2012-10-17 / Columnists

Peets pets pets

I’ve come to the aid of many old dogs in “Pets,” but never defended an old house. Like dogs, dwellings such as the 18th century farmhouse at 527 Deer Park Avenue slated to be demolished, can’t speak for themselves. As the wrecking ball looms, ready to rob future generations of such treasures, it becomes imperative to do some “digging” to uncover the home’s rich history and then blast that knowledge to the world before it’s too late. That’s why it is so important that concerned residents formed the Babylon Village Heritage Preservation Society to gather petition signatures and rally to save the doomed home.

This week I am going to stray outside of my pet realm, while keeping canine connections. Parallels can be made to a similar looking 18th century farmhouse a mile and a half away at 358 Livingston in Babylon Village. That home has Roman numerals on the floor beams. A former owner who lived there from 1946 until 1963 was told that these markings showed that the house may have been designed and built by Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), who was in Connecticut at the time. He had his soldiers number every beam before floating them down to the Sound to various places along the shore. In essence, these were the first American prefabricated homes. There were no nails in the Livingston house, just wooden pegs. Is it possible that the Deer Park Avenue home had the same infamous architect?


This 1873 map of Babylon shows the home of D. Downs (later Westminster Kennel Club Clubhouse) near the home of D. Smith (Deer Park Ave. house slated for demolition). This 1873 map of Babylon shows the home of D. Downs (later Westminster Kennel Club Clubhouse) near the home of D. Smith (Deer Park Ave. house slated for demolition). In the fall of 2006, I stumbled on the news that the grave of “Sensation,” the WKC logo Pointer, was near Southards Pond. Although a K-9 King Tut was buried in our backyard, no one in the Village, including the current owners of the Livingston house, knew this old home was also the original clubhouse for Westminster Kennel Club (WKC); the scene of an 1880 WKC grand opening party attended by a Civil War general and later the living quarters for the WKC kennel superintendent, who just happened to be in charge of the glorious WKC dog show for 30 years . In addition, no one realized that the Livingston house had been moved twice.

General Alexander S. Webb, first president of WKC and later president of the College of the City of NY, was at the Babylon grand opening festivities inside the old farmhouse in 1880. Eleven years later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery at Gettysburg. James Mortimer was kennel superintendent in Babylon from 1885 to 1892 when he lived in that same farmhouse. He took care of up to 200 dogs staying in Babylon, sometimes trailing a pack of Pointers with him into the Village during shopping trips. Mortimer was also superintendent of the WKC show at Madison Square Garden until 1915, the year of his death.

Can you imagine what might be discovered about the similar Deer Park Avenue farmhouse?

How many homes still exist in Babylon (and elsewhere on LI) dating back to the 1700s? There is some evidence that its early owner, David Smith, had ties to the American Revolution. It will take time to verify this claim and the house’s subsequent history. A lot can happen in the span of over 200 years.

In the meantime, let’s look at some of the convoluted facts we do know now about the parallel farmhouse, once WKC headquarters, on the other side of Southards Pond:

* The search for Sensation is complicated because there were two WKC clubhouses in Babylon. The first one (used from 1880-84), which is the farmhouse from the 1700s now on Livingston, was originally someplace close to the SW corner of Southards Pond. It was moved to the NE corner of Livingston to make room for a new Queen Anne Victorian clubhouse (used from 1884 to 1904) that burned down in 1918 while it was being leased as a health club by Max MacLevy. Some time after that, the original farmhouse was moved across the street atop a foundation of another burned out house at the NW corner of Livingston. Sensation’s 1887 grave was in front of the new Victorian clubhouse, so wherever the farmhouse was first is also where the new clubhouse and Sensation gravesite was.

* In 1880, WKC leased the old farmhouse, barns and surrounding 64 acres from Daniel and Sarah Downs for two years at $300 a year with an option to buy at the end of the lease for $5,500. The survey map and deed show property boundaries but no buildings, which was typical of documents from that era. In a Cinderella pumpkintype transformation, WKC turned the old farmhouse into a temporary clubhouse and the old barns into temporary kennels.

* Daniel Downs (1842-1929) and Sarah Downs (1850-1938) are buried in Babylon Rural Cemetery near Cornelius DuBois Wagstaff (1845-1919), the WKC charter member who leased and purchased the property from them for the WKC. Wagstaff had Talulah Kennels in West Islip. His family owned extensive property on Montauk Highway. The West Islip Library was built on the site of his brother Col. Alfred Wagstaff’s mansion.

* D. Downs bought the farm property from S. Brown whose name appears on an 1858 map of Suffolk County at the SW corner of Southards Pond. Brown is also mentioned as the former owner of WKC property in Babylon Reminiscences by Benjamin Field (1911). On the 1873 Beers map, D. Downs is noted at the same spot which adds credibility to my theory plus evidence shown on 1918, 1928, 1938 aerial photos that the WKC clubhouse and Sensation’s grave stood on the present day clearing, a former sandpit in the woods about 350 feet north of the pond SW corner. David Smith the former owner of the disputed Deer Park Avenue home is shown near Downs on this 1873 map. I haven’t been able to link the Livingston farmhouse to anyone earlier than Brown. Still not sure who built it in the 1700s but it still exists, and so should its Babylon “sister” house on Deer Park Avenue.

For Adoption: The dogs and cats at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon do not trace to Westminster but do have lovable “pet-i-grees.” Tiny “Nike,” a Terrier pup, seven months old, belonged to someone who “had too many dogs.” This buff cat in C-9 was indeed abandoned by someone.

More dogs: “Onyx” brindle boy; Rottie pup; “Pork Chop”-Chihuahua; “Remy” & “Rain” patient Pits.

More cats: “Tango” & “Mr. Man” – two deserving long timers at the shelter.

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