Caumsett Trail Guide
We welcome you to take a "Tour By Keyboard" of Caumsett State Historic Park.
Conceived by: Hope Reese—Researched & Written By: Jeff O'Hanley—Photographs: John F. Barone
In 1921 Marshall Field III purchased 1750 acres of Lloyd Neck to create one large estate.
He named the land after its Matinecock Indian name, Caumsett, which means "place by a sharp rock."
Marshall Field created a self-sufficient English-style estate manor as a combination country club, hunting preserve, and home, complete with its own water and electrical supply. When the estate was finished, it had facilities for every sport except golf. During its peak, more than one two hundred people were employed at Caumsett, tending the extensive gardens, polo ponies, cattle herd, and, of course, the family and their numerous guests.
Fishing, hiking, bird watching, nature photography, and nature study are among the many activities visitors may pursue. Guided nature tours focusing on many aspects of the Caumsett environment and Long Island in general are led throughout the park. A listing of public park events is maintained by The Caumsett Foundation on this website: Park Events.
About this Guide
This portion of our website is not an identification guide to every plant and animal found in the Park, nor is it an overly detailed historic piece; there is not enough space to cover everything! Instead, it is intended to highlight some of the interesting natural and historic features of the Park. If you find that you have more questions than you started with, please stop at the information kiosks or the Park office. Finally, as much as we hope this guide will enhance your Park experience, remember that the Park is a beautiful and wondrous place at any time of year. Be sure and schedule a visit as soon as possible! Spend most of your time in the park looking, hearing, and just enjoying your surroundings. You are sure to discover more about Caumsett State Historic Park by visiting in person, walking slowly and keeping your eyes and ears open then moving your mouse around a computer screen!
The Information Kiosk
Next, walk to the cobblestone path behind the kiosk and make a left turn to the farm group buildings. The buildings here were designed by Alfred Hopkins, Architect. Not quite a yellow brick road...begin your tour by walking down this path to the farm group complex.
Completed in 1923, the Caumsett Farms Dairy was home to Marshall Field III’s prizewinning herd of Guernsey cattle. The Caumsett herd, consisting of up to 100 cows and bulls, was renowned for their production of milk and butterfat, and set several records. A stone marker behind the barn commemorates six of Caumsett Farm's prize winning cows (Photo left). On August 20th, 1953 the Long Islander newspaper reported that a registered Guernsey cow named Caumsett Regal Gloss had set a United States record for product production. On a three-times-daily schedule, the cow produced 14,078 pounds of milk and 647 pounds of butterfat in a one year period!
The Living Fence
If left alone, land environments on Long Island eventually grow into forests. This fence line has been uncut for nearly 15 years and has grown into a dense thicket of vines and small trees. The common tree in the fencerow is Sassafras (Sassafras albidum), which has unusually shaped leaves. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also does very well in this type of environment, and grows heavily along the fence. Farmers would often encourage the growth of these ‘living fences’ - they are good windbreaks, and provide shade for livestock. Wild fencerows are also excellent havens for wildlife, including chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits, and many species of birds, who take shelter under in the thickets and feed on the many berries and seeds found here. Again, make a left turn off the dirt road and onto the main drive. You are now on a paved road heading North.
Scenic Road Design
This effect is used throughout the estate, especially on the approach to the mansion Main House. If you have the good fortune of being here in spring you will be treated to the annual daffodil show. Field’s first wife, Evelyn, instructed Mr. Gillies to plant daffodils to cover soil left bare by construction. Gillies complied, planting some 250,000 bulbs around the estate, including a large grouping here. The remaining daffodils are descendants of those planted here in 1926. As you pass the speed limit sign (above photo right), take a look at the big round tree on your left.
Beech Tree Field Area:
The Water Towers
Gamekeeper’s Cottage and Kennels
On the morning of the hunt several hundred pheasants were released into the woods. Men, called beaters, and dogs flushed the pheasants out of the woods towards clearings where Field and his friends were stationed with their guns. At the end of the day, the hunters returned to the mansion Main House for a pheasant dinner. Although hundreds of pheasants were shot during the hunts, many managed to escape the hunter’s guns. Their descendants can occasionally still be seen roaming in the woods and fields of the Park.
This stretch of road allows us a glimpse of something rare for Long Island in the 21st Century: large stretches of relatively undisturbed forest. The forest area on the left (west) side of the road has been allowed to grow on its own for more than 100 years. While there was much clearing of the land for buildings, pastures, and roads, a great deal of the property’s forested areas were left alone. These mature woodlands are important havens for the Park’s diverse wildlife.
Looking into the forest you can see the ‘layered’ look that is typical of the deciduous forest. The branches of the tallest trees meet to form a ‘canopy’ that casts everything below in dense shade. Below this is an ‘understory’ (or sub canopy), consisting of smaller trees. The understory includes trees that will eventually grow up into the canopy as well as small trees, like the Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), that reach a maximum height of 20 feet or so. The ‘shrub’ layer, composed mostly of bushes that are about the height of a person, is obvious in this stretch of woods, and is dominated here by Maple leafed viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium). Finally, there is the ‘ground’ layer, home to wildflowers, and the place where everything in the forest ends up.
Not comfortable with woods coming too close to the road, the planners and estate managers cut back the forest along either side of the road, leaving a few trees along the way. A strip of mowed areas can be seen on either side of the drive. A number of trees were left standing, and others were allowed to grow, in order to keep the road shaded. These mowed strips are excellent places for observing wildflowers throughout the year. You may see pink wild geraniums and many violets in the spring; and asters in late summer and fall.
Dead leaves, branches and limbs, animal wastes and remains - all this comes to rest on the floor of the forest. Invisible bacteria and microbes, fungi, and small invertebrates (i.e., animals without backbones) begin to decompose these items, releasing valuable nutrients back into the soil. This recycling process enables the soil to sustain the forest. The steep slope on this hillside is carpeted with different mosses. Mosses are simple plants that need cool, moist environments to grow in. During the right season, they raise their small spore capsules into the air, like a miniature flagpole, and release millions of microscopic spores into the air. If the spores land in a suitable environment, the spores will germinate and form the next generation of moss.
“Sections of the woods were cut down to afford vistas from the residence….” This field was cleared for just such a purpose. Up the hill to the right is a sheer stone wall that leads to the sunken garden and the ‘Long Garden’ Boxwood Garden on the west side of the mansion. The sunken garden was commissioned by Audrey Field (Marshall’s second wife) and was originally intended to be terraced down to the bottom of the field, though it was not completed. One could stand on the terrace and look out over the clearing to Long Island Sound's Roosevelt Cove. We will show you the terrace shortly.
The dense woods along either side of this path are an example of a well-developed woodland. To the left, the woods are mainly a mix of oak and hickory. On the right hand side, where the land is flatter and slightly damper owing to the proximity of the pond, wet ground trees and shrubs like Red maple, Pepperbush and Blackgum (Tupelo) begin to dominate. This stretch of woodlands is extremely rich in bird life, particularly during the spring and fall warbler migration. At location x is a large Paulownia tree (Paulownia tomentosa), also known as the Princess Tree. Native to Asia, a number of Paulownias were planted around the estate for their beauty. Each spring the tree bears spikes of light purple flowers that grace the canopy before most trees have fully leafed out. The dried seed pods remain on the tree until the following spring.
The This Paulownia tree is also notable for the thick growth of Poison ivy climbing up its trunk. The vine’s fibrous brown rootlets are used to cling to the tree’s trunk and enable the poison ivy to grow well up into the host tree. In winter the vines looks like a hairy rope. Keep walking down the dirt road...you are in for a real treat!!
Master’s Bathhouse Area
This area is rich in historic as well as natural diversity. The Master’s Bathhouse was one of several recreation centers on the estate. Here you could enjoy a swim, either in Long Island Sound or in the in-ground swimming pool in front of the bathhouse. This area also has a number of interesting natural features, including the seashore and a vernal pond. - a place for swimming (in either Long Island Sound or a saltwater swimming pool) or tennis. The sections that follow deal with each of these areas in some detail. The following sections deal with each of these areas in some detail.
Master’s Bathhouse and Seashore
The Master’s Bathhouse was a small, shingled building that stood at the top of the rise overlooking Long Island Sound. It featured men’s and lady’s changing rooms and showers, a functioning kitchen, and a lounge with a fireplace. In front of the bathhouse was an in-ground saltwater pool filled with filtered saltwater. To protect the bathhouse, a stone jetty was constructed on the beach to minimize erosion and the bluff was shored up with fill and rubble. The foundation of the building is once again clearly visible from the beach.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Mansion Main House, Garage, and Dinham’s Cottage are all currently undergoing renovation sponsored in part by The Caumsett Foundation. Please watch your step and be aware of any construction detours. Thank you for your patience!
Scattered around the immense front lawn are several gigantic little leaf lindens (Tilia cordata). These lindens, the two red maples on the north side of the house, and several large trees near the Dairy, were transplanted to the estate from other locations on Long Island when they were fully grown. One tree measured 78 feet tall when moved! Another was so large that it had to be transported to the estate on a barge! These trees were probably a minimum of 50 years old when moved, which would make them more than 125 today.
The Mansion Main House
By 1950, the Fields’ needs had changed, and the costs of maintaining Caumsett were increasing. Ruth Field (Marshall’s third wife) and Marshall decided to have the house remodeled. Two sections of the house, one from each end, were removed, including the living room and master bedroom suite from the west wing, and servants’ quarters from the east wing. Large sections of the interior were remodeled to provide new kitchens, servants’ quarters, living room and library.
The servants’ wing, from the east end of the house, and the living room and second floor master bedroom suite from the west end of the house, were removed. The interiors were altered, with the kitchens, pantry, and dining rooms being moved. When the renovations were completed, the house contained “just” 64 rooms. All told, about 40 rooms were removed from the house, which probably reduced operating costs and taxes. According to Mrs. Field, the remodeling was done primarily because the house “…was just too big, period.”
You have now walked about three miles. It is time that you are paid for your hard work.
Take a short walk to the back of the mansion. Put down this guide, and hold your breath…
The Fresh Pond
The “Fresh Pond” dates back to the arrival of the earliest settlers of Lloyd Neck and is shown on a maps dated from 1685. When Field constructed Caumsett the existing pond was drained and dynamited, a series of drains and aerators was installed, and trout were stocked for sport fishing. The concrete structure in the woods to the right is a remnant of the circulation system. The pond today is home to a rich variety of aquatic life, including largemouth bass, Bluegill sunfish, frogs, Spring peepers and Bullfrogs, Eastern Painted turtles, turtles, and a large number of waterfowl.
Take another look above...the pond is in the shape of a heart! There are two sections of the pond, separated by the low rock dam. The section in front of you here is only about two feet deep; however, the bottom is covered with a thick, gooey mud that is an additional two feet or so deep. The mud is the result of years of accumulating sediment from runoff and debris from the surrounding trees, and . The mud is home to an astounding variety of benthic (bottom dwelling) animals, notably such as immature dragonflies, damselflies, and beetles; leeches, snails, and aquatic worms. The shore on this side of the pond is lined with tupelo, or Black gum, trees (Nyssa sylvatica). The leaves of the tupelo are among the first to change color in autumn. In late September and early October, this side of the pond comes ablaze with the brilliant scarlet of its leaves.
The Boxwood and Long Gardens
The (Never Completed) Terrace Garden
Garage, Tennis Courts, and Dinham’s Cottage
At this point in your expedition, you are now about two and one half miles from where you parked. During the next half mile, you will encounter two remaining mansion area buildings and the remnants of two additional buildings. The remaining buildings are the 10 car garage, built in 1925, and Dinham’s cottage, built in 1939. These two buildings are currently leased to Queens College and are not open to the public. The lost buildings included an additional cottage, between the garage and Dinham’s cottage, which was used by Field’s head chauffeur and the indoor tennis courts. The chauffeur's residence was a cottage similar in style to the one next door. It occupied the flat meadow area next to Dinham’s cottage. The indoor tennis court building was on the right side of the road as you leave the mansion. The driveway to the tennis courts, though rapidly overgrown, is still visible, as are portions of the buildings foundation. This building had, in addition to the lighted tennis court, an attached building with changing rooms for women and men, a kitchen, and an apartment.
The outdoor tennis courts, now long gone, stood in the area to the right of the road. The surroundings of the courts were moderately landscaped, at Field’s direction. Some of the original plantings, mainly cedars, Japanese Yew (Taxus), Forsythia, and Rugose rose, remain visible. A few fence posts are also visible through the thicket. Over the years, the courts have become overgrown with vines, including bittersweet and poison ivy, and small trees and shrubs. The vines and dense thickets provide fine nesting areas for Gray catbirds; listen for their mewling, cat-like calls throughout the summer.
Prior to colonization, the forest in this area were mostly undisturbed. The Native Americans in the area undoubtedly cleared land for settlements, hunted, and probably burned some of the forest but, because of their small numbers, the impacts were most likely small. With the arrival of European settles, however, that changed. More demands were made on the forest as the population grew, and the need for homes agricultural land, firewood and lumber increased. One of the unexpected side effects of human activity which is of great concern to scientists today, is the impact of invasive vegetation, which can be seen along this next mile of road.
Invasive species are aggressive plants or animals that push out native (that is, those that occur here naturally) species. The invaders here, mostly wild grape and Oriental bittersweet vines, grow rapidly up into the surrounding trees and shrubs. Their leaves hang over the branches of the host plant, and actually ‘steal’ the sunlight needed for growth. This can and often leads to the death of the host plant, and also prevents new trees and shrubs from growing in. Not only can they kill host plants, the invasive grow so quickly and in such numbers that they can prevent other things from growing. The lack of diversity in plant life can lead to a lack of diversity in animal life. The invasive plants become established in areas that have been disturbed, either from human activity such as road and home building, or from natural tree falls. The vines often take on unusual and grotesque shapes as they crawl over the surrounding plants. Vines are not all bad, however. The fruit of grape and bittersweet are food for a number of animals, especially birds, and the dense tangles provide cover and protection from predators. All in all, however, this type of growth can eat into a forest and lower the overall diversity of its flora and fauna.
Polo Fields and Meadows
The small, white house ahead is currently the residence of Caumsett’s superintendent. During Marshall Field’s time, this house was home to several families that lived on the estate, including the head groom from the Polo stables. Please respect the privacy of the family and stay on the road.
Looking at the above photograph from this particular vantage point gives you a good idea why many visitors to the Field estate thought this beautiful building was the main mansion! Note: This tidbit of information courtesy of Marshall Field V! Remember the movie "Arthur" with Dudley Moore? The stable scenes were filmed right here! Like the Main House, the Polo Stables were designed by architect John Russell Pope in the same style. The building has stalls for 16 horses. The stables were ornamented with a matching pair of working fountains and a clock tower. Apartments in the building were home to several staff who worked in the stables. Riding was a very important part of life at Caumsett. The Polo Stables and fields are not open to the general public.
Although Marshall Field III treated his employees well, proper high society etiquette required most of the estate’s employees to remain separate and out of sight from the family and their guests, including on the roads. The road you have followed thus far, and which continues straight ahead, is the service drive, and was used by employees and deliverymen. To the right and left is the Main Drive, used by the Fields and their company. To the left it passes between the Winter and Summer Cottages and out the main estate gate. To the right it meanders up to the Main House.
The tree immediately to the right is a Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). In September and October, one must be wary when standing next to this tree - it frequently drops its large, heavy walnuts to the ground! Once the thick, green husks are split open, the nuts inside are eagerly eaten (or buried) by the Park’s squirrels.
The Boxwood Garden
Further to the left, out in the field beyond the road, is an overgrown Boxwood garden that was part of the landscape of the Summer Cottage. On your visit to the Summer Cottage (straight ahead), be sure and walk through this garden. Imagine what it must have been like! Photo: Below left.
The Summer Cottage
The Summer Cottage was built in 1939 to provide extra space for guests. Ruth Field, Marshall’s third and last wife, moved to the Summer Cottage in 1961 after selling the bulk of the estate to the Long Island State Parks and Recreation Commission. She moved out of Caumsett for good in 1966. The Summer Cottage is now used by Nassau BOCES as an environmental and outdoor education facility. Now that you have visited the summer house, let's visit the winter house... Walk in the direction of the pony stables. Notice the road on your left.
The Winter Cottage
The Clark House
The Walled Garden
Opposite the Dairy is the walled kitchen garden. Under the supervision of George Gillies, the Head Gardener, this 4-acre garden supplied fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers for the Field’s dinner table, and fresh flowers to beautify the houses for the estate. A cottage behind the garden was home to the estate’s head gardener and Mr. Gillies and his family. After many years of decay the walled garden is being restored through an ongoing cooperative project between the Caumsett Foundation and New York State Parks and Historic Preservation. For detailed information on the walled garden, click here.
If you look south while in the walled garden, you will see the location of the greenhouses. A group of ten greenhouses kept the estate well-supplied provided flowers and fruit throughout the year. Please note that this section of the park is not opened to visitors due to safety reasons. We will take you for a visit:
The former Marshall Field house is now leased by Queens College for its Center for Environmental Teaching and Research. The polo pony barn now serves as part of the Willow Tree Farm Equestrian Center. The summer cottage now houses the Nassau BOCES Outdoor and Environmental Education Program. The Volunteers for Wildlife Hospital and Education Center is located in the "Calf Barn" of the park's Dairy Complex and the historic 1711 House Barn is leased to the Lloyd Harbor Historical Society.
As you return to the parking area, remember that there is far more to see and do here - there’s the salt marsh, more beaches with magnificent views, fields and forests to explore; a saltwater fishing area, bike riding, and education programs. For more information on programs, permits for fishing or upcoming events, stop at the information kiosk or ask the attendant at the parking area. We hope that you’ve enjoyed your guided walk through the Park and that you’ll come back again and again!
About The Caumsett Foundation
The Caumsett Foundation was founded in 1995 to work in partnership with New York State Parks to enhance the visitor’s experience through education and preservation of the Park’s historic and natural features, and to leverage private support for the Park’s programs and infrastructure. To date the Caumsett Foundation has funded the interpretive panels in the orientation kiosk, compiled historic research to restore the walled garden, restored the main doors to the Mansion, and continues to work on the restoration of the Dairy Barn complex. In addition, this web site is maintained and supported by the Caumsett Foundation.
General Park Tour continues here.
The Caumsett Foundation
Dedicated To The Preservation Of Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve