WOODHULL'S WOOD IS COMING HOME
“Don’t It Always Seem To Go, You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone” … Joni MItchell
Woodhull Home Mastic (Beach) NY circa 1785
JAN 23, 2013: Here is a real feel good and still developing story, about my hometown of Mastic Beach. A place I think, that can always use one or more feel good stories.
Longtime readers of The Knapps Lived Here website and the book (page 50) that came from it, may recall one of the very first stories I ever posted online back in 2001, was regarding the somewhat ironic first Mastic Beach Memorial Day ceremony held in 1938. It was on that day, the fairly new town honored Mastic native and Revolutionary War General, Nathaniel Woodhull (1722-1776) at his gravesite on Birch (now Neighborhood ) Road.
It was a parade and ceremony, organized by then unofficial mayor of Mastic Beach, Paul Schulte Sr. and the West End Fire Dept. (There were two fire depts back then, because of the Knapp estate cut the town in two) I was to witness Memorial day festivities many times as boy growing up there in the 1950s.
But this story I discovered when I first started my research regarding The Knapp mansion, its family and the history of the entire Mastic Shirley area,resonated with me, because as they were honoring the good General, they were actually dismantling the18th century Woodhull homestead, not a 1/4 of a mile away from his grave ! The Knapp story that I researched for years, was started by my own witnessing the destruction of their mansion by arson in 1959.
Knapp Mansion In 1955
It too was a Lawrence home until 1916
On May 30, 1938, the then newly formed Brookhaven Town police, were called to investigate the “theft of lumber” out of the Woodhull home that had been boarded up for over 20 years. The Mastic members of the Lawrences, a very prominent family in New York State politics and business had married into the Woodhull family in the early 1800’s, Several Lawrences lived and farmed the Woodhull estate in the 19th and early 20th century. When the last of the Mastic Lawrences died off around the time of WWI, their home was boarded up until November of 1925, when the remaining 175 acres of the Woodhull estate was purchased by a group of Patchogue real estate speculators,who quickly flipped it,to a larger group of real estate developers, the Home Guardian Co of NY, Home Guardian, headed by brothers Warren and Arthur Smadbeck (the Henry Fords of Real Estate) had already been developing nearby Mastic Park since 1922, into vacation homesites for the residents of Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Staten Island. They had the same plans in mind for their newly acquired land they called Mastic Beach in 1926. Here is the actual news item that followed the story of the ceremony and appeared in the Moriches Tribune that week.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
As it appeared appeared in 1925
In late 1925 or early 26 the “Old Woodhull Homestead” as it was known, was actually offered as a gift by the Smadbecks to the Woodhull Chapter of The Daughters Of American Revolution, that was based in Hollis, Queens. Had DAR Board member, Mrs. Hannah Newbold Lawrence Sherman who spent her summers from the late 1800’s to the early 1900s, in her beautiful nearby Mastic Beach showplace known as The Woodhull Lodge, not passed away in 1925, I would think the DAR would of probably had accepted it.
THE WOODHULL LODGE ( circa 1850 )AS IT APPEARED IN 1897
Instead the DAR took a pear tree off the hands of the Smadbecks, I’m not sure where the pear tree wound up, or if a partridge ever sat in it. I would guess most likely it was transplanted to Hollis, perhaps near the Woodhull Memorial they erected in 1911? Had the DAR taken on the home then, it may of been preserved today as part of the nearby William Floyd Estate. Ruth Floyd was William’s sister and wife of the general. When the DAR declined the Smadbecks put it up for sale with this classified ad in the New York Times..
THE TRUTH IS, THE GENERAL HIMSELF NEVER LIVED IN THIS HOME.. HIS WIFE RUTH & DAUGHTER ELIZABETH DID, ALONG WITH BETSY’s SECOND HUSBAND ,GENERAL JOHN TANGIER SMITH, OF THE MANOR OF ST GEORGE. GENERAL & RUTH WOODHULL’S ORIGINAL HOME, THAT WAS LOCATED ABOUT 1/2 MILE TO WEST, BURNED TO THE GROUND IN APRIL OF 1785. TAKING WITH IT THE ONLY KNOWN PORTRAIT OF HIM AND MOST OF HIS WAR MEMORABILIA THAT DATED BACK TO THE TIME HE WAS A MAJOR IN THE FRENCH & INDIAN WAR 1754 – 1763
"In War, Truth Is The First Casualty" Aeschylus. Greek Dramatist (525 BC - 456BC)
That saying has sure been around for a while and reworked over and over throughout the history of wars. One that comes to mind in recent history is the Pvt. Jessica Lynch Iraq war story and how we were fortunate enough to have her survive her attack and to also totally debunk the rapidly growing “war hero” myth that surrounded it.
General Woodhull, did not survive his injuries, from his escape attempt at Carpenters Tavern in Jamaica Queens, during the Battle of Long Island in 1776, that led to his death a month later from gangrene. His widow Ruth, brought his body home to Mastic and he was buried in an unmarked grave until the Lawrence family placed the headstone that still stands there today around 1825. Also around that time several “historians” and writers namely Benjamin Thompson, Henry Onderdonk and novelist James Fenimore Cooper, and an Anonymous balladeer would create stories and a song about what they thought happened during General’s capture. As it turns out both Thompson and Cooper had good reasons to mythicize the Woodhull story. This was not really uncovered, until an over curious writer named Henry Waldo Sabine, saw the Woodhull Memorial in his neighborhood in Hollis in the mid 1950’s. Sabine thought that the inscription might of been a tad over exagerated and he spent untold hours over the course of 5 years, studying documents in the New York State archives in Albany. That led to his self publishing a manuscript titled The Suppressed History Of General Nathaniel Woodhull and later in the 1970’s in his published book titled “Murder 1776 and Washington’s Policy of Silence”. I have read both and they were well researched eye openers. BTW Washington as referred to in the book title is General George Washington….not the city. It seems that General William Floyd visited with General Washington to try and secure a prisoner exchange for his captured and wounded brother in law. Washington declined for reasons far too complicated to get into here, but you can read the book if you care to seek it out. I found my copy on either Amazon or E Bay. I have wondered if Floyd was able to get his brother in law released, his wounds may of been better tended to and he might of survived.
The reason I bring this up is simply because as an historian, I find that the truth is often inconvenient. A few decades ago, Newsday, published a series, called Long Island Our Story and in there, they too raised the questions of the facts vs the myths surrounding General Woodhull. It seems someone at Newsday had taken the time to read Sabine’s book or at least became aware of it.
Facts are, Nathaniel Woodhull came from one of the earliest colonial families to settle on Long Island, He was both a Major in the Kings army and General in the Continental Army and also President of The New York State Colonial Congress at the start of the Revolution, He was severely injured, trying to avoid capture from a troop of British dragoons and died of those wounds a month later. The whole part about his not saying God Save The King to his captors, instead saying God Save Us All, that led to his being struck by a sword, was part and parcel to several myth makers in the 1820’s. That said it does not make Woodhull any less of a man who gave all for a country he unfortunately did not live to see created.
But myths, die much slower than the truth. U S Congressman, Tim Bishop of Long Island to his credit, sponsored a bill to rename the Mastic Beach Post Office General Nathaniel Woodhull Post Office. That’s a fine and noble thing to do in my book. However in the press release from Bishop’s office and in newspaper accounts I have read, including Newsday’s, as sure as we are living the MYTH of General Woodhull resurfaces alongside the facts. It’s almost like what President George W. Bush said in 2005 “You have to keep repeating things, to catapult the propaganda” ARRRGHHH …THAT %^^^^ DRIVES ME CRAZY
But it now brings me to the point of this page and a real feel good story, that I hope is going to wind up feeling fantastic for all concerned ....
And it still contains a touch of Woodhull irony. On Jan 2, 2013, President Obama signed into law, Rep Bishop’s bill to rename the Mastic Beach Post Office for the Good General. On that very same day in the Town of Southampton, an application for a permit to demolish a home in Shinnecock Hills, that sits on a bluff of the Peconic Bay was filed. Nothing about that out of the ordinary, except that this home is the one that contains the wood that was removed in 1938 from the Woodhull Homestead in Mastic Beach !!!
How do I Know ? It all started with this e mail I received on Jan 5th from a Ms Susan Sherry Clark
Mr.Spooner- My name is Susan Sherry Clark and I am a member of the Southampton Town Landmarks and Historic Districts Board. Our Board just received an application to review a house for a demolition permit (please note: we are only an advisory board). After putting the address in a Google search, I found that this house reportedly built in the 1930s has panels that once belonged to Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull?? Could this be the house that you referred to in the article (portion) copied below?
We are in the process of researching the history of this house/property and any input that you might have would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance-Susan
Well you can only imagine what happened next! A flurry of e mail between Susan and myself and Ms.Sally Spanburgh, who writes the blog Southampton Village Review. I contacted Sally straight away as I had a thought she would be very helpful,(and that turned out to be an understatement) only to find that she and Susan knew each other well and were both on the Southampton Town Landmarks & Historic Districts Board … We all started in brainstorming that weekend. My main interest was, regardless of what happened to the home in Shinnecock Hills, which looked very fine and had a million dollar view of the Peconic, I wanted to see if there was anyway possible that this lumber could be returned to the new Village of Mastic Beach to be used in their future Village Hall or as a reading room or any capacity that would see it back home where it both grew over 300 years ago and was milled for the new Woodhull home in 1785.
LOOK AT THE WIDTH OF THAT PINE !
THIS IS JUST ONE OF THE THREE ROOMS THAT CONTAIN WALLS, FLOORS AND BEAMS OF LUMBER THAT CAME OUT OF THE WOODHULL HOME
"THERE'S ALWAYS A KNAPP CONNECTION "
There’s a statement I have used more than once over the course of the 13 years The Knapps Lived Here has been online and has introduced me to both new and old friends around the world. Sally and I first met two years ago, when my book was published, because of the Knapp home in Southampton Village known as Tenacre.
I also contacted several friends Marty Van Lith, Kenny Vitellaro, Bob Muse ( who lives in the Woodhull Lodge) and Ed DeGenaro of The MPHS connected with history, preservation, and civic matters in the Mastic area, in case we all got lucky and the lumber could be returned. BTW when I interviewed two Mastic Beach Pioneers many years back, Mrs. Estelle Parr Schulz and the now late Mrs. Gloria Chester Baessler Both of them told me stories about the Woodhull Homestead when it still stood. Gloria who lived almost in it’s backyard on Orchid Dr. used to play in it as a girl, and could never understand why they tore it down because it was in perfect condition. “The whole town watched in amazement as they took it down in June of 1938”. Estelle Schulz told me just who took the lumber out of it . “It was Willie Schluder … Knapp’s caretaker” That of course led me to assume it was probably either Claire Knapp, who had moved to Red Cedar Point on the Peconic in the 1930’s or her brother Joseph “Dode” Knapp who stayed in the Knapp mansion until he sold off the estate property in 1938 and moved to Hampton Bays who got the lumber.
Thanks to Sally Spanburgh jumping into action and doing the research about who the previous owners of the house out there were, I have learned it could of well been a friend of the Knapp’s or the Smadbeck brothers. But far beyond that, Sally did all the heavy lifting here contacting everyone; politicians, village officials and all parties concerned, who could be of help in securing the lumber and also in the search to help place it in good hands back home. She not only got permission from the current owners to remove it, she found a contractor to do the work and a place to store it until we could find a home for it back in Mastic Beach. At first it looked pretty shaky, as no one up that way seemed to have any concrete ideas or place to put it. However, once the idea was conveyed from Ed DeGenaro to some officials in the Village of Mastic Beach, it looks like we are heading to a very happy ending. It seems some months ago the very idea of trying to recreate a Woodhull Homestead for a village hall was kicked around. Now it seems they have something to really get inspired with. Here is the recent E mail I got this week from Ed DeGenaro
Woody’s Wood seems to be progressing nicely. Southampton will carefully dismantle the rooms, and store the wood if need be for up to 6 months. The Deputy Mayor proposed the idea to build a Village Information Center with this wood in the rooms inside. The entire board agrees this would be a great addition to the Village. They are excited and can’t wait to begin. We have free property, free labor, but they will need to do some promoting for donations. We have reasons not to call it a museum, which I agree are valid.
On still another note, when will your book on Mastic Beach come out? Can’t have too many I think.
THANKS TO ALL UP NORTH
HERE IS ONE VERY HAPPY GUY IN NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, WHO IS LOOKING FORWARD TO REPORTING MORE GOOD THINGS ABOUT
“WOODY’s WIDOW’s WOOD”
E MAIL MAY 3rd 2013
All the Woodhull related woodwork was carefully removed by experienced trimworkers, put into a storage container arranged and ordered by the Village of Mastic Beach, and taken to their “town hall” lot until they use it on a miniature Nathaniel Woodhull building which will function as a visitor’s center. After some hair-pulling, a very happy ending.