Sunday, March 18, 2012

History of the Hempstead Golf & Country Club Part I - the Parsons Estate

The post below originally appeared, with minor modifications, in the Winter 2012 edition of the West Hempstead Community Support Association News & Views newsletter.

The following is the first of a two-part post on the history of the Hempstead Golf and Country Club property, much of which lies adjacent to West Hempstead. The present article will focus on the Parsons family, the last owners of the house before it was expanded and remodeled into the clubhouse of the HGCC. Among the members of this family who lived in this home included two war heroes, two authors - one of whom was a founder of the Hempstead library, the other a Pulitzer Prize winner, an inventor and entrepreneur who became a world-famous household name, a secretary of the Hempstead Board of Education, and the youngest president of the Village of Hempstead ever to serve in that office.

We begin with Charles Chauncy Parsons, who purchased the 120+ acre property on the south side of Front Street some time in the 1870s. C C Parsons was born in Taunton, MA in 1840 to an illustrious Massachusetts family. His father, Theophilus Parsons, was dean of Harvard Law School. His grandfather, also named Theophilus Parsons, served as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, was a good friend of John Adams, and was one of the drafters of the Mass. State Constitution in 1780. In 1860 Charles graduated from Harvard and two years later, received a law degree from Harvard Law School. During his college years, Charles displayed an aptitude for ingenuity and inventiveness, particularly in the area of chemistry. By the time he graduated in mid-1862, the Civil War was well underway. So on August 22, 1862, he enlisted in the Army and received a commission of Second Lieutenant in the 1st Mass. Cavalry and saw action in the famous battles at Antietam and Wilderness, among others. He was a classmate and friend of Colonel Robert Shaw, the famous leader of the all-black 54th Mass. Regiment, and subject of the1989 film Glory. By the time he was mustered out on May 30, 1865, he had been promoted to the rank of Major and honorably discharged.

After the war he settled down and plied his skills in chemistry, perfecting various formulas for insecticides and household cleaning solutions. In 1867, he moved to NY and started a business manufacturing chemicals. Sometime shortly after his marriage to Julia Worth Michael of Virginia in 1876, he moved out to Hempstead where he purchased an old stately house and farm in the southwest corner of town that would later become home to the Hempstead Golf & Country Club.

Around the same time he patented a formula that refined ammonia to be used as a domestic cleaning agent and thereafter “C C Parsons Household Ammonia” became a household name. His company, Columbia Chemical Works, headquartered in Brooklyn, distributed this and other products throughout the world for well into the 20th century.

Parsons was heavily involved in the civic affairs of Hempstead Village. For many years he served as secretary of the Hempstead Board of Education and belonged to various civic and social groups.

Julia Parsons founded the Hempstead Subscription Library in 1889, forerunner of the Hempstead Library, and served as its president for more than ten years until her untimely death in October 1900. She served as the local regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution and as president of a literary society called the Hempstead Woman’s Club. She was also an accomplished author who published titles under the pseudonym Julian Warth. At her probate hearing, it was revealed that she bequeathed $20,000 to build a new library on the grounds of her estate. However, for unknown reasons, possibly due to the fact that the location was not central enough, this plan never came to fruition.

A couple months later, in January 1901, C. C. Parsons also died unexpectedly and was mourned by a great many citizens of Hempstead.

The Parsons has two sons: Theophilus, born in 1877 and Geoffrey, born in 1879. Geoffrey inherited his mother’s literary skills, and after graduating from Columbia, he became an author and newspaper reporter for the NY Herald-Tribune, eventually becoming that paper’s chief editorial writer. In 1942, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Roosevelt’s foreign policy in 1941.

After the death of his father, Theophilus received a law degree from Columbia and continued to live at the Hempstead Estate. In 1902, Theophilus organized a literary society called the Hempstead Outlook Club, and the inaugural meeting on April 12 was held at the Parsons home. One of the topics discussed at that meeting was a survey of the oldest houses in Hempstead, and it was revealed that a part of the Parsons

home dated to 1704! If that estimate is correct, that would rank the house among the oldest surviving structures in the entire County.

In June of that year, Theophilus married Florence Whitin of Massachusetts, who picked up where her late mother-in-law left off as secretary of the Hempstead Library and president of the Hempstead Woman’s Club. By the middle of the decade, Theophilus was elected the youngest-serving President of Hempstead Village. The job of the Village president back then was a bit different than today’s mayoral responsibilities. For one thing, the population of the village then hovered just over 3,500 persons, whereas today it stands at almost 54,000.

Instead of dealing with such issues as arranging the multi-billion dollar gentrification projects of today, the president had other important
concerns to deal with, such as stray dogs roaming the village, giving out tickets to people who rode bicycles on the sidewalks and cars exceeding the 20 MPH speed limit. Theophilus got a lot of negative press in those days for being overly aggressive in enforcing the Village’s codes.

When WWI rolled around, Theophilus enlisted in the Army and fought in France attaining the rank of Captain in the 10th Machine Gun Company

After the war he moved his family to Washington, DC and set up a law practice as a patent lawyer. In 1920, the recently vacated Parsons Estate created a golden opportunity for both real estate developers and golf enthusiasts who all vied to acquire the property in that rapidly expanding section of Hempstead. In a future post, we shall explore the early history of the eventual occupant of that property, the Hempstead Golf & Country Club.

Early view of the Hempstead Golf & Country Club—formerly the Parsons Homestead. (Courtesy of the HPL digital collection).

1 comment:

Camille Parsons said...

I was shocked to find this article while searching for my husband's great-great grandfather, Chauncey Charles Parsons. Thank you!