2016-08-11 / Columnists

Good Ole daze

The life and times of Babylon’s Benjamin Field
by Stanis Beck


Benjamin Field Benjamin Field Part One

Babylonians can’t help but notice the beautiful, fairly recent restoration of the 1875 clapboard, Empire styled mansion at 60 George Street, Babylon Village, right across from the Village post office. It has a particularly charming Mansard roof, framing hexagonal slates held up with many decorative, Victorian-style wooden brackets. This is one of the three mansions that once graced this area back in the day, when walking access to the bridge that brought George Street over the stream feeding Hawley’s pond was then possible (before Rt. 231). Some locals may know that this lovely hone was once occupied, for 15 years, by the renowned Benjamin Prince Field (1831 – 1920), the author of Babylon Reminiscences, originally published in 1911. His engagingly descriptive book was very well received locally and is still available, for viewing, in a recreated version at the Babylon Village Public Library, the Babylon Historical/Preservation Society and the Town of Babylon Museum, in honor of its 100th anniversary commemoration by the Town of Babylon, Office of Historic Services. This cherished book gives a bird’s eye view of life in Field’s beloved Babylon Village over 100 years ago. Coupled with very personal vignettes by this well-liked, poetic man who appeared to be on a first-name basis with each and every resident of the Village in 1911, one descends into a kind of time capsule he creates with his prose for anyone interested in meeting and chatting with many of the Village residents of old, especially Mr. Benjamin Prince Field himself!

Who was this very engaging man? (In 1920, at the time of his death, and nine years after he wrote his book of reminiscences, Mr. Field was actually the oldest resident of Babylon Village – at 89 years old). Looking back into his own personal early history, one finds that he was actually born in Flushing, Queens in 1831 to Benjamin Prince Field, his namesake, and his mother, Eliza Post Field. (Ancestors on his father’s side were said to be some of the first to settle on Long Island as they had received a land grant from England in 1636 near what is now Flushing.) Descended from Quakers, young Benjamin had six siblings, and at age 12, he worked at a bakery, earning $25 a year, plus board. After four years, he earned $1 a week- more than doubling his salary! At age 17, he became a tinsmith apprentice and eventually brought his trade to Babylon in 1853, opening a shop in what is now the front half of the Babylon Bike Shop. He married Mary Ann Purchase, a friend from childhood, in 1852, and together they had eight children. As a Babylonian, he became very active in local affairs and served as a member of the Village “Board of Health;” the local Board of Education and School Building Committee and it was said he always did whatever he could to improve his beloved community in any way possible. (He was also a pioneer in the development of Babylon’s Oak Island and was said to be only the second person to build a privately owned cottage there, after Henry Livingston, Jr.)

Most of Benjamin Prince Field’s popularity locally, however, stemmed from his more artistic side. He had been a chorister in the Presbyterian Church for some time and though he did not have formal musical training, he was said to be a born musician, leading his famous church choir for 33 years. It follows then, as was said, that he was usually present at all social events with any musical inclination. Like a Renaissance man, he was an artist in three other capacities too: Prose and poetry; inventing via tinsmithing and gardening. In his book of reminiscences, an example of his informative, folksy prose is as follows: “We will tarry at the corner for a moment to tell you that right on this Babylon Lane, now called Deer Park Avenue, is where all the horse racing and trotting, foot racing, greased pig chasing, sack racing and all that class of sport often took place. It was on this lane that the once famous trotting mare, ‘Lady Suffolk’ made some of her best time and showed to the world that she was the fastest trotter of that day,” etc. He also wrote a book of poetry – at the urging of his friends and neighbors – entitled, Beauties of Life and Other Poems, still accessible from the essential www.ForgottenBooks.com. His poems were so well received that he finally became known as the “Whittier” of Babylon. In his pursuits as an inventor, it was said that “Mr. Field is a master mechanic and an inventor of no little renown, having secured patents on several articles that his ingenuity led him to invent.” A tireless worker, he was successful in growing his tinsmithing shop into a plumbing, heating and stove business as well! Apparently, he even caused some fairly recent local excitement by constructing a locked tin box – back in the day – into which he placed commemorative materials to be opened 100 years later, in 1989.

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