The Caumsett Foundation
Dedicated To The Preservation Of Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve
How the park began
In I921, Marshall Field established the Field Foundation, a charitable organization whose purpose was to deal with the problems of child welfare, social and racial relations and education. Field then began to create an English-style estate at Caumsett. The self-sufficient rural establishment was a combination of country club, hunting preserve and home.
In 1922, Field engaged New York City architect John Russell Pope to advise him on the design of the estate. When finished, the estate had facilities for almost every sport except golf. Visitors to Caumsett were able to enjoy tennis (indoor and outdoor), horseback riding, pheasant shooting, skeet-shooting, polo, trout fishing, swimming and boating. Many miles of roads were built for motoring and dock space accommodated Field's steam yacht, Coursande. Field developed a herd of eighty prize cattle and a complete dairy farm. The self-sufficient, self-contained community had its own water and electrical supply. Vegetables were raised in its truck gardens and wood came from the estate's own stands of oak, pine, dogwood and locust.
Located at Lloyd Neck in the Town of Huntington, it is situated on a most scenic peninsula extending into Long Island Sound . Approximately 1600 acres of woodland, meadows, rock shoreline, salt marsh and former farm and garden areas make up the current park. The former Marshall Field house is under renovations. The polo pony barn now serves as part of the Willow Tree Farm Equestrian Center . The summer cottage now house the Nassau County BOCES Outdoor and Environmental Education. The calf barn is the home of Volunteers for Wildlife. The Henry Lloyd Manor house and Barn (circa. 1711), are maintained by The Lloyd Harbor Historical Society.
Caumsett Park A Parkway Exit?
The Sound Shore Parkway, a little-known proposal that did not appear on public documents, was to have been a 22-mile-long parkway extending east along the Long Island Sound coastline from downtown Glen Cove to Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park. Like Robert Moses' earlier parkways, the proposed route was to feature new state parks and "ribbon park" buffers. Alas, the public backlash was enough to quell the project...thank goodness! The four-lane parkway was to have been constructed as follows:
Beginning at NY 107 in downtown Glen Cove, the parkway was to extend northeast to a new state park in Lattingtown.
East of Lattingtown, the parkway would have continued east past Bayville (the site of the interchange with the Oyster Bay-Rye Bridge) and Centre Island to a causeway crossing of Cold Spring Harbor.
Moving into Suffolk County at Lloyd Harbor, the Sound Shore Parkway would have intersected the proposed Caumsett State Parkway at Caumsett State Park, then would have crossed on a second causeway (this time over Huntington Bay) into Eatons Neck. A new state park would have been developed at Eatons Neck.
The Sound Shore Parkway was to have its eastern terminus at Sunken Meadow State Park, where it was to connect with the existing Sunken Meadow State Parkway. A future extension of the Sound Shore Parkway southeast to Caleb Smith State Park in Smithtown may also have been considered.
By the early 1970's, fiscal and environmental concerns brought future highway plans on Long Island to a standstill. Ultimately, it was the efforts of a Lloyd Harbor-based group, Action for the Preservation and Conservation of the North Shore of Long Island, which thwarted plans for both the Sound Shore Parkway and the Oyster Bay-Rye Bridge.
Article credit: nyroads.com. Below, you will find the master plan for Caumsett as drawn up in 1961 by the L.I. State Park Commission.
You will note the devastating effect this plan would have had on Caumsett's rich history and environmental aspects.
A Grandchild Remembers Caumsett
By Barbara Bliss, Grandchild of Marshall Field III
To be a child visiting Caumsett was better than taking a trip to Disneyland today. As we would drive up the endless driveway my brother and sisters and I would feel our little hearts beating in anticipation. The trip from our house in Manhasset took a long time by kids’ standards, so the "When are we going to get there?"s and all the beer bottle songs were played out by the time we drew up to the courtyard in front of the main house. As we passed the stables my mother would always tell the story of how many of the guests at her coming-out party mistakenly drove up to the stables instead of the main house. The stable buildings were handsome enough to understand their confusion.
My grandparents would meet us at the steps, and after the obligatory kisses and hugs we would immediately run to ride the red-bugs, a group of electric cars which my grandfather kept on the estate. They ran on planks raised a foot from the ground, and their batteries were constantly charged by the chauffeur. They each seated two people and there was always a fight over who was going to get to drive. We would ride the red-bugs endlessly until we were rounded up for lunch. Imagine the freedom to go anywhere on 1,500 acres when we were years away from having a driver’s license.
While we were whizzing around in the red bugs the grown-ups would begin a game of croquet on the great lawn across from the front steps. My grandfather and his wife played serious English croquet with narrow wickets, and there was no fooling around. As we grew a little older we were allowed to join in their games.
After lunch, weather permitting, we would go down to the pool house and change into our bathing suits. On informal days we would eat lunch at the pool house which, besides changing rooms, showers and bathrooms, had a fully equipped kitchen. Before swimming, if one of the older kids were around (meaning my mother’s half sisters or their half brothers, Harry and Bobby Phipps), we would take a spin in the motorboat, which was tied to the dock near the pool house. Or we would hack away at our not-so-terrific tennis on the courts near the pool.
When I was fifteen I was included in such after-dinner games as charades or Twenty Questions. The Field family was highly competitive and it didn’t bode well for your popularity if you weren’t stellar at games. I wasn’t but luckily, I could sing and somehow I was able to redeem myself from my lack of gaming skills. Backgammon, Bridge, Canasta, and chess were great favorites also. Since I was a beginner at Backgammon and Canasta and didn’t know Chess or Bridge, I was not allowed to the inner sanctum. During one of the question games I remember how terrible I felt when fourteen-year old Frankie Fitzgerald, put me to shame by rattling off the names of all of Verdi’s early operas. I was supposed to be the singer and musician and I had never heard of most of them. Her stepfather, Ronald Tree, a cousin of my grandfather’s, used the winter cottage on my grandfather’s estate as a weekend home. Frankie, however, did later write Fire In the Lake, one of the early definitive books on Vietnam, so I feel better when I think back on my early humiliation.
Easter egg hunts at Caumsett were unforgettable. There were so many hiding places in the bushes and trees and especially in the rose garden to the side of the house, that we would return to the adults with baskets overflowing with multicolored eggs, small stuffed animals, and jelly beans that had been carefully and strategically hidden by members of in immense staff.
Occasionally, one of the grandchildren would be invited to spend the night, and in the morning you could look forward to fresh clotted cream and butter from the estate’s own dairy farm. (When my mother was a child she contracted brucellosis from unpasteurized milk from the farm.)
When it was my turn to spend the night I usually stayed with my mother’s younger half sister, Fiona. Fiona was a very good rider and we would take out her ponies in the professional ring. The ring was set up to practice for horse shows with all the required jumps and hedges. I wasn’t advanced enough to keep up, so I followed Fiona around on the outside path of the ring and watched as she took the jumps. Other times we would go to the kennels with the house Springer spaniels and let the hunting dogs out for a run. On one particular weekend I remember following the gamekeeper as he set up the blinds for the weekend pheasant shoot. He once even set up the skeet traps for me, but black sheep that I was in a family of cracker-jack shots, I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger and wasted a dozen clay pigeons before the gamekeeper gave up on me.
My personal favorite thing was to watch, not play, the tennis at the indoor court. There was an upstairs gallery with chintz-covered sofas and club chairs, gaming tables, and a complete kitchen and bar. A member of the staff was always there to serve us drinks and sandwiches or pastries. The echo of the plop, plop of the balls going over the net had a special sound that resonates in my memory even today.
I didn’t always enjoy these sleepovers because, as always, there was competition over everything. Who could write the best story or draw the prettiest picture? The governess would act as the judge. Fiona was nine months older than I was and I think she liked having someone to win against since her own sister, Phyllis, was two years older than she was and very good at games.
I remember the exact moment we were sitting in the bathtub together and Fiona told me that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I had believed in him for a very long time, being the first child and grandchild, and until that moment there had been no one around to prick my bubble.
When I was fifteen I was invited to Phyllis’s coming-out party. It was not held in a tent outdoors as my mother’s had been but inside the grand entrance hall with an orchestra that played on a platform in the right-hand corner. I felt very special being the only grandchild included. Now, suddenly, Phyllis was a sophisticated lady. I had never seen her so grown-up. She’d always had an easy rapport and she wasn’t competitive with me like Fiona. But that night I said good-bye to a piece of my childhood.
I was seventeen when my grandfather died and I saw Caumsett one last time a year later, just before Ruthie, my step grandmother, moved out and turned the pace over to Robert Moses to be preserved as a state park. Of course, since then, I have tramped around the grounds a few times. It saddened me that the indoor court had been torn down as was the pool house. I even found the spigot for the water supply to the pool has long since been filled in with dirt and surrounded by overgrown bushes.
I am happy to know that an active group of private citizens has decided not to let this magnificent place disintegrate and has taken the initiative to restore it to its former glory. Caumsett only existed in its ideal, fully realized state for ten years until 1932, when in the middle of the Great Depression the two wings were torn down, and the staff was retained at half salary. As a private home, Caumsett had a short life of only thirty-five years, but it represented the best of the Gold Coast homes for its elegant and refined taste, both inside and out. It was opulent but not ostentatious, and the Fields shared their good fortune with hundreds of friends and made their weekend visits a time to remember—that is, if you liked games.
Caumsett’s 1932 Circus Party
The invitation, in 1932, billed the Circus Party as a "not fancy dress" affair although the guests arrived in black tie and floor length gowns. Caumsett has often been the inspiration for novel, lavish parties to benefit worthy causes for over seventy years. In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the original Dutch Treat Circus Dinner Party, given by Marshall III and Audrey Field on July 16, 1932, the Caumsett Foundation has patterned its 2002 Circus Party on the theme of the original party. Read on to discover the attractions of the original party; compare them with the updated version that you will experience tonight.
The Rational and the Hype
Marshall Field III was vice President and Treasurer of the Long Island Biological Association, now known as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Audrey Jennings (as in the Jennings of Standard Oil) Field was known for her spectacular parties. To benefit the Long Island Biological Association, Audrey planned the party which was dubbed: "one of the funniest parties of the season", " a new pattern in parties", "a unique charity entertainment." Cholly Knickerbocker reported on the event for the New York Times; Galan Chidsey, book designer of Great Neck, produced a booklet about this Dutch Treat Circus Dinner Party. Of the eight hundred invited guests, over six hundred paid five dollars per plate for their dinner, plus additional amounts per after-dinner activity. The Long Island Biological Association profited handsomely from this event.
The Evening’s Festivities
Over one hundred of the Field’s friends hosted "dinner tables" of ten or more of their friends. Hence, the success was guaranteed from the start. Dinner was served by "Sherry’s" on the Caumsett estate's lawns and terraces, which were lit by great flood lights and streamers of vari-colored electric lights strung in a festive fashion. During dinner a dance band played. Marshall Field’s summer home, on Long Island’s Gold Coast, was renowned for its major awards at both Long Island and New York City world-class Horticultural Shows. So, guests enjoyed dinner and dancing in a gorgeous botanical setting, overlooking L. I. Sound, under the stars. That was only the beginning. After dinner the guests proceeded to another area of the grounds, which had been converted into a Midway for the occasion. At the Midway they were exhorted by society "barkers" to enjoy the various attractions. These attractions, operated and manned by society friends included, "The Freak Show", "The Coney Island Photo Booth", "The Long Island Living Pictures Show", and "The Dancing Well."
Humor and Talent
Requested in the invitation, guests were expected to have a sense of humor and a certain amount of talent. The guests and their hosts supplied the talent at most of the booths, and also were the models as well for the caricatures represented in the activities.
Featured in the Freak Show were Long Island versions of Siamese twins, those "Baldwin twins", Mrs. Baldwin Browne and Mrs. Baldwin Preston. Mrs. Harold E. Talbott grew into the stupendous Duck Billed Woman/Women. The hydra, a two headed woman featured the heads of Mrs. Malcolm L. Michael and Mrs. Ralph H. Isham. Capt. "Bunny" Head, as the Wild Man of Borneo was known to frighten women into averting their eyes and to turn tan men pale. On the other hand, the "world’s tallest dwarf," Mr. Frank Field, amazed onlookers. While Mr. Lytle Hull, the Strong Man, appeared to lift over 500 pounds with astonishing ease, Mrs. Joseph Davis, the most tattooed lady in the world was very avant-garde for her era.
At the Coney Island Booth, the fun-loving guests morphed into the Fat Lady, the Living Skeleton, the Sweet Young Couple, the Traveling Donkey, and the "Abs" wonder - another avant-garde concept for the time. One could even take a photo with the donkey painted by the multi-talented George Gershwin. These versions of each guest were preserved for posterity in photos, which could be purchased in any quantity.
Long Island Living Pictures were tableaus, written by Mr. Baragwanath and Mr. George Abbott, and played by several young models. These short bits of human drama were described as "the high spot of wit and humor". Some resemblance's to known society matrons and masters provided the extra spice in each vignette. Tension and high drama were heightened by the musical contribution of Mrs. James Warburg, who played the background organ music for the dramas.
Mr. Vincent Astor earned the title of Chief Factotum of the China Breaking Booth for his outstanding service in that booth. The rental of three balls entitled one to break as much china as possible per pitch. Frustration with financial markets during the Depression could be exorcised by aggressive behavior at this activity.
Other attractions included a Wheel of Fortune, a ride around the estate on a bicycle built for two, walking with the man on stilts, and a visit with "the toast of the talkies", none other than Mickey Mouse himself, at this precursor to Disneyland. All of the fun and games were to raise money for a charitable cause.
Late night entertainment brought the show indoors. Guests came to the elegant Georgian mansion’s living room for the Midnight Cabaret. A panoply of show business greats performed for the guests. Irene Castle danced to original choreographic works; the Boswell Sisters, of radio fame, sang the hit tunes of the day, George Gershwin played the piano; Paul Whiteman played the current hit song, Ramona. The party, which began at dusk, continued until dawn, with guests reveling in the various activities.
And so, the magnificent landscape, seascape and skyscape setting of Caumsett, with its outstanding gardens and architectural features, was said to "usher in a new era of parties" in the 1930’s. In 2002, it is the setting for another such party for charity. In the new millennium the Circus Party has come full circle. This time, instead of the proceeds being donated to an off-site charity, the estate, now an historic New York State park, is itself the recipient of the proceeds.
Look around! The gardens are in varying stages of being restored; the dairy barn complex is in the throes of major renovation; the doors on the Mansion have been restored. You, the new guests, are a part of the estate's renewal plan. Your generosity is contributing to the necessary repairs/replacements/renewal plans for this very special site.
The Foundation's goals for the restoration are a challenge! They are to provide the entire community with an educational, ecological, enjoyable resource. Will you join us? Click here to join the Caumsett Foundation.
History Committee Pursues Archive Leads
Mason Dots Of Cement
Recently, the History Committee accepted a donation for its archive collection. The new donation looks like two huge Mason Dots--like the candy, only, the dots are made of cement and connected by a clothesline. In fact, these were the actual weights used to hold the tarpaulins down over bales of hay that were the fodder for the herd of prize Guernsey cows that lived on the Marshall Field III estate at Caumsett. The tarps kept the feed dry.
Alfred Kuntz, whose father was the estate's chief engineer, brought these weights "home" after caring for them for many years. If you have any other memorabilia that should come "home," please call Dorothy Cappadona at (631)549-6987. The History Committee's collection is displayed each year at the Fall Benefit. Be sure to visit the display and talk with one of our historians on duty.
The History Committee is in the process of digitizing the collection in order to make it easier to share with the public and researchers. This year, we assisted two young doctoral candidates with their research for their theses. It is always satisfying to be able to contribute to such important works. What would you like to learn about Caumsett's history? Let us know.
Own a Caumsett artifact? Consider a donation to The Caumsett Foundation today! Call (631) 549-6987.
More history to come! Like history? Join us—Help preserve Caumsetts’ artifacts—Call (631) 549-6987.