Local History Matters: Mystic chords of memory

Local History Matters:  Mystic  chords of memory
The Colonial Garden at the Sands-Willets House
Ross Lumpkin

The Fall Fair ended at 4 o’clock, and the cleanup had just begun.

Ponies from the pony ride and farm animals from the petting zoo were coaxed into their respective vans. Vendors packed up and pulled out. Antique cars were fired up and driven off. Trustees and volunteers were picking up and putting away.
By 5:30, I was ready to call it a day and walked out back behind the Sands-Willets House to where Betty Mintz was pulling a little red wagon with some plants in it. Three years ago when this space was an overgrown hodgepodge of brambles and bushes, Betty came along with a vision for a colonial garden.
Since then, proposals had been proposed and designs designed. Bushes were cleared; some were saved. Memorial bricks and stones were laid in place. Funds were raised. Volunteers recruited. Memorial benches were dedicating and installed. Plants planted. The plants need time to grow and there is more for her little red wagon to do, but Betty’s vision for a Colonial Garden is becoming reality.
And I considered it ready for someone such as myself to sit on a bench and appreciate the collective effort that Betty has inspired. I spent a moment with the memorial brick I had bought for our family in honor of our dog, Trevor, who passed away four years ago. The kids wanted an inscription that rhymed and we came up with “IN MEMORY OF TREVOR – BEST DOG EVER”.
Another trustee, Linn Johnson, joined me. Kindly, he let me know that just hanging out in the garden was exactly what they had done all this work for. We checked out other bricks for people we might know in common.

Coincidentally, in keeping with the fact that we lived around the corner from one another, his brick and mine are side by side. After Linn went inside, I lingered a moment longer to take in the familiar surroundings.
There’s a Dutch barn that is the oldest of its kind on Long Island. Originally, it was built on the Sands’ farm two miles to the north at the end of the 17th century. About 270 years later, it was taken apart piece by piece and reconstructed here on what had once been the Sands’ Inland Farm.

I am always amazed when reminded that our thriving suburban community was once farmland more hospitable to cows than cars.
The Sands-Willets House (c.1735) is not as picturesque from the back as it is from the front, but it does make it easier to see how the homestead grew in stages from a small working farmhouse to the manor-like house and museum it is today.
The Sands family was here in colonial times. They were exemplary forebearers who fought for and nurtured this great American experiment. The Willets family were Quakers, coming here in the 19th century and helping to raise our collective conscience in their commitment to the abolition of slavery.
It was Abraham Lincoln who used the phrase “mystic chords of memory” in his first inaugural address. “We are not enemies, but friends,” he said of the north and south. Indeed, memories are precious, be they of personal family experiences that we all hold dear or of the ultimate sacrifices so many have made for our country that inspire us.
More than ever, we need shared memories to unite us in these fractious times, and local history can help us do that.
Ross Lumpkin is a trustee at the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, www.cowneck.org.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here