A BIG OLD SURPRISE IN
GREENLAWN, LONG ISLAND
August 13, 2004
One thing I've learned with all the trips I've taken for this project over the last few years is, that I never get to do all the things or see all the people I hope to... Knowing that, I don't really plan too much in advance anymore and always bring along more on my plate as plans B & C etc, just in case something or someone doesn't pan out.
With this trip (most likely the last, as it's time to write the books) the only thing definite I had booked was showing up for my 40th High School Reunion. Now that was a "Whole Lotta Fun" but really didn't have much to do with all this Knapp stuff. Other than that, I just brought a list of things I hoped to cover and phone numbers of people I hoped to talk with.
It was on Friday the 13th, which is not usually equated with good fortune, that this adventure fell in my lap. I had an appointment in the afternoon to visit the Cradle Of Aviation museum in Hempstead. I wanted to look at their files on The Bonney Gull and thought I would incorporate it with a trip to the Brookville Cemetery to visit the grave of Lawrence Sperry. Sperry (1892-1923) was the genius pioneer aviator / inventor who was known to hang out at Knapp's WWI Seaplane base in Mastic in 1917 doing stunts and probably teaching them a trick or two. I brought along "Gyro" his biography written by William Davenport with me. I thought I would place the book on his headstone, snap a photo and send it to his nephew Sperry Lea in Washington, DC . Mr. Lea had spoken with me at length via phone just a few weeks prior about Gyro's days in Bellport etc.
Friday morning I took a gander at a map, located the Upper Brookville cemetery (on 25A ), and allowed for a liesurly drive along the North Shore of Long Island. I was actually on the road still on the south shore when I decided to cut through Greenlawn for grins. I knew that in 1912 - 1916 the Knapps lived there. It was Claire & her mother Sylvia's home prior to Claire coming to Mastic in October that year and Sylvia moving to France. I actually have had for some time now, photos and architects drawings from 1914 of the Knapp home in Greenlawn. Much of it has been posted on the websight.
I crossed the Island on Sagtikos Pkwy and planned to turn south to Greenlawn when I hit Centerport. Although the weather was threatening, the drive was great and I recalled my days as a route driver in 1965-66 for Patchogue Floral. On any given weekday back then, I would wind up my day heading east tooling along the North Shore, delivering flowers to florists from Huntington to Kings Park. Greenlawn Florist was a regular stop. A few years ago I discovered a 1928 Hammond Atlas that still showed the Greenlawn property as Knapp's, so I had a pretty good idea of where it once was ( barring road changes ) but did not expect to find anything especially since most of their other homes have long ago bit the dust or met the match.
The Old Field Road is windy and lined with many, many trees. As I headed south, driving slowly, watching the mirror, looking to my right and staying on the road was not easy. I could catch glimpses of some fine homes, but the trees really blocked me from seeing them. As I came down a curving hill something though caught my eye in the woods on the left side of the road. It was the remains of some sort of tower...........it was intriguing and I only got a glimpse of it and kept driving until Old Field Road intersected with the main road into the town of Greenlawn. My right brain or was it my left ? said it was probably time to move on. I didn't though and turned around to go back and get another look at that tower in the woods. I decided to take some photos of it and pulled off the road as far as I could.
The more I looked at this crumbling wooden tower, the more I felt like Jonathan Winters did in the movie It's Mad Mad Mad Mad World when he discovered THE BIG W, the landmark a comedic cast of thousands was looking for throughout the film....Only thing missing was the eerie soundtrack when the light came on in Jonathan's Brain.....
A couple out walking came up the hill and saw me snapping away. I asked them if by any chance the tower was part of the Brush or Knapp Estate? They didn't know the Knapp name, but thought it was indeed once known as the Brush Property. That was all I needed to know ...(Brush name is all over early Greenlawn BUT it is also on the Knapp's Deed) Then it got even better ...they said although the tower was falling down, the main house and buildings were just up the hill and still in pretty good shape. I asked if they were empty....."No there are people living there".......We talked for a bit and they walked partly up the hill with me, as they turned off the road , I saw the house behind the trees and it all came together..........
Note: The 1929 MAP is WRONG...Knapps Is On The Other Side Of The Road