While you could say that historic preservation is its own reward, it is nice to have outstanding preservation projects recognized publicly.  In this spirit, Long Island’s leading historic preservation advocacy organization, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, recently recognized several projects, organizations and individuals for outstanding preservation work.

The 2016 awards were given to

Friends of Connetquot State Park – Organization Excellence
People for the Pavilion – Organizational Excellence
Old Whaler’s Church, Sag Harbor – Project Excellence
289 East Main Street, Huntington – Project Excellence
Sands Point Lighthouse, Sands Point – Project Excellence
Mr. Jake Gorst – Huyler C. Held Award for Publications

All are worthy recipients, of course.  But the one that was most meaningful to me was the recognition of the wonderful work of Peter Moore in restoring the late eighteenth century saltbox home at 289  East Main Street, Centerport.  And not just because the house is located in the Town of Huntington.  This project is meaningful because it shows that the most important ingredient in any effort to preserve our built environment is a sympathetic owner.

All the preservation codes, deed restrictions, tax incentives, and other carrots and sticks employed to preserve our past pale in comparison to the loving efforts of a dedicated homeowner.  Most remarkable of all is that Mr. Moore had no previous experience with historic restoration projects.  But he could see value in this little house that others could not.  He saw the potential that others did not.  He made the investment of time and money that others would not.

So what did Mr. Moore see when he first visited the property?  He saw a historic house that had only been used as a summer residence since the 1920s.  The last owner, Ruth Barto, died in 2009 and bequeathed the house to the Congregational Church of Huntington, which is located at the top of the hill behind the house (there is a stairway from the house to the church affectionately called “the stairway to heaven”).  The church did not have the resources to restore the house, nor could it make any use of the building.  In her will, Mrs. Barto encouraged the church to sell the property and use the proceeds to enhance the church’s endowment.

The house had been a cherished summer retreat for most of the twentieth century.  It was purchased by two friends in 1923.  Isabella Brandow and Eunice Allen, who lived and  worked in the City, visited the house on weekends.  Ms. Allen married and died in childbirth a few years later.  Ms. Brandow bought Ms. Allen’s ownership interest in the house from her estate.  Ms. Brandow thought that like any good vacation home, the little saltbox needed a name.  When Ms. Brandow went to  a performance of Hamlet and heard the Danish prince claim “I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space” she had the name:  “The Nutshell.”

The Nutshell around 1930

The Nutshell around 1930 (photo courtesy of the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association).

When Ms. Brandow died in 1945, her sister Margaret Muller, a Port Director for the United Seaman’s Service, inherited the house.  She spent most of her time overseas, but spent her home leaves at The Nutshell.  Ms. Muller died in 1973 and left the house to her niece Ruth Barto, who continued to spend summers at The Nutshell, just as she had as a child.

After Mrs. Barto died in 2009, the house sat vacant for three-and-a-half years.  Mr. Moore closed on the house a week before Super Storm Sandy hit Long Island.  This is what he found when he visited the property after the storm.


Luckily this large tree wasn’t taller or growing closer to the house or it would have destroyed the house.


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Rot was clearly evident.


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Mr. Moore, a master carpenter, was undeterred.  Over the next several months he made many trips to Old Bethpage Village Restoration to learn all he could about authentic period details that would be appropriate for the house.  He rebuilt the stone foundation, replaced rotted sills and siding, and made new moldings.  He installed a new bathroom and kitchen.  He winterized the house for the first time in its 200 year life.  The results of his work are amazing.


Peter Moore on the restored front porch.





Mr. Moore rents the house out.  His tenant reports that the spirit of Ruth Barto continues to inhabit the house.  I’m sure she is happy that her family’s beloved Nutshell has been given new life and that she thanks Mr. Moore for all his work.  And so should we.



For the first time in over sixty years, the lights on the Nathan Hale Memorial on Main Street in Huntington village are lit.  Lights were an original feature of the memorial, but they have not worked since at least 1954.

The monument lights working for the first time in over 60 years.

The monument lights working for the first time in over 60 years.

How the lights came to be restored is a story that starts in June 2013 when I posted an article about the Nathan Hale memorials in Huntington.  The article focused mostly on the famous Nathan Hale Rock and only briefly mentioned the memorial on Main Street in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building.  One reader took me to task for not giving the monument on Main Street its due:

I’m not sure you do full justice to the memorial by calling it “a marble shaft” … yes that is what it is today but in its early days this Nathan Hale Memorial functioned as a PUBLIC DRINKING FOUNTAIN.

Of course, the reader is correct, the monument was originally a fountain (he could have also chastised me for writing the shaft is marble–it is, in fact, granite).

In his comment, the reader cites the 1919 edition of  Automobile Blue Book (“Standard Road Guide of America”), which mentions “a public drinking fountain on a marble shaft” (I wasn’t the only one who had trouble correctly identifying rocks) as one of the things to see when driving to Huntington.  The reader continues:

I have seen photos of the memorial from a little over a decade after it was erected (c.1905) that refer to it as the “Nathan Hale Memorial Drinking Fountain” but the photos do not give a clear enough detail of the memorial to see much about the fountain at the bottom. It does seem that the water basin that once caught the drinking water has been long ago removed. I assume it had a hand pump and was a well water drinking fountain originally but cannot make out a hand pump on the photos from the angles they were taken. (Photos from the 1940s/1950s, or about that time, appear to no longer show the water basin at the bottom).

* * *

Does anyone know any more about this memorial … like, for instance, when the drinking fountain was removed … and if there has ever been an attempt, over the years, to return it to its original function as a public drinking fountain (with maybe modern running water piped to it but activated by an ‘old fashioned style hand pump’ and a replica of the water basin ‘returned’ to the base … to keep it in the original flavor of the 1894 monument.

Here, as they say, is the rest of the story.

Soon after the statue of Nathan Hale was unveiled by the Sons of the American Revolution in City Hall Park in Manhattan on Evacuation Day (November 25), 1893, an effort was made to create a monument to the spy in Huntington, where he began (and maybe ended) his spying mission.  Famed architect Stanford White of McKim, Meade and White submitted the design and pledged $400 for the project.  The total cost of the memorial was estimated to be $1,900.  An association was formed to raise the remaining funds.  In April 1894, the association printed a brochure announcing the project and listing 52 Huntington residents who had pledged to donate to the project.  Pledges ranged from 50 cents to 100 dollars and totaled $813.50.  It was proposed that the balance should be donated by “the rest of Long Island and the sympathizers with the fate of Nathan Hale wherever they may be found.”

Stanford White proposed design.

Stanford White proposed design.

Whoever and wherever they were, the memorial was unveiled at a well attended public celebration on July 4, 1894.  The Long-Islander provided a full description of the 15-foot high monument:

The base is six feet square and of rough hewn stone.  It is hewed for a public drinking fountain and has two basins.  The one on the street side is a watering trough for horses or cattle and the one on the inside is for the people.  The water will flow into the street basin from the mouth of a dolphin and into the other smaller basin from the mouth of a lion.  Above the basin reaches a cylindrical polished granite column and on that rests a large rough-hewn ball.  On the front of the basins are engraved the simple words:


The memorial conveys the impression of dignity and simple beauty.

The shaft also held two lamps on either side.  It is unclear whether they were gas lit or electric.

Town Supervisor George Tileston accepted the monument “on behalf of the citizens of Huntington.”

“We accept it as a perpetual trust, engaging with you [the committee that commissioned it] that it shall be a continued inspiration to us and all those who shall come after us.”

After speeches and the unveiling of the flag draped memorial, the crowd assembled at the carriage factory on Wall Street for dinner.

The July 4, 1894 dedication of the new memorial

The July 4, 1894 dedication of the new memorial

Not all were so enamored of the monument.  Writing to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle two months after the dedication, “Burdock” reports that the people of Huntington “are generally exercised over” the new memorial.  His description  differs from the one given by the local newspaper.  Burdock reports that the monument “consists of a lamp-post, with two lamps, a spout for water from the post, and a drinking trough for horses, combined.”  He seemed most upset with the inscription: “To commemorate the capture of Nathan Hale by the British on the shores of Huntington bay in 1776.”  To Burdock, the inscription sounded like a Tory boast about the capture of the failed spy.

Burdock predicted the monument “would always be an annoyance and source of mortification to the people of the town as a whole, and probably is now to those who made such an almost unpardonable mistake, not only in the design, but in the inscription, which are in keeping with each other.”

The monument with the water trough for horses

The monument with the water trough for horses, note the marble tablet above the trough


The south side of the monument showing the drinking fountain for people.

The south side of the monument showing the drinking fountain for people.


The now dry lion head spout on the south side of the monument.

The now dry lion head spout on the south side of the monument.

There is no evidence of a hand pump in the photographs and the early descriptions of the monument refer to water pipes.  It would appear that the water was supplied by the Huntington Water Works Company.  But the supply was inconsistent at best.  A mention in the May 26, 1905 edition of The County Review, reports that “Huntington has a dry fountain. . . .  It is a curious sort of fountain for there is no water to be obtained there and the affair is an ornament only.”

Five year later, a Huntington resident wrote to The Long-Islander to complain about the condition of the monument.  The writer admires the monument, “the very interesting, and most artistic, double lantern, and drinking fountain.”  However, he questioned who has the responsibility for maintaining these monuments: “We notice the lanterns are falling to pieces owing to the lack of proper paint.  The glasses are broken, and the general immediate surroundings are in need of attention. * * * The lanterns would seem less pathetic if they might be put to their proper use, that is have lights in them, if only for a part of the evening.”

The writer also notes that the librarian (the library was then located in the nearby Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building) placed a cup at the fountain on several occasions so that people could use the fountain as intended.

Two years later, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of the American Revolution both took up the matter of the condition of the monument.  By this time, not only were the lamps in poor condition, but the marble tablet with the inscription had fallen from its place and was broken.

The monument without the marble tablet

The monument without the marble tablet

The DAR address the matter first at its meeting in the afternoon of Monday, November 11, 1912.  The DAR appointed Mrs. John F. Wood to confer with the SAR about the matter.  That evening the SAR met and discussed the matter.  Conveniently they appointed John F. Wood (and Douglass Conklin) to confer with the DAR ladies.  The plan they decided on was “to replace the broken tablet with one of bronze, fix up the lamps, fountain, etc.”  The Huntington Light and Power Company offered to attend to the lamps and keep them lighted.  After the repairs were done, it was agreed “to turn the whole thing over to the town.”  It seems to have been forgotten that the Town accepted the monument “as a perpetual trust” in 1894 and was probably the entity that should have been making the needed repairs.

The fountain without the marble tablet.

The fountain without the marble tablet or the dolphin spout. A spigot can be seen on the south side.

I have not found a report of when the work was completed.  But the next summer, the fountain was still dry.  Even though, as one letter writer observed, the reservoir on High Street was known to overflow.  “The poor struggling Water Company can’t even let a little of this ‘waste’ flow into the Nathan Hale Memorial Fountain, so at least the horses and dogs can quench their thirst during the hot summer months.”

At some point, the water trough was removed.  With the advent of the automobile, there weren’t as many horses around needing a drink (one local historian said that in later years the water trough was used more for cleaning out radiators than for quenching a horse’s thirst, but that account may be apocryphal).  The trough also took up a parking space–a valuable commodity even then.  The date the trough was removed has not been found.  A photograph of the monument sans trough includes cars from the late 1920s.

Postcard from the late 1920s

Postcard showing a 1926-27 Ford Model T and the modified memorial.


The monument without the water trough. Note the new bronze plaque replaced not only the marble tablet but the dolphin water spout.

This close-up from the picture above shows the monument without the water trough. Note the new bronze plaque replaced not only the marble tablet but the dolphin water spout.  The light fixtures have also been changed.

In 1954, the State undertook a project to reconstruct Route 25A, Main Street, from Cold Spring Harbor to Fort Salonga.  In Huntington village, the project required that the monument be moved from its original location.  At first the State was going to move the monument back from the street and slightly to the east, but eventually moved it to the west instead.  The construction plans for the project detail the memorial, but with the light fixtures hanging down rather than up, and indicates the “assumed location of light service,” i.e. the location of the electric lines supplying power to the light fixtures.

The comment quoted above led not only to further research (and this post), but also led me to ask the Town’s Department of General Services to see whether the lights could be turned on.  Recent work by Brian Breyersdorf, an electrician in the Town’s Department of General Services, revealed that wiring had been run through the monument and left coiled up buried in the ground next to the base of the monument.  The lights have not worked because they were never plugged in after the monument was moved in 1954!  Mr. Breyersdorf installed a junction box to connect the wire in the memorial to new wire from a nearby light pole. And now the memorial has regained at least part of its original embellishments.  On December 22, 2015, the lights, now with L.E.D. bulbs, shone brightly for the first time since the monument was moved. It is doubtful the water trough will ever be re-established.

There has been one other change to the monument that is not as obvious as missing water troughs and non-functioning lights.  The original marble tablet and the bronze replacement from 1912-13 asserted that Nathan Hale was captured on “the shores of Huntington bay.”  Today, the bronze plaque says he was captured “on the shores of Long Island.”  It is unclear when this change was made.  The controversy about Hale’s place of capture, however, is an old one.

The revised wording

The revised wording

As early as the 1890s, historians questioned the assertion that Hale had been captured in Huntington.  But those naysayers didn’t deter Huntingtonians from dedicating two memorials.  A book published by Henry Johnston in 1901 and revised in 1914 also questions Huntington as the place of Hale’s arrest.  The issue seems to have been forgotten or ignored until 1933 when the Huntington Historical Society revisited the issue.  In the first three months of that year, Mrs. Warren P. Kortright, Mrs. George P. Kuzmier, and Mrs. George Taylor presented papers on the life of Nathan Hale.  A small book of their research was published in April.  The historical society did not offer a definite opinion on where Hale had been captured, but did question the veracity of the sources traditionally cited in support of a Huntington capture.

Town Historian Romanah Sammis then took up the issue, urging the Town Board to correct the mistakes of the past.  As is usually the case in these situations, the party arguing for a change from the accepted story has the burden of proof.  A committee appointed by the Town Board found that Mrs. Sammis had not met the burden of proof required to overturn long accepted story that Hale had been captured in Huntington.

More recent scholarship continues to doubt the Huntington version.  For example the recently published Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, by Alexander Rose asserts that Hale was captured closer to Manhattan.  Another, less scholarly book, The Life and Death of America’s First Spy: Nathan Hale, by M. Williams Phelps argues that Hale was indeed captured in Huntington.  Interestingly, both books rely on a recently discovered manuscript donated to the Library of Congress in 2000.  The manuscript is an account of the Revolution written during the war by Consider Tiffany, a Connecticut merchant and Tory.  Tiffany describes Hale’s capture by Major Robert Rogers. British naval records indicate that Rogers went ashore at Sands Point just three days before Hale was captured.  It is, therefore, most likely that Hale was captured by Rogers closer to Flushing then to Huntington.

The truth of the matter may never be known with certainty.   Perhaps for that reason,  someone decided to hedge things by changing the wording on the bronze tablet from “on the shores of Huntington bay” to “on the shores of Long Island.”  While I have found nothing in the files to indicate when or who made the change, it must be noted that the bronze tablet with the revised wording includes two medallions cast during the Bicentennial.  The moving force behind those medallions?  None other than former Town Historian Rufus Langhans.  Historian Richard Welch confirms that Mr. Langhans told him that he had the wording changed.






Although  we will celebrate the centennial of the opening of Huntington Hospital in 2016, it could be said that the first hospital in town dates to 1771 when Huntingtonians were in a panic about inoculations against small pox. Unlike the vaccine developed by Dr. Jenner in 1796, which used cowpox to build immunity from smallpox, inoculations involved exposure to smallpox itself and were not always administered by a doctor, often with fatal results. In 1771, Huntingtonians imposed stringent restrictions on inoculations. Only Dr. Potter and Dr. Wiggins were allowed to administer inoculations; and they could only do so at a house set aside for that purpose. Dr. Potter’s house was in Cold Spring Harbor. Dr. Wiggin’s house was on the east side of Park Avenue south of the Town Common.

A few decades later, in 1855, the property that Dr. Wiggin’s used for his smallpox “hospital” was purchased by Rufus Prime. Mr. Prime was a retired New York City merchant and banker, whose children, Temple and Cornelia, became the most generous philanthropists of early twentieth century Huntington. Their donations helped finance the building of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building, which housed the first library in town; Huntington’s first Town Hall; St. John’s Church on Main Street; Grace Chapel in Huntington Station; and the Trade School building (currently being restored and expanded to hold the Historical Society’s archives).

The philanthropic gift Miss Prime is most remembered for is her donation of a new hospital for Huntington in 1914. The story starts at least ten years earlier. As early as 1904, there was talk in town of the need for a hospital—at the time the closest hospital was in Mineola. A stranger visiting town heard the talk and made an unsolicited donation of $2, which was deposited in the Bank of Huntington in the hope that it “will, like the snowball, . . . be gradually rolled up to a sum large enough to warrant the renting of a house to be used for one of the great needs of our rapidly increasing population.”[1]

After several false starts, the effort was begun in earnest in 1911 with a meeting held at the Trade School building. It was noted, “Similar moves have been made in the past, with no results, and representative business men are inclined to doubt the practicability of a hospital here.”[2]   Mrs. Roland Conklin of Rosemary Farm (now the site of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor) was selected as chair of the committee appointed by the Huntington Association (a forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce) to explore the idea. The initial fund raising event was also the biggest society event of the summer 1911 season. Mrs. Conklin and her committee of 16 other prominent women arranged a performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at the outdoor amphitheater at Rosemary Farm on August 19. More than 1,500 people, including former president Theodore Roosevelt, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and New York Mayor William J. Gaynor attended the well-received performance.

Three days later, at another meeting held at the Trade School, the committee reported that the play at Rosemary Farm netted $2,000. Willard Baylis estimated the cost to purchase land and construct a new hospital building would be $15,000. Mr. Baylis also made a motion to appoint a committee of 25 citizens, including the women who had previously been appointed by the Huntington Association, to solicit funds for the project. The eight new members of the committee were men. It was thought that constructing a new building was preferable to refitting an existing building and that the hospital should be located on high ground, near the village and the railroad station.[3]

Soon the residents of Northport expressed support for the plan to build a new hospital. They argued it should be located near the train station so that it would be accessible for patients from communities to the east and would be convenient for doctors from those communities to get to the hospital to visit their patients.[4]

Father York, pastor of St Patrick’s Church offered the use of the St. Patrick’s Parish House on Main Street for a hospital. While the 17 women on the committee—only one of whom was Catholic—were inclined to accept the offer, opposition arose because it was felt that using the Catholic Parish House would render the hospital sectarian in nature. Fr. York relented and agreed that purchasing a new site would be preferable. He added that if the committee could not secure sufficient funding for a new site, his offer would stand for five years.[5]

The enthusiasm for the hospital manifest in 1911 seems to have petered out. Three years later, there were two hospital funds totaling about $4,000.[6] Perhaps frustrated by the failure to meet the fund raising goal the committee had set for itself, one local resident took matters into her own hands. Lucie Winkworth, a nurse from England who had been with her husband during the Boer War in South Africa, rented a house on what is now the southwest corner of New and Carver Streets from Henry S. Brush and converted it into the Winkworth Cottage Hospital. The nine-bed hospital admitted its first patient on May 7, 1914. Mrs. Winkworth, a 39 year old widow, had trained as a nurse at Guy’s Hospital in London.  In addition to her time in South Africa, she worked as a nurse for two years in Peru and another year in Canada.[7] She was described as a “comely little matron” who was “a very charming, clever and bright conversationalist and a woman whose whole heart is wrapped up in her work.”[8]

Mrs. Winkworth’s hospital was a private endeavor; the weekly cost ranged from $20 for a private room to $12.50 for a bed in the ward. Doctor’s fees and drugs were extra.[9]  Even though it was a private venture, Mrs. Winkworth did not turn patients away. She treated the indigent as well as paying customers. The Town would reimburse the hospital for caring for the poor. But the sum provided was not as much as the expense incurred by the hospital. Mrs. Winkworth made up the difference out of her own funds. In its first six months of operation, the small cottage hospital treated 98 patients, many of whom were accident victims.[10]

The Long-Islander newspaper was soon suggesting that the fund raising for a hospital be resumed and that the new hospital be put in the care of Mrs. Winkworth. Or the funds already on hand could be used to purchase the house that Mrs. Winkworth was renting for her cottage hospital.[11]

Perhaps spurred on by the success of the Winkworth Hospital, the task of raising funds for a new hospital were renewed in the fall of 1914. Looking back years later, the Rev Charles E. Cragg, who led the dedication of the Winkworth Hospital, noted that though it was a valiant effort, Mrs. Winkworth’s hospital was inadequate to the task. However, “the attempt showed the great need of a real up-to-date and well-equipped hospital in our town, and moved to action the actual founder and builder” of today’s Huntington Hospital.[12]

In September 1914, John Fleet Wood led the effort to resurrect the fund raising campaign for a public hospital. Citing the large number of accidents in town, the plan was to build an emergency hospital at first and later expand it to include all cases.[13] The most contentious issue became where to locate the new hospital. More than half a dozen sites were under consideration. Dr. Gibson favored a site on Cold Spring Hill. Other doctors objected, noting that the site was up a steep hill and that the roads in the vicinity were in poor condition. Another potential location was the Alonzo Buffett property on the east side of Woodhull Road near Nassau Road. This property had the advantage of being near the railroad, but not too far from the village. The disadvantage was that it was near the noisy Liederkranz Hall. Sentiment seemed to shift in favor of the Buffett property in Huntington Station, especially when the residents of Cold Spring Hill voiced their opposition to a hospital in their neighborhood.[14]

The issue was finally settled by Cornelia Prime, who had been on the fund raising committee since 1911. Miss Prime decided where the hospital would be when she purchased a five-acre site on Park Avenue in December 1914: “the donor saw the Scudder property, which appealed to her, purchased it and then announced that it was the hospital site.”[15]  The property had been one of 7 or 8 sites considered by the hospital committee. The property featured a two story concrete house with six rooms and a bath as well as a garage, barn and workshop. Miss Prime paid $17,000 for the property and committed another $3,000 to convert the house for hospital use.[16] However, it was soon decided that a new building should be erected. By the next summer, the new 32’ x 70’ brick and limestone building was under construction. The concrete house on the property would be used as administrative offices. Miss Prime had agreed to underwrite the cost of construction.[17] The total gift, including the land purchase and construction of the new buildings, amounted to $75,000, the equivalent of $1.77 million today.

The house on the property and the new brick hospital building.

The house on the property and the new brick hospital building.

Miss Prime’s gift to Huntington was completed in time for Christmas 1915. In addition to the new two-story brick building, which was connected to the old house by a large passageway, the hospital campus included an isolation building for the treatment of contagious diseases and a garage big enough to accommodate two cars and a horse. Dr. Edward T.T. Marsh, head of the building committee, was instrumental in the construction of the building. Dr. Marsh was a native of New York City, who had served during the Civil War as a naval surgeon. He set up a medical practice in New York City and in 1870 married Alice Crossman of Huntington. He served as surgeon for the New York City Police Department and the 71st Regiment of the New York Militia until his retirement when he moved to the George Washington Scudder House at the intersection of Park Avenue and New York Avenue. He is credited with convincing Miss Prime to donate the funds for the hospital. In his obituary, it was noted, “The Huntington Hospital owes much, both to their generous gifts and also to the careful supervision of Dr. Marsh during the erection and for some years after it opened.” In addition to his medical works, Dr. Marsh was known as the King of Baseball in Huntington. He rescued the local team and served as its manager for many years.[18]

1916 Isolation Building (1)The first patient was admitted to the new hospital in February 1916. Miss Prime later led her friend, the Reverend Charles Cragg, to the top of her property on Park Avenue from where they could see the new hospital and said, “The desire of my heart is accomplished.”[19] Miss Prime died in 1923 and is remembered as one of Huntington’s greatest philanthropists.

With a new modern hospital under construction, Mrs. Winkworth closed her cottage hospital on New Street. She moved to Utica where she continued to work as a nurse. She died two years later after contracting typhoid fever while nursing a child.[20] It was noted that she “showed the need of a hospital in Huntington, and has in this way been instrumental in the establishment of the Huntington Hospital.”[21]


Hospital Association (1)

[1] The Long-Islander, July 29, 1904

[2] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 30, 1911

[3] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 23, 1911, page 5

[4] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 24, 1911

[5] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 17, 1911, page 6

[6] The Long-Islander, May 29, 1914.

[7] The Long-Islander, May 8, 1914, page 4

[8] The Long-Islander, July 31, 1914, page 5

[9] The Long-Islander, May 8, 1914, page 5

[10] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 26, 1914.

[11] The Long-Islander, May 29, 1914 and July 31, 1914

[12] The Long-Islander, August 5, 1927, page 19

[13] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 13, 1914

[14] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 6 and 17, 1914.

[15] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 26, 1915, page 5

[16] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 11, 1914, page 1

[17] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 30, 1915

[18] The Long-Islander, February 17, 1928

[19] The Long-Islander, August 5, 1927, page 19

[20] The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review, January 1917 (Lakeside Publishing Co., NY), page 312.

[21] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 28, 1915

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.”


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