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.