The Caumsett Foundation

Dedicated to the conservation of

Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve


By Walter D. Kolos

All of Caumsett is the result of the Wisconsin Glacier’s last retreat, 21,000 years ago. The estate has always been loved for its vast woodlands, gently undulating fields and meadows and steep valleys. Perhaps the park’s most distinctive feature is its dramatic and varies shoreline, this too, a gift of glacial activity. The mountainous sand and clay cliffs, boulder strewn beaches, forested harbor side and extensive tidal wetlands are unique treasures of the park. Varied and unspoiled, they are unfortunately a small remnant of the seascape of western Long Island - a seascape that was famous for its rugged beauty and drama.

In the early twentieth century. Long Island’s North Shore was prized by the estate builders of America’s “Gilded Age.” In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the craggy shoreline from Great Neck to Huntington was expansive, attractive, and largely undeveloped. Great estates with water views and facilities could be established. The North Shore was uniques in that it was not only unspoiled, but very close to Manhattan. Nowhere else in the western basin of the Long Island Sound could such properties be obtained. The shoreline of Connecticut and Westchester had long since been crowded out with railways, roads and industries. This was the heart of America’s early industrial engine - there was little land left for grand seaside homes.

By the time Marshall Field came to establish a country home, most of the prime real estate of Nassau County had been claimed. Primeval land tracts, such as Lloyd Neck, did not exist. Also finding land that provided woodlands and spectacular water frontage was becoming impossible to locate. Lloyd Neck had it all - a wide protected harbor to the south, and seemingly endless beaches on the Sound which included a wide variety of seashore textures.

Caumsett is perhaps most famous for its looming and ochre clay cliffs. These looming, one hundred foot precipices are a legacy of the glacial movements. They are constantly shifting - and collapsing - due to the corrosive effects of precipitation and tides.

Another legacy of the glacier movements are the boulder strewn beaches at the foot of these cliffs. These huge rocks, known as eratics, were dragged down from New England as the glacier scraped the lands to the north. Amidst these boulders are sand bars and the amazing tidal pools for which Long Island Sound is renowned. Sandy bathing beaches are often hard to find along this shoreline- except for the sandy strip at Lloyd Point, which is almost as fine as any beach.

Also at Lloyd Point, are the extensive, unspoiled marshes. This maritime ecosystem, with its verdant marsh grasses, is home to a large variety of water and land species. It is covered and protected by sand dunes which are an almost desert like environment. Covered by beach plums, prickly pear cactus, Rosa Rugosa and the ubiquitous poison ivy, the dunes protect not only the tidal marshes within, but also furnish a safe habitat and nesting place for native and migrating animals.

It is here, too, that one finds the well known “sand hole”, or boat basin-a famous and controversial anchorage for pleasure boats. Often jammed with overnight boaters seeking a safe harbor, this enclosed body of water has been an ongoing issue in the Village and in the Park. It is here that Marshall Field anchored his yacht “Corisande II” and one can see the remnants of the dock.

The water front at Caumsett, both on the Sound and the Lloyd Harbor side, saw little alteration, even during the Marshall Field years. Caumsett was not a “seaside” retreat for the Fields, as they spent their summers in Maine. Bathing facilities were provided for the staff along the north shore, the largest and most frequently mentioned was for the “farm group” workers at the present fishing station.

The grandest feature of the Caumsett shoreline was the Master’s Bath House. This complex was situated at the eastern end of Roosevelt Cove. The bath house, which sat at the edge of the point, was a graceful cedar shingled cottage with a large front porch. This house had dressing rooms, a lounge and small kitchen. When large parties were held here, platters of food were brought down from the main house. For many years this facilities was under the charge of Beatrice Crush.

The Master’s Bath also had outdoor tennis courts, surfaced with Egyptian clay. Beautifully Landscaped by Gorge Gillies, the courts were surrounded by specimen plantings, and at the west end of the playing courts, there was a free standing porch where spectators and players alike could find protection from the sun. It was here that Mrs. Crush would arrive, in uniform, pushing a beverage wagon with libations to slake the thirst of everyone on the courts.

The crowning glory was the salt water swimming pool, which was situated on the south side of the bath house, just off the patio. The pool was replenished weekly with filtered sea water, and required constant attention. The pump house, a low brick building, which serviced the swimming pool is still standing. It is the only structure remaining on the Caumsett shoreline.

The shores of Caumsett are perhaps one of its most unique features. Marshall Field spent vast amounts of time and money to remake and recreate the woods and fields of the uplands to his tastes. The shore, however, was basically untouched by estate construction. As a result, this monumental remnant of the last glacier remains intact, providing us with a way to experience the incredible forces of our prehistoric earth. 

  1. BulletThe Shores of Caumsett

The crowning glory was the salt water swimming pool, which was situated on the south side of the bath house, just off the patio. The pool was replenished weekly with filtered sea water, and required constant attention.

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