In Huntington’s long and storied history, significant events have been marked by extravagant festivities. A visit from the then-sitting President George Washington in 1790 and his dining at Platt’s Tavern at the corner of what today is Park Avenue and Main Street may have been the first such celebration. Commemorating our nation’s founding has been an annual occasion including the July 4, 1876 Centennial Celebration in Huntington. The opening of the horse-drawn trolley between the harbor and the depot in 1890, the electronification of that trolley in 1898 as well as its extension to Amityville in 1909 were other noted occasions. In 1892, the Town commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage with the completion of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building as the first Public Library building in Huntington. As the Town celebrates its 370th anniversary of the original purchase, I thought an article about the grandest celebration of them all would be appropriate.
In 1903, months of preparation went into planning the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Town of Huntington. Committees were formed and met long hours planning parades, a colonial exhibit, a colonial ball, and yes, another Presidential visit, this time from Long Island’s only president, Teddy Roosevelt. It had been 113 years since the sitting President of the United States had officially visited Huntington, this time, to deliver the July 4th address to the citizens of the town.
The three-day celebration began on Friday night, July 3rd, with two events, a reception of the “old residents” at the Central Presbyterian Church and the Colonial Ball held at the Opera House “which was, it is said, the finest affair of its kind ever witnessed in Suffolk County.” (The Long-Islander -July 10, 1903) The celebration on the 4th began with a sunrise gun salute and general flag raising. At 9 AM the first of two parades started when over 100 schoolchildren left the schoolhouse across from Old First and marched down Main Street accompanied by the G.A.R. In the parade was the Civil War era Rodman Rifle that was dedicated to the Town at 10:15. Today that “canon” sits over Main Street at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building. At 10:30, the second “Historical and Industrial Parade” left the Village Green and marched through town with numerous fire departments and floats.
Many historical addresses were delivered throughout the weekend, but the main event was the arrival of President Roosevelt in Huntington Bay shortly before 3 o’clock in the afternoon aboard his yacht “Sylph.” He was met at the Nathan Hale Memorial Boulder (then located at the end of Vineyard’s Road on Huntington Bay) by the Reception Committee. The President’s party, which included among others Mrs. Roosevelt and Miss Alice Roosevelt, were escorted along a route “thronged with people” from the landing to the speaker’s platform set up in a then vacant field between New York Avenue and Wall Street, north of what today is Gerard Street.
He began his address with words that resound today:
“Men and women, in speaking to you today, I want not only to join with you in an
expression of thankfulness for the nation’s mighty past, but in expressing the
resolution that we of to-day will strive in our deeds to rise level to those deeds
which in the past made up the nation’s greatness.”
Robert “Toby” Kissam currently serves on the following boards: Huntington Historical Society, Preservation Long Island, and Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill Sanctuary. He is also a commissioner on the Town of Huntington’s Historic Preservation Commission.