Exploring Huntington’s History

By Fanchette Grunblatt

info@longislandergroup.com

Huntington is a town filled with culture, food, nature, and other delights, many of which spur from the rich historical foundation it was built on. Huntington has seen it all, embracing each era with its changing culture and conflicts. From the Revolutionary War, to the jazz era, there has never been a dull moment. Even now, new beginnings are underway.

While embracing the possibilities the future holds, it’s important to preserve the wonders of the past. Here are some landmarks around the Huntington township, and a brief description of the historical events surrounding them.

Oheka Castle

135 W Gate Drive,

Huntington

Oheka Castle was first built by Otto Hermann Kahn, a financier and philanthropist, who is estimated to have spent $11 million ($110 million after inflation) on construction.

Oheka Castle was first built by Otto Hermann Kahn, a financier and philanthropist, who is estimated to have spent $11 million ($110 million after inflation) on construction.

Castles can be found most frequently in fairytales, but outside the realm of fantasy, is a charming French-style château castle right in Huntington.

An especially rare gem, Oheka Castle is beautiful and full of vibrancy today, but there was a period of time when Oheka Castle had fallen to nightmarish disarray.

The castle was constructed almost a century ago by Otto Hermann Kahn, a financier and philanthropist, who also inspired the character “Mr. Monopoly.” Located at the highest point on Long Island, Oheka Caste is estimated to have cost $11 million ($110 million after inflation) to build. Upon its construction, the castle was the second-largest private residence ever built in America, and still is considered so today. Kahn utilized Oheka Castle to host lavish parties throughout the roaring ’20s, entertaining government officials, Hollywood stars and royalty.

However, after Kahn’s death in 1934, Oheka changed hands many times.

In 1948, the Eastern Military Academy bought the castle, bulldozed the gardens, subdivided the rooms and painted over the walls. After the school went bankrupt, the helpless castle remained abandoned, except for vandals who reportedly started numerous fires throughout it.

Today owned by Gary Melius, the castle has undergone $30 million in restoration, the largest in American history. Oheka is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a member of Historic Hotels of America.

 

Old Burying Grounds

Main Street and Nassau Road,

Huntington

The Old Burying Grounds in Huntington village was once home to British loyalists during the Revolutionary War.

The Old Burying Grounds in Huntington village was once home to British loyalists during the Revolutionary War.

The Old Burying Grounds in Huntington were occupied by British loyalists during the Revolutionary War.

During that time Col. Benjamin Thompson, otherwise known as Count Rumford, became known as the man Huntington loved to hate. He was born in Massachusetts, and joined the British after his application to join General George Washington’s army was rejected. In a revenge quest, Count Rumford tore down the Old First Church and used the wood to build a British encampment called Fort Golgotha, which means “a place of skulls.”

During the British occupation local merchants and workers made to work against their will reported British troops, removing tombstones to use as flooring for tents and makeshift bread ovens. The bread they made was known as Tombstone bread. This is because the loaves of bread they baked would have the inscription of the tombstone on them in reverse.

 As Count Ruford's last act to provoke the Huntington towns people, he burned all the wood in the area so that the inhabitants wouldn’t have wood in the area to heat their houses during the winter months

Today, the Old Burying Grounds are maintained by the Town of Huntington. The last grave to be dug there was in 1948. Silas Wood, a West Hills-native and U.S. Representative, is buried on the grounds, along with civilians, patriots, and soldiers.

There’s a memorial on the grounds, too, dedicated to the 39 local citizens who gave their lives during World War I.

 

Jarvis-Fleet House

138 Cove Road,

Huntington

Joseph Langdon established the first general store in Huntington out of the Jarvis-Fleet House in 1736.

Joseph Langdon established the first general store in Huntington out of the Jarvis-Fleet House in 1736.

Some of the most prominent names, and earliest establishments, in Huntington’s history stem from the Jarvis-Fleet House.

The house was built in 1653, making it the oldest surviving structure in the Town of Huntington, and in central Long Island. It started out small, but once renovations were complete, it was home to a total of 4 fireplaces and 16 rooms.

The Georgian-style architecture rendered it quite unique for its time. It is one of the earliest known structures of the English Gambrel design with two full stories and an attic. The Jarvis-Fleet House is the oldest example of this floor plan in existence in the United States.

Joseph Langdon established the first general store in Huntington out of the house in 1736.

Then, the house was sold to the Lewis family, which owned the house during the Revolutionary War. Huntington became entirely occupied by British troops on Sept. 1, 1776, and they remained in Huntington for seven years. The British occupied the Jarvis-Fleet house, and used it to orchestrate town meetings due to the appeal of its large size and many fireplaces. The British looted the store as they pleased, and used it as a guise to cover their smuggling supplies to the Patriot Army in Connecticut.

The house went on to be sold for $1 to Moses Scudder, who went on to establish Huntington’s First Methodist Church.

 

Coltrane Home

247 Candlewood Path,

Dix Hills

Jazz music legend John Coltrane, inset, is said to have composed his masterpiece album, “A Love Supreme,” in his Dix Hills home, above.

Jazz music legend John Coltrane, inset, is said to have composed his masterpiece album, “A Love Supreme,” in his Dix Hills home, above.

In 1964, jazz music legend John Coltrane moved to Dix Hills with his wife, Alice; her daughter, Michelle; and the couple’s three children, John Jr., Ravi and Oran.

John Coltrane lived in the house until he died at Huntington Hospital on July 17, 1967. He was 40. Alice Coltrane lived in the house until 1973.

In the home, John Coltrane composed some of his most well-known music, including “A Love Supreme,” which is considered one of the best jazz albums of all time and Coltrane’s masterpiece.

The basement of the home was the site of Coltrane Studios, where many of his demo recordings were made.

The farm ranch home sports a 1950s-era brick and wood frame and consists of four bedrooms, a living room, the studio in the basement and a practice room above the garage. The practice room above the garage, specifically, has been credited as being the site where “A Love Supreme” was composed.

Today, the home stands to celebrates and commemorates Coltrane’s time on Long Island. Recently, the annual Coltrane Day music festival was held at Heckshcer Park in Huntington. It drew musicians and jazz lovers together to celebrate Coltrane, and helped raise money to restore the Dix Hills home.

The restoration process is still underway and donations are being accepted at Thecoltranehome.org. There are hopes of turning the home into an interactive museum.

 

Walt Whitman Birthplace

246 Old Walt Whitman Road,

West Hills

Walt Whitman, known as “America’s Shakespeare,” was born at this West Hills home in 1819.

Walt Whitman, known as “America’s Shakespeare,” was born at this West Hills home in 1819.

In 1819, the poet nicknamed “America’s Shakespeare,” Walt Whitman, was born in a farmhouse at 246 Old Walt Whitman Road in West Hills.

The farmhouse was constructed by the poet’s father, Walter Whitman Sr., a house builder, upon his marriage to Louisa Van Velsor in 1816.

Along with being the site where Whitman was born, it is also a prime example of Long Island craftsmanship. It was restored 2001, and, since then, the birthplace has received much recognition.

In 1998, the White House Millennium Council named it an “American Treasure.” In 2007, the Walt Whitman Trail, which begins at the birthplace, was designated a National Recreational Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Today, the site serves as a museum, and also hosts writing workshops.

Whitman also went on to found Huntington’s weekly newspaper, The Long-Islander, in 1838. Today, the newspaper continues to publish each week and operates out of Huntington village.

 

Site Of The 1872 Kelsey Outrage

Platt Place, west of Spring Road,

Huntington

In 1872, Charles G. Kelsey, a wealthy farmer, school teacher and poet, was tarred and feathered, and murdered, in a barn located on Platt Place in Huntington.

In 1872, Charles G. Kelsey, a wealthy farmer, school teacher and poet, was tarred and feathered, and murdered, in a barn located on Platt Place in Huntington.

What is known as the “Kelsey Outrage” is thought of as Huntington's most notorious crime, and, perhaps, one of the worst crimes committed in the 19th century.

Charles G. Kelsey, the victim, was a wealthy farmer, school teacher and poet. He loved a woman, Julia Smith, and it’s said the two shared a brief romance despite her engagement to Royal Sammis, a member of one of Huntington's most prominent families.

Smith’s family found out about the tryst and forced her to break off the affair with Kelsey. But, Kelsey wasn’t easily dissuaded and tried to continue the affair, arranging for the two to meet one night at a barn on Platt Place, west of Spring Road, in Huntington.

The Nov. 4, 1872 meeting, however, turned out to be a set-up.

Upon arrival, Kelsey was tarred and feathered, allegedly by Huntington men disguised in masks. Kelsey was then killed. The culprits were never identified.

The incident had Huntington labelled “Tar Town” for some time, and newspapers across the nation exploited the story. Two sides from the atrocity emerged, “The Tars,” who tried to minimize the crime and sympathize with the criminals; and the “Anti-tars,” who wanted to exact justice for the gruesome brutality.

Editor's note: Previously, in both the print and online versions of this story,
the entry for Jarvis-Fleet House mistakenly ran alongside a photo
depicting a different building. That error has been corrected above.