2017-03-23 / Columnists

Good Ole daze

-by Stanis Beck

Another “golden oldie” of Babylon Village, which was also a contender in the “Oldest House in Babylon” contest (directed by historian Tom Hanaway in 1974), is the home located at 25 Willow Street, owned by the elegant dress boutique owner known as Marion Clarke. One might think, on observing this charming, historic home, built before 1858 (exact date unknown and originally referred to as the Hendrickson Homestead), that it is keeling over on its last legs, but it has had a slanted footing at least since the 1970s, still standing strong!This attractive 5 bay 2 ½ story clapboard, wood-framed residence, was remodeled and rebuilt in 1878. According to Gay Wagner’s historical account of this area in the 1980s, It is clearly one of the original dwellings in this early waterfront settlement largely unaltered, making it one of the most interesting vintage homes still in our midst. It has also housed a couple of some very interesting characters as well!


25 William Street 25 William Street In the early 1900s, it was once owned by D.S. Sammis, of Babylon Village, who was the well-known entrepreneur proprietor of the renowned Surf Hotel on Fire Island which was illuminated with gaslights and accommodated up to 100 wealthy, occasionally famous, guests. A short time after, the house was owned and occupied by a notable surgeon and obstetrician, Dr. George Hope Ryder, 1872-1946. “Dr. Ryder was involved with most hospitals in New York City during his long life. In the memorial book written by Robert Bruce to honor Dr. Ryder, it tells of an unheralded visit to Dr. Ryder’s home by King George and Queen Elizabeth (during their visit to New York’s World Fair, 1939).The Queen had read some of Dr. Ryder’s poems and wanted to thank Dr. Ryder personally.” A comprehensive search for some of Dr. Ryder’s poems came up short so far, but one of his poetic essays was discovered in a book entitled Noise and Modern Culture, 1900-33,The Soundscapes of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture and Listening in America, by Emily Thompson. “Dr. George Hope Ryder, of the Sloane Maternity Hospital at 59th St. and Amsterdam Ave., described the noises that plagued his patients in prose that fellow physician William Carlos Williams was then just beginning to write.” Ryder pens, “Electric cars crash by with whining motors and the pounding of flattened wheels. Wagons rattle past over cobblestones. Automobiles flash by, blowing horns or slow whistles. Drunken people argue and fight on the sidewalks. Children shout, pound on the cars and even set off firecrackers, under the windows. Hucksters shout, pound their wares in front of the buildings.” (No wonder Dr. Ryder preferred to escape to the quieter Babylon Village “countryside” in the early 1900s! However, Willow Street, where his house was located in the Village, was originally called Pensacola Lane and was known for being “lively and animated,” as, just slightly further south, all freight coming and going by sailboat just happened to be sent and received there!)

Apparently, many Americans in the 1800s actually considered noise a positive thing– more like, progress in the making but, even then, elevated train noises were considered “necessary evils.” However, by the early 1900s noise was thought to be patently uncivilized. Eventually, a group of citizens started to rally for a quieter world. Students from Columbia

University, for example, were hired to monitor the whistle-blowing situation on the Hudson River, near Riverside Drive, and recorded hearing approximately 3,000 boat whistles in one night. Amusingly, after some investigation, it was decided that this incessant whistling was not related mostly to safety issues, but rather to the boatman– “socializing!” After 3,000 folks later signed a petition, Congressman William Bennet created the Bennet Act in 1907, limiting “the unnecessary blowing of whistles in ports and harbors.” Just prior to the Bennet Act in 1906, the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise was created, with the aim of quieting the noise around the city’s hospitals. “These noises, Ryder explained, are not merely an annoyance, they are a serious menace to the health of sick patients.” Dr. Ryder had been one of the physician champions of these serious city efforts to quell the noise to calm the patients! With an ear for silence, he apparently had an eye for art too, as patron of the painter, sculptor and illustrator, James Edward Kelly, 1880-1957, and was said to have organized a collection of his works for viewing. Ryder himself, was apparently so renowned that author, Robert Bruce, was compelled to create a memorial book in his honor.

Other interesting residents of 25 Willow Street, as mentioned earlier, have included the owners of what used to be Marion Clarke’s Dress Shop (now Coldwell Banker) at the corner of South Carll Avenue and West Main Street in Babylon Village. (Originally this shop had been a bank, Suffolk County Federal Savings and Loan, owned by Cadman Frederick, who later had a bigger bank built on Thompson Street, off West Main, as his business grew too large to remain at the corner of Carll.This new bank building (now Astoria Federal) originally had a full kitchen and an actual sun deck for the employees, on the second floor!) Cadman Frederick proved to be a very busy man. He had also been the mayor of Babylon Village, developed Frederick Shores and part of Belmont Lake State Park. He was part owner of the land at the end of Fire Island Avenue, originally himself providing a beach for the locals and New York City residents as well – advertising in Brooklyn newspapers – and was even the private owner of the Babylon Village pool (constructed in 1927) for a number of years, before it was purchased by the Village of Babylon in 1947. It is no wonder that there are two streets named after Cadman Frederick in Babylon Village!

Returning to Marion Clarke’s Dress Shop, many local ladies utilized this designer dress shop for that very special occasion, and it had a good reputation for years. (One dark moment involved a favorite, loyal seamstress of the shop who, along with her brother, was convicted of the murder of the seamstress’ husband, who had been accused of abuse.) Marion Clarke’s son, Richard McLaughlin, inherited the family home on Willow Street and had reported to a few fellow Babylon Rotarians, that he had served in the 106th Cavalry Regiment in World War 11, which marched through Bavaria, in April of 1945, to protect Belgium’s King Leopold. Would you believe, as a result, he reported that Queen Elizabeth had visited him at his home at 25 Willow Street to personally thank him for his efforts!That would actually be a total of two visits by two Queen Elizabeths to this same historic house at 25 Willow Street, Babylon! Babylonians are truly honored but, to be sure, a letter was recently penned off to the current Queen Elizabeth to check on the veracity of this latter proclamation. (No word as yet!The current Queen did actually visit New York at least twice, however, once in 1957 and later in 1976.)

One of the ways to have a “golden oldie” become eligible for listing on the State and National Historic Registers is to comply in the category of someone important having lived in the house and/or that something important happened there. This charming, historic house at 25 Willow Street, Babylon, seems to easily qualify for both.

Most of the information in this article comes from the Babylon History Museum;The Babylon Leader; The Babylon Beacon;The Soundscapes of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture and Listening in America, 1900-33, EmilyThompson. Stanis Beck, BVHC Founder, stanisbeck@optonline.net

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