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Known as the Pickle King, Samuel Ballton pursued numerous ventures other than farming.  He was hard working, determined and possessed of common sense.  With those attributes he was able to fulfill the American Dream at a time when the American Dream was not available to most African Americans.

Samuel Ballton in his Civil War Uniform

Samuel Ballton in his Civil War Uniform

That is what makes Ballton’s story remarkable.  He embodied the self help principles espoused by Booker T. Washington, who spent summers in Huntington during Ballton’s lifetime.  It would be interesting to know if the two men ever met.  Unlike Washington, Ballton never attended school.  Yet he managed to succeed in a variety of endeavors and become a respected member of his community.

Like Washington, Ballton was born into slavery.  His mother was enslaved on the plantation of Vincent A. Marmaduke, which was located in Westmoreland County, Virginia about 80 miles from Washington, D.C.  Ballton was born in 1838, one of nine children.  By the time he was seven years old, he was hired out to work on a neighboring plantation.  At some point before the Civil War, he met a woman named Ann Rebecca Richardson, who lived on a neighboring plantation owned by John Kricher.  In April 1861 they were married by the overseer on the Kircher plantation.[1]  The following month, Virginia voters ratified the state’s succession from the Union.

Ballton and his wife, who used her middle name Rebecca, were soon separated.  Ballton was sent to work as a section hand on the Virginia Central Railroad in the Blue Ridge Mountains, some 200 miles to the west.  The rail line was important to the Confederate war effort and was continually damaged by Union Calvary forces, necessitating frequent repairs.[2]

On Whitsunday (i.e. Pentecost) 1862, Ballton and five other enslaved Africans decided to take advantage of the four day holiday to escape.  The holiday ran from Saturday through Tuesday (June 7-10).  They hoped this would give them a three day head start before their disappearance was noticed.  With some flour and bacon under their shirts, on Saturday night they walked 17 miles to Frederick Hall, Virginia where they came across the master of the railroad for whom they were working.  They were afraid their escape would be short-lived, but the master suspected nothing.  They continued on until Wednesday morning when they reached the Union lines about four miles from Spotsylvania.  They had walked about 40 to 50 miles.

Ballton joined a Wisconsin regiment as a cook.  But his ultimate goal was to secure his wife’s escape as well.  He first tried to rescue Rebecca a short time after his own escape.  Although much of the territory near the plantation was held by Union forces, Ballton did encounter southern troops.  He would tell them that he had been captured by the northerners but had escaped and was now returning to his plantation.  He apparently was convincing and was able to reach Rebecca.  It must have been very soon after his escape from the railroad because their first child was born in February 1863.  He didn’t feel he could get Rebecca out safely at that time (i.e. the summer of 1862).  He escaped again with three other enslaved Africans.  They made it to Fredericksburg.  Eventually he came back for Rebecca and the couple along with Rebecca’s mother, and two others made the fifty mile journey to Fredericksburg in 14 hours.  Although the date of their escape is not known, their eldest son, Benjamin, was born in February 1863 in Alexandria,[3] so the escape must have been some time before that.

They settled in Alexandria where Ballton had found work.  In early 1864, Ballton went to Boston.  There on March 5, he enlisted in the Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Calvary (Colored), as it was known.[4]  Ballton’s tenure in the regiment was eventful.  They were among the first to enter Richmond in April 1865.  They guarded Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout, MD.  The regiment later traveled to Texas.

Ballton was honorably discharged at the end of November 1865 and returned to Alexandria.  While he was away, a second son had been born the previous September.  It is unknown where he lived over the next few years.  In 1873, he found work on the Greenlawn farm of Charles D. Smith.[5]  How he came to settle in Greenlawn is also not known.

Ballton later described the Greenlawn of 1873 as a small community with “one little grocery store, one little butcher shop, [and] one little hotel.”[6]  In fact, Greenlawn was also a new community owing its existence to the arrival of the Long Island Railroad just five years before Ballton arrived there.

Within two years, Ballton owned land in Greenlawn.  In October 1875, he purchased an acre of land on the north side of Little Plains Road east of Broadway from Joel B. Smith.[7]  The land is described as being to the east of other land owned by Ballton, meaning he was already a landowner.   His wife Rebecca purchased an additional three acres next to their farm on Little Plains Road in 1883.[8]

Following the lead of Greenlawn’s Pickle Pioneer, Alexander Gardiner, Ballton grew cucumbers for pickling in one of the local pickling plants.  In 1882, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Greenlawn farms produced 32,000,000 pickles.  The only farmer mentioned by name was Ballton, who gathered 1,500,000 pickles from 26 acres.  It is unlikely that Ballton owned 26 acres of farmland.[9]  It seems more likely that he leased land from others.

His success at growing pickles earned him the moniker “The Pickle King.” The term first appeared in the local papers in 1900 in connection with a non-pickle related story.[10]  Indeed there seems to be no end to Ballton’s undertakings.  For a while he was a purchasing agent for a Boston pickle house.[11]  In 1886, The Samuel Ballton Family [or Jubilee] Troupe presented musical performances featuring songs from the “good old slavery days” as The Long-Islander described it.  A concert in Port Jefferson was well received, but another in Northport was not a financial success.[12]

For several years in the 1890s, Ballton operated a dining tent at the Fairgrounds track in Huntington Station.[13]  He seems to have given up the Fairgrounds venture in 1900 when he announced plans to open a boarding house and lunch room in Greenlawn.[14]  He also continued to take on manual labor.  In 1901, he contracted to cart 2,500 cubic yards of earth to fill Biggs’ pond in Huntington Station so that Allison Lowndes could develop the site.[15] It is unlikely that the 63 year old Ballton did the work himself.  He reportedly hired African Americans from the south to assist with his farming and other ventures.

In 1902, Ballton purchased a 5½ acre hilltop parcel on the north side of Laurel Hill Road, east of Stony Hollow Road.[16]  The following June, he announced that he would run a stage between Centerport and the train station in Greenlawn.  He also opened a livery business and arranged to have a telephone line installed.[17]  He later advertised the Centerport property for sale or lease, noting that one could mine “at least 100,000 yards of the finest building sand” from the property.  It would also be a “splendid place for manufacturing all kinds of Cement Blocks and Tile for building purposes, as there is an abundance of spring water on the place.”[18]

Ballton also performed work for the Town.  In 1903, the Commissioners of Highways paid him $21.50 for roadwork on one occasion and another $14 for another road work project.[19]  A few years later he was reimbursed $6 by the Town’s Overseers of the Poor for “care of pauper children.”[20]

Rebecca Ballton

Rebecca Ballton

His wife, Rebecca, was also a dedicated worker.  Her granddaughter Virginia Jackson recalled that her grandmother was an excellent cook.  Some families came to the Ballton house every Sunday for dinner, for which they paid Rebecca.  It may well be that Rebecca was the cook at the Fairgrounds dining tent and at the lunch room in Greenlawn.  Rebecca would also can fruits and vegetables.  Rebecca worked in Northport, apparently doing laundry.  Another granddaughter, Bernice Easton, recalled her grandmother walking from Northport to Greenlawn with a laundry basket on her head.  According to Census records, Rebecca had 14 children, although by 1910 only seven were alive.  Rebecca sewed, knitted, and quilted.  She would often work half the night on family chores after having worked all day outside the home.  She never left the house except to go to work or church.[21]  She continued to work for families in Northport as late as 1910 when she was in her late sixties.[22]

Samuel Ballton’s most lasting venture was building houses.  In fact, he claimed some credit for being an early developer of Greenlawn. He explained that after being in Greenlawn for five years, he purchased five acres of land, improved it, and then sold it for a small profit.  This must be land other than the land on Little Plains Road that he had purchased before 1875.  Later he purchased 7½ acres in the central part of Greenlawn’s commercial area which he subdivided into 33 lots and built “decent cottages,” which he sold for a small profit.[23]

Subdivision filed by Ballton's son-in-law James E. Jackson

Subdivision filed by Ballton’s son-in-law James E. Jackson

Most land was purchased in his wife’s name.  Rebecca was the grantee in at least 22 real estate transactions between 1890 and 1910.  It was a common practice to purchase property in a wife’s name in order to shield the assets from potential adverse legal judgments against the husband, who was exposed to potential liability from his work activities.

In 1890 and 1891, the Balltons, in three separate transactions, purchased about a half acre of land on the north side of Railroad Street, east of Gaines Avenue.[24]  The Balltons “moved into their newly purchased home near the railroad depot” in early 1891.[25]  In April of that year, they purchased an extra 25’ of land to the north of the property[26] and secured a third deed that appears to cover part of the same property conveyed the year before, but this time from different grantors.[27]

The subdivision map for 7½ acre parcel that Ballton wrote about was filed under the name of his son-in-law James E. Jackson in May 1893.  I have not determined when Ballton’s daughter Mary married Jackson.  He tragically died a year after the subdivision was filed from complications arising from appendicitis.  He was only 35 years old and left Mary with three children.[28]  The subdivision encompassed the area north of Railroad Street and west of Broadway and created Smith Street (the first 808’ west of Broadway) and Gaines Avenue (the first 544’ north of Railroad Street).  The streets were named for the previous owners of the property.

Three houses built by Ballton on this property survive.  He built the house on the northeast corner of Smith Street and Gaines Avenue and reportedly lived there until he sold it to Joel B. Smith in 1903.  Further east at 3 Smith Street, he built a house for William Hudson, a blacksmith whose shop was next to the house.  The third house now sits next to the Hudson House on the west side, after being moved in 1997 from the corner of Broadway and Smith Street to make room for the post office.[29]

In 1896, Ballton was listed in Lain & Healy’s Brooklyn and Long Island Business Directory as a Real Estate agent with “Homes and lots for sale in different parts of Long Island.”  It is unknown if he conducted any business outside of the Town of Huntington.

Another subdivision that Ballton created was on the other side of Greenlawn.  In September 1905, Rebecca Ballton purchased a 3¾ -acre tract of land on the north side of the railroad tracks east of what is now known as Taylor Avenue.[30]  The land was surveyed the next month and subdivided into 18 lots.[31]  The following spring, Ballton borrowed money from Alexander S. Gardiner to develop the property.

The 1905 Subdivision

The 1905 Subdivision

In March 1906, it was reported that Ballton had broken ground for a new house.[32]  This is most likely the house on lots 3 and 4 of the subdivision, which is located at the corner of Taylor Avenue and Boulevard Avenue (30 Taylor Avenue).  Interestingly, the report indicates that the home would be built by “Builder Ost of Woodbury.”  Perhaps by this point Ballton had given up the hands-on construction end of the business.  In September 1906, Ballton advertised “Valuable Property for Sale.”  The property included “a modern house 26 x 30 feet . . . equipped with modern improvements.”  Ballton offered to sell the house and 18 lots separately or together.[33]  A later advertisement asked:

WHY huddle up in a tenement paying from $10-$20 a month, when you can purchase a new 4 room cottage, large plot of ground at Greenlawn, adjoining L.I.R.R.; five minutes to the station; price, $1,000; half can remain on easy installments.  See property and owner, Samuel Ballton, Greenlawn, L.I. P.O. Box 43.[34]

As it turned out, the first sale did not include the house.  Max Demean in September 1907 purchased the east end of the property: lots 9, 15, 16, 17 & 18.[35]  No houses were built on these lots and they remain vacant today.  A year later, Ballton sold lots 3 and 4 to Charles W. Grant.[36]  Four years later, Grant purchased lots 1 and 2,[37] which had been purchased by real estate investor Edwin N. Rowley and lumberyard owner A.B. Copley in 1909.[38]  The house was eventually purchased by the husband and wife vaudeville team of Charles Gardner and Marie Stoddard

The house at 34 Taylor Avenue was built to be a store in the hope that a new train depot would be built further east than the original station on Broadway.  An advertisement for the house in May 1911 notes that it has been “fitted with shelves for business.”[39]  Ballton sold the house and the adjoining lots (lots 5, 6, 10 and 11 on the subdivision map) to his son Charles in October 1912.[40]  Ballton’s granddaughter Berenice Easton, who was born in 1915, lived in the house until her death in 2007.

In 1910, the house on lot 7 (75 Boulevard Avenue) was built.  The house was completed in time for the Balltons to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on April 15, 1911.  Reportedly the house was not yet furnished, which allowed more room for the numerous celebrants.  That house along with two small lots across the street on the railroad tracks (lots12 and 13) were sold in February 1912 to William J. Gardiner.[41] The Gardiner family continues to own the property.

A few months after the sale of the house to Gardiner, the Balltons purchased an acre of land across the street on the northwest corner of Boulevard Avenue and Taylor Avenue.[42]  By the end of the year, Ballton had a new barn built on this property;[43] presumably the house (67 Boulevard Avenue) had been built before the barn.

Ballton also built at least one house in Northport, on Woodbine Avenue.[44]  Despite his various ventures, Ballton’s occupation was listed as “Day Labor” on the 1900 census and as “Laborer” on the 1910 census.

Ballton had his share of misfortune as well.  First and foremost, he outlived at least half of his children.[45]  In 1892, a Huntington merchant secured a judgment against Ballton in the amount of $30.  The sheriff levied on one of Ballton’s pickle patches to secure the debt.  But the sheriff failed to harvest the pickles, which needed to be done every day.  As a result the plants went to seed and were worthless.  Ballton sued the sheriff for $100.[46]  No report of the result of the suit has been found.

Fire was a recurring problem for Ballton.  In 1885, he was burning brush probably on his Little Neck Road property.  The fire spread to an adjoining property and burned 15 acres of woodland before it was brought under control.[47]  Fifteen year later, Ballton’s house was damaged by fire resulting in $200 in damages and the loss of $75 cash.[48]  Four years later the result was much worse.  Ballton’s house in Centerport, which was less than a year old, and its contents were destroyed by fire.[49]

Ballton was guarded in what he said.  One of his favorite expressions was, “If I hear the truth of it and I guess I do.”[50]  But he was a committed booster of Greenlawn and of Republican politics.  According to a suit filed by Ballton against Commack farmer Manly Ruland, the day before the presidential election of 1900, Ruland contrived to get Ballton helplessly intoxicated and then put him in a wagon and had him  dumped in the woods near Commack four miles from his home so that Ballton would not be able to vote for the Republican ticket.  Ballton, who was not wearing a coat, awoke at midnight and crawled into a nearby hay stack to keep warm.  The next morning, once he figured out where he was, he got back to Greenlawn and went straight to the polls to vote.  The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.[51]

Ballton weighed in on the three way race for president in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt split from the Republican Party and ran as a Progressive.  Ballton took issue with Roosevelt’s action in waging a third party contest fearing it would split the ticket and give the election to the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson.  He compared the Progressives to deserters and traitors.  Ballton said he preferred to go down with “colors flying” than to support the Progressives.[52]  Wilson won the election with only 42% of the popular vote.

Ballton lived in the house at 67 Boulevard until his death in April 1917.  Rebecca sold the house at in 1920.[53]  She then lived with her daughters until her death in 1925.[54]  Both Rebecca and Samuel Ballton are buried at Huntington Rural Cemetery.

 

Additional comment from a former Greenlawn resident:

 

Having lived in Greenlawn nearly all my life and serving a couple of terms as president of the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association, I am very familiar with the story of Samuel Ballton.  He was a very enterprising man  – a  Civil War veteran, cucumber pickle farmer and developer.  As indicated, the homes he built in Greenlawn after years of growing pickles all still stand.  In  fact, those that were near Gaines Avenue were right around the corner from where Lois and I lived until we sold and moved to PA.  His daughter, Jessie Easton, and her daughter, Berenice lived in a house he built next to the railroad tracks, that was originally intended to be a general store, not far from the home in which I grew up.  I knew them both from infancy and they were pretty much family to all of us in Greenlawn who knew them. They were members of, and regularly attended, the Greenlawn Presbyterian Church which is where my family and many in Greenlawn belonged.  My mother used to tell me that when she would walk past their home with me in my stroller (on our way to meet my dad’s train) she would often stop to talk with Berenice and her mom if they were outside. Her mom was a large woman whom I (then about 2 years old) used to  think was Aunt Jemima because she always wore a bandanna around her head and looked very much like her.  By contrast,  I remember that on Sundays, Jessie  was always dressed “to the nines” for church in a  flowery dress and large brimmed, her daughter Berenice, always looking resplendent, too.  Berenice, the only black student in  the Greenlawn Public School in the 1920s, was a very well-read woman.  As an adult, she did housework for many local families and her mother did laundry for local folks, which is how they supported themselves.  After he mom, died, Berenice continued to attend church every Sunday until, in her 90s,  she fell ill and ultimately  passed away. (I remember that she always looked much younger than her years in later life.)   Before she passed away, I called on her while she was mostly bedridden and had a nice visit with her.   I loaned her a book I had purchased some years before about a  young, black woman artist who chronicled plantation life in the South in primitive-style paintings,  much like those of Grandma Moses.  As a student of both history and art, she found it fascinating and thanked me for bringing it to her.  I will always miss Berenice. She was a part of my life from childhood well into adulthood.

 

 

[1] Letter dated February 11, 1918 submitted by Rebecca Ballton to secure a veteran’s widow’s pension.  Transcription in the archives of the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association.

[2] http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_Central_Railroad_During_the_Civil_War_The

[3] The place of birth is provided in Benjamin’s obituary in The Long-Islander,  July 12, 1945

[4] This was not the regiment featured in the film Glory.   That was the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

[5] The source for the early years of Ballton’s life is a profile of him that appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on September 8, 1910, page 82.  Ballton would have been the source for the information in the article.

[6] Letter to the editor of The Long-Islander, March 20, 1914

[7] Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, Deed Liber 217, page 380.

[8] Deed Liber 277, page 190.

[9] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 2, 1882

[10] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 14, 1900, page 8

[11] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 8, 1910, page 82.

[12] The Long-Islander, November 27, 1886 and December 11, 1886

[13] The Long-Islander,  July 20, 1895

[14] The Long-Islander, February 23, 1900

[15] The Long-Islander, February 15, 1901

[16] Deed Liber 517, page 431

[17] The Long-Islander, June 12, 1903

[18] The Long-Islander, February 6, 1914.  In 1910 the house was listed as one of hundreds throughout Suffolk County that had been sold at a tax sale (The Long-Islander, May 6, 1910).  However, Ballton continued to advertise the property for sale in the following years.  Perhaps he purchased the property at the tax sale.

[19] The Long-Islander, March 25, 1904.

[20] The Long-Islander, March 31, 1911

[21] Virginia Jackson’s and Bernice Easton’s recollections have been recorded in the archives of the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association

[22] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 8, 1910, page 82

[23] The Long-Islander, March 20, 1914

[24] Deed Liber 342, page 224.

[25] The Long-Islander,  February 14, 1891

[26] Deed Liber 344, page 407

[27] Deed Liber 344, page 408

[28] The Long-Islander,  August 25, 1894

[29] Greenlawn: A Long Island Hamlet, by Louise Dougher and Carol Bloomgarden, Arcadia Press.  The authors write that Ballton built the Howarth house circa 1894.  However. The Long-Islander, March 31, 1894 reported that “Mr. Sammis of Commack is the builder.”

[30] Deed Liber 574, page 10

[31] Map of Property of Rebecca Ballton filed as map # 423 with the Suffolk County Clerk on November 16, 1905

[32] The Long-Islander, March 16, 1906, page 6

[33] The Long-Islander, September 7, 1906, page 4

[34] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 21, 1910

[35] Deed Liber 640, page 40

[36] The Long-Islander, October 30, 1908, page 5

[37] The Long-Islander, June 14. 1912

[38] Deed Liber 685, page 596

[39] The Long-Islander, May 5, 1911, page 4

[40] Deed Liber 829, page 75

[41] Deed Liber 795, page 413

[42] Deed Liber 822, page 198

[43] The Long-Islander, December 6, 1912, page 6

[44] Brooklyn Dailey Eagle, July 19, 1896

[45] Various sources give different numbers for the number of children in the family.  The census records indicate 14, of whom 7 were still living as of 1910.

[46] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 7, 1892

[47] The Long-Islander, April 24, 1885

[48] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 26, 1900

[49] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 25, 1904

[50] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 8, 1910, page 82

[51] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 14, 1900.  The verdict was reported in The Long-Islander, November 16, 1900.

[52] The Long-Islander, November 1, 1912

[53] Deed Liber 997, page 227

[54] The Long-Islander, May 22, 1925

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.

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.

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

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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?

image

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