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Well into the twentieth century, the open level land in the Elwood-East Northport area was used for farming.  The post-World War II population boom on Long Island saw these farms sprout houses instead of crops.  Few remnants of the area’s earlier history remain.  There are a couple of historic houses on Elwood Road, but little else.

Tucked away in a 1963 subdivision bordered on the west by Elwood Road and on the south by Cedar Road is an unexpected historic site—a cemetery.  It was not unusual for local families to set aside a patch of ground as a place of burial for one family or for several.  In fact, throughout the Town of Huntington, there are 56 such historic cemeteries.  Most are very small—one has only one grave.  Many are landlocked in someone’s backyard.  The cemetery on Foothill Lane sits on a half acre plot with full access from the street, just like the houses in the neighborhood.  It is almost as if the builder forgot to build a house on one of the lots.

One of the newly reset markers

One of the newly reset markers

On this half acre parcel are five intact gravestones, five broken stones, and one fieldstone marker.  The five intact stones mark the graves of seven members of the Totten family who died between 1902 and 1946.  There is no indication of who the Tottens were; but it is reasonable to assume knowing the history of the area that they must have been local farmers in the days before suburbanization.  However, the atlases of 1909, 1917, and 1931 do not show the name Totten on any of the nearby properties.

Further research reveals that these Tottens were not local farmers—they weren’t farmers at all.  They lived in Brooklyn, but they had deep roots in Elwood.  When they died, their families brought the bodies back to be buried with their ancestors.

In the early twentieth century before suburbanization, amateur genealogists would visit old cemeteries such as this one and record the names on the stones.  Thanks to that work, we know of six other people buried at the Totten Cemetery.  From the names on the grave markers, along with the names recorded nearly a hundred years ago, we know that these members of the family are buried here:

  • Ruth Totten, wife of Nathan Totten (c. 1762-1809)
  • Nathan Totten (c. 1793-1864)
  • And his wife, Lavina Totten (c. 1793-1869)
  • Peter D. Totten (c. 1800-1871)
  • And his wife, Sarah W. Totten (c. 1809-1843)
  • Nathan M. Totten (c. 1818-1851)
  • Charles Mortimer Totten (1831-1918)
  • And his wife, Margaret Anna Totten (1842-1925)
  • Orlando S. Totten (c. 1836-1902)
  • And his wife, Phebe M. Totten (c. 1839-1924)
  • And their daughter, Emma Totten (1862-1946)
  • Gilson I. Totten (1837-1916)
  • And his wife, Mary E. Totten (1840-1909)

Now that the dates are earlier, it makes sense to consult earlier maps.  The name Totten does not appear in this area on the 1858 or 1873 atlas.  But the 1837 Coastal Survey shows a Totten house on the north side of Cedar Road near where Greenvale Drive is today—about 640 feet southeast from the cemetery.  Census records and newspaper articles provide clues to the family.

The 1790 census lists a Nathaniel Totten as a head of household living with a woman over the age of 16, presumably his wife.   The early census takers did not gather much information about those they were recording.  But from this meager record, we know that the Totten family had a long history in Huntington.  The Ruth Totten listed above, who died in 1809 at the age of 47, was probably Nathaniel’s wife, assuming the Nathaniel on the census is the same as the Nathan on Ruth’s grave stone.

Nathan(iel) and Ruth seem to have had at least two sons Nathan born circa 1793 and Peter born circa 1800.  In 1850, Nathaniel Totten, Jr. (there’s that inconsistency in the names again) and his wife Lavina defaulted on a mortgage.[i]  Two farms, one 10 acres, the other 12 acres, were to be sold at public auction.  The 10 acre farm was located on “the highway leading from the Dwelling House of said Nathan Totten, Jr. [the name changed from one line to the next within the printed notice] to the house of Isaac Buffett.”  That would be Cedar Road.

A third Nathan Totten died in 1851 at the age of 33.  He may have been the son of the Nathan Totten who defaulted on the mortgage.  This third Nathan was deaf and mute.  His wedding in 1844 to Mary Emma Mitchell, also deaf and mute, received notice in the local papers because the ceremony was communicated to the bride and groom by sign language.[ii]  Nathan was a teacher at the unfortunately named Institution for the Dumb in New York City and later at the Institution for Deaf Mutes at Jacksonville, Illinois.[iii]   Nathan died in Brooklyn.  “His remains were taken to Comac for interment, of which place he was a native.”  Today we would not call this area Comac, as Commack used to be spelled, but place names on Long Island can be ill-defined.  For more about place names, see the entry “By Any Other Name,” posted on this blog in April 2011 (https://huntingtonhistory.com/2011/04/12/by-any-other-name/).

Nathan and Lavina were the parents of Charles Mortimer Totten (1831-1918) and Orlando S. Totten (1836-1902), who were living together in Brooklyn in 1865 with their mother Lavina.  The brothers were both listed as milkmen.  By 1900 Charles was living in Babylon.

The second son of the Nathan listed on the 1790 census was Peter.  He moved with his young family to Brooklyn in 1840.  His son Gilson was born in 1837.  Gilson’s obituary identifies his mother as Julia Ackerley Totten.  Peter D. Totten is buried here with his wife Sarah W. Totten.  It seems Peter must have remarried.    On the 1855 New York State census, the 53 year old Peter is listed as a widow and living with Clark Ackely, presumably his brother-in-law (the spelling of name son census records is not always accurate).  The 1855 census indicates that Peter and Gilson shared the same occupation but it is difficult to make out the handwriting to see what it was.

From Gilson’s obituary, we can see that Peter eventually became a coal merchant and that Gilson followed him in that business.  Gilson was also very active in the Baptist Church and served for several years as a director of the Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburg.[iv]  Reflecting the confusion of place names on Long Island, the newspaper reports that Gilson would be buried “at Elwood, Dix Hills, East Northport, L.I.”

Now thanks to an Eagle Scout project by Derek Capri, the final resting place of the Totten family has been cleaned up, stones reset, and the family’s story (in part at least) revealed.

Scouts resetting one of the Markers

Scouts resetting one of the Markers

[i] The Long-Islander, April 5, 1850

[ii] The Long-Islander, July 26, 1844

[iii] The Long-Islander, September 19, 1851

[iv] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 6, 1916.

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Civil War Homecoming

On Friday, April 17, 2015, the Town of Huntington kicked off a year long series of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.  The event was held outside the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building, in which the Huntington Historical Society unveiled its new exhibit on the Civil War.  Below are the remarks I made.

We are standing today between the place where soldiers from Huntington were welcomed home after the Civil War and the monument built to honor those who did not come home.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Huntington like the rest of the country experienced a wide range of emotions.  News of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee was met with the ringing of church bells and dinner bells, and the firing of large and small guns.  Flags were hoisted and people were jubilant.   On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, the people of Huntington gathered at Euterpean Hall, the recently built meeting hall on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street, to celebrate the end of the war.

Rejoicing quickly turned to mourning.  By noon the next day, Huntington residents received the devastating news that their president had been assassinated.  That Sunday, which was Easter, the churches in town were draped in mourning.

The following Wednesday—a stormy, rainy day in Huntington and the day of Lincoln’s funeral in Washington—Huntington joined the nation in a day of mourning.  All the stores were closed and draped in black.

Four months later, Huntington held a large reception for the men of the 127th regiment.  In a vacant lot at the corner of New York Avenue and Elm Street, the town welcomed the soldiers and sailors home and thanked them for their sacrifices.  The event was hosted by Rear Admiral Hiram Paulding, who lived in what is now known as Lloyd Harbor and who served as Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the war.  The keynote speaker was Henry J. Scudder, who thanked the men for fighting to extend the ideals of the Revolution, for fighting to expand liberty and democracy and put an end to slavery.  Fourteen hundred Huntington men fought in the Civil War.

After the speeches, musical performances by the Huntington Glee Club, and dinner, the returning soldiers walked over to F.G. Sammis property at Fairview Street for a target-shooting contest.  You would have thought they’d done enough shooting in the war.

Even before the war was over, in December 1864, a concert was held in Euterpean Hall to raise money for the Huntington Monument Association.  That effort finally reached fruition almost thirty years later when the building in front of you was completed.  Built as the first permanent library building in town, it was dedicated to the men from Huntington who lost their lives in the War.  The statue in front bears an inscription in Latin: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori; or in English: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.”

image

The statue in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building

What did the soldiers and sailors return to?  Huntington which at that time included what is now the Town of Babylon, had a population of less than 8,000.

In Cold Spring Harbor, the whaling industry was coming to a close and the hamlet would enter a period of decline.  The brickyards in West Neck continued to produce millions of bricks each year.  Centerport was small crossroads community.  In Northport, with a population of just a little over a thousand, shipbuilding was at its peak with Jesse Carll’s yard earning a reputation for fast, dependable vessels built on time and on budget.

Transportation to New York was by steamboat, but the service was crowded and unreliable.  The Long Island Railroad reached only as far as Syosset.  Without the railroad, Huntington Station, Greenlawn, and East Northport did not yet exist as commercial areas.  Those communities would later grow up around train stations after the Railroad stretched into Huntington shortly after the war.

In Huntington village, New York Avenue did not exist north of Main Street.  The village’s one brick building, the Leaycroft building—better known in recent years as the Rubins Building—had been built in 1859.  More brick buildings would follow in the post war years.

The 1860s was also a period of church building in Huntington.  Behind you, the Second Presbyterian Church had been built the year before the war ended.  Also in 1864, the Methodist Church on Main Street and Clinton Place had been rebuilt.  St. John’s Church on Park Avenue was rebuilt in 1862.  In the years after the war, St. Patrick’s Church would move to a new brick building on Main Street and the Universalist Church would move to New York Avenue.

Also in 1864, the tenant house on Main Street across from Prospect Street where Walt Whitman published the first editions of The Long-Islander was torn down and replaced with a new house for Dr. Woodend, who had lived in a house behind where you are standing tonight.  Across the street from here were the home and gardens of Catherine Stuart.

Main Street was home to two hotels.  On the corner of Main and Wall Streets was the Huntington House, where volunteers had enlisted to join the Union Army.  The Suffolk Hotel was on the south side of Main Street, west of New York Avenue.   A map included in the exhibit inside the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building shows the village as it was in 1860.  A digital display of photographs gives us an idea of what the village looked like.

It was a small village of wooden buildings, dirt roads, and residents proud to welcome home their sons, husbands and fathers and to remember those who did not come home.

As we begin a year-long commemoration of the end of the Civil War, we ask that you also remember their sacrifices.

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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?

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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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