Monday, March 4, 2019

William Robertson Coe, Owner of Coe Hall

William Robertson Coe was born on June 8, 1869 in England. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 1883. At the age of 15, William began working as an office boy for a Philadelphia insurance broker. The brokerage was acquired by Johnson and Higgins Insurance Co., and Coe rose to become a manager of the adjusting (claims) department in the New York City office of the maritime insurer. He worked his way up to President and then Chairman of the Board.

He married three times. His first marriage, was to Jane (Jeannie) Hutchinson Falligant, in 1893. On June 4, 1900, Coe married Mai Huttleston Rogers. Their marriage produced four children and the development of Planting Fields. He leased and eventually purchased the Byrne estate, on the same property of today’s Planting Fields. That house burned down and Coe Hall was built in the same location. Mai died in 1924. In 1926, Coe married Caroline Graham Slaughter

Coe was on the Board of Directors of the Virginian Railway from 1910 until his death in 1955, and headed the company for a brief period during World War II. He was also a director of Loup Creek Colliery and the Wyoming Land Company.

Coe liked horses and was a thoroughbred horse racing enthusiast. He built a riding stable on his Planting Fields estate and put together a racing stable based at the Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York. Coe's filly Black Maria won the Kentucky Oaks in 1926, the Metropolitan Handicap in 1927, and the first running of the Whitney Handicap in 1928. Among his stables' other notable horses were Cleopatra, the 1920 U.S. Champion 3-year-old Filly, and Ladysman, which won the 1932 Hopeful Stakes and was the American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt. Six of Coe's horses competed in the Kentucky Derby. His best finish came in 1937, when Pompoon finished second to War Admiral.

Planting Fields, the Coes' estate in Upper Brookville, New York, was built around 1911 on the famous Gold Coast of Long Island. Coe Hall, the manor house, was designed by the firm of Walker and Gillette and built between 1918 and 1921. The Coes' interest in rare species of trees and plant collections made the estate a botanical marvel.

At Planting Fields, W.R. Coe was actively involved with developing and improving the collections of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, and hibiscus. Coe had a particular liking for new plant varieties and modern growing techniques. In this spirit, he deeded the estate to the State of New York in 1949. W.R. Coe died in his recently acquired home in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 15, 1955.

“William Robertson Coe.”  Howling Pixel,
 “William Robertson Coe.” Planting Fields Foundation,

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Camp Mills

During World War I, a military training camp was established on the Hempstead Plains. This camp was named for General Albert L. Mills who was awarded the Med of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

Camp Mills was going to be part of an overall plan for the military on the Hempstead Plains. At the time, the Plains already had two military aviation fields. At the start of the war, the Army took over the Hempstead Plains Aerodome and renamed it Hazelhurst Aviation Field No. 1.

On August 15, 1917, the 69th New York Infantry of the National Guard were given orders to report to Camp Mills to be part of a new Rainbow Brigade. This 1,000 man regiment would be joined by other New York regiments at the Camp. A few days earlier, workmen began building more than two thousand frames and assembling tents, digging trenches, laying water pipes, preparing a drainage system, making roads, and building other necessary structures.

By August 16, Company S of the 22nd US Infantry arrived as the first contingent of troops at the Camp.  When the 69th New York was placed under the control of the US Army and re-designated the 165th Infantry of the 42nd Division, it was required to add more numbers. The National Guard regiments from Manhattan and Brooklyn were ordered to transfer a designated number of men to the new Regiment. The order did not go over well with the Brooklyn Regiments. More than 300 Brooklyn solders deserted Camp Mills and returned to Brooklyn. Within a few weeks, all 300 returned without anyone going to jail.

The troops enjoyed many diversions while training at the Camp. There were boxing matches, concerts, and an exhibition game between the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox. There were a series of incidents when the troops from Alabama threw insults at the African-American 15th NY Regiment. For their protection, these men were moved to the 69th Regiment’s Armory in New York.

By early December, Camp Mills became unbearable. Winter storms, leaky tents, muddy and flooded streets, and no adequate training made life there miserable. On December 13, a blizzard hit; requiring some soldiers to be dug out from beneath their collapsed tents. By January 1918, most of Camp Mills was abandoned. In March, the War Department ordered the repair and grading of the fields, planning the roads, and improving the water system. Permanent structures began being built in April. More than twenty thousand troops occupied the camp at this time. In August 1918, the Army leased an additional 75 acres from surrounding Garden City residents and the government spent $10 million to build additional barracks and other structures.

When the war ended, Camp Mills became a demobilization camp through August, 1919. By November of 1919, many of the buildings were sold off. It was abandoned as an active post in 1920 and absorbed into Mitchel Field.

McKenna, James M. “Nassau County's Camp Mills in the Great War, 1917-1918.” The Nassau County Historical Society Journal, vol. 73, 2018, pp. 26–37

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Farmerettes of NY State School of Agriculture

During World War I, the NY State School of Agriculture trained women in farm work. The Navey League conceived of sending women for this three-month course in practical farming. Albert Johnson, the supervisory of the training, stated that one woman with modern farm implements could do the work once done by three men and seven horses. Instead of calling themselves, “aggies”, these women referred to themselves as “Farmerettes.”

On June 15, 1917, a new barracks were built for these women with an opening ceremony and flag raising.  These barracks have twenty sleeping rooms with beds for forty women and a separate bathing pavilion. The barracks were built by Fay Kellogg and the beds were regulation army beds. At the opening, sixty-seven women were already registered for the program. No one took them seriously at first. There was a wager among the faculty as to how long they would last. Three months into the program, not one woman quit.

The women worked from 5am-6pm. They rose at 5, had breakfast at 6 and then room inspection at 7. After that, they worked side by side with the men doing morning farm chores. Lectures on farming began at 9am and lasted until 12:30. After that, they did their own work. They were each given a plot of ground to plant whatever they chose. They were responsible for taking full care of this plot. In addition, they were given eggs and an incubator and were left to their own devices to hatch and raise chickens.

They even created their own planting song:

            The Planting Song of the Farmerettes
            Nellie was a pedagogue
            And Sue a social light
            But when Germans sank our boats
            They both set out to fight
            Grabbing up a rake & hoe
            They joined the food armee
            Now they’re out at Farmingdale
            A-fighting for the free

            It’s a hard job to plant potatoes
            It’s a darn sight worse to hoe
            It’s a hard job to weed tomatoes
            When the pesky things to grow
            Farewell to all the bright lights
            Good-bye old Broadway
            We are all out here to serve our country
            And you bet we’ll stay

“Farmerettes Open Their New Barracks.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. June 16, 1917
Foster, Elene. “Farming with the Farmerettes on Farmingdale.” NY Tribune, 1917
Weiss, Elaine. Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War. Potomac Books, 2008.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Mitchel Field

In 1917, a new army aviation field, Field #2, was established just south of Hazelhurst Field to serve as an additional training and storage base. Hundreds of aviators were trained for war at these training fields, two of the largest in the United States. Numerous buildings and tents were erected on Roosevelt and Field #2 in 1918 in order to meet this rapid expansion. In July 1918, Field #2 was renamed Mitchel Field in honor of former New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel who was killed while training for the Air Service in Louisiana.

Mitchel Field continued to grow after World War I. Between 1929 and 1932 a major new construction program was undertaken. New barracks, officers clubs, housing, warehouses, and operations buildings were constructed, as well as eight massive steel and concrete hangars.

Between the wars, Mitchel became a premier air corps base, somewhat of a military Country Club atmosphere with fine housing, clubs, pools, polo fields and tree-lined streets. It became home to several observation, fighter and bombardment groups and it hosted the 1920 and 1925 National Air Races.

In 1922, the Army laid out its first air route, a model airway, from Mitchel field to McCook Field, Ohio. In 1938, Mitchel was the starting point for the first nonstop transcontinental bomber flight, made by Army B-18s. Mitchel Field also served as a base from which the first demonstration of long-range aerial reconnaissance was made.

During World War II, Mitchel was the main point of air defense for New York City, equipped with two squadrons of P-40 fighters. In the late 1940s, it was headquarters of the Air Defense Command, First Air Force and Continental Air Command. By 1949, Mitchel was relieved of the responsibility for defending New York City because of the many problems associated with operating tactical aircraft in an urban area.

After several notable crashes, including a P-47 into Hofstra Universities Barnard Hall, public pressure ultimately led to closure. The last active unit to be based at Mitchel was the 514th Troop Carrier Wing flying Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars. Due to the noise, small size of the field, and several spectacular crashes, Mitchel was closed in 1961 with the property being turned over to the County of Nassau.

The original Mitchel Field included the land now occupied by the Nassau Coliseum, the Mitchel Athletic Complex, Hofstra University and Nassau Community College. Roughly 108 acres of Mitchel Field's original 1,170 acres — once dominated by runways, air fields and taxiways — remain intact, including three of five hangars, a firehouse, two maintenance buildings once used for aircraft assembly and machine shops, military housing and a commissary.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.  


Brodsky, Robert. “Historic Air Base Added to National Register.” Newsday, Newsday, 1 Aug. 2018,

“Mitchel Field at the Cradle of Aviation.” Cradle of Aviation Museum,

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Pilgrim State Hospital

At the turn of the 19th century, New York City’s psychiatric facilities were becoming overcrowded and the expansion to quiet, calm Long Island farms was a strategy to deal with the overpopulation. The concept was to build a center on Long Island near farms and have patients in a relaxed setting. This idea for the hospital created the concept that the hospital was more of a “farm colony” than a psychiatric asylum. Two major farm colonies were created because of this concept, Kings Park State Hospital and Central Islip State Hospital. These two farm colonies eventually became overcrowded also, and another farm colony was needed. This lead to the creation of Pilgrim State Hospital.

Pilgrim State Hospital, known now as Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, is a state-run psychiatric hospital on Long Island. It was named in honor of Dr. Charles W. Pilgrim who was a former New York State Commissioner of Mental Health.

The psychiatric center’s construction began in Brentwood, NY in 1929. The Pilgrim State Hospital was opened on October 1, 1931 and at its opening, it was the largest hospital of any kind around the world. The hospital had multiple sets of buildings and each set was known as a quad. Each quad was composed of four building surrounding one central building which housed the kitchen for each building set.

The hospital was a close-knit community and self-sufficient. It had its own police department, fire department, post office, courts, Long Island Railroad station, power plant, swine farm, church, cemetery, water tower, and staff and administrator housing centers.
In the years following its creation, the patient population continued growing as it did for the other hospitals. With the continuous growth, New York State felt the need to expand and purchased more land southwest of the hospital. This newly acquired land was used for the construction of the Edgewood State Hospital, which had a very short lifespan.

At the time of the Second World War, the War Department took control of Edgewood State Hospital and three new buildings of Pilgrim State Hospital. The new possession of these buildings was called Mason General Hospital, which was a psychiatric facility devoting its work to aiding and treating battle-traumatized soldiers. There is a documentary called “Let There Be Light” made by John Huston (available at libraries in Nassau County) about Mason General Hospital and the soldiers there who suffered PTSD and other psychiatric disorders from battle.

After World War II’s end, Pilgrim State Hospital again experienced a large patient increase, with 13,875 patients committed and over 4,000 employees staffed to help these patients. The 1950s brought about a more aggressive treatment style at Pilgrim State Hospital where there was a history of lobotomies and electro-convulsive therapy.

Pilgrim State Hospital soon began its decline due to the availability of pharmaceutical treatments as an alternative to aggressive treatments and hospitalization.

Today, Pilgrim State Hospital still stands, but the farm land was sold. The farms are now part of Suffolk County Community College. The parts of the hospital that still stand are very small compared to the previously used areas of the hospital. Additionally, part of Pilgrim State Hospital is now a host to the Long Island Psychiatric Museum with displays including photos, newsletters, and relics left behind.

“Pilgrim Psychiatric Center.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Aug. 2018,

Monday, November 5, 2018

Roosevelt Raceway

Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, was the first track in the nation to run harness horses.

The harness racing facility opened on September 2, 1940. George Washington Vanderbilt III, George Preston Marshall and Eddie Rickenbacker raised money to build a new home for the dormant auto race the Vanderbilt Cup, which had last been run in 1916. Vanderbilt Cup winner George Robertson was hired to oversee construction of the facility. The land was acquired by lease of the land that was "Unit 2" of the Roosevelt Field airport, and was the site of the runway from which Charles Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis. The original raceway was twisty and bumpy, not quite suited to the big-bore big-BHP racecars of the day, and a number of the drivers did not like the track. The 1937 layout was faster, with fewer corners and longer straights. Despite these adaptations, no GP motor car races were held there afterwards.

The property was leased in 1939 by a group of investors (Old Country Trotting Association) led by George Morton Levy with the intention of opening a harness racing track. It was the original home of the Messenger Stakes, part of the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers. It was also the first track to use the now universal "mobile starting gate".

The site of Roosevelt Raceway is part of the Hempstead Plains, located in an unincorporated area of the Town of Hempstead. It is located near where the first English Governor of New York, Richard Nicolls, established the "Newmarket Course", the first horse racing track in North America (and the first organized sport of any kind) in the territory that would become the United States, in 1664

It closed in July, 1988 due to dwindling crowds, lured away by offtrack betting and new competition from the Meadowlands race track in East Rutherford, N.J., that forced the decision to close, the track owner said.


Hevesi, Dennis. “Roosevelt Raceway Closes Down; Losses and Competition Are Cited.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 July 1988,

“Roosevelt Raceway.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Sept. 2018,

Monday, October 22, 2018

Eisenhower Park

At 930 acres, Eisenhower Park is one of the largest public spaces in the New York metropolitan area – larger, in fact, than Central Park. The park offers a full range of athletic and family activities, including one of the finest swimming facilities in the U.S., a major golf facility, dozens of athletic fields and courts, picnic areas, summertime entertainment, playgrounds, fitness trails and more.

Eisenhower Park consists of the former property owned by the exclusive Salisbury Country Club as well as adjoining properties acquired by the county. Prior to being The Nassau County Park at Salisbury, the golf courses were part of the Salisbury Golf Club, first developed in 1917 by Joseph J. Lannin, owner of the Garden City Hotel, Roosevelt Airfield, and the Boston Red Sox. Lannin died mysteriously in 1928, but his daughter Dorothy’s residence and carriage house (The Lannin House) still stand on Eisenhower Park’s property. Lannin moved the Salisbury Links to this site after his old course was made private. Golf architect Devereux Emmet designed the red course for the new club. Golfer Walter Hagen won the 1926 PGA Championship on it, making the course world famous.

During the Depression, the owners were unable to pay taxes and the property was taken over by the county. Subsequently, the county acquired additional land in the area. In 1944, Nassau County Park at Salisbury was established as part of County. Executive J. Russell Sprague's vision to create a park that "one day will be to Nassau County what Central Park is today to New York City." The park was officially dedicated in October of 1949.

The park was rededicated on October 13, 1969, as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Park at a ceremony attended by the 34th President's grandson, Dwight D. Eisenhower II, and his wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower. Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano dedicated a statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower in a ceremony at Eisenhower Park on Sunday, October 13th, 2013.

Here’s a list of some of the things found in the park:

16 lighted tennis courts

Twin Rinks Ice Center consists of two indoor, NHL-sized skating rinks, as well as one outdoor rink.
Athletic fields include 17 baseball fields (14 for softball and three for hardball), four soccer fields and three football fields.

There is one full-court basketball court.

In the summer of 2007, the park introduced a two-mile Fitness Trail that provides a jogging or walking trail and 20 attractive and simple fitness stations that incorporate a variety of exercises. These include stretching, pull-ups, sit-ups and balance walking exercises that increase slightly in difficulty as the trail proceeds.

Eisenhower features three excellent 18-hole golf courses open to the public: the Red, White and Blue courses. The Red course, which hosted the Commerce Bank (PGA) Championship, has been called by Newsday one of the "Top 10" public golf courses on Long Island. In addition, the park has an illuminated driving range.

An 18-hole Miniature Golf Course is a popular attraction for children and families. The course, which has been named "Best of Long Island" by News 12 Long Island, features two 18-hole courses with terraced landscaping that incorporates a waterfall, small ponds, flower beds and a number of challenging holes.

There is a Batting Cage with nine separate batting areas offering varying pitching speeds for baseball or a softball option.

There are three playground areas with a range of activities for children.

Built in 1998 for the Goodwill Games, the Nassau County Aquatic Center at Eisenhower Park is one of the finest swimming facilities in the U.S. It regularly hosts major swimming competitions and is also open to the public. The Center includes a “stretch” 50-meter pool that is 68 meters long, with three movable bulkheads. There is also a 25-meter diving well with competition diving towers, platforms, and springboards. In addition, there is a beautifully renovated fitness center, located above the pool.

The Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre is an outdoor theater that hosts a full schedule of entertainment events during the summer, from concerts to movies.

The large and beautiful Veterans Memorial and Wall of Honor commemorates the contributions of the nation’s veterans in various branches of service.

On September 9, 2007, the County unveiled the 9/11 Memorial honoring the 344 Nassau County residents who lost their lives during the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. The monument, one of the largest completed memorials to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, is located by Eisenhower Park Lake, near Lakeside Theatre. The monument includes two stainless-steel towers set in a fountain as well as two steel girders recovered from the World Trade Center; plaques memorialize the names of County residents who lost their lives.

There are two memorials to Nassau County firefighters who have died in the line of duty, including one dedicated to those county firefighters who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In the gaming area next to the playground, there is a bocci court and tables with inlaid chess and checker boards.

Eisenhower is home to Carltun on the Park restaurant, a privately run facility operated in a former country club. The Carltun offers a restaurant, bar, banquet facilities and a meeting room.

“Eisenhower Park | Nassau County, NY - Official Website.” Nassau County, Long Island New York,

“History of Eisenhower Park | Nassau County, NY - Official Website.” Nassau County, Long Island New York,