee, A.I.A. (1900-1968)

Born in New York’s Chinatown in 1900, Lee studied architecture at the Pratt Institute, MIT, and Columbia University before embarking on professional career in China in 1923. Lee was responsible for executing the designs of the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum in Nanjing; and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Canton (Guangzhou), two major commissions of international importance. His extensive work in China ranged from luxury apartment complexes to civic and cultural commissions, to movie theatres, churches, hospitals, schools and private residences. As a member of the first generation of professional American-trained Chinese architects practicing in China in the 1920s and 30s, Lee became a central figure in the development of the Chinese modern movement in China, and a founding member of the Society of Chinese Architects.

Upon his post-war repatriation to the US in 1945, Lee embarked on a new phase of his career that brought modernist ideas from China to Chinatown. As the first known Chinese-American architect practicing in Chinatown in the mid twentieth century, Lee influenced the changing architectural aesthetic in Chinatown during that period.

Lee’s hand is visible in the major civic architecture of Chinatown post 1945, which blends stylistically Chinese details with modern technologies and materials. Lee was the architectural consultant for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association’s building on Mott Street (1959); and the On Leong Tong Merchant’s Association at Mott & Canal Street (1948-50), the most prominent Chinese modern building in Chinatown. Among his highly visible commissions, Lee designed the Chinese-American WWII Monument in Kimlau Square (1962), a modernist take on a traditional Chinese pailou, or ceremonial gate; the Lee Family Association (ca. 1950); and the Pagoda Theatre (1963, demolished).

In Fall 2015, Lee will be the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan, which will examine the life & career of Chinese-American architect Poy Gum Lee through the lens of century of architecture in Chinatown. Architectural historian Kerri Culhane will document and explore Lee’s nearly 50-year long career in both China & New York, and examine Lee’s modernist influence in Chinatown.



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Huntingdon, England

The first use of the name Huntington to refer to the town on Long Island was in 1657 when the inhabitants of the town entered into an agreement with Jonas Holdsworth “ffor to Schoole” the children of the town.  The first purchase of land from the native inhabitants had been made four years earlier.  It is unknown for certain how the name Huntington was chosen.

One view holds that the town was named in recognition of the abundance of game that made it a good place for hunting.  Such a descriptive name would be consistent with the naming of the neighboring town to the west which was named for the abundance of oysters in its bay.  If the town is named for its good hunting, why did the settlers use the ancient Anglo-Saxon suffix “ton” meaning town to create the name?  Why not instead call the place Huntingtown?


The other view is consistent with the practice throughout New England in the seventeenth century; that is to name the new settlement after a town in England.  Most early New England names have English precedents: Boston, Plymouth, Wethersfield, Cambridge, Southampton, Hempstead, etc.  Under this view, Huntington is named for Huntingdon, a town 75 miles north of London.  It does not seem that any of the early settlers came from Huntingdon, but the name would have been chosen in honor of Oliver Cromwell, who dissolved Parliament three weeks after the First Purchase and was named Lord Protector eight months later.  Were the settlers trying to curry favor with the new head of state?  As Puritans, they would have been sympathetic to Cromwell and would have supported him.

So what about this place Huntingdon?  The suffix “don” has a different meaning than “ton.”  While “ton” means enclosure or town, “don” means hill (see “The Place Names of Huntingdonshire,” by Professor W.W. Skeat published in Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 14 October 1902 to 18 May 1903, No. XLIV). The name Huntingdon was originally Huntandūn meaning “Hunta’s hill.”  Hunta was presumably a person or perhaps just a reference to a hunter, which brings us back to hunting.  It is interesting to note that a 1662 map of Huntingdon spells the name with a “t” instead of a “d.”

1662 map of Huntingdon, note the spelling of the name.

1662 map of Huntingdon, note the spelling of the name.

Huntingdon is the principal town in the old shire or county of Huntingdonshire, which was abolished in 1974 and merged with Cambridgeshire as part of a government reorganization.  Huntingtonshire lives on, however, as a district council within Cambridgeshire.  Huntingdon, the town, has its own governing body.  In this respect, Huntingdon would be equivalent with a village under New York law, Huntingdonshire District would be equivalent to a Town, and Cambridgeshire would be equivalent to a county.  In fact, Huntingdonshire district has a population of about 170,000, similar to the Town of Huntington’s population of 203,000 (Huntingdonshire, however, is much larger at 350 square miles to Huntington’s 94 square miles).

Huntingdon received a charter from King John in 1205, although the settlement in the area extends back to Roman rule in England if not before.  The town is situated on the Roman road from London to York so it became an important market town.  It was a center of Viking activity in the area until King Edward the Elder drove the Vikings out in 921.  The town declined during the Middle Ages and was almost wiped out by the Black Death in 1348.  Where once there had been 16 churches, by the 1530s there were only four.

The seventeenth century Huntingdon Borough Seal.  Showing a hunter and his dogs with a deer.

The seventeenth century Huntingdon Borough Seal. Showing a hunter and his dogs with a deer.

A small Benedictine nunnery, known as Hinchingbrooke Priory, stood northwest of the town.  By 1534, there were only the prioress and three nuns in residence with annual revenues of just £17.  The hospital of St. John the Baptist was established in the center of town in 1160.  Both of these institutions were dissolved as part of Henry VIII’s seizure of Catholic Church properties in the 1530s and 40s.  The old hospital was converted to use as a school.  The Benedictine priory and other more valuable church properties were given to Richard Williams, the nephew of Henry’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell (who is the subject of two bestselling books by Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies).  In gratitude, Williams changed his family name to Cromwell.

The Cromwell family Coat of Arms.  the lion rampant at the top was used in the Town of Huntington's Coat of Arms prepared in for the U.S. Bicentennial.  The town's coat of arms is no longer used in light of its association with Oliver Cromwell, who has been accused of genocide in connection with his actions in Ireland.

The Cromwell family Coat of Arms. the lion rampant at the top was used in the Town of Huntington’s Coat of Arms prepared for the U.S. Bicentennial. The town’s coat of arms is no longer used in light of its association with Oliver Cromwell, who has been accused of genocide in connection with his actions in Ireland.  It should be noted that the lion rampant is a common symbol in medieval heraldry.  

Which brings us to the reason we care about Huntingdon at all.  Oliver Cromwell, a nephew of Richard Cromwell’s grandson, was born in a house at the north end of town in 1599.  When he was 11 years old, he attended the school which had been established in the old Hospital of St. John the Baptist.  As an adult he lived in nearby St. Ives and Ely.  Cromwell was elected to Parliament in 1640.  He later helped raise troops in Huntingdonshire for the Parliamentarians’ New Model Army during the English Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century and he defended the area from royalist forces.  Cromwell’s successes were mostly military; he was only a minor figure in Parliament until the Rump Parliament 1650-53.  He dissolved that Parliament on April 20, 1653 and in December of that year was made Lord Protector, a title he held until his death from natural causes in 1658.

The early settlers of Huntington, Long Island, would have supported Cromwell in the Civil Wars.  In naming their new town they could have been honoring his achievements.  As an independent settlement with little direct contact with England, it is less likely they needed to curry favor with the new leader.  Of course, while Cromwell may have been popular with Huntington’s Puritan settlers, his actions in Ireland have rendered him a controversial figure to say the least.

Cromwell was not the only well-known figure from Huntingdon.  His uncle, also named Oliver, spent lavishly and in 1627 had to sell Hinchingbrooke.  He sold the family estate to Sidney Montagu, whose son Edward became the first Earl of Sandwich.  The family dominated the political, social and economic life of the county well into the nineteenth century.

The Fourth Earl of Sandwich

The Fourth Earl of Sandwich

It was the fourth Earl of Sandwich who is credited with placing meat between two pieces of bread so that he could eat without interrupting his gambling; or perhaps it was while he was busy working.  He was also the First Lord of the Admiralty during the War of American Independence and approved Captain James Cook’s round the world voyage.  Cook named the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii) in his honor.

Another notable Huntingdonian was John Major, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1990 to 1997.  His Parliamentary constituency was Huntingdon.

Today, Huntingdon is a quiet community that preserves much of its historic charm.

Huntingdon's pedestrianized High Street.

Huntingdon’s pedestrianized High Street.

All Saints Church in Huntingdon which dates to the Norman period

All Saints Church in Huntingdon which dates to the Norman period

Huntingdon Town Hall built in 1740

Huntingdon Town Hall built in 1745

The Assembly Room in Huntingdon's Town Hall

The Assembly Room in Huntingdon’s Town Hall

The stone bridge between Huntingdon and Godmanchester.  Built in 1332, now open to cars!

The stone bridge between Huntingdon and Godmanchester. Built in 1332, now open to cars!

The sole remaining part of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, later the school Oliver Cromwell attended in 1610.  Now the home of the Cromwell Museum.

The sole remaining part of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, later the school Oliver Cromwell attended in 1610. Now the home of the Cromwell Museum.

Facts about Huntingdon

Facts about Huntingdon

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Robert Seeley

Little has been written about the earliest English settlers of Huntington. Although the deed for the First Purchase is dated April 2, 1653, it is believed settlers may have arrived before that date. Initially the population would have been small. In his history of Long Island, Silas Wood states the initial population of the town amounted to eleven families. But a review of the published Town Records reveals that between 1653 and 1663, some seventy names appear in the Huntington Town Records. If each named man were a head of household with an average of five members that would mean a population of a few hundred at even this early time period.

However many there were, all were English. Based on preliminary research it seems the settlers came from a variety of counties in southern England. Most settled first in Massachusetts (especially Salem) and Connecticut before arriving in Huntington. None appear to hail from Huntingdon, the Long Island town’s English namesake. One, however, was born in Huntingdonshire, the small county of which Huntingdon was the principle town.[i]

Robert Seeley was born in  Bluntisham-cum-Earith, Huntingdonshire in 1602. As a teenager he went to London where he joined the cordswainers or shoemakers guild and attended the puritan church of John Davenport. In 1630 he joined John Winthrop on his voyage to Massachusetts as part of the Great Migration. He was one of the first settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts and a few years later was one of the founders of Wethersfield, the first English settlement in Connecticut.

Seeley served as second in command to John Mason during the Pequot War of 1637 and helped lead the attack on a Pequot village at Mystic that resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Pequots. During the war he was shot in the eyebrow with a flat headed arrow. After the war, Seeley joined his minister from London, John Davenport, and merchant Theopilus Eaton when they established the Colony of New Haven. Eaton was the first Governor of the Colony of New Haven.

In 1659, Seeley returned to England for a few years. He came back to the new world in 1662 and that is when we find him in Huntington. In February 1662, at a town meeting in Huntington, it was ordered that the boat should be sent to the mouth of the Connecticut River (presumably Saybrook) to fetch Captain Seeley.

In December 1662, Seeley purchased Eatons Neck from William Jones. The neck was first acquired from the native inhabitants by Theopilus Eaton in 1646. Jones acquired title to the neck by virtue of his marriage to Eaton’s daughter Hannah. The following August, Seeley asked that a confirmation of the deed bearing the marks of five natives, witnessed by two Englishmen, be recorded.

Seeley appears to have quickly become an integral part of the Huntington community. In April 1663 he was nominated as one of three magistrates for the town. The names were sent to the court in Hartford for confirmation. Connecticut records show that the next month he was appointed magistrate as well as the chief military officer for Huntington charged with training soldiers.[ii]  He was also one of the men chosen to review “all lands allredy layd out in filedes and to record the ownar and quantity he has taken up in the town Booke.” The men were also empowered to lay out new fields or home lots at a rate of six pence per acre. Seeley had been assigned similar responsibilities to lay out lots and roads in Watertown Massachusetts in 1634. He also was asked to measure the Huntington Town Common to determine how much fencing was needed to enclose it.

But within a few years, the town sued Seeley over title to Eatons Neck. In all, there were three such suits by the town against the owner of Eatons Neck. It is unclear who the defendants were in the first two cases, but they were found to have good title to the Neck. In 1666, the final suit was heard at the Court of Assizes in New York. The Court found in favor of Seeley, who had already sold the Neck to George Baldwin in July 1663. That sale was confirmed in June 1667 by Richard Nicholls, Governor of the New York Colony.

It is interesting to note that Robert Seeley was one of the eight men named in the Nicholls Patent of October 1666. Those same eight names appear in the Dongan Charter of 1688. By the time of the Nichols Patent, Seeley was no longer in Huntington. In 1665, Seeley helped found the town of Elizabeth, NJ. By the time of the Dongan Charter, 22 years later, he was long dead having died in Manhattan in 1667.[iii]

[i] Huntingdonshire was abolished in the 1970s and the territory it encompassed was made a part of Cambridgeshire.

[ii] The information about Seeley being appointed Huntington’s chief military officer comes from a genealogy website, http://www.seeley-society.net/nathaniel/sgs1.html. I have not consulted the Connecticut records, which is something Charles R. Street, who compiled and annotated the Huntington Town Records in 1880s suggested would be helpful in understanding Huntington’s earliest history.

[iii] Mysteriously, Robert Seeley also appears as a witness on a deed recorded in 1669.  It may be that the deed was made a few years earlier and not recorded until 1669.

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I have completed a book on Cold Spring Harbor for Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.  The book is available at Book Revue and local stores in Cold Spring Harbor as well as online at http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/9781467122245/Cold-Spring-Harbor.  Below is the introduction to the book.

CSH Book

Water is the defining characteristic of this place now called Cold Spring Harbor.   To the indigenous inhabitants it was known as Wawepex, or “at the good little water place.”   The European settlers of the seventeenth century named the area after its abundance of fresh water springs. The word “harbor” was added in 1826 to avoid confusion with the town of the same name on the Hudson River (throughout the nineteenth century, most locals continued to use the two word name). The name reflects the essential role water, both fresh and salt, has played in the area’s history. The fresh water springs provided drinking water. The stream flowing from the south provided power for local mills. The harbor provided an outlet for trade up and down the eastern seaboard and a starting point for whaling voyages to the far side of the globe.

Even the most disinterested resident knows that Cold Spring Harbor was a whaling port. But Cold Spring Harbor’s whaling period was relatively brief, lasting just over a quarter century from 1836 to 1862. There is far more to Cold Spring Harbor than whaling.

Cold Spring Harbor has been inhabited for thousands of years. Unfortunately, other than some arrowheads, tools made from animal bone, hide scrappers, and pottery shards, little evidence of pre-European settlement survives. For that matter much of the early European settlement is also unknown. The community is a hamlet within the Town of Huntington and was the western edge of Huntington’s First Purchase in 1653.

Within ten years of the First Purchase, at least three permanent homes had been established in Cold Spring Harbor: Jonathan Rogers log house on the east side of what is now Harbor Road about a half mile south of the head of the harbor, the Rudyard house on the north side of Main Street just before the intersection with Goose Hill Road, and the Titus house on the east side of Goose Hill Road across from what is now Titus Lane.

As farms became established, the need for a mill to grind grain was recognized. In order to avoid the need to bring their grain to mills in either Huntington or Oyster Bay to be ground, permission was sought to build a gristmill in Cold Spring Harbor. After two unsuccessful attempts by others, John Adams in 1682 built a dam across the Cold Spring River, an impressive name for the small stream that runs north through the valley from the present site of the rail road station to the harbor. On this dam Adams built both a gristmill and sawmill. The gristmill was not successful; the sawmill was.

In 1700, Benjamin Hawxhurst built a woolen mill near the present site of the Fish Hatchery. Later in the early nineteenth century, the Jones family operated two very successful woolen mills. The upper woolen mill was located upstream on the site of the 1682 mills at the southeast end of St. John’s Pond. This mill was for weaving.   The lower mill was located on the southwest side of the harbor near the entrance to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory property. The lower mill was powered by water fed to the site by means of a wooden pipe carried over the road on a trestle from a small pond on the south side of the highway and part way up the hill. The lower mill was used for spinning. Together the two woolen mills produced broadcloth, blankets, and coverlets. Starting in the 1870s, the upper mill was used by George W. Earle as a sawmill and organ factory.

In 1782, Richard Conklin built a paper mill near the intersection of Main Street and Shore Road.

Finally, in 1791, the Hewlett family built a gristmill on the east side of the harbor about a quarter of a mile from the head of the harbor. This mill was powered by water from St. John’s pond that ran through a canal between the road and the harbor. The mill burned down in 1921, but traces of the canal can still be seen today.

Cold Spring Harbor was made a Port of Delivery by an Act of Congress on March 2, 1799. As a Port of Delivery, a Surveyor of Customs was appointed, who had the “power to enroll and license vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and to enter and clear, and grant registers and other usual papers to vessels employed in the whale fisheries.” When Customs Districts were reorganized in 1913, the Cold Spring Harbor office was abolished.

Coastal trading was a thriving activity into the early twentieth century. Small shipyards produced the schooners needed to transport goods not only from Cold Spring Harbor to New York City, but up and down the east coast, to the West Indies and beyond. In the 1840s typical cargo would include rice, sugar, cigars, logwood, mahogany, coffee, palm oil, and ivory. In later years, coal, sand and gravel were typical cargos. An indication of the scope of coastal trading is the fact that in 1883 99 ships were registered from Cold Spring Harbor.

The woolen mills and gristmill were two of the enterprises run by the Jones family. The gristmill came into the Jones family through the marriage of John Jones to Hannah Hewlett. The five sons of John and Elizabeth Jones—especially John H. Jones and Walter Restored Jones—were the leading entrepreneurs in Cold Spring Harbor’s early history. In addition to their mills, they operated a general store near the gristmill, a shipyard on the east side of the harbor, and a barrel factory on the west side of the harbor. The bungs used as stoppers on the barrels gave rise to the name Bungtown. In order to get their various products to market, in 1827, brothers John and Walter R. Jones incorporated the Cold Spring Steam Boat Company, built a dock on the east side of the harbor and later procured the steamboat American Eagle to transport their goods to the New York market.

By the 1830s, foreign competition had undermined the profitability of the woolen business. In 1836, the brothers decided to expand their business ventures to include whaling. At first they personally owned the whaling ships, later they incorporated along with other prominent Cold Spring, Huntington, and Oyster Bay citizens. From 1836 to 1862, nine ships sailed from Cold Spring Harbor on voyages lasting up to two years. Woolens from the local mills, barrels from Bungtown, produce and meat from local farms, and other local products were used to outfit the ships for their months long journeys to as far as Alaska. The venture was successful, but the death of John Hewlett Jones in 1859 and of Walter Restored Jones in 1855 as well as the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859 led to the inevitable demise of Cold Spring Harbor’s small whaling industry.

The economic activity spurred by the whaling ventures was soon replaced by tourism—still a mainstay of the local economy. At the same time, shipyards, a marine salvage yard, sail makers, and blacksmiths continued Cold Spring Harbor’s industrial traditions.

World famous panorama artist John Banvard settled in Cold Spring Harbor in 1852. Banvard made a fortune exhibiting his half mile long painting of the Mississippi River. Audiences would be seated in a specially built auditorium while canvases on either side of the room were advanced from one scroll to another to give the illusion of floating down the river.   After a successful European tour, which included a private viewing for Queen Victoria, he built a castle-like home reportedly inspired by Winsor Castle and named it Glenada in honor of his daughter Ada.

The home was later converted into a luxurious summer resort hotel, which was joined by two others, Forest Lawn next to the Glenada and Laurelton, on the west side of the harbor. Less wealthy visitors could stay at Van Ausdall’s hotel. Day-trippers took steamboats out from New York City by the thousands to visit local picnic groves along the harbor’s shores. Some wealthy New Yorkers built homes of their own overlooking the harbor.

In the decades before the turn of the twentieth century, the old factory buildings on the west side of the harbor were put to new uses. First in 1883, New York State saw the advantages of the area’s fresh water springs to operate a fish hatchery to raise fish to stock local lakes and rivers.  A few years later, the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established a field station on the harbor’s western shore.   That small field station has now grown into one of the leading genetics institutions in the world.

Close proximity to New York City, of course, meant that suburbanization was inevitable. The trend began slowly in the 1920s, but was temporarily halted by the Great Depression of the 1930s. It resumed in full force after World War II. This explosive growth not only in Cold Spring Harbor but throughout the Town of Huntington led directly to the establishment of one of the community’s most distinctive assets today—its school system. Originally four separate local school districts, students who wished to continue with high school, attended Huntington High School until 1958. When that district stopped accepting out of district residents, the local districts banded together and built their own high school, now one of the top rated schools in the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Ford is the second name in the second column.

Janet Ford is the second name in the middle column.

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

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Gone and Almost Forgotten

George Hawxhurst was an elderly blind man who lived at the Industrial Home for the Blind from soon after it first opened in 1951 on the 32½-acre former Walter Jennings estate, Burrwood, in Lloyd Harbor, until he died at the age of 83 in 1976.  He had no known relatives, no money, and was destined to be buried in an unmarked grave in the paupers’ section of a local cemetery.  But the director of the Home and other staff members remembered that he was from an old Cold Spring Harbor family and that the family had a cemetery on the hill south of Cold Spring Harbor’s Main Street.

Neighbors of the cemetery objected.  There hadn’t been a burial in the cemetery in a quarter century, certainly not since the surrounding property had been subdivided and new homes built nearby in the late 1960s.  It would be unsettling for the children who now lived in the neighborhood.  The Town Board, which had control of the cemetery, overrode those objections and agreed that Mr. Hawxhurst should be buried with his family.

Who was his family?  It turns out that Mr. Hawxhurst descended from some of the earliest settlers of Cold Spring Harbor, many of whom, like the cemetery in which they are buried, are now forgotten.

One of the earliest settlers of Cold Spring Harbor was the Rudyard family.  The Rudyard homestead sat at the northwest corner of Main Street and Goose Hill Road and is said to date to the seventeenth century (it survived until 1901-02).  Who the earliest Rudyards in Cold Spring Harbor were has not been determined yet.  But a later member of the family, Captain John Rudyard, married Martha Conklin in 1741 in Huntington.  Their children were baptized in Oyster Bay, which is also where he owned land, so he may have lived there.  Their son John, however, was a carpenter in Cold Spring Harbor.  He married Catherine Doty, from another old Cold Spring Harbor family.

Martha C. Rudyard, one of Captain John Rudyard’s granddaughters, married Walter Jones in 1819.  This Jones, however, is not of the whaling company Jones family.  That family descended from Major Thomas Jones who settled in Oyster Bay by way of Rhode Island.  This Walter Jones was the great grandson of a Jones who came to Cold Spring Harbor directly from Wales.  There was a Thomas Jones who settled in Huntington in the seventeenth century.  A record of his widow conveying land to their children in 1681 can be found in the Huntington Town Records (Vol. 1, page 301).  The progenitor of the whaling family did not arrive on Long Island until 1695.

Martha and Walter Jones had at least six children.  Their son Walter Jackson Jones became a sea captain.  He was not involved in whaling, but with his brother Edmund sailed to Australia, China, and Japan as well as other foreign ports.  He also had oyster beds and provided a barrel of the shellfish to David Bennett Hill, the Governor of New York from 1885 to 1891.

Walter Jackson Jones never married.  He lived with is unmarried sister, Sarah Ann, in the old family house which was located where the Cold Spring Harbor municipal parking now is.  They were considered an eccentric couple.  The house was rundown: chickens would roost on the sills of the open windows.  Sarah Ann died in 1903.  Walter Jackson died in 1916.

A third child of Walter and Martha Jones was Jane who married Edward Seaman.  Edward served in the Civil War and later became a blacksmith in Cold Spring Harbor.  He was one of the founders of the J.C. Walters Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Civil War veterans.  The Seamans lived in a house to the east of the Jones family homestead, where the post office is now located.   Edward Seaman died at age 58 in 1901.  They had one son and three daughters.  One daughter Jennie was born in 1871 and married at age 19.  She appears to have been widowed at a young age.  She and her son George lived with her mother. Jane Seaman died in 1923

Jennie Hawxhurst reported that she was a dressmaker working from home for the 1920 census.  In 1930, she reported housework as her occupation.  In 1940, when she was 69, she reported no occupation.  The next year, it was reported that a real estate developer had purchased the 7½-acre estate of Jane Seaman, including the homestead with plans to subdivide it into half-acre lots.  However, when Jennie Hawxhurst died in 1953, she bequeathed the house to the Industrial Home for the Blind, where her son was then living.  The Home for the Blind owned the property in 1960.  She died at the Hillcrest Nursing Home in Northport.

The Seaman House, now the site of the Cold Spring Harbor Post Office

The Seaman House, now the site of the Cold Spring Harbor Post Office

Eventually, the old Jones homestead property was sold to others and then in 1960 it was taken by the Town of Huntington by eminent domain to build a much needed parking lot for Cold Spring Harbor.  The Seaman home was torn down to build the new post office building in 1962.

All these members of the Rudyard-Jones family are buried high up on the hill behind the family homestead.  An inventory of the cemetery was taken in 1962.  The cemetery was at that time already “in pretty sorry shape.”  Nonetheless, the recorder thought he got all the inscriptions.  He did note that next to Edward Seaman’s grave were two fieldstone markers which were decorated with stones and appeared to be recently added.  He reports, “I have heard tell of an old Mrs. Seaman being buried there recently.”

Fourteen years later, someone remembered well enough to secure George a place in the cemetery—the last of his family to be buried in the old family cemetery behind the long gone family homestead.

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The Road Less Traveled By

This piece was updated on January 20, 2020 based on a newly discovered survey map.

Traveling east from Huntington towards Northport, about a mile past Park Avenue, a driver comes across Old Northport Road.  Until it was changed when the current bank building was constructed a few years ago, the intersection was a true fork in the road.  Continue on Route 25A, which curves to the left and you continue on a major artery passing a nursery, medical offices, and other commercial establishments.   Turn right down Old Northport Road, you travel down a narrow, unlined, quiet, residential street.  Judging by its name, the driver surmises that this was originally the road to Northport, which is, in fact, the case.  It seems obvious that a State highway engineer in Albany decided that this old road to Northport should be by-passed and a new better road built.

But why?  Old Northport Road is perhaps straighter than Route 25A and the descent from west to east is less steep (as is the climb from east to west).  It turns out the situation has nothing to do with Albany bureaucrats and everything to do with an early twentieth century wealthy landowner who wanted some privacy.

But first a detour into the nineteenth century.  Before the twentieth century, there were many fewer roads in Huntington.  Roads were laid out to connect points A and B.  The connection was direct, even if the roads did twist and turn to follow the topography.  Outside of villages, roads were usually nameless.  They were known for the two points on either end of the road.  A look at a road map shows that tradition continues further east, e.g. Patchogue-Mt. Sinai Road, and Miller Place-Yaphank Road.  Closer to home, there’s Syosset-Woodbury Road.  Alternatively, people referred to where the road went, which depended, of course, on which end you start from.  For example, what is now known as Greenlawn Road is known to old time Greenlawn residents as Huntington Road.

A section of the 1858 map of Huntington showing the road between Huntington and Northport, with a turn at the Jarvis house to the road to Centerport's grist mill.

A section of the 1858 map of Huntington showing the road between Huntington and Northport, with a turn at the Jarvis house to the road to Centerport’s grist mill. Click on the map to see an enlargement.

An 1858 map of Huntington shows a road leading from Huntington east to Centerport and then onto Northport (for the most part today’s 25A).  If you wanted to travel to the grist mill in Centerport, which was located on the west side of the harbor at Mill Dam Road, you could turn left at the bottom of the hill east of the intersection with today’s Washington Drive.  Perhaps because this route involved a climb up a steep hill, which was “very dangerous to travel,”[1]  a new road was built branching off of the road to Northport east of the fork with the road to Greenlawn (about where Woodruff Court is today).

It seems the new upper road became the preferred route to the east.  By 1883, the lower road had been so neglected that it was considered unfit for travel even though it “descends through the valley by an easy grade.”[2]  Using the upper road, which was in good condition, presented a problem for those traveling to the head of Centerport Harbor because of the steep slope down to the old road.  A proposal

A section of the 1873 map of Huntington showing the new road to Centerport's grist mill starting near the house of N.B. Conklin.

A section of the 1873 map of Huntington showing the new road to Centerport’s grist mill starting near the house of N.B. Conklin. Click on the map to see an enlargement.

was made to build a new road between the upper road and the all-but-abandoned lower road.  An eleven man jury met on December 15, 1883 at Merrill’s Hotel in Centerport to consider the proposal.[3]  Despite the fact that the new road would be straighter, shorter and less steep, the jury voted seven to four not to pursue the matter.  Opposition focused on the expense of putting in a new road, even though several neighboring property owners promised to contribute funds for the endeavor.  It was thought better to improve the old lower road.

Fast forward to 1907.  Roy A. Rainey, a millionaire sportsman from Cleveland, purchased Carmandale, the horse farm of Richard F. Carman—now the Crescent Club property.  Mr. Rainey quickly set about to improve his new property.    By 1908 hundreds of workers were busy remodeling the house and building a large addition.  The stables, which were too close to the house, were demolished and new stables were built further away.  Tennis courts were added (one grass, one clay).  A sprinkler system installed. A new well was driven.  In short, no expense was spared to create one of the finest estates on Long Island.[4]

There was one problem though.  The road to the Centerport mill ran too close to Mr. Rainey’s new house.  What’s a millionaire to do?  Ask to have the road relocated, of course.  In November 1908, Mr. Rainey asked the Town Board to consent to move the roadway several hundred feet to the south so that it would be the length of three football fields from his house.  On November 23, a special joint meeting of the Town Board and the Town Highway Commissioners met Mr. Rainey’s superintendent to review the proposed changes.  With some minor changes to civil engineer Frank Asbury’s map, the Town Board gave its consent to relocate the road just two days later.  Mr. Rainey, of course, agreed to bear the expense of the change.

The new road ran through the Jarvis farm, which Mr. Rainey purchased, passing between the Jarvis house and barn.

A section of the 1909 map ofHuntington showing the new road built by Roy Rainey.

A section of the 1909 map ofHuntington showing the new road built by Roy Rainey. Click on the map to see an enlargement.

The new route branched off from the road to Northport east of the turn for the road to the Centerport mill.  It then curved gently to the northeast for a short distance, then took an easterly course to the top of the hill where it turned northeast again to connect with the road to the mill.  A connection was built from the new road, down the hill, to meet up with the road to Northport.  We know this today as the intersection of 25A and Washington Drive.

The entrance to Mr. Rainey’s estate was at the southwest corner of his property.  The allee of trees that flanked Mr. Rainey’s driveway still stands and can be seen just west of the medical building at 205 East Main Street.

The new road was naturally the preferred route.  The old road to the south is identified on the 1941 Hagstrom street map as Lower Huntington Northport Road (who wants to take the low road?).  On the official 1946 Town Highway Map, it is identified by its current name, Old Northport Road.

Mr. Rainey’s 1908 road is, of course, now part of New York State Route 25A and has been since the State got involved with roads.  Route 25A never included Old Northport Road.  Historically, road building was a purely local concern.  Town government was responsible for laying out, maintaining and repairing roads.  This patchwork approach proved unsatisfactory by the end of the nineteenth century when bicycling was becoming ever more popular.  Bicyclist—or wheelmen, as they were called—started agitating for better roadways.  Their efforts were finally successful in 1898 when New York enacted the Good Roads Bill, also known as the “League of American Wheelmen Bill.”  Under the new law, the State would assume 50% of the expense of road construction, the County was responsible for 35% and the Town for the remaining 15%.  In addition to improving things for bicyclists, better roads benefitted farmers who could now get their produce to market more easily.

Suffolk County was quickly urged to seek its fair share of State funds.[5]  But it was not until the State raised $50 million through a bond issue in 1905 that large scale funding was available.  An additional $50 million was raised seven years later.

In Huntington State funding helped improve the Town’s two major east west thoroughfares (Jericho Turnpike and the then nameless northern road that is now known as 25A) and two roads to local train stations (Harbor Road connecting Cold Spring Harbor village with its train station, and New York Avenue).  At first dirt roads were improved by spreading gravel.  When gravel proved too difficult to maintain, macadam was used.  Macadam is a construction method rather than a material.  Developed by John Loudon McAdam in 1820, the method called for using small stones, all of the same size over a slightly convex surface.  Starting in the early twentieth century tar was used to coat the stones both to act as a binding agent and to keep dust down.  A surface so treated is tarmac, short for tar-bound macadam.  In the second decade of the twentieth century, concrete was used to form a long lasting durable road surface.  Asphalt was introduced in the 1920s.

What does any of that have to do with Old Northport Road?  When Huntington began to concrete 25A in 1920, the work started in Cold Spring Harbor and went as far as Rainey’s gate.  Later the work was continued from Rainey’s gate to Northport and on to King’s Park.  In other words, the improvements made on 25A were made on Mr. Rainey’s new road, not on the old road to Northport.  Therefore, from the very beginning, Route 25A incorporated the road Mr. Rainey built and not the historic road to Northport.

This explanation may have been as winding as an old country lane.  But I hope we have reached our destination: an understanding of why one segment of what had been the main route between Huntington and Northport is now the road less traveled by.

[1] The Long-Islander, December 21, 1883

[2] The Long-Islander, September 7, 1883

[3] The Long-Islander, December 14, 1883

[4] The Long-Islander, April 24, 1908

[5] The Long-Islander, February 18, 1899

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Happy Constitution Day!

That’s not a greeting often heard even though Congress officially designated September 17 as Constitution Day in 2004.  Before then, September 17 was known as Citizenship Day, the designation given to that date by Congress in 1952.  The holiday’s origins are even earlier.  Citizenship Day had been known as “I am an American Day” and was celebrated on the third Sunday in May pursuant to an act of Congress signed in 1940.

But how and when did “I am an American Day” start?  In a letter to the Editor of Broadcasting magazine (June 28, 1948), Martin Pine claimed his brother, Arthur Pine, gets the credit.  According to Mr. Pine, during the New York World Fair, which took place in 1939-40, songwriters brought his brother a song called “I am an American.”  Arthur Pine, who was handling publicity for bandleader Gray Gordon, convinced the bandleader to use the song on the radio and later Arthur Pine arranged for “I am an American Day” at the World’s Fair.  The celebration was picked up by the Hearst newspapers and came to the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt who signed the legislation officially recognizing the day.

Is that really the beginning of the observation?  Not if you consult a granite monument in front of historic house on New York Avenue in South Huntington.  According to the monument, “I am an American Day” was first held in Huntington in May 1938—a year before the World’s Fair.

1947 Monument

1947 Monument

At that time the home was owned by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Seghers and was known as Sunnyhill Farm.  Mrs. Seghers was from Poland.  Her first husband was a professor of Natural Sciences at the University of Petrograd.  According to a 1957 account, she lost her husband, her only child and her fortune at the hands of the communists before fleeing to America.  To show her appreciation for her new country and its ideals, she decided to devout herself to the propagation of Americanism and an appreciation for the country’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  She established The Helios Foundation, which was dedicated to “cultivating American ideals and better understanding among mankind.”

In Huntington the third Sunday continued to be celebrated as “I am an American Day” despite the change to Citizenship Day made by Congress in 1952.

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