2017-03-15 / Columnists
Town historian traces Babylon's roots through postcards and photos
Legend has it that Nathaniel Conklin and his mother Phoebe moved to the area in 1803, making their home across from the American House Hotel, which was at the northwest corner of Main Street and Deer Park Avenue. At the time the American House was a rowdy saloon and stagecoach stop.
Phoebe wasn’t happy, complaining to her son that he had taken her to another “Babylon,” a reference to the debaucherous Biblical city.
His response: “No mom. This is New Babylon.”
And so, the area became known as New Babylon until about 1830 when the “New” fell away. Years later when the Town was established, it also adopted the name Babylon.
Mary Cascone, the Babylon Town historian, can’t resist telling that story and explaining to those who call her office or stop in to ask how the Village got its name.
It also partially inspired her to write in her latest book with the Babylon Village Historical and Preservation Society: “Babylon is no longer about a notorious city, but rather a community that honors its past while keeping pace with the future, one that always strives to make a good impression.”
“Babylon Village” was published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press. “Babylon Village” joins many books in the “Postcard Series,” showcasing images and captions from the Village’s history dating back to the early 19th century.
The goal of the book, Cascone said, is to enlighten both average people and Babylon history junkies alike about how the Village’s past is still with them.
“People think that they’ve heard about a place or that they might know about it, but you always want something new,” she said.
Mary Cascone will be at the Babylon Village Historical Preservation Society on March 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The book explores the people behind the street names. It explains that the two 90-degree turns along Fire Island Avenue were designed to go around what was once Judge Reid’s property. It even answers why so many things in Babylon, such as the local grill and the new theatre, have “Argyle” in their names.
“I think that once people understand these things history becomes kind of cool because it’s a reminder of the way things were 150 years ago,” Cascone said.
“It’s fantastic," said Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino as he held the book in front of him. "It just really shows how Babylon Village was years and years ago, and it really is a great work of art."
He noted that he believes it is important for everyone— young and old—to know the history of the community in which they live. “I belive they should know how our community developed and where it was yesterday as compared to where it is today,” he said. “We should always hold on to the historical aspects of the Village.”
Cascone and the Historical Society had to overcome hurdles to produce the book. Local history research can be tricky, she said. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell stories in the specific format the publisher required, but one of the greatest challenges she faced was “narrowing down what to talk about.
“This is not a complete history of Babylon Village. That would take volumes,” she said.
Two keys to making the book succeed were digital access to the South Side Daily Signal, published from 1869 to 1920, and the Brooklyn Daily, and the efforts of the Babylon Village Historical and Preservation Society.
“Instead of relying on someone’s recollections, it’s important to go to the times to see what they were writing,” Cascone said of the papers.
As for the Historical Society, Cascone noted that most items in the book came from them. “This is their collection,” Cascone said. “I wrote the captions, I did the research, but what is really important here is that for 50 years, this society has been gathering and taking care of these images that were the key to telling this story.”
Cascone previously wrote about Copiague for the Postcard Series in 2010. She said, smiling, that she learned to have the photos ready and digitized before pitching the book to them. With Copiague, she had 60 photos ready months in advance. In the case of Babylon, she had more than 200 ready. Cascone wrote 90 percent of the captions for the 215 shots that ultimately ended up in the book.
“It’s an opportunity to have it published on a national scale,” she said.
Cascone said the research gave her greater insight into villages like Deer Park and North and West Babylon. By 2018, she said, she hopes to have at least one more book published by Arcadia Publishing. Her long-term goal is to finish books about all three—if not more—in time for the 150th anniversary of the Town of Babylon’s founding in 2021.
“A goal of my office is to continue writing books so that by the time we reach that anniversary, we’ve tried to cover each of those communities,” Cascone said.
“Babylon Village,” published by Arcadia Publishing and the History Press, is available for purchase for $21.99. It can be purchased at Amazon.com, The Babylon Village Historical and Preservation Society’s office or at the Babylon Town Hall Museum. Book royalties go to benefit the Historical and Preservation Society. Cascone added that buying from the latter two will result in more money reaching them.