Thursday, April 1, 2010

Munson L.I., a Forgotten Hamlet

The photo of the magnificent estate at left comes from the May 5th, 1917 edition of the NY Sun announcing the sale of the home to Mr. & Mrs Wilford L. Wright, president of the Savage Arms Company. The seller was Harry Munson, who had lived in the home for over 20 years. The 20 acre property was located on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike between Nassau Blvd and Cherry Valley Ave, where the Compare Foods Shopping Center is now located, and extended all the way back to the Garden City border.

Harry Munson (pictured at left) was a decorated Civil War veteran who made a fortune in advertising in New York City. Some estimated that he had a 50% market share in Manhattan's billboard posting business. In 1896, he retired and purchased the home above in a tiny village then called Washington Square, centered around the corner of the Hempstead-Jamaica Plank road (Hempstead Tpke) and John St (Nassau Blvd). Upon moving out to Long Island, Washington Square then became known as Munson in honor of the area's newest resident. Despite the fact that Harry Munson was a successful businessman and decorated Civil War hero, it is surprising to consider that local residents were so eager to change the name to honor a newcomer. After all, with his purchase, Munson initially intended occupy his country seat only on a part time basis as a Summer retreat. Perhaps we can offer the following theory:

In 1892, Washington Square in Manhattan gained national recognition when a memorial arch was erected to celebrate the centennial of President George Washington's inauguration. The existing, permanent memorial arch was completed in 1895. This created too much confusion for tiny Washington Square, Long Island, and shortly thereafter locals began looking for a suitable replacement name for their village. When Munson came on to the scene and purchased the area's most prominent home and property, he was a natural candidate to be given the honor of the village's namesake.

In 1947, Wilford L. Wright died. Five years later the home was sold to the Ethical Cultural Society (later called the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island), who then used the building as their headquarters until they built a new headquarters on Old Country Road in Garden City. The photo at left comes from the EHSLI website and shows the building as it looked in the 1950s. As a testament to the size of the home the Ethical Cultural Society converted the rooms of the house into a Platform room with a capacity of 100 people, a study, lounge, kitchen, office, caretaker's room and six Sunday School classrooms.

A survey of local newspapers such as the Hempstead Inquirer and the Hempstead Sentinel from the early 1900s shows that local news from Munson was covered much more extensively than other neighboring locales such as West Hempstead, Lakeview and Franklin Square. Munson had it's own hotel, a general store, a blacksmith, various other businesses and even its own baseball team. Over time though, Munson slowly lost its identity because it got crowded out by the expansion of West Hempstead from the east and Franklin Square from the west. Only an echo of Munson exists in the name of the Franklin Square & 'Munson' Fire Dept., and Munson Ave., south of Hempstead Turnpike, just east of Nassau Blvd. Below is a photo of the location of the Munson/ Wright home as it looks today.


Anonymous said...

The photo posted is not the location of the Munson/Wright home, this is a photo of the stores on Hempstead Turnpike, the house was behind it about 600 feet behind the homes on Greenway East, this picture shown is on the north side of the turpike where the road runs east and west and was where 'Friendly Frost' an appliance store was located. The front of the Munson house faced to the east toward where the shopping center is now, what is located there now is a large warehouse. The house was demolished when the Island Garden Arena was built by my uncle Whitey Carlson in the late 1950's but as a child I can well remember standing in front of it marveling at what a beautiful house it was.DPL

farmax said...

does anonymous or anyone remember the creek that would have ran through the munson/wright property before the island garden arena was built. I grew up on cherry valley rd south of the turnpike and used the creek and the surrounding woods as a playground

silverwood said...

I remember this old house well as I grew up on Greenway east. I can remember eating pears from some of the fruit trees that grew on the property. farmax that stream was put under ground through a series of large concrete pipes. It was basically used as a storm water run off system. The stream eventually made it's way under Hempstead Turnpike then onto Wall's pond to the south where it terminated.

Unknown said...

I remember a "Wright's Hill", which was used in the winter as a great sledding place.
We used to go down the hill toward Cherry Valley Rd. and try to jump the creek.
As I remember, the Garden City Incinerator was located on Cherry Valley Road.
The road eventually passed Cherry Valley Golf Course which abutted Adelphi College.

Fred Barth said...

My dad's father-in-law was Jacob Stegner.
I believe that he owned a farm in Munson.
The family plot is in Elmont, NY.
My dad also played baseball for the Munson "Monitors,"
Their clubhouse was further west on Nassau Blvd.