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Historic walking tours to take on Long Island

Visitors tour the historic gristmill at Connetquot River

Visitors tour the historic gristmill at Connetquot River State Park in Oakdale. Credit: Morgan Campbell

If you love history, you’ll want to slip on some walking shoes and head out to learn some interesting facts about a few former estates and clubs, now state parks, on Long Island. Here are the details on historic walking tours to take this season:

An All-Inclusive Estate

On a two-mile, hilly walk in Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve, you can explore the social, economic, architectural and political history of this Lloyd Neck park.

"It’s an outdoor, relatively rugged walk, so much so that we don’t take anybody under 18 for safety reasons," says Virginia Dankel, a naturalist, who leads the park’s tours.

Though it was the former estate of Marshall Field III, the grandson of the eponymous Chicago department store, Caumsett is more than just a Gold Coast estate, Dankel avers.

"It is an absolutely fascinating history in that it goes all the way back to the Native Americans," says Dankel.

At the beginning of the tour, Dankel reviews the chronological history of the park, which includes a circa 1711 house belonging to the Lloyd family (for which Lloyd Harbor and Lloyd Neck are named).

The colonists called the area "Horse Neck," explains Dankel. Field brought back the original Native American name, "Caumsett," meaning "Place By the Sharp Rock," referring to the huge boulders found on the beach.

Over time, Field cobbled together smaller parcels of land to build up his estate, which eventually grew to 1,426 acres.

"He wanted something with natural beauty and historical significance," explains Dankel, adding that this particular tour doesn’t include the mansion, since most of the history is found in the southeastern corner of the park.

Determined to make his estate completely self-supporting, Field had a dairy barn, vegetable garden, and grew or raised all his own food, notes Dankel.

Despite his efforts for self-sufficiency, Caumsett served solely as Field’s summer home, from 1921 to 1952. Only in his last four years — 1952 to 1956 — did Field reside there full time.

A Grand Country Home

At Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River, you can tour Westbrook Manor House, the two-story, 68-room former country home of industrialist/philanthropist William Bayard Cutting.

The tours go through the history of the Cutting family and the home, explains Mary Valentin, park manager.

The Cutting family, who lived there from 1886 until 1949, donated the home to the Long Island State Park Commission in 1952, and it has since become part of the New York State parks system.

Some of the rooms, including the kitchen and dining room, have been completely restored, notes Valentin.

The dining room has one of the few original pieces of furniture that belonged to the Cuttings: a Chippendale table and chairs, which seats 14, and a fireplace mantel that originated in a French château and dates back to the 15th century. Wood paneling in the foyer, library and billiard room and wood carvings on the stairs and throughout the home were purchased in England and are between 300 and 400 years old.

"It was a new house in 1886, but they wanted it to look much more worldly, so they did import items from Europe that probably predated the house a few hundred years," explains Valentin.

Stained-glass windows throughout the house and the fireplace tiles in the breakfast room were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and the estate was landscaped by the design firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame.

From Tavern to Men’s Club

You’ll learn how the South Side Sportsmen’s Club shaped the history of the Connetquot River State Park Preserve on this tour at the Oakdale preserve.

The tour goes into Connetquot’s Native American origins all the way to its becoming a state park and includes a grist mill that dates back to 1750, notes Pam Hunter, environmental educator for the preserve.

Before it became a club, the building was a public tavern from 1839 to 1863. It served for a few years as a stagecoach stop for travelers heading out east before it was purchased by a group of 20 men who turned it into the South Side Sportsmen’s Club in 1866, which it remained for nearly a century.

The hunting and fishing club had 50 rooms for overnight guests, and two annexes with additional apartments for the overflow guests.

Many members learned of the area through the club and eventually built estates around it, such as Bayard Cutting, Henry Havemeyer, and William K. Vanderbilt.

The property, which was added to over time, as members donated parts of their new estates to the club, started with 800 acres. By the time it became a park in 1973, it was 3,473 acres, and is the biggest state park preserve on Long Island, says Hunter.

"I always say the history of the South Shore area started here at the clubhouse because they did like it and they did settle here."

HISTORIC WALKING TOURS

History of Caumsett Walk: Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve, 25 Lloyd Harbor Road, Lloyd Harbor, 631-423-1770; parks.ny.gov/parks/caumsett. Dec. 11, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., limited to 15 people, must be 18 and older. Reservations required.

Manor House Tours: Bayard Cutting Arboretum, 440 Montauk Highway, Great River, 631-581-1002; bayardcuttingarboretum.com. Thursday to Sunday, 1 p.m. through Nov. 21; December schedule to be determined. $15 per person, limited to 8 people per tour. Reservations required.

Clubhouse Tours: Connetquot River State Park Preserve, 4090 Sunrise Highway, Oakdale, 631-581-1005; parks.ny.gov/parks/connetquotriver. Nov. 21, Dec. 5 and 19, 1 to 3 p.m. $4 per person. Reservations required.

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