History is a process of discovery.  Even when we are not actively researching a particular topic, we learn new facts and interpretations that led to a more complete understanding of some other topic.  Such was the case when I recently saw a photograph on display in a London gallery that led me to reconsider the story of Richard Smith and his bull.

In April, I wrote about the long running dispute between Huntington and Smithtown concerning the two town’s overlapping claims to the same territory.  The dispute involved several lawsuits in both the English and the Dutch courts and wasn’t finally resolved for over two centuries.  At the end of that post I wrote: “As for the story about the Indians granting to Richard Smith all the land he could encircle in one day, there’s a reason the animal he rode was a bull.”


But perhaps there is some historical basis for the story.  My reassessment started at a special exhibit in London’s Guildhall Art Gallery.  The photographs on display were taken by Martin Parr, the City of London’s photographer in residence since 2013.  Mr. Parr captured the color and pomp of some of London’s  ancient traditions.  These are not the well-known and tourist friendly ceremonies of the Royal family.  They are the activities of London’s medieval guilds and churches.  Most of the ceremonies and groups shown had unusual sounding names.  One series of photographs was particularly obscure.  They were titled “Beating the Bounds on Ascension Day.”  One showed school children in uniform beating the ground with very long sticks.^

The photographs in the exhibit had no explanations beyond their titles.  So when I returned home I searched to find out what Beating the Bounds was all about.  It is a medieval Anglo-Saxon church custom to confirm the borders of a parish.  The priest would lead parishioners along the boundary of the parish, stopping along the way to beat the boundary markers–and sometimes young boys as well.  Not that the boys did anything wrong. Rather the intent was to impress upon those who could carry the memory of the boundary farthest into the future the importance of the event.  Sometimes a painful experience is easier to remember.  When he’s an old man, the boy will remember where he was hit with a stick.  Establishing parish boundaries was important because in pre-Reformation England, the parish was the basic division of jurisdiction.  The parish priest had to know which paupers he was responsible for care of;  over whom he had authority; and, perhaps most important, who was required to provide support for his parish.

Although the Reformation diminished the importance of the parish in civic affairs, the tradition continued–and still continues in some English parishes as evidence by Mr. Martin’s photograph.  English settlers in the New World carried the tradition with them; not to confirm parish boundaries, but to confirm town boundaries.*  In the colonies, there was less emphasis on beating  and prayers; what was required was to walk the boundary with representatives from the neighboring town.  This became known as perambulation.  The only states that still require perambulation are Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  But compliance is far from universal.  A similar tradition of walking the boundary line with one’s neighbor is depicted in the Robert Frost poem, Mending Wall.

The requirement was imposed in New York by the Duke’s Laws, promulgated on March 1, 1665 by Governor Richard Nicoll soon after the English seized New Amsterdam from the Dutch. The comprehensive Duke’s Laws included a section requiring each town to “sett their bounds within twelve months after their bounds are granted” and every three years thereafter.  The process was to be initiated by the “Ancientest Town.”  Three of the overseers from each town would perambulate the bounds and “renew their Marks.”  Such perambulations to take place between the 20th and the last of February.

It just so happens that two days after he issued the Duke’s Laws, Nicoll issued a patent to Richard Smith confirming his title to what we now know as Smithtown.  It is not only possible, but entirely likely, that Richard Smith followed the requirement in the Duke’s Laws to set out the bounds of his property within 12 months after the grant.  His perambulation could understandably be the basis for the bull story.  Sometimes even legends and tall tales have some basis in fact.

^To see the photograph by Martin Parr that inspired this additional research,visit https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/feb/19/photographer-martin-parr-eccentricity-city-of-london  It is the sixth picture down after the headline.

*To read more about the transfer of this ancient English tradition to New England, see di Bonaventura, Allegra (2007) “Beating the Bounds: Property and Perambulation in Early New England,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities: Vol. 19: Iss. 2, Article 1.  Available at: h p://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol19/iss2/1




Everyone knows Huntington is a great place.  But in this case, I use “rocks” as a noun, not a verb.

Ask any Long Island grade school student and they will tell you, Long Island was formed thousands of years ago by glaciers pushing soil and rocks down from Connecticut.  When the glaciers melted, the soil and rocks stayed behind to form Long Island.  Most of those rocks were small, but occasionally exceptionally large boulders would be left behind.  These are known as glacial erratics.  Many of these glacial erratics have been put to use as memorials and landmarks.

Here are some of Huntington’s most notable rocks.

Perhaps the most famous rock in Huntington. An account of the Nathan hale memorial's history and travels can be found on this site at https://huntingtonhistory.com/2013/06/06/nathan-hale-memorials-2/

Perhaps the most famous rock in Huntington. An account of the Nathan Hale Memorial’s history and travels can be found on this site at



George Taylor, who was the man responsible for the Nathan hale memorial rock, had another large boulder moved from his Hale Site estate to the Huntington Rural cemetery for his use asa his family's grave marker.

George Taylor, who was the man responsible for the Nathan Hale memorial rock, had another large boulder moved from his Hale Site estate to the Huntington Rural Cemetery to mark his family’s grave.


Not too far from the Taylor family plot is the most visited grave in the Huntington Rural cemetery. The grave of Harry Chapin is also marked by a boulder.

Not too far from the Taylor family plot is the most visited grave in the Huntington Rural Cemetery. The grave of Harry Chapin is also marked by a boulder.


The eighteenth century burying ground in Crabmeadow has lost most of its grave markers to time, neglect, and vandalism. In 2003, this boulder was installed to replace the missing individual markers.

The eighteenth century burying ground in Crabmeadow has lost most of its grave markers to time, weather, and vandalism. In 2003, this boulder was installed to replace the missing individual markers.

Although the boulder at Gold Star Battalion Beach does not mark any graves, it does memorialize the 137 Huntingtonians who died fighting in World War II.

The boulder at Gold Star Battalion Beach does not mark any graves; it memorializes the 127 Huntingtonians who died fighting in World War II.


Similarly, this boulder in the Village Green recognizes the ultimate sacrifice made by 48 men during the Vietnam War. These men are also remembered with a living memorial of Kwanzan cherry trees.

Similarly, this boulder in the Village Green recognizes the ultimate sacrifice made by 47 Huntington men during the Vietnam War. These men are also remembered with a living memorial of Kwanzan cherry trees.

The Daughters of the American Revolution placed this memorial at the Old Burying Ground in 1909

The Daughters of the American Revolution placed this memorial at the Old Burying Ground in 1909.  In fact, the Burying Ground was in use four decades earlier than the DAR women thought.


The DAR also placed this boulder on the Village Green to commemorate the Town’s earliest history.


On the North Meadow adjacent to the Village Green is a memorial to the man who helped expand the open space in the heart of the Town Spot.

On the North Meadow adjacent to the Village Green is a memorial to the man who helped expand the open space in the heart of the Town Spot.  To find out more about the North Meadow, read the entry at



This small rock markers the western end of the line between the colonial Village Green or Town Common and the North Meadow. Its twin near Park Avenue is missing.

This small rock marks the western end of the line between the colonial Village Green or Town Common and the North Meadow. Its twin near Park Avenue is missing.


From the valley of Park Avenue to the highest point of Long Island, this boulder marks the summit of Jayne's Hill, a favorite spot for Walt Whitman to visit.

From the valley of Park Avenue to the highest point of Long Island, this boulder marks the summit of Jayne’s Hill, a favorite spot for Walt Whitman to visit.


This boulder was dredged from the bottom of Cold Spring Harbor. It was originally placed in front of the odl Cold Spring Harbor library on Shore Road to commemorate the hamlet's whaling history. When the library moved from that location in the 1980s, the boulder was moved to the Whaling Museum.

This boulder was dredged from the bottom of Cold Spring Harbor. It was originally placed in front of the old Cold Spring Harbor Library on Shore Road to commemorate the hamlet’s whaling history. When the library moved from that location in the 1980s, the boulder was moved to the Whaling Museum.


Near the waerfront in Northport village is perhaps the greatest concentration of memorial boulders in Town.

Near the waterfront in Northport village is perhaps the greatest concentration of memorial boulders in Town.





The Centerport memorial park utilizes both natural boulders and finished granite.

The Centerport memorial park utilizes both natural boulders and finished granite.



Heckscher Park has its share of boulders.

Heckscher Park has its share of boulders.  This is the most well known.


Heckscher Park also features the use of cobblestones. The design by Roalnd Van Waldenburg inspired many similar cobblestone walls throughout Town.

Heckscher Park also features the use of cobblestones, seen here on the entrance gate and the cottage.  The design by Roland von Waldburg inspired many similar cobblestone walls throughout Town.


The only famous Huntington boulder not moved by artificial means. Target Rock still sits where the glacier left it off the east side of Lloyd's Neck. (Although technically in Oyster Bay, we can claim it as Huntington's)

The only famous Huntington boulder not moved by artificial means, Target Rock still sits where the glacier left it off the east side of Lloyd’s Neck. (Although technically in Oyster Bay, we claim it as Huntington’s).  This bird could not have nested here when the rock got its name.


The rock was used by British warships for target practice, but the bulls eye was added much later.

The rock was used by British warships for target practice during the Revolution, but the bulls-eye was added much later.


Another painted rock now sits on the grounds of Huntington High School. This rock, which originally sat on the other side of the hill on the corner of Houldsworth Drive and Horizon Drive. Since 1961 it has been used by the students of Huntington High off and on. In 1986 the Rock was official moved from its NY Telephone location to its current location. In October of 1986 NY Telephone gave the school an official plaque to commemorate the move. The Rock has been used to mark reunions, graduations, congratulatory messages and such since its move.

Another painted rock now sits on the grounds of Huntington High School. This rock, which formerly sat on the other side of the hill on the corner of Houldsworth Drive and Horizon Drive has been used by high school students since 1961 (shortly after the high school moved to this location and Houldsworth Drive was created) to mark sporting events, birthdays, reunions, and other notable events.  The rock was moved to its current location at the exit from the high school in 1986.


Despite having been painted for more than 50 years, the layers of paint is not as thick as you might have suspected.

Despite having been painted for more than 50 years, the layers of paint are not as thick as you might have suspected.


Even Billy Joel gets a boulder.

Even Billy Joel gets a boulder.

Taking up just one page in the printed Huntington Town Records, the so-called Eastern Purchase seems straight forward enough. But this simple document spawned a dispute with Huntington’s eastern neighbor that would not be finally resolved for over two centuries.

In 1656, three years after the first Huntington purchase, Jonas Wood, William Rogers, and Thomas Wilkes traded seven quarts of liquor, two coats, four shirts, and eleven ounces of powder for all the land on the north side of Long Island between Cow Harbor (Northport) brook and the Nissequogue River.   The deed was given by Asharoken, the sachem or leader of the Matinecocks.

This new purchase encompassed a territory somewhat larger than the six square miles of the First Purchase. Yet the Huntingtonians seem not to have made an effort to settle there.

In a seemingly unrelated incident, the daughter of Wyandanch, the Grand Sachem of Long Island, was kidnapped on her wedding night by the Narragansett of Connecticut. Lion Gardiner, a military engineer and soldier who established the first English settlement in New York, had befriended Wyandanch and rescued the Grand Sachem’s daughter. In thanks for returning his daughter, Wyandanch gave Gardiner land in Nissequogue in 1659, three years after the Eastern Purchase. The exact bounds of this land are unclear.

In 1663, Gardiner conveyed the land to his friend Richard Smith. It is unknown if Gardiner sold the land or gave it as a gift—according to some accounts the land was lost in a card game. Smith had left England in 1635. He was in Massachusetts until about 1643 when he resettled in Southampton, shortly after that Town had been established. Despite holding a leadership position in Southampton, he was banished from the Town in 1656 because of “his Irreverent carriage towards the magistrates.”[1] Smith then moved to Setauket.

The statue of Richard Smith unveiled in 2015 as part of Smithtown's celebration of its 350th anniversary.

The statue of Richard Smith unveiled in 2015 as part of Smithtown’s celebration of its 350th anniversary.

In order to secure his claim to the land Gardiner had given him, Smith petitioned the General Court in Hartford, which had jurisdiction over Long Island, to confirm his ownership. The political landscape changed in the summer of 1664, when the English seized New Netherlands from the Dutch as a prelude to the second of three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth century. Long Island was now under the jurisdiction of the colonial governor of New York, Richard Nicoll.   So Smith secured a patent from Nicoll on March 3, 1665 confirming his ownership. The patent required that ten families be settled on the land within three years.[2] Smithtown celebrated the 350th anniversary of this patent in 2015.

Later that year Smith also received a deed from the Nissequogue Indians for land west of the Nissequogue River. He made sure to secure another confirming patent from Gov. Nicoll. Unfortunately, this patent, dated March 25, 1667, neglected to specify the western boundary of the tract. The patent covered the land bounded “Easterly by a certain run of water called Stony Brook, stretching north to the Sound, and southerly bearing to a certain fresh water pond, called Ronkonoma, being Se-a-tal-cott’s west bounds; which said parcel of land was heretofore granted by patent to Richard Smith by Richard Nicoll.”[3]

Just four months earlier, Governor Nicoll had issued a patent to the inhabitant of Huntington granting them the land from Cold Spring River on the west to the Nissequogue River on the east and from the Sound to the Sea.[4] Perhaps no one in the governor’s office was in charge of fact checking to make sure the two patents didn’t overlap. Or perhaps someone did notice the discrepancy and that’s why the western boundary in the later Smith patent was left out. Whatever the case, the conflicting boundaries would lead to years of litigation between the people of Huntington and Richard Smith.

The first indication of the dispute to be found in the Huntington Town Records is a promise by John Jones in 1668 to bear the cost of any lawsuit by Smith of Smithfield (as Smithtown was sometimes known) that may arise in connection with an allotment Jones had purchased from Richard Floyd.[5]  There must have been some action by Huntingtonians–either settlement or at least an assertion of a claim to the land–that caused Smith to commence legal action.

The dispute ended up before Governor Francis Lovelace and his council in New York on October 6, 1670. The dispute was not a question of someone conveying the same land to two different people. The dispute was about who had the right to convey the land—the Matinecocks or the Nissequogues.

Smith commenced the action to assert his claim to the land west of the Nissequogue. Smith’s attorneys presented the deed from Wyandanch to Gardiner, the deed from Gardiner to Smith, and the deed from Nesconset, sachem of the Nissequogue to Smith. Smith also introduced testimony that the Connecticut Council (“under whose Government that part of Long Island then held themselves to bee.”) suggested that Smith get a deed from the native inhabitants as well “to prevent all Disputes about it.”[6] Good advice, but it didn’t help in this case.

Smith also introduced testimony from over a dozen Indians to establish that Sachem Nesconset had the authority to dispose of the lands west of the Nissequogue River. Some of the testimony introduced at the Court of Assize in New York had been given in an earlier action heard in Southampton.

In the afternoon, Huntington presented its case. Huntington, which was involved in other litigation involving both Lloyd’s Neck and Eaton’s Neck, reminded the court that when the town lost the Eaton’s Neck case in 1666, the governor promised, the Huntingtonians “should bee noe further molested about their Land.”[7] Some of Huntington’s evidence was disputed. It was noted, for instance, that the Eastern Purchase deed presented to the court “hath noe Christian Witness to it; and the Marks are all made with one Hand Writing.” Two men were brought forth who were said to have witnessed the 1656 transaction, “But it [the deed] being shown them They say they know not the Paper, and that it was not the Paper they had put their hands to.”

The most convincing testimony seems to have been that of Jeremiah Wood. He was about 55 years old and due to ill health his testimony was taken at his lodging in the city by two Justices of the Peace. Wood was one of the purchasers from Nesconset of the disputed land. He testified that the purchase was for land on the east side of the Nissequogue River. When the purchasers said they thought there was too little land on the east side and that they wanted to include land on the west side of the River, Nesconset “told them that hee nor his Indyans had not any right to any Lands there on the West side, only a small Neck of Land, conteyning about halfe a Mile from the said great River to the Little Brooke.” This would appear to be the small stream of water that runs south from the mouth of the Nissequogue River to Harrison Pond.   Wood also testified that he told Smith that the Nissequogue owned no land west of the little brook and Smith said, “hee knew that well enough.”[8]

The 12 man jury considered the various documents introduced into evidence and the testimony. The next morning they delivered a verdict in favor of Huntington. The court added a condition: “That as the plaintiff Mr. Smith had been obliged to settle the families, if he had made good his title against the defendant the inhabitants of the Town of Huntington to the land in dispute, so the defendant shall within the space of three years after the date hereof erect alike ten families.”[9]

Smith was not happy. His wife presented a petition to the governor requesting an explanation of the verdict. On December 1, 1670, the governor and council ordered that Huntington submit an answer. The record is unclear but it seems the governor and council wanted to determine fair compensation for Smith so that “there be no further trouble or molestation concerning this matter.”[10]

Huntington’s answer, if one was filed, has not been found. Instead in February 1671, the Town made arrangements to settle the ten farms as specified in the Court’s decision. The inhabitants of Huntington were divided into ten groups. Each group would be responsible for settling one of the ten farms. The selected farmers, who had to be approved by the Town, would be responsible for all legal fees incurred.[11]

On April 16 and 17, 1672, James Chichester, Samuel Titus, Jonathan Rogers, and Joseph Bayly laid out the ten farms from the head of the Nissequogue River to Crabmeadow Little Neck (the area between what is now the Jerome Ambro Preserve and Blanchard Lake). Farms one through four (about 20 acres each) were located between Nissequogue River and Fresh Pond, farms five and six (7.8 acres) were between Fresh Pond and Crabmeadow; farms seven through ten (12 acres) were between Crabmeadow and the Cove (now Blanchard Lake). Each farm also had 40 acres of upland and the benefit of what meadow there was nearest to them.

Lots were drawn among the ten groups of inhabitants of the town to determine who should get which of the farms. Each group was given one of the farms. Each farm had three to five owners (except Farm 3 which had only two owners); there were 29 named owners in total.

In September 1672, thirty Huntington citizens, most of whom were also owners of the Ten Farms, pledged £500 to secure their promise to settle each of the Ten Farms by building, fencing, “planting” as many persons in each farm “as may Properly be a family” as required by the Court to perfect their claim to the land. These subscribers invited any person of Huntington who was of good character to settle on these farms after reimbursing the proprietors for their expenses incurred in defending the Town’s claim to the land. The settlers would be required to:

  1. Erect and maintain sufficient fences around any land they take from the Commons, and to manure the fruit trees;
  2. Refrain from directly or indirectly by their children, servants or dogs hurting or chasing any of the cattle, horses, or hogs;
  3. Satisfy any claims to the land made by the native inhabitants;
  4. Never sell any of the lands to a vicious person or a person of a truly evil report;
  5. Utilize a distinctive ear mark for their cattle and record such ear marks in the town records;
  6. Mark calves, lambs and pigs within 14 to 20 days of their birth; and
  7. Not mark any wild horse until they can prove ownership.[12]

It is unclear how many settlers moved to the Ten Farms (it may have been only four[13]). But even if there were some Huntington settlers on the disputed territory, Richard Smith wasn’t about to give up his claim. He petitioned the Governor again in October 1672 complaining that Huntington introduced false evidence at the trial in 1670 and asking for a rehearing of the matter. The Governor gave Smith until the first Thursday in December to convince Thomas Benedict and Henry Whittng (sic) of Connecticut to appear at the Court in New York or produce other evidence to support his claim to justify a rehearing.[14] Presumably these the two Connecticut men were expected to give evidence of Smith’s claim that Connecticut granted him a patent for the disputed land.

On the first Thursday of December, the Governor, perhaps weary of this dispute, ruled that the matter would be held in abeyance until the following May when he would be holding a general training and meeting of the troops on the east end of the Hempstead Plain. At that time disinterested persons from the east and west ends of the island would be selected to go to the disputed territory to make inquiries and see if they could settle the issue. In other words, the Governor hoped to settle the matter by mediation.

It is unknown if the inspection scheduled for May 1673 took place. But war intervened again. The Dutch recaptured New York in July 1673 during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Smith, never one to give up a chance to press his claims, commenced an action in the Dutch court. I have not located the records of this action, but Smith evidently sent a copy of a judgment in his favor to the inhabitants of Huntington. In July 1674, Huntington addressed a letter to “Neighbor Smith.” It is worth quoting in full:

By this yea may understand that what you left a paper for, at yea say the towne, in the hands of Joseph Whitman, written in an unknown tongue, to us, from whence it came or what it is, we know not, nether what you intend by it, we know not, but this we know, yet we shall take no notice of it, neither can we, and if you would have us know your mind you must speake and write in a knowne language to us; like wise take notice yt we heare, and intend to know more fully, shortly yt yoe or yours have ackted the part of theaves or robbers by usurping with impudent and shameless boldness to come upon our ground and to seize upon our peace for your owne use on unheard of practice and never practiced by honest men, therefor we doe by these presents, protest against your course and wee resolved first to defend our selves & our estates from the hands of violent usurpers, wth s, no more than the law of nature and nations allowed. Secondly, when the season comes, yoe may expect to have and except the due defeat of such demeritts.[15]  

By the time Huntington had received the indecipherable paper, the English had regained control of New York. Smith returned to the English courts and this time he prevailed. He asserted the deed produced by Huntington (i.e. the Eastern Purchase) was “a False bill of sale” and that Huntington produced false witnesses.[16] He claimed that in any event, the land was not Asharoken’s to sell. Smith said he had purchased the land from Neconsett, Sachem of the Nissequogue under authority of the Connecticut colony and that he had possessed it without incident for 7 or 8 years before Huntington disturbed him. Most importantly, Smith claimed that Huntington “hath not settled yt land according to Governor Lovelace direction.”[17]

Remarkably, the English court in September 1675 found that “the proceedings of the Dutch Court in this case to bee legall and judiciall, and therefore give judgment for the plaintiff.”[18] The outcome was remarkable, not just because it contradicted earlier English rulings, but because the English court was ratifying the decision of the Dutch courts less than two years after the two countries had been at war against each other. The reversal was most likely because Huntington failed to settle the Ten Farms as required by the 1670 decision.

The court’s decision was a compromise in two respects. First the Court granted to Smith only the eastern half of the disputed territory. Each side had claimed all the land from the Nissequogue River to Crabmeadow.[19] The court granted Smith only the land to the east of Fresh Pond. Second, while granting Smith ownership of the land, the Court ruled that the property was within the jurisdiction of Huntington because it was included in Huntington’s patent. This last point seems to have escaped the notice of later commentators.

In 1677, the Governor, now Edmund Andros, issued a patent to Smith confirming his title to the lands from Stony Brook to Fresh Pond.

But what of the Huntingtonians who had settled on the Ten Farms? The Court didn’t address that issue. A month after the court decision, those “poor farmers” submitted a petition to the Governor complaining that in reliance on the 1670 decision in favor of Huntington, the settlers “built upon, Cleared fences, Planted Plowed and so etc upon yt Land on the West side of Nessequauke River and Cutt and provided Hay for their Cattells Provizion this winter.”[20] Without some provision by the governor to allow them to rent or purchase the land, “Your poore Petitioners their wives and Children Must of necessity Inevitably and Ireparably bee ruined and undone.”

The governor apparently sent a letter to Huntington recommending that the Town supply the dispossessed settlers with comparable land within the bounds of the Town of Huntington. Huntington responded that it wasn’t their idea to settle the Ten Farms. They would have rather paid money for the land, but the Court’s decree obliged them to settle the land within three years or else forfiet all claims to it. Moreover, the town didn’t force the dispossessed farmers to move to the disputed territory; they settled there voluntarily. And they only had to reimburse the owners of the farms for the expenses the owners had incurred in asserting Huntington’s claim to the land, “which was an inconsiderable Sum for so much Land.” Regardless of the effort the settlers may have expended, the beneficiary of their building, fencing, clearing, and manuring was Smith.[21]

I have not located a record that bears upon this question, but Romanah Sammis writes that “individual ownership in the property, by some of those named in the ten-farm allotments, came about satisfactorily.” She cites Joseph Whitman—the settler to whom Smith had delivered the decision of the Dutch Court—who owned land near the Nissequogue River that stayed in his family until the early twentieth century.[22]

Even after all the controversy was finally settled, we find that the patent issued to Huntington more than a decade later in 1688 by Governor Thomas Dongan described the boundaries of the town as stretching from Cold Spring eastward to the Nissequogue River.   Six years later, however, a new charter issued by Governor Benjamin Fletcher changed the eastern border of the Town to the west side of Fresh Pond.[23] Three weeks later Smithtown and Huntington exchanged quit claim deeds for the land on the respective sides of Fresh Pond.[24]

Disputes between property owners as to the the exact location of the border were not fully resolved until 1884 when the Supervisors of the two towns finally settled on the boundary line and had marble monuments placed from the Sound to the Sea.[25]

As for the story about the Indians granting to Richard Smith all the land he could encircle in one day, there’s a reason the animal he rode was a bull.


Richard Smith’s bull, Whisper.



[1] Smithtown, New York, 1660-1929, Looking Back Through the Lens, by Noel J. Gish (1996), page 20.

[2] History of Long Island, Benjamin Thomson (1843), page 453.

[3] Thomson, page 454

[4] Huntington Town Records, Vol. I, page 92 (hereinafter HTR)

[5] HTR, Vol. I, Page 113

[6] Documents Relating to the History of the Early Colonial Settlements Principally on Long Island (Weed, Parsons and Company, Albany, 1883), page 640

[7] Early Colonial Settlements, page 641.

[8] Ibid, page 642.

[9] Ibid., page 643. Spelling modernized.

[10] HTR, vol. I, page 170

[11] HTR, Vol. I, page 176

[12] HTR, vol. I, page 193, et seq.

[13] Early Colonial Settlements, page 714, a 1675 petition by Huntington to the governor refers to “four farmers.”

[14] HTR, vol. I, page 197

[15] HTR, vol. I, page 210

[16] Smith wasn’t alone in questioning the integrity of the Huntingtonians. In October 1675, Mathias Nicolls, secretary to the governor, accused the inhabitants of Huntington, in particular Jonas Wood, Isaac Platt, Thomas Skidmore, and Thomas Powell with slandering the secretary’s good name by accusing him of falsifying the records of the colony particularly in connection with the land dispute between Huntington and Smith in April 1674. (Early Colonial Settlements, page 701).

[17] HTR, vol. I, page 209

[18] HTR, vol. I, page 213

[19] Although it appears Smith by this time restricted his claim to the land east of Fresh Pond. See HTR, vol, page 210.

[20] Early Colonial Settlements, page 702

[21] Early Colonial Settlements, page 713-15

[22] Huntington Babylon Town History, by Romanah Sammis (Huntington Historical Society 1937)

[23] HTR, vol. II, page 143

[24] HTR, vol. II, page 160.

[25] HTR, Vol. I, page 213 footnote

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