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A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.

No. 36.—Continued.

The Branch and Hempstead.—The great Plains of Long Island.—Hicksville and surroundings.—Farmingdale and "the brush."—The valuable tracts thro' this region of the Island.

WE now come to an extensive and most interesting section of Long Island, and one which might have more reference to Brooklyn and its inhabitants than has hitherto been supposed. It is astonishing that immense quantities of good land lie yet untilled, within two hours reach of this great city and New York. For after leaving Jamaica and Brushville, which is three miles east, we stretch out pretty soon upon "the Plains," that prairie-like and comparatively profitless expanse of land. The character of the country now becomes flat, and bare of trees; the houses are far from each other, and there is an uncomfortably naked and shrubless look about them. As the locomotive whisks us along, we see to a great distance on both sides, north and south—and see, mostly, large square fields, a great portion of which is devoted to pasturage.

The "Branch," or turning off place for Hempstead, is about eighteen miles from Brooklyn. A cluster of houses has been built up here, in the midst of the wide expanse, and a tolerable degree of traffic is carried on; of course nearly all derives its life-blood from the Railroad.— Hempstead, otherwise "Clamtown," otherwise "Old Blue," is some two miles to the south; which two miles you pass over on a railway, in cars drawn by horses that the crows, as they fly overhead, must feel astonished at not having got some time before. The village is rather a pleasant one, of perhaps 1400 inhabitants. It hath a Presbyterian tinge, of the deepest cerulean; and in one of its graveyards is buried Henry Eckford, the naval architect,1 who once held the office of chief constructor at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and built that noble piece of sea-craft, the ship of the line Ohio. Branching out from Hempstead, in a southeasterly direction, is the fine south turnpike, that leads along through (among other places,) Merrick, Babylon, Patchogue, Speonk, Good-Ground, away east to the Hamptons.

For some miles east of "the Branch" there is little but a mighty stretch of these uncultivated Plains. True, there are some patches inclosed, alongside of the railroad, here and there. Around Hicksville, there is quite a group of these settlings. Hicksville! that place of vanished greatness! O, what a cutting up of lots and selling them off at high prices there was here in "the time of the great speculation," years ago! An immense city was sure to be that same Hicksville; now its sovereign sway enfolds a large unoccupied tavern, a few pig-pens, a very few scattered houses, and the aforesaid little enclosures. But joking not, we shouldn't wonder to see Hicksville gradually pick up and be a tidy little hamlet in the course of a few years.

The great obstacle to improvement, all about here, is the monopoly of most of this immense tract of plains, by the town of Hempstead, the people whereof will not sell, nor divide it among themselves even, as was proposed a few years ago. If they would consent to sell, the town treasury would be prodigiously the gainer; and, cut up in strips, the land would be cultivated, adding to the looks of that region, to productiveness and human comfort, to the wealth of the town of Hempstead, and consequently decreasing the rate of taxes. Some portions of the plains, belonging to the town of Oysterbay, have been sold; and are taken up and settled on immediately.

Land monopoly shows one of its beauties most pointedly in this matter. We don't know, indeed, where one could go for a more glaring and unanswerable argument of its evils. Here is good land, capable of administering to the existence and happiness of thousands upon thousands of human beings, all lying unproductive, within thirty miles of New York city, because it is monopolized by one principal owner! We know the people save the right of pasturing their cattle, horses and sheep, on the plains—but that privilege, however widely used, does not develop one-twentieth of the resources of the land. Thousands of acres of it are covered with nothing but "kill-calf," and other thousands, where nothing grows, could be redeemed by two or three seasons' cultivation and manuring.

At Farmingdale, anciently known under the appellation of "Hardscrabble," you begin to come among the more popular specimens of humanity which good old Long Island produces. (Though we ought not to have overlooked the goodly village of Jericho, two miles north of Hicksville—a quaker place, with stiff old farmers, and the native spot of Elias Hicks.2) Farmingdale rears its towers in the midst of "the brush," and is one of the numerous offspring of the Railroad, deriving no considerable portion of its importance from the fact that the train stops here for the passengers to get pie, coffee and sandwiches.

We are now in the midst of the aforementioned "brush," a growth of pine and scrub-oak, mostly, though interspersed with birch, sumac, and other modest-sized trees. But at this time, (late in the autumn) it is beautiful exceedingly! We can sit and gaze admiringly for miles and miles, at those colors that the chemistry of autumn has profusely dyed every leaf with. Deep and pale red, the green of the pines, the bright yellow of the hickory, are the prevailing hues, in numberless lovely combinations. We have often thought that those who make designs for carpets could get most excellent hints from these autumn garnishings. How pleasing and grateful would be a carpet pattern, richly covered with figures and colors, closely imitated from what one sees here—how much better than the tasteless, meaningless, and every way unartistical diagrams that we walk over, now, in the most fashionably carpeted parlors.

But our subject expands upon us, and we find it will be necessary to devote a special paper to some of the peculiarities of East Long Island. A very large portion of the inhabitants of Brooklyn are natives of the section, and will be able to test the truth of our remarks.

After leaving Farmingdale the railroad runs for about forty miles through a comparatively barren region, with stations every few miles, for the passengers for Babylon, Islip, Patchogue, &c., on the south side, and for Comac, Smithtown, and divers other villages, toward the north. We arrive at Riverhead, which is the county seat of Suffolk, and quite a handsome village—pass on through Southold, and one or two other settlements, and whisk into Greenport, looking out upon Peconic bay, of which more in our next.


1. Henry Eckford was the chief architect of the ships used in New York during the War of 1812. [back]

2. Elias Hicks was a Quaker preacher and friend of Whitman's father and grandfather. Hicks had a deep influence on Whitman's spirituality. For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]

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