From left, Greg Wagner, Huntington's director of cultural affairs; Barry Lites,...

From left, Greg Wagner, Huntington's director of cultural affairs; Barry Lites, Huntington African American Museum board chairman; Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth; Irene Moore, museum board vice chairwoman, and Beverly Gorham, museum secretary, at the proposed site of the Huntington African American Museum on Dec. 19. Credit: Barry Sloan

That saxophone legend John Coltrane wrote his masterpiece, "A Love Supreme," in Dix Hills, and "pickle king" Samuel Bolton harvested an enormous amount of pickles in Greenlawn are stories more commonly known to Long Islanders.

But a group of Huntington residents wants everyone to know that other notable African Americans — including Jupiter Hammon, America's first African American Colonial-era poet to be published in the United States, and educator and presidential adviser Booker T. Washington — also have called the Town of Huntington home.

In September, the group established the nonprofit Huntington African American Museum aiming to build a place dedicated to the stories and contributions of Huntington’s African American community.

“We know some of the stories but there are so many more to tell about African Americans who lived and contributed in Huntington,” said attorney and Huntington resident Barry Lites, chairman of the six-member museum board. "We want to go out and get them."

He said the group is preparing to kick off its $6 million to $8 million fundraising campaign in 2023.

But the first order of business is to secure a location for the museum: a town-owned parcel at the intersection of New York Avenue and Mill Dam Road near the original home of Peter Crippen, one of the town’s early leaders in the African American community.

Crippen was born a free person in 1809 on a plantation in Virginia and came to Huntington in the 1830s.

The north wing of his home is believed to be the town's first mill built in 1658. The building was moved from Mill Lane to Creek Road in 1674 and was converted into a residence. 

Irene Moore, of Huntington Station, who's vice chairwoman of the museum board, said Crippen was the catalyst to create the museum while the town's African American Historic Designation Council worked to preserve his house.

The council is charged with collecting information about Huntington’s African American heritage. 

“When the Crippen house became news we thought it would be a good time to introduce the idea of an African American museum, using the house as a focus of the museum,” Moore said.

At one point, the Crippen house had local historic designation but over the years the building fell into disrepair and the designation was lifted. The town has now earmarked about $40,000 to preserve parts of the building. Lites said salvaged pieces would be used as a cornerstone of the museum building.

Town Supervisor Ed Smyth agreed the Mill Dam location is a good site, but said any conditions set in the purchase agreement when the town purchased the property decades ago would have to be reviewed. He said if the parcel was acquired as parkland there are several steps that would need to be taken to remove the restriction and allow other uses.

“It’s not impossible,” he said. “Or we could do something where the land is not transferred but it’s a museum within a park, much like Heckscher [park and museum].”

A focus on history

The Huntington African American Museum was granted a charter by the state Department of Education in July for a 501(C)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt status.

The group plans to start fundraising for:

  • Construction of a museum building
  • Executive director and administrative staff salaries
  • Preservation of artifacts already in the museum's possession 

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