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1909: The Year Huntington Grew Up

By: Claudia S. Fortunato

There are key years in Huntington’s history which mark a significant change in its character—1909 was one of them.  It was during this year that life in Huntington shifted from a community of people growing up on the family farm and living in a kind of isolation, to a full fledged town whose people’s lives began to more closely resemble city life and whose world grew to include much more than the family farm.  At the turn of the century, families began moving closer to the center of Town, and community life and interaction increased.  New schools were built, new services were provided, and improved technology linked Huntington to Manhattan and to the South Shore.  “The simple, slow pace of rural life was surely passing as the sophisticated, complex forces that were to mold the Twentieth Century pushed on stage.”[1]  And so Huntington grew up in 1909, and started its evolution into the cosmopolitan that it is a century later. 

The New Train Depot

            At the beginning of the twentieth century only a handful of commuters began their journey into New York City from the Huntington Train Station.  But in 1909, the Long Island Rail Road undertook massive system-wide improvements, including the construction of a new depot in Huntington, that helped to increase daily ridership from dozens to hundreds a day in the 1920s and to thousands a day now.

The Long Island Rail Road, founded in 1834 to provide a rail link from New York City to Boston, had arrived in Huntington in 1867.  The station was located on the west side of New York Avenue in a sparsely settled area two miles south of the Huntington business district.  Over the years, a thriving commercial district separate from Huntington village grew up around the station.

In 1900, the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased a controlling interest in the LIRR, as part of a joint plan to provide direct access to Manhattan.  With an infusion of new money after the merger, the Long Island Rail Road undertook system-wide capital improvements including the construction of Pennsylvania Station (which opened on September 8, 1910); direct access to Manhattan via tunnels under the East River; electrification of all trains west of Jamaica; and the elimination of grade crossings.

The improvements, with a price tag of over $50 million (the equivalent of over one billion dollars today), included $100,000 in improvements in the area around Huntington Station.  The local projects included building a new brick and stucco station house on the east side of New York Avenue; eliminating the grade crossing at New York Avenue by lowering the roadbed; and extending the existing trolley line (which then ran from Halesite to the train depot) down to Amityville.  The extended trolley line would be powered by electricity carried 35 miles from Long Island City to a transformer located east of the new station house.

In January 1909, the railroad unveiled plans for the new Huntington train station, which carried a price tag of $20,000 and featured a gambrel roof with dormers in both the front and back and two large columned porticos on either side of the waiting room.  The new station included direct access from the train to the trolley, which looped into the station on the north side of the tracks, east of the station house. 

The new, improved service was greeted with anticipation that Huntington, which would now be just a fifty-minute train ride from the big, new terminal in Manhattan, would become “one of the most important towns on Long Island.”  The Long-Islander predicted that the improvements would “give Long Island by far the greatest boom in its history.”  “The magnificent new depot in Manhattan now nearing completion will in itself be a big advertisement for Long Island right in the heart of the commercial centre of the Western hemisphere,” The Long Islander also predicted.  

Huntington’s new station house was opened to the public on October 21, 1909.  Although a “beautiful grove of big trees [had] been so wisely preserved at the northerly end of the tract,” the railroad did not have any plans for landscaping the one and half acre station grounds.  Beautification of the grounds was left up to the community.

“The railroad depot and grounds are the first things that greet the eye of the stranger entering a village or city and the last thing upon leaving and the impression gained by the visitor from the appearances of the railroad station goes far towards forming his idea as to the character of the community,” The Long-Islander explained.  Moreover, properly designed and maintained grounds “will give an added dignity and sense of culture and refinement to the town.”  An attractive station “also means better conditions in other ways and a pride in the maintenance of the reputation of the place and the better preservation of law and order.” 

The railroad graded the property and provided topsoil and fertilizer.  The Huntington Association, a group of Huntington’s wealthy summer residents, spearheaded a fund raising drive to underwrite the plantings.  Laurel and other attractive shrubbery were planted and “evergreens . . . set out so as to cut off the view of any unsightly buildings.”

Two years after the new depot was completed, the name of the surrounding community was officially changed from “Fairgrounds” to “Huntington Station.”  A decade later over 500 commuters a month traveled from Huntington. 

            A century after their construction, the magnificent terminal in Manhattan is just a memory (having been demolished in 1963), but Huntington’s modest station house continues to serve local commuters.

The Cross Island Trolley

            East-west transport was not the only route to transform in 1909; the north- south course was transformed as well.  The Huntington Railroad, started in 1887 by local businessmen, was originally a horse drawn railroad that ran between the train depot to the harbor in Halesite.  In 1909, after the Long Island Rail Road took over ownership and electrified the line, it was extended and became a Cross Island Trolley, running from Halesite to Amityville along what is now Route 110. 

            A committee was assembled and charged with planning a grand celebration for the opening of the trolley line.  According to The Long-Islander, “the completion of this trans-island road [is] one of the most important events in the history of this section,” because of “the linking together of the three large and rapidly growing villages of Huntington, Farmingdale, and Amityville with a united population of not far from 10,000….”  Surrounding villages would benefit from the trolley as well, and it was decided that all three major towns would work together to plan the festivities for August 25, 1909, making it a celebration that would stretch along the whole line. 

            The Long Island Rail Road, the parent company of the Huntington Railroad, supplied ten cars for the day and waived all fees.  Beginning in Amityville at 9:30am, the Queen of the Carnival, chosen by public vote and accompanied by four young women from each village, set out on the first car along with ticket holders for the night’s gala event planned at the Chateau des Beaux Arts in Huntington Bay.  After stopping in Farmingdale for a luncheon, the Queen traveled through Melville and Huntington Station, and into Huntington village.  Athletic competitions were held on Main Street, an equestrian parade made its way through town, along with a fire department parade with representatives from each of the companies along the Wading River branch of the LIRR.  The main event, however, was the automobile parade, with prizes given out for the best decorations. Finally, the celebration wrapped up with speeches in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building and a trip to the Harbor.  Once the trolley reached the water, the Queen, her attendants, and the tickets holders, were transferred to a steamer and carried out into the Bay where they were delivered at the Chateau des Beaux Arts.  The day’s celebration closed with music, dancing, food, and fireworks!  Ironically, despite the fanfare and excitement associated with the opening of the Cross Island Trolley, it only ran across the Island for ten years, when service to Amityville was abandoned, and instead terminated at Melville. The entire route closed just eight years after that on August 15, 1927 when buses took over the route.

To accommodate the trolley, the LIRR tracks over New York Avenue were raised four feet and the road was lowered.  At the same time, there was a movement for the widening, straightening, and the grade lowering of New York Avenue between the train depot and the Harbor.   The residents felt that increased carriage and automobile traffic made this a necessity.  Additionally, they wanted an eight-foot sidewalk on the easterly side of the trolley line.  According to The Long-Islander, by December 10, 1909 a committee had been formed and plans for the road’s improvement were being made.  At the same time, work commenced on the Long Island Motor Parkway, and the Cross Island State Road that would become Route 110 in 1909 as well, linking Huntington to the rest of the Island in even more ways.  Plans were also being made for a ferry to Norwalk, CT to run regularly through the summer season, giving people from the mainland access to Huntington Harbor and all it had to offer. 

Town Hall

With more and more people able to travel here via train, trolley, ferry, or road Huntington needed to provide new and improved services to its residents and visitors.  The first, and perhaps most pressing issue, was building a place where all of the Town’s official business could be done in one place, with a substantial jail on the first floor, and a court room on the second floor.  A petition was filed with the Town Clerk’s office in March, and the Huntington Board of Trade was given the go-ahead and funding to secure a site and erect a Town Hall building.  Dr. Oliver L. Jones offered the town free of cost a site just west of the Trade School, across from the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building, on the corner of Main Street and Stewart Avenue, and although there were other sites in consideration, this location was chosen.  Wanser & Lewis was awarded the contract for the erection of the new building, with a winning bid of $15,966.93, and Peabody & Wilson were chosen as the architects.  The design called for all exposed work on the building face to be brick, and all stone work on the outside to be light marble.  All exterior woodwork would be cypress, and all interior work would be oak.  A clock donated by Miss Cornelia Prime sits atop the cupola built for this purpose, and which still works today.  Although it boasts an impressive façade, the building is rather small.  Less than 25 years after it was built, an article from The Long-Islander of June 17, 1932 reported a proposal to build a new Town Hall to help alleviate the unemployment situation in the Town, and as a result of complaints of overcrowding.  This issue was revisited in 1958, and Town Hall finally moved into larger quarters, the old high school building, in 1979. 

The New High School

In 1909, however, that old high school building was brand new and just built.  Costing $105,000, the new building was promised to be one of the best modern built school house in the state outside of the cities, according to The Long-Islander.  Therefore, the accommodations and equipment for laboratory work, manual training and trade school work, drawing and other necessary departments of a modern curriculum were the primary focus.  The new building had a gymnasium, library, and botany room as well as three floors of classrooms and offices, (though the auditorium was not built until 1928). The school had two curriculums: one for those who planned to attend college, and one for those who did not.  In February of 1909, the alumni and other “generously minded citizens” were asked to make donations towards furnishing the new school.  Unfortunately construction delays prevented the building from opening in time for the September 1909 school term, but by Thanksgiving the building was completed.  A picture of the old Huntington Academy was hung in the new building, and the small bell from the old school house was retrieved from the firehouse, after 50 years residence there, and was also housed at the new school.  The fire department inscribed the bell with the years it served for fire duty as well as the time it called the children to the old Academy.

The official dedication was held on February 1, 1910 in the new assembly room on the second floor of the building, and was attended by over 600 people.  Gifts from alumni and citizens were received including the furnishing for the gymnasium by Miss Cornelia Prime, (who also donated $5000 to the construction), and a Steinway Piano by Dr. G. H. Carter, and a flag from Ringham & Campbell.  Speeches were made, a history of education in Huntington given, and music was played.  The next morning 380 students walked through the doors for the first time.  The number of students grew until 1958, when it had far exceeded the 600-person capacity.  Overcrowding had become such a problem that yet another new and modern high school was constructed.

Fire and Police

The changes in Huntington meant that not just a New Town Hall and a new high school were required, but changes needed to be made in the fire and police departments as well.  In June of 1909 Huntington residents began to look into the matter of organizing a police district in all the areas of the Town of Huntington, excluding the incorporated village of Northport.  According to The Long-Islander it was felt that three or four mounted policeman, stationed at some central point connected by telephone with every section, could preserve good order and give fair protection to our citizens from rowdies or bands of suburban thieves and robbers.  It took four years to get done, but the Huntington Police Department was founded in 1913.

Although Huntington had three fire districts already, in 1909 there was a feeling that they needed to consolidate in order to maximize efficiency.   Competing fire departments would arrive at the scene of a fire, and get so involved in squabbling over whose fire it was that the fire would rage for an extended amount of time.  It was felt that one central headquarters building was required, with smaller satellite stations placed around the Town.  Despite this movement, Halesite, Huntington, and Huntington Station, then Fairground, remain separate fire districts today.  But in 1911 the Huntington Fire Department did construct a new station house on Main Street, a block west of the new Town Hall.

Remembering The Past

As much as Huntington was changing and growing, it’s forward thinking residents were also interested in preserving the past.  In light of the enormous changes overtaking their community, it is not surprising that many Huntingtonians paused to look pack and preserve the Town’s past.  The Huntington Historical Society has been founded in 1903 as an outgrowth of the Town’s celebration of its 250th Anniversary.  The Huntington Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution was inaugurated on March 5th, 1909, at a banquet held at the Masonic Hall.  The 75 members of the Ketewamoke Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, established in 1907, gave the event.  The same year, the DAR presented the Town Board with a tablet, to be placed in the Village Green, intended to memorialize the historical identification of the area and mark it for generations to come. 

E. B. Dusenberry was another Huntington resident interested in preserving the history of Huntington.  In 1909, he began to publish the names, dates, and information of all the people buried in the Old Burying Ground behind the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building.  These records, supplemented by Margaret Metcalf, are still used by the Town Historian’s office as the primary archives for that cemetery’s data.

The Huntington Historical Society, founded in 1903, continued its mission to preserve Huntington’s history, through its collection and its activities.  Their collection of antiques, household furniture, books, and pamphlets had grown so much after only six years, that the Society did not have enough space to exhibit it all.  Yet they continued to request more donations—none too small, none too large.  In the December 10, 1909 Long- Islander they beseeched people, “Will you not look through your attic and probably you will find some one thing that you can loan or contribute….”  The Society wasn’t just receiving donations, but they were also making contributions, and in September 1909 they placed a tablet in the Old Burying Ground, Huntington’s first public burial place, with information about the Revolutionary War history of the cemetery.  The members of the Huntington Historical Society also attempted to purchase the Walt Whitman Birthplace that same year when it was put to auction.  Unfortunately their bid of $500 did not exceed half the value of the property, although a memorial boulder was placed at the door of the house by the Huntington Historical Society, then called the Colonial Society of Huntington. 


Movements to preserve Huntington’s rich history withstanding, all of the changes that took place in 1909 definitely made it a year of significant transition.  Perhaps the August 6, 1909 Long Islander said it best: “Huntington of today is not the Huntington of yesterday.  New interests, new necessities, and new enterprises grow daily with the growth of the population.  Not so very many years ago the children of Huntington all lived in houses, which were big open yards and fields.  The woods had not been cut down and houses had not sprung up in the night in the open fields where children roamed and gathered wild flowers.  The boys could go swimming at any point along the shorefront.  It was all theirs.  Today there are children in Huntington who on hot summer days have no place to play but the sun-baked streets.” 

Huntington had grown up in 1909, and changed from a farm village to a busy town. Similar laments were no doubt heard in 1959 as well as today.  It is only through the lens of time that we can truly appreciate watershed years—years when life really did change.  Nineteen hundred and nine was one such year in the life of Town Huntington.




All photographs in this article are part of the Huntington Historical Society’s Photograph Collection.  If you are interested in any of these images, or of any other images of Huntington, please call Karen Martin at 631-427-7045 x406 or visit the Archives on Wednesdays & Thursdays from 1-4pm.  The Archives are located in the Society’s headquarters at the Huntington Trade School at 209 Main Street in Huntington Village.



[1] Vagts, Christopher.  Huntington at the Turn of the Century.  Huntington, NY: Huntington Historical Society, 1974, page 5.