An informal series of posts regarding people, places or events that may not be well known by both the community and history buffs as well.
No. 8 – The Catboat …..and the Captains
Looking much further back, before the automobile took over as the main means of transportation and cargo delivery, the locals relied on the water to move goods up and down the coast of Long Island. The Moriches area, with its sweeping bay and the Forge River connecting directly into the Narrows, along with the many creeks which wind inland, played a significant role in moving crops, cord wood, salt hay, etc. Natives relied on Sloops, but also smaller craft called “catboats”
So, what exactly was a “catboat” (pictured below) and why were they in such heavy use beginning in the 1850’s? To be precise, these boats were wide one-masted sailboats, between 12 and 40 feet, which originally used a gaff or cat rig, a quadrilateral sail with a mast way forward, making them both stable and simple to sail. They were used to move people and goods as well as for clamming, oysters and lobstering. These vessels were perfect for the bay, referred to as a bayman’s boat, because of their shallow draft allowing them to go further inland along the South Shore. They were also popular for racing through the mid-20th century and are still used today by recreational sailors.
Our area had a few sea captains who were quite successful in this endeavor. Captain William Egbert Ross and Captain Bartlett T. Ross were two local men who served as coasting skippers during the late 19th century, men who commanded coastal trading vessels which were usually either schooners or catboats. This was in many ways more difficult then sailing the open sea as you had to be aware of grounding your vessel in shallow water, thus the successful prominence of the catboat.
Capt. Egbert Ross Home
Today, you can still drive by the homes (Pictured above) of both of these men who resided in the Moriches. Egbert Ross lived on the west side of Barns Road nearest the intersection at Montauk Highway. Captain Bartlett Ross lived further east along Montauk Hwy, his home being right next to the Marine Supply store. I would be remiss if I were not to mention that of course there were many other bayman in the area who worked the sea as captains, by the last name of Hawkins, Terry, Hansen, Raynor, etc. Often referred to as the “Old Salts”, they made quite a living in the oyster trade.
Capt. Bartlett T. Ross Home
No. 7 – Revisited….Down’s Tavern and the Capt. J. Ezra Hawkins Homestead
History is made but often retold incorrectly or with errors regarding the facts, easy to do when your basing your information on maps and previous reports that come to your attention. With this in mind, I feel it is now time to come back to both of my subsequent articles regarding Downs Tavern and the Captain of the Forge River Life saving station. Both of these stories are related as they are with regard to the Hawkins family of the Moriches area.
Getting back to Captain J. Ezra Hawkins, It has been brought to my attention by Professional Genealogist Jane E. Wilcox that the Map and SPLIA report I was using to pinpoint the house was wrong. It turns out that Ezra is likely to have lived in the Hawkins home at the end of old neck on the east side of Ely Creek and nearer the waters edge. On today’s map this would be at the end of James Hawkins Rd on the west side of the street. The captain would have been able to walk down to the water from his home and take a boat across the bay to the Forge River Life Saving Station.
J. Ezra Hawkins Home – courtesy of Jane E. Wilcox
Although the 1878 map which we used does clearly list the home as Capt. J Hawkins, I have not been able to establish the identity behind the notation. Perhaps the home was owned at the time by his father, John Hawkins, who may have been a seaman himself, or a war veteran. I intend to look into this further as myself and the Mastic Peninsula Historical Society are keen on clarifying this mystery as well.
Down’s Cottage – Photo provided by Jane E. Wilcox
Moving on, I recently came across two old newspaper articles which discuss the Downs-Hawkins land and the original home (pictured above and supplied by Jane Wilcox), referred to as “Down’s Cottage”. John Hawkins describes to the journalist that the cottage was once a stagecoach stop and called the “Wayside Inn”. The picture in the newspaper of the home is remarkably similar to the J. Hawkins house that the MPHS is currently working to preserve. More importantly though, he mentions that “the old highway formerly passed just south of the house and the stagecoach passengers were in the habit of stopping there for warmth and refreshment”. Below I include part of the 1858 chase map showing how the road did indeed cut down to the Farm and the location of the Wayside Inn and then back up. This leads me to conclude the Cottage or Wayside Inn was likely the original Down’s Tavern as listed in Jefferson’s Journal. I am now trying to verify the exact spot of the old inn as I would like to have an historic marker placed at the location.
No. 6. Eleanor Roosevelt spends time at “Old Mastic”.
My latest story for you relates to the area known as “Old Mastic”, a neck of land just south of the Unkechaug Reservation and bordered by Lons Creek and Poospatuck Creek. This area of the Mastic Peninsula is notable in that it was given an Historic District designation by the Town of Brookhaven in the 1980s, and has the Nicoll Floyd homestead now owned by Publisher Anna Wintour. It is often also referred to as the Dana Estates for William Buck Dana and the grand estate house that was once located on the north end of the property.
While reading further I came across the writings of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who visited more than once and stayed with her personal friend and assistant Ms. Lorena Hickok at what was known as “the little house”, which I believe was part of the Dana Estate at the time. Mrs. Roosevelt’s syndicated newspaper column was titled “My Day”, written six days a week from 1935 to 1962 and below is her submission on Oct. 19th, 1937:
I always feel repaid when I get up really early for the sunrise is beautiful and the air crisp and clear, but I shall not forget in many a long day the sunset last evening as we crossed the bay coming back to Mastic from the beach. We had spent a good part of the day near the coast guard station, cooking our steaks over a fire on the beach, eating out-of-doors and then finding a sheltered spot in the sand dunes where we could sit in the sun. I read the Sunday papers more thoroughly than usual as a result of this peaceful afternoon. When we started back in the little motor boat the sky was red, but gradually sky and water seemed to merge in color until the water looked iridescent as it reflected every shade of green, purple, blue and scarlet, streaming across the sky, with here and there a little cloud looking like a piece of cotton floating overhead and the almost full moon shining down upon us. The ducks were coming in, making for a pond, where our host kindly gives them shelter, and they looked graceful sweeping up and down and finally settling down behind the fringe of trees bordering the pond. Such beauty leaves one with a sense of unreality and at the same time a great sense of peace, nature has a healing touch if we can get close enough to her and let ourselves feel her beauty.
Here is another excerpt published on Aug. 1st 1938:
From there I went on to the Pennsylvania Station to take the train for Long Island. I found long lines at every ticket window and murmured to myself, as would every old resident of the Hudson River Valley, “Nothing would induce me to live on Long Island.” Of course, nothing would induce some of us to live anywhere else than where we are accustomed to living. But that isn’t as flattering to the spot we are rooted in as it might seem. It simply means that most of us are lazy and like the things to which we are accustomed. For most of us it is far easier to move along a beaten track.
One of my hosts met me on the train and, in consequence, the trip went quickly. Just as we arrived at our station, the heavens opened and we saw the pretty and very efficient young girl who had come to meet us hop out of the roadster and start to put up the top. I decided it was part of wisdom to let those who knew what they were doing do the work and get wet and was therefore the only dry person to get into the car. There are advantages in being elderly and rather helpless.
We reached the “Little House,” as it is called, in time to sit and cool off before dinner, and then our hostess served us a delicious meal on the porch. This is a beautiful place which gives you a feeling of remoteness, for you are buried deep in the woods. Just now the enjoyment of the woods is a trifle difficult because the prevailing winds have brought clouds of mosquitoes. They tell us that a northwest wind would drive them all away, so we pray for a change in the wind and realize anew how helpless we are in the face of Nature’s vagaries.
Much has been written about Lorena Hickok, an American Journalist and close companion to the first lady. A new book recently published, Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady, by Susan Quinn, looks to be an interesting read on the subject. The “My Day” column by Eleanor Roosevelt has been made available online by George Washington University at https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/.
With Eleanor Roosevelt “The Little House” Ms. Lorena Hickok
No. 5 Captain J Ezra Hawkins and the Forge River Life Saving Station.
This next interesting story involves my recent look into the Moriches area history and its importance to the tri-hamlet communities. As many of you are aware, the Peninsula was owned by a few wealthy families and relied on the twin ponds for mill work, a country store, school and post office through the 19th century. Families settled in or near the ponds by the names of Penny, Ross, Hawkins, Hallock, etc and at times were also employed by the estate owners.
It’s sad and unfortunate that our communities have lost many of the historic Moriches homes. Recently the Edmund Hallock (Moriches Post Office and General Store Owner – 1837) home was destroyed by fire in 2012. With that in mind, I recently inquired about an early 19th century home that, via old maps, was the James Ezra Hawkins Homestead. Year after year, I drive by the location of this house on Montauk Highway on my way to and from Moriches as the forest continues to encroach ever closer. The house, a federal style one and half story structure believed to have been built in the early 18th century, is now privately owned, abandoned and being left to ruin by sheer negligence, with no concern regarding its historic value.
Map 1873 J. Ezra Hawkins House view from Montauk Hwy
So who was James Ezra Hawkins? It turns out that Mr. Hawkins became a sea captain and also manned and became superintendent of the Forge River Life Saving Station on Fire Island East of Smiths Point. Below is an article from the New York Times, February 16 1908, describing Capt. Hawkins efforts to rescue the men of the Howard B. Peck, a schooner that was shipwrecked off the shores of Moriches. His service at the station lasted through the years 1889 – 1919. These pre-coast guard stations were situated every 4-6 miles along the shore but were later decommissioned. The Forge River Station was finally closed in January of 1948.
Forge River Station Saved from Shipwreck…NYT Fire Island Hotel
Now here in lies the real interesting fact. Although the Life Saving Station was decommissioned, parts of it still remain in existence. The Flynn family of Fire Island had one of the buildings barged over to Ocean Bay Park and incorporated into their bar and casino business. The business changed owners and is now called the Fire Island Hotel and Resort beginning in 1989.
I hope you enjoyed reading this little bit of our hidden past and I look forward to sharing with you other discoveries I make regarding the rich history of the Moriches and Smith Point barrier beach locations. Yours in history.
-Brad C. Shupe
No. 4 William Floyd Rediscovered …...by Xio Xiomaro
I was pleased when Brad Shupe invited me to submit a guest blog piece. Each time I have exhibited my photographs of Mastic’s William Floyd Estate, I better appreciate how many people are not familiar with who he is. Even those interested in history, don’t always know a lot about Floyd beyond the basics: he is a signer of the Declaration of Independence and served as a General under George Washington. So I welcome every opportunity to raise awareness of Floyd and his estate, which is part of the National Park Service and open to the public.
On Tuesday, October 27th, from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, I have another opportunity as a guest speaker at the Mastics – Moriches – Shirley Community Library. My talk, William Floyd Rediscovered, will include a slideshow of some of the photographs that the National Park Service commissioned me to create of Old Mastic House, which was the residence of Floyd and eight generations that remained.
Although free house tours are available to the public, the photographs add another dimension. One cannot freely walk within the residence or get too close to artifacts. With my photographs, even a seasoned visitor to Old Mastic House gets a fresh view of the rooms because I was granted access to venture past the velvet ropes. This access included areas of the house that are closed off to the public and rare objects that are kept in archival storage.
Some of the objects I will show include the few surviving items belonging to Floyd, e.g., his ceremonial sword, snuff box and traveling “medicine” chest. Other photographs escort us into areas that few outside of the Park Service get to visit: the coal room, basement and attic.
Attics in general can be interesting places to explore, let alone a historical one like at Old Mastic House. Curious items were everywhere such as old leather shoes, the remains of a hoop skirt frame and a box filled with small animal bones (pictured here).
One item that caught my eye was this large leather collar with long metal spikes attached to a leather strap or leash (pictured below). If anyone can identify what this was used for, please post a comment below. I will be discussing this collar at my talk.
As we get closer to the date of the talk, please check my my website where – for a limited time – you can download a free eBook containing some of the photographs that have appeared in my exhibit.
No. 3 Mastics First Airfield….May 2015
Living in Mastic Park just South of Brookhaven Calabro Airport, I often get to see some really interesting small aircraft fly over and down Wills Creek and the Forge River as they head toward the Great South Bay. Its amazing how many antique planes pass by in the sky when I’m out in my yard during Summer. As I have delved into the history of our Peninsula, I often come across unexpected bits of information I was completely unaware of thanks to our good friend and former resident (now living in Nashville, TN), Ken Spooner. While reading about our part in aviation history, I came across his listing and mention of the Smith Point Airfield, donated to the Army by Fred Quinby and the Tangiers Development. Ken’s website shows a 1929 Hagstrom map (shown below) listing the airfield and he also has early overhead aerial photos of the property.
Using Google Earth (see photos below) I was able to do an image overlay to figure out exactly where this World War I airfield was by matching up main features of the geographical terrain, as well as the Tollfree Estate.
The airfield was located between Trafalgar and St. George Drive West of Suffolk Blvd (William Floyd Pkwy). At this time the area was all trees except for the road leading into the strip
I can’t speak for most of you but I was under the impression that the only place planes were flying was out of the sea hangars at the Knapp Estate and its expansion across the Great South Bay. And of course, Colabro Airport, formerly the Mastic Flight Strip or Mastic Airstrip, which would later be installed during the beginnings of World War II.
In time, I hope to receive more information as to the exact date the field was opened as well as other details. My inquiry to the Cradle of Aviation Museum was met with surprise as they had not heard of this airfield. Perhaps I’ll have better luck with my search of U.S. Army archives.
Grass strip airfields on Long Island are few and we’re lucky to still have one over in East Moriches, the Lufker Airport, just next to Spadaro Airport. Just West of us, we also have the Bayport Aerodrome, which by the way, has an historic marker sign listing it as the only public airport with grass runways still in operation.
So, the next time your out and about and look up to see an antique Biplane or World War II fighter plane buzzing by, you can be proud to know that Long Island and the Mastic’s were responsible in large part for the aviation success of this country.
–Brad C. Shupe
no. 2 The Other Floyd Estates… March 2015
So all of us history addicts know about the prestigious William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach, and even his second estate in Westernville, NY. If you delve a little further, you may be surprised to find out the Floyd family has more than one estate on this Long Island of ours. Lets get started with General William Floyds’ son, Nicoll Floyd II. Nicoll Floyd was the last successful farmer and business man of the estate before much of the vast acreage was sold off and the residence maintained as a retreat for hunting and vacationing. But, how many of us are aware of the second estate known as “Taupeonke” a Native American term meaning “wading place where there is sitting down, before crossing” and is spelled also as Towapionke. Nicoll had owned and worked this land (purchased via his grandfather from the Unkechaug Nation) as part of the vast estate and had a home put up for his daughter Catherine, with whom he moved in upon his retirement. The home, located now in what is called “old Mastic” was sold off by the family and is now owned by Ms. Anna Wintour. Other estates owned by Katherine Floyd Dana and August Floyd, just North and South of this home, no longer exist.
Nicoll Floyd Estate August Floyd Estate Katherine Dana Floyd Estate
Lets move on to another Floyd Estate located east of us in Greenport. This one was built by David Gelston Floyd, successful business merchant and grandson of General William Floyd and son of Nicoll Floyd II. The property, is called Brecknock Hall, short for Brecknockshire, Wales, where the Floyd family originated. He would eventually marry Lydia Smith, a descendant of the Tangier and William Smith lineage. His fortune was made through the Whaling and Shipping industries as well as banking and real estate, etc.
Finally, I’ll share with you the name of yet another estate that didn’t originate with the Floyd family, but fell under their ownership after the Revolutionary War. The Jones family, loyalists, were forced to leave New York and as such, it was agreed that Arabella Jones Floyd, sister of Thomas Jones and wife of Colonel Richard Floyd IV, would be given ownership of the estate with the provision that her son, David Richard Floyd, take on the last name of Jones. Thus the Floyd-Jones family name. The estate was Known as Tryon Hall and later the Fort Neck House after the Revolutionary War ended. The property was located in present day Massapequa, the town I grew up in here on Long Island, and situated along Merrick Road, overlooking a meadow and the Great South Bay. Unfortunately, this great estate home was abandoned and eventually caught fire in 1940, but a marker has been placed in remembrance. Tryon Hall – Fort Neck House
no. 1 Downs Inn and Tavern – January 2015
Some information came across my desk the other day containing a survey of local historic building and sites through out our communities. The listing for Downs tavern cought my eye very quickly. I had read about Samuel Carmens Inn and Tavern located in Southaven, an area where many community members congregated during the colonial era as well as the Terry Ketcham Inn located in Center Moriches.
So, whats the big deal and why the write up on this. Well, it turns out that Thomas Jefferson logs a visit to this tavern during June 13, 1791. I am providing a scan of his log or rather account books below provided by the Division for Historic Preservation, part of the New York State Parks and Recreation.
Although long gone, the tavern was of a typical New England Cape style building and located just north of the Hawkins-Downs cemetery off of Hawkins rd on the west side (see map scan). Unfortunatley, the street now is filled with homes along the west side of Hawkins road, with little to no chance of finding any remains. The property sits between Ely Creek and Old Neck Creek with Hawkins Rd the path down to the house (no longer there) and the existing cemetery. Thanks to Gary Ollet, I was able to view the property from above by looking at old aerial photos from as early as the 1940s using the Suffolk County GIS service available online. I am also posting an image of a typical Cape Cod style New England Tavern of the era. The building image below is the Crocker Tavern House located in Barnstable Massachusetts.
In researching this site I was fortunate to come across a genealogy page on the Hawkins-Downs cemetery by Jane E. Wilcox. You can link to this at 4getmenotancestry.com. Also, I enjoyed reading information about Inn and Taverns during the colonial period and their importance in providing a meeting place, news, mail, a place to stay. As for the food, how interesting would it be to try some of the various foods they would have eaten, like mincemeat pie, johhny cake, hasty pudding, etc. And of course, you’d have a mug of Ale, or perhaps hard apple cider or rum. Fortunately, the recipes for these meals exist today and have been published if you want to give it try.
Brad C. Shupe