The Longwood Estate
Ms. Jean Lauer
Chapter I - Origins
In 1690 Brookhaven Town was virtually a wilderness. The only settlement of note was in the Setauket area. One of the early settlers in Setauket was William "Tangier" Smith, who had a homestead at Little Neck. In 1693, in recognition of his service as mayor of the city of Tangier in Africa, he was allowed to purchase a large tract of land on the south side of Long Island. It was called St. George's Manor. The grant included all the lands extending from the ocean north to the Middle Country Road, hounded on the west by the Connecticut (Carman's) River and on the east by the Southampton town line. His son, William Henry, established the seat of the manor at Mastic on the shores of Moriches Bay. From the earliest times, the northern section of the manor was called the "Swamp" or "Longswamp."
The Swamp was used for pasturing livestock, farming and wood cutting throughout the 18th century. In 1785 there is a record of a Christopher Moger living there.
During the Revolution, the Manor at Mastic was occupied by the British. During the war, Judge William Smith and his son John, who were anti-British, did not live at the manor, but, according to an undocumented theory, took refuge at the Swamp. Whether or not this is true, they did move much of their livestock up to the Swamp to protect it from British confiscation.
After the Revolution, Judge Smith had a house built at the Swamp for his son, General John Smith. After the death of his wife, John decided not to move to the Swamp, but to stay at Mastic. Judge Smith then gave the property to his seventh son, William. He and his wife, Hannah Phoenix Smith moved into the new manor house in about 1790.
The original house was a large Georgian house with a center hall and two square rooms on each side. Each room had a corner fireplace. A wing to the east contained a kitchen. The original house was very like the present Manor St. George at Mastic. The nearest settlements were at Yaphank and Middle Island. Geographically, the Swamp contained farmland, pasture, woods, river fronts, ponds and the swampy area to the east (Wampmissic) which constituted part of the headwaters of the Peconic River.
With such extensive holdings, William Smith leased out farms to tenant farmers. The farm leases were quite comprehensive and elaborate. An agreement with Joshua Glover in 1803 provided for equal shares to each party of "...anything ... where there is any profits arising". Glover was expected to plow thirty acres a year and plant it in grass every three years. He was required to "... put in the best fences with rails and loping". One of the most valuable assets of the Swamp was timber. The leases specify that standing timber was solely the property of the landlord and the farmer was only allowed use of the deadfall.
William and Hannah settled down and began raising their family. They had five children between 1792 and 1800. They were Phoebe who died in infancy, Ruth Amelia, Appolos, William Sidney and Betsy.
Just before Christmas in 1799, Hannah learned of the death of her father at Smithtown. Although expecting a child at any moment, she traveled there for the funeral. While there, she gave birth to Betsy on Christmas Day. Shortly after the beginning of the year, she and the baby set out to return home to the Swamp. While traveling through Middle Island, the carriage overturned on the icy road killing Betsy. Although Hannah was not seriously injured, she never recovered from the shock and she died in the fall of 1800.
William was left a widower with three small children to take care of. The family stayed on at the Swamp, but less than two years later, William himself died. The three children, Ruth Amelia, Appolos and William Sidney were left orphans. They were put in the care of their uncle General John Smith of the Manor at Mastic. An account book of that period shows that the three children were well taken care of by their uncle
"... making Sidney clothes, board of the Taylor
... Lydia's work in making Sidney cloathes
... mendg Sidney & Appolos's cloathes
..a pair of shoes for Sidney
... a trunk & other articles for Sidney
... Sidney's board at Bridgehampton
... stage fare for Sidney
Ruth Amelia was sent to live with her maternal uncle in Kingston, New York. She later married Robert M. Russell and settled in New York City. Appolos lived at the Manor and went to school at Miller Place and Jamaica. He died in 1816. William Sidney was educated at Bridgehampton and Moriches. In about 1812 he was sent to New York City to work at the mercantile house of Cotheal and Russell.
Meanwhile Long Swamp was without a proprietor. Such a valuable property could not be left idle, so John Smith sent his own son, William to live there and manage the farm until young Sidney came of age. In 1816, William wrote to Sidney from Long Swamp:
"...I propose to move from here soon and I should suppose that it would be very necessary that I should see you and if you are not too much engaged, you had better come down."
On July 8, 1817, William Sidney Smith celebrated his twenty-first birthday and became the proprietor of Long Swamp.
Chapter II - William
Sidney Smith and Longwood
Young William Sidney Smith left his position in New York and returned to his birthplace to dedicate himself to the management of his estate. One of the first things that he did was to change its name from Long Swamp to Longwood. He lived there alone for the first six months, however, it was a very lonely life for a young man, so he moved back to the Manor at Mastic. In 1816, he became an ensign in the 142nd Regiment of the New York State Infantry and served until 1823 when he resigned his commission.
In 1821, he was introduced to Eleanor, daughter of Major William Jones of Cold Spring, Long Island. They fell in love and on her eighteenth birthday, were married at her parents' home. They stayed in Cold Spring with the Jones family while Longwood was made ready for the newlyweds. In addition to redecorating, certain improvements were made at this time. At least two Franklin Stoves were installed in the parlor and dining room. Account books from this early period show expenditures from various items of furniture including a bedstead, three looking glasses, a clock, two dozen chairs and silverware.
In May of 1824, William Sidney, Eleanor and their three month old son William Henry moved to Longwood.
"They were removed from all the conveniences of a settled community or village, having neither railroad or telegraph communication with the outer world and even mails were infrequent."
It must have been a difficult transition for a young couple and infant child to settle on such a remote farm. Longwood contained well over 7,000 acres and covered all of the area from the Connecticut River to Manorville five miles to the east. The land extended from the Middle Country Road south almost to the South Country Road.
In addition to managing his farm and his investments, William Sidney was also part owner of the sawmill, gristmill and woolen mill in Yaphank. He was very active in the development of the Long Island Railroad, which passed through Longwood about a mile south of the manor house. He was also very active in local government, serving as Supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven from 1829-1834. He was elected treasurer of Suffolk County and was a member of the New York State Legislature on three different occasions.
He managed his land well. A survey conducted by James M. Fanning in the 1850's showed the farm at Longwood to contain 7,376 acres of which 1,630 were located south of the main line railroad.
The farm operation took much of his time. In addition to farming, he leased farms to small farmers; he contracted out for wood cutting and had extensive livestock holdings. In about 1860, he estimated that the income from his farm alone was about $7,300. per year.
It is obvious that he loved his land and his home. There was an extended household consisting of close friends, old retainers and relatives who found refuge at Longwood in times of need. After the death of his brother-in-law, Robert M. Russell, he took in his sister, Ruth Amelia and her seven children. This made a very large household, including between twelve and fourteen children in all. In 1834, William Sidney built a house for his sister about three miles from Longwood. She lived there until her death in 1839. The house is still standing and is known as the Weeks house. It is located just north of the Expressway on Moriches-Middle Island Road.
In all, ten children were born to William Sidney and Eleanor. They all lived to survive their parents. It was a large, obviously happy family that lived at Longwood. As the family grew, so did the house. It was enlarged and embellished in about 1840-1850 to reflect the ultimate in modern taste. The roofline was modified and decorative brackets under the eaves were installed. Porches were added as were the very decorative clustered chimneys and gothic battlements. The austere and elegant house was transformed into a romantic Victorian farmhouse.
The children all grew up at home. In their earliest years they were educated by a series of tutors and governesses. As they grew older, they were sent away to school. Although their father seldom travelled far from his beloved farm, the children scattered themselves across the United States. Two settled in California, one in Wisconsin, one in Philadelphia and four in New York or Brooklyn. Two of the children, Robert Russell Smith and Amelia remained at home with their parents.
William Sidney Smith was much more than just a farmer. He was an astute businessman who had extensive holdings in bonds and mortgages. In 1858, a handwritten inventory of his estate, excluding the farm, consisted of seven houses in New York or Brooklyn; about thirty mortgages and bonds; "land in Main (probably)"; land in New Hampshire and the mill property at Yaphank. The total value of these holdings was about $125,000. Thirty years later, after his death, the value of the estate had increased to somewhat over $275,000.
Fifty years had passed since Eleanor and William Sidney were married. The Golden Wedding Day was to be perhaps the single most brilliant day in the history of Longwood. An elaborate party was planned. Invitations were dispatched to all their family and friends. In the weeks prior to the party, all ten children and their families began arriving at Longwood for the celebration.
May 7, 1873 dawned warm and brilliant. Spring flowers were abundantly blooming and the house was elaborately decorated inside and out. People came from all over, by carriage, on foot and by train from New York. As they approached the house, they were greeted by a huge "Welcome" sign that was hung over the front door. It was made on a green background with gold lettering and was embellished with an American flag.
Over one hundred and fifty people came to the celebration. There were prayers, hymns, toasts, good talk, singing and renewal of old acquaintances. An elaborate meal was assembled in the dining room consisting of "... oysters stewed and fried ... two peacocks, turkeys, hams, tongue, chicken salad, sandwiches ... creams, charlottes, jellies, etc.... wines: golden sherry from California, champagne, madeira of the venerable age of eighty years; also native L.I. wine."
Gifts were brought by one and all. From the finest gold and silver to the most humble handmade hankie. The ten children gave their parents a pair of elegant chairs, a clock and candelabra and a silver tureen with gold mounts. In return William Sidney and Eleanor presented each of their children and grandchildren with a gold coin.
The festivities continued all day, and, for the forty people who stayed the night, the party continued into the next day.
After the party was over and everyone returned home, life continued as usual. As time went on, a greater part of the management of the estate and farm devolved upon Robert, their son. Amelia, their unmarried daughter, assumed more and more of the household responsibilities.
William Sidney Smith died at Longwood on January 19, 1879 in his eighty-third year. Eleanor died, after a long illness, on her seventy-ninth birthday on May 7, 1884. They are both buried in the Longwood family cemetery.
Chapter III - Decline
Before his death, William Sidney Smith had decided to divide Longwood among his ten children. The land was divided into ten parcels. Nine of the lots contained about seven hundred acres each. These were to be given by lot to nine of his children. The tenth parcel, containing twelve hundred acres and the manor house was given to his son Robert as "... he has lived with me and taken care of me and his mother".
Most of the nine lots were sold shortly after the settlement of the estate. Many other holdings, such as land in Chicago, the land in Maine and New Hampshire were disposed of.
By the 1880's, Longwood contained less than one third of its previous acreage.
By this time, Robert had married Cornelia Thorne and had two children, William Sidney Tangier Smith and Helen Tangier Smith.
Robert did not long survive his father and died in 1885. With the death of Robert, many changes were made. The house was no longer used by the family all year round, but only as a summer retreat.
William S. Tangier became a doctor with an extensive practice in Brooklyn. He studied at Columbia University and was a Captain in the Army Medical Corps in 1918. He died in 1944.
The house was changing too. The east wing was enlarged to incorporate a second story. The pressed tin ceilings in the main part of the house were also installed about this time.
The land around Longwood was changing too. One of the greatest changes was the construction of Camp Upton in 1917 on ten thousand acres just east of Longwood.
Helen Tangier Smith, who never married, spent her summers at Longwood. She was the last of her line and she devoted much of her time to organizing the family papers and mementoes. She hoped that at some time Longwood would be preserved and its history recorded. Miss Helen died in 1955. She willed Longwood, now containing about 750 acres to her cousin, Elbert Clayton Smith from Berkeley, California. Burt, as he was known, uprooted his wife and five children and moved east to reside at the old manor house.
No longer was Longwood remote from civilization. It was in the midst of one of the fastest growing areas on Long Island. Camp Upton had given way to Brookhaven National Laboratory, an international center for scientific research; Middle Island and Ridge were growing with new homes and businesses. The area south of Longwood, known as Mastic-Shirley was booming, and the Long Island Expressway was drawing ever nearer.
Upon his arrival on Long Island, Burt settled down at Longwood and became its full-time proprietor. He was trained as a mechanical engineer and he accepted a position as Business Manager at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He was very civic minded and was a member of the Middle Island Board of Education, the Boy Scouts, the Presbyterian Church, Rotary, The Brookhaven Town Industrial Development Committee, etc. Eventually he left his position at Brookhaven and formed his own consulting company.
He cared very much for his new home and his community. He donated fifty-one acres of land to the Board of Education for Longwood High School; six acres to the Middle Island Presbyterian Church; two acres to St. Mark's Lutheran Church as well as land to Suffolk County for the greenbelt.
He, too, wanted to have Longwood preserved, but his untimely death in 1967 prevented him from accomplishing this. His widow, Eleanor, wished to returned to her native California, so the property was put on the market and sold to Levitt and Company, real estate developers. The contents of the house were sold at auction in 1968. It seemed that Longwood was to be destroyed.
The land and the house were next purchased in 1973 by Wilbur F. Breslin and Herbert Carmel who proposed the development of a huge residential, commercial and industrial complex on Longwood. Concerned citizens and members of the Town government urged the preservation of Longwood. In a generous gesture, Mr. Breslin and Mr. Carmel presented the house and thirty five acres of land to the Town of Brookhaven in 1974.
Although the final plans for the preservation of Longwood have not yet been fully developed, it is now safe from destruction. Just as this is being written, Longwood has been nominated for inclusion in the National register of Historic Places.
Epilogue - An Appeal
The damp and cloudy day of August 14, 1968 was, without a doubt, the lowest point in the history of Longwood. That was the day that the contents of the house were sold at auction. For the first time in 150 years, the furnishing accumulated over that time were removed and sold. At that time the fate of the house and land were unknown ... it was the end of an era.
Now, however, Longwood is saved and the dream of Helen Tangier Smith is to become a reality. It is therefore appropriate that the Town try to locate some of the furnishings removed from Longwood at the time of the auction. The Brookhaven Town Historian has begun gathering a list of such items and their present location and ownership.
If you have some Longwood artifacts, please let Mr. David Overton, our Historian, know. Drop him a note describing each item. It would be most useful if you were to indicate if you would be willing to return the item to Longwood at some future date.
Let us all work together to bring Longwood back to the great days.
Many individuals made significant contributions to the preparation of this booklet. Among them are Mr. David Overton, Brookhaven Town Historian, who provided much research material and a great deal of moral support; Mrs. Lucille S. Marinuzzi for gathering the photographs, running errands, and, most important, locating the "Golden Wedding Memento" which provided so much valuable information; Mr. Alvin R. L. Smith for going over the manuscript and catching my errors; Mr. William Foote, who very generously permitted me unlimited use of the hitherto unpublished and extremely important "Longwood Papers"; Mr. Louis Harson of Brookhaven National Laboratory for information on Camp Upton; Mr. John Tuthill, publisher of the Long Island Advance; The Patchogue Library and the Center Moriches Free Public Library.
Jean C. Lauer
East Moriches, L.I.