Huntington's Nathan Hale rock has new home

The Nathan Hale rock commemorating the Patriot, is

The Nathan Hale rock commemorating the Patriot, is moved to a temporary location as part of a two-year, road renovation project at Mill Dam and New York Ave. The rock is hovering as workers build its temporary new resting place. (Sept. 13, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Joye Brown)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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It took time for the Nathan Hale rock in Huntington to get rolling last week.

OK, so the historic commemorative stone, thanks to the ministrations of an expert crew, really didn't roll or unexpectedly break free.

Nonetheless, the (estimated 50,000-pound piece of) earth did move, 70 feet from where it had rested since 1974, over to a new base that eventually will be gussied up to become its permanent home.

"The rock was looking a little forlorn," Robert C. Hughes, Huntington's town historian said Friday. For 38 years, the rock sat on its own island outside of the local American Legion Hall. But the area is now a construction zone because of an $18-million State Department of Transportation project to improve drainage in the area of Mill Dam Road and Route 110.

Hughes would often visit the area to check on the rock, which commemorates Nathan Hale's coming ashore in Huntington Bay in 1776, he said. The community of Halesite bears Hale's name. Of the many local markers commemorating the landing, "The Rock" is best known.

Hale, a Connecticut schoolteacher, was a soldier in the Revolutionary War who volunteered to help Gen. George Washington by going behind enemy lines on British-occupied Long Island. In 1776, he crossed Long Island Sound on a longboat and landed on the shores of Huntington Bay. He was captured and later hanged in New York City. A witness to the execution credited Hale with the quote: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," although it is the subject of some dispute among historians. Hale was 21 years old when he died.

The rock was dedicated in 1897 by George Taylor, a landowner and developer. It originally sat on a private beach on Vineyard Road. Taylor had to hire a local man, Oscar "Dynamite" Kissam, an expert in using horses and carriages to move unusually heavy objects, to get it there.

Later, the rock was moved to East Shore Road. In 1974, it was moved again, to a now-demolished traffic island outside the legion hall.

"It's a big, bold statement of how proud Huntington is of its connection to Nathan Hale," Hughes said.

The state, well aware of that pride, met with town officials and concerned residents before the road project started, said Eileen Peters, a state DOT spokeswoman. "We know that the rock is very, very important."

Hughes wasn't lucky enough to be there Thursday afternoon when Hasa Construction Llc workers, under contract with the state, attached the rock to an 80-ton, adjustable boom crane. Traffic slowed and often stopped as onlookers gawped. The crane, high-rise-high against a startlingly blue sky, looked like a stork hanging on to an about-to-be-delivered baby.

Pat Urban, a 30-year Halesite resident, took pictures. One of them appears to show her husband, Len, lifting the straps holding the rock with his fingertips. "It was good to see that with everything else going on around here, we are still preserving history," she said.

It took more than an hour to securely fashion straps, using pieces of wood as cushioning where necessary, around the rock, with workers climbing into a hole to stand on an old concrete foundation to get the job done.

At one point, the crane oh-so-gently lifted the rock out of its decades-long resting place as workers, with bulldozers, prepared a temporary platform nearby. The crane moved the rock again, keeping low to the ground, before placing it atop a platform, where workers kept it level with blocks.

The rock's new home will not -- as some locals expected -- be in the middle of a new traffic circle. Instead, it will be to the side, in a pocket park with plantings, benches, landscaping and a new brick sidewalk once construction ends. "The new location will make it easier to get to the rock, to appreciate it and the area's history," Hughes said.

"It will be an attraction," he said, "which it deserves."