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2014-10-08 / Columnists

Ketcham Wanser’s property & growth of Amityville

by Sandi Brewster-Walker

The second piece of property that the Eagle reporter would have passed as he walked to Brother Burton’s home to discuss the Bethel AME Church and the people of color community would have been that of Ketcham Wanser. Reported by the Eagle, this Albany Avenue property would change hands on May 16, 1899 after the death of Wanser.

“Riverhead, L.I. May 16 – Among recently recorded real estate transactions are the following:

Solomon Ketcham, Jr., as executor of the will of Ketcham Wanser, late of Amityville to Charles A. Luce, a tract of land on Albany Avenue, Amityville, Consideration $5,256.”

According to an 1897 Hyde & Co. map, Dr. Luce still owned the property. The railroad had connected the original European settlers to the “city people.” The Wanser property changed ownership just about 10 years after the Village of Amityville, south of the railroad tracks, was beginning to grow, and the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper wrote the following:

GROWTH OF AMITYVILLE

Blossoming into a picturesque summer resort

Two new and attractive Villages near the bay – the demand for cottages far in excess of the supply – notable railroad improvements. [Correspondence of the Eagle] Amityville, L.I., March 28, 1889.

Of the many pleasant Villages along the shore, of the Great South Bay there is not one for which nature has done more than for Amityville. The neck of land on which the Village is built is higher than any of the adjoining ones – the marsh lands on the bay front extending a much shorter distance back from the shore than is the case at either Babylon or South Oyster Bay. Unfortunately, however, the Village was for a long time permitted to lie dormant, or nearly so, and consequently its natural advantages were comparatively unknown to the outside world until a few years ago. However, past neglect is being rapidly atoned for. At present Amityville is enjoying a boom and the prospects are that it will continue for an indefinite period. There is nothing visionary or unsubstantial about it; on the contrary it is based on the most solid of foundations – common sense and business methods. Those who are engaged in the development of the place are practical men, ‘who know that the future of the Village is full of promise, and they will spare no effort to inform the outside world of its advantages as a place of residence not only during the summer months, but at all seasons of the year.’

The recent boom began about 18 months ago, when the Amityville Land Improvement Company, composed of local capitalists, purchased 165 acres of land lying on the east side of the Amityville Creek and extending from the main south road to the bay. This property was at once divided into building plots and broad avenues opened through it running to the bay. The creek was widened and deepened, so that now a loaded schooner could come up to the south road. On the bay front was erected a large and handsome pavilion, with ample docks and bathing houses. Shade trees were set out on either side of the avenues and when those and other improvements were completed, the old residents scarcely knew the property, which was formerly used for farming purposes and through which ran one narrow cart track to the bay. But members of the Land Improvement Company were far from satisfied with the progress made. They readily saw that in order to encourage city people to purchase the property they must show their appreciation of its value by building on it, and during the past winter two large and handsome cottages have been erected. The wisdom of the gentlemen was soon made manifest, for scarcely had the first cottage been enclosed before Daniel Bross, a wealthy New York gentleman, came here and pleased with the place and its prospects, purchased a lot of the Improvement Company on which he is now having erected a fine residence. Several other transfers of property, owned by the Improvement Company, will probably soon take place, and it is safe to predict that in less than a year a dozen modern dwellings will occupy the premises, which five years ago were devoted solely to the growing of hay, corn, oats and rye.

The offices of the Improvement Company are President Stephen R. Williams, of Amityville; Vice President George W. Cooper of Riverhead and Secretary and Treasurer J. E. Ireland, of Amityville. Not less than $50,000 will be expended by the company before the improvements under way and in contemplation are completed…” MORE

The Eagle article continued with how the Village of Amityville was growing. The “city people” migrating to Amityville, new hotels and the Brunswick Home were creating additional employment for Indians and people of color chauffeurs, domestics, laundress and hospital service workers, moving many away from their being farmers and fishermen.

K. Wanser’s neighbor on Albany Avenue was J. Hunter. The Hunter family is a Native American family linked to the growth, culture and heritage of the Albany Avenue community.

The writer is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute and served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Writers can reach her in c/o the Amityville Record at acjnews@rcn.com.

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