The Caumsett Foundation

Dedicated to the conservation of

Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve


By Walter D. Kolos

For three centuries of recorded history, the woods at Caumsett have been a precious asset. On the cusp of the world’s greatest metropolis, this forest has managed to survive intact in a region which has suffered tumultuous transition. From Colonial America, to post modern suburbia, these woods have remained a constant.

The gently undulating landscape of Caumsett is the legacy of the Wisconsin Glacier. Its hills and valleys, sand and clay cliffs, and boulder strewn beaches are the remnants of the glacier’s last retreat 21,000 years ago. The massive earth moving ice greatly affected the kind of wildlife and vegetation that would typify the region.

The naturalist and even casual stroller at Caumsett will notice the great diversity of terrain at the park. The sandy uplands support a thick forest of various oaks, birch, maple, hickory and cedar. The richer, often muckier lowlands support not only trees, but Norway maples, walnuts and a jungle-like entanglement of vines and prickly undergrowth. The smothering canopies of wild grape can be found everywhere.

Robert Cushman Murphy, the famous Long Island naturalist and author of Fish-Shape Paumanok spoke of native and invasive plant species on Long Island. He lamented the loss of naive plants such as lobelia, ladyslippers, lupine, and mallows, and the subsequent introduction of daisy, Scotch thistle, Queen Anne’s Lace, and of Japanese Honeysuckle. The greatest invader of all, a pest as Mr. Murphy stated, is the reed phragmites which is successfully ousting the cattail. As for losses of fauna, wild turkey, partridges and of course, beavers, vanished in the early part of the twentieth century.

It must be remembered that land, especially in the Colonial times, was viewed as a commodity. The environment provided food, shelter and fuel-conquering and subduing it was essential. The woods were the wilderness, a threatening and dangerous place. Also, it was a place of strange happenings and mystery, not today’s cool leafy green enclave for hiking and bonding with nature.

The primeval nature of Lloyd Neck changed with the arrival of the Lloyd Family in the early eighteenth century. The Manor of Queen’s Village, under the guidance of Henry Lloyd I and his family would become a viable plantation under the English system.  Woodland was cleared for pastureland and farming, and the remaining forest was harvested for its valuable stands of oak, hickory and chestnut. There was also an abundance of deer, turkey, quail and other wild game. Specimen fruit trees were introduced, especially apple, which made Lloyd Neck a major cider producer-much to the consternation of Huntington’s Puritan minister!

The woods at Caumsett were further altered by the heavy logging operation by the British during the Revolutionary War occupation. They were responsible for destruction of much of Lloyd Neck’s timber. Most of it was either sold or used for fuel. It is estimated that between 50 and one hundred thousand cords of wood was removed from the Neck during the occupation period.

By the time Marshall Field III purchased his Lloyd Neck property, the land had become an untended backwash of old or abandoned farms. The approximately two thousand acres which he acquired in 1921 contained about 400 acres of cleared land and abundant woodlands. Through the employment of landscape architects, the unbridled wilderness that Field found was gradually and painstaking;y transformed into an ordered English estate, with the addition of specimen trees and shrubs.

The premier sporting activity at Marshall Field’s estate was hunting which always took place in the fall. Caumsett was famous for its pheasant shoots and fox hunts. Providing for these aristocratic pastimes required expert landscaping and logistic skills. In order to have well executed and “proper” hunts, much work would have to go into the planning of the landscape. This work was entrusted to the head gardener George Gillies and gameskeeper Douglas Marshall.

For the pheasant shoots, the right proximity between woods and field would have to be established, so that the hired beaters could flush out the birds from the forest into the meadows for the shoot. Hunting blinds were built at the corners of several fields to hide the shooters.

As for Fox hunting, strict protocol dictated the pursuit of this sport. woodland trails had to be established, and also ample forest cover had to be provided for the foxes. Open fields too, had to be in close proximity for a successful hunt. Fences and hedges had to be built to provide the obstacles necessary for the hunters on horseback, as they followed their pack of hounds-and the fox.

Cut, burned, tilled and threatened, the woods at Caumsett are still with us. Their resilience is remarkable, as they have been tested to the limits. A renewable and seemingly forgiving resource, they still beckon us to come “Into the Woods.”

  1. BulletInto the Woods

There was also an abundance of deer, turkey, quail and other wild game. Specimen fruit trees were introduced, especially apple, which made Lloyd Neck a major cider producer-much to the consternation of Huntington’s Puritan minister!

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