Ten on-site history lessons on Long Island
Long Island may not necessarily come to mind when a tourist visits New York for the first time. However, Long Island is filled with an immersive and rich history, with places pre-existing the 17th century. Below is a map and list of the top ten places to visit, should you be in the vicinity, or if you’re a history buff.
A. The John Bowne House (Flushing NY)
While Flushing is not technically Long Island, back in the 18th and 19th century, it was very much part of the region. Since this site will be the closest to NYC, it will be the first stop on the historic site route. The John Bowne House stands in the middle of a commercial area. During the route, you will notice that historical sites in Long Island are very spacious, and for obvious reasons, landmarks closer to the city are not. The house is considered one of the oldest in the state, built around 1661. Located on Bowne Street, the house became a meeting place for Quakers during the time of Peter Stuyvesant, New York’s first governor.
Punished for holding weekly Quaker meetings, Johcarrn Bowne was banished to the Netherlands. In 1664 he came back as a hero winning his court case with the Dutch West India Company. He would use the Flushing Remonstrance, a document signed by community officials of Flushing, arguing for free practice of religion. The document’s religious freedom principles would later evolve into the Bill of Rights. With over 3000 items in its collection, the Bowne house is the ideal place to start your historical journey.
B. Sagamore Hill (Oyster Bay, NY)
Known as the “Summer White House”, Sagamore Hill is a historic patriotic landmark in Long Island. Home of the former 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, the site is a must visit for all. During the summer season, Roosevelt and his family would go down to Long Island for extended vacations. In 1880, at 22 years old, Roosevelt purchased 155 acres of land a few miles away from Oyster Bay for $30,000 (equal to about $700,000). Through the guided tours, visitors go through the facility, which includes over 30 rooms and large dining hall. However, the main attraction is not the house itself, but rather, the surrounding area. Thousands of people each year come by for its scenic beauty. Home to a number of wildlife species, the nature trail is perfect for families to take their children on.
C. The Vanderbilt Museum (Centerport, NY)
The Vanderbilt family was one of the most prominent families in American history. Up until the early 1900’s, the Vanderbilt was the wealthiest family in America. During their decline, a number of mansions and luxurious estates were sold and became museums. Located in Centerport, the 43 acres Eagle’s Nest was an estate of William K. Vanderbilt II—a time capsule with hundreds of paintings, and cultural artifacts from both the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Through his illustrious travels, William collected thousands of specimen birds, some of them new discoveries. Before his death, he had already turned his estate into a museum, creating galleries of artifacts from different world cultures. His collections include a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy and a 32-foot whale shark.
D. Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages (Stony Brook, NY)
New York City is the home to many world acclaimed museums including the MoMA, Museum of Natural History, and the Guggenheim, just to name a few. The Long Island Museum offers an outlook on colonial and 19th-century lifestyle. One of the main attractions is its museum on carriages. There is so much history to unravel, as the museum takes visitors back in time before automobiles were invented. With exhibits, galleries, and over 100 carriages illustrating how people got around the streets of New York in the 1800’s, this museum is a must for those wanting to learn the city’s history and its development.
E. Southampton Historical Museum (Southampton, NY)
One of the greatest ways to explore New York and Long Island history is to visit the many different towns and villages. The Southampton Historical Museum, like many other living museums on Long Island, offers a vibrant and immersive look into colonial life. While NYC offers many important and historical landmarks, finding a historical site that predates the 1700’s is not easy—especially in a metropolitan city like New York. A highlight of the museum is a rare “first-period” house built in 1660. Believed to be the oldest English-style house in New York State, this museum is a must for a quick visit along the route.
F. Montauk Lighthouse (Montauk, NY)
At the end of the trail of historic sites, you will end up on the very tip of Long Island. Sitting at bay is the Montauk Lighthouse, built in 1796 authorized by the second congress under President George Washington. After climbing up the oldest lighthouse in New York, you will encounter a gorgeous 360-degree view of the perimeter, the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. While it may not seem like a landmark with much history, the lighthouse has a museum filled with documents and photographs signed by Thomas Jefferson. The view alone is worth the visit.
G. Long Island Maritime Museum (West Sayville, NY)
Known as the “ valley of shipwrecks,” the site surrounds its visitors with a history of Long Island’s waters. Its water accessibility and nearby ports were a desirable factor for early Dutch settlers in the 1600’s. Dutch heritage is engrained in West Sayville, and the museum does a very good job in connecting the area to its origins. The museum offers something for everyone. For World War II enthusiasts, there is a WWII hanger comprising more than 30 sail and powerboats. For people more interested in the 19th century, one of the highlights of the museum is the 1888 Oyster Sloop Priscilla. The 60-foot ship behemoth was operated from 1888 to 1963, becoming a National Historic Landmark in 2006. For families with kids, the ideal time to visit is during its annual Pirate Festival in June. Kids participate in pirate reenactments and go on treasure hunting expeditions.
H. Sagtikos Manor Historical Society (West Bay Shore, NY)
Built in 1697 and later expanded, the Sagtikos Manor estate was the headquarters for the British Army in Long Island. One of the main highlights of the site is that visitors go through many rooms, and among them, a bedroom where President George Washington slept. With different parts of the house restored and built upon across 300 years, costumed tour guides show you the furniture, accessories and architectural styles of periods from the late 1600’s to the middle 1900’s.
I. American Airpower Museum (Farmingdale, NY)
This museum was once home to the production of over 9,000 P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircrafts. Unique for its World War II operational planes, visitors have the opportunity to take flight in vintage and modern aircraft. The museum offers a truly immersive experience with flight shows, and exhibits on strategic planning, and fighting protocols. The American Airpower Museum captivates Long Island’s contribution to the war effort, making it must visit.
J. Old Bethpage Village Restoration (Old Bethpage, NY)
A living history museum, Old Bethpage Village Restoration gives visitors a chance to experience what it was like to live on Long Island in the 19th century. Over 200 acres, the site has buildings, barns, and houses predating the American Revolution. Moreover, with many events during the year, this place is ideal for children and families to dive into a truly immersive experience on how colonists lived on a daily basis. Events include a traditional music weekend, Easter Village, Decoration and Independence Day celebrations, Halloween events in October and Candlelight Evenings in December.