THE DANAS
&

"MOSS LOTS"

 

 Ever since May of 2002, when John Atkinson got in touch with me, I have been wanting to do a story on the Dana family, who were influential in the events that would develop in Mastic from the 19th until the mid 20th century. John had told me about a set of snapshots, he took as young boy on his first visit east to Moss Lots, his mother's childhood summer home . John's mother was Dr. Ethel Dana Atkinson, one of the three daughters of William S. Dana (1892-1939) But before I go over the cliff into the genealogical abyss with this family ....( there were several adoptions that can really get confusing to the uninitiated )...... let me explain a bit of background as it relates to my interest in the bigger picture.

 

My older sister Gerry was my first introduction to the Danas and "the biggest house you ever saw" around 1952. I believe she was on a field trip to Moss Lots either with her grammar school or the girl scouts, when Ella Dana gave her a piece of wooden doll house furniture from the "great big doll house" that sat in the living room. For days the Dana mansion was all Gerry could talk about, and the little wooden crib was the entertainment center of her attention. I remember it being on a shelf in her room for years and years and it was strictly "look but do not touch" ( But of course I touched it, that's why there are little kid brothers right ? ) The Dana doll house was probably built in the 1930's by William Shepherd Dana for his three daughters ; Ethel, Leora and Doris. It probably took several days or weeks to construct and several board feet of lumber. Moss Lots was built by his grandfather William Buck Dana for his wife Kitty Floyd Dana in the early 1880's. It took over a year and 3 Railroad Boxcars of lumber that sat on a siding at the then new Mastic, (FORGE) Long Island Rail Road Station. All the lumber, bricks etc was taken by wagon about a mile to the banks of the Forge River where the home was constructed.

The Dana estate was located about 5 miles from our house. Unlike my sister, I never got to set foot in it before it suffered the same fate that befell Knapp's Mansion. And like the Knapp mansion, which she also visited when people still lived inside, it was Gerry's stories about the interiors of these fantastic houses that may have led to all my mansion madness, that has seemed to re emerge into my life lately. I reconnected with Moss Lots for the first time in the summer of 1970, when I came sailing up Forge River in my little boat about to show my new bride the biggest finest house in all of Mastic. Instead I saw the stark chimneys and piles of burnt remains. As we walked around the foundation, it was Knapp deja vue again for me with the exception of my bearing witness to the actual flames bringing down the walls. I never recall there even being an article in the paper about it. I have since looked in the microfilm of The Moriches Bay Tide and have found nothing yet. It would seem hard to believe that a landmark like Moss Lots would pass into oblivion, when its counterpart The Masury Estate just across the river made the front page when it burned down a few years earlier in 1963. By then perhaps Mastic mansions destroyed by fire was getting to be old hat.....Yep another white elephant gets charcoal broiled.....so what's new........

 

VIEW FROM MASTIC RIVER CIRCA 1915

 

Unfortunately though he initially sent me some great photos of his grandfather William Shepherd Dana,and shared some family information, I seem to have lost touch with John Atkinson (his job takes him all over the world) but like everything else in this odyssey, when one door closes another seems to open. In my recent trip (Jan 2003) I had the pleasure of spending a day with Steve Czarniecki, curator at The William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach. Steve was absolutely terrific in assisting me in searching the vast archives of this treasured place. The Floyd estate holds many great personal memories for me. (like getting chased out of it by the caretakers in the '50's) I found many surprises in there too that day including a set of color photos that seem to match the subjects John Atkinson told me he snapped in 1961.

I must also mention the efforts of Dr. Doug Steeples of Macon, Ga. Dr. Steeples discovered the Dana Papers in the attic of Moss Lots in 1965 while working on his book "Dana and The Chronicle" which was only published in 2002 . Back in the '60's he convinced Ella Dana that something should be done with the family archives and had he not, they probably would of burned up with the homestead. I'm happy to say they now rest with papers of the Floyds, and Nichols in a climate controlled secure building with sprinklers etc and they are in very good hands with Mr. Czarniecki and all the Floyd estate staff.

My other strong connection with this family came about in the course of finding out about their neighbors J. F. "Dodi" Knapp and his sister Claire Antoinette. Most of the direct information I discovered about the relationship between the Danas and Knapps, came about from a tip I received from a website reader that led me to the Penney Family. The Penneys were not only caretakers and estate superintendents for the Danas, they also worked for the Knapps, building the Knapp golf course etc. One of them, a chauffeur, Willis Oliver Penney married Claire Knapp in 1925 . .... There is quite a bit about that sprinkled around on the Knapp website and the rest as they say is history......but this is the Dana Page....which is much more than a street name in Mastic, Long Island.

 

 

The Dana Estate on Forge River, Mastic, NY in 1961

That's Cornelia Floyd Nichols with Dr. John Atkinson looking at the north face of Moss Lots 1880-1970. I believe that this snapshot and the other color snapshots of Moss Lots,that appear on these pages were taken by Dr. Atkinson's son John who was about 12 years of age at the time.

photo by: John Atkinson Jr. / William Floyd Estate FIIS

 

THE BUCK STARTS HERE

 

 

 

William Buck Dana

1829 - 1910

courtesy John Atkinson personal collection

 

Sorry for the lousy pun, but the fact remains that the buck truly did start here for Moss Lots and possibly for the initial preservation of the Floyd Estate as we know it. One of the major accomplishments the husband of Kitty Floyd (William's great grandaughter) did for the Floyd family, was to sort out their differences as to what was going to become of the then still huge homestead / plantation. Kitty's father, John G. Floyd, who was initially against her marrying this young lawyer from Utica, was not too healthy in his last years. All his affairs both personal and property were in a mess and it seemed the estate could possibly fall into hands outside the family. Buck carved out a settlement that the 5 children; Katherine, Sarah, August, John Jr. and Nichol could all agree on. Sarah and Kitty were each given about 200 acres initially. John Jr got the 600+ acre piece that is what remains today of the William Floyd Estate and is now in control of our National Park Service. August got a large piece just north of that and also the Woodhull estate that became the original section one of Mastic Beach. Nichol's land was just north of Gus'. Kitty was also given a separate deed in 1880 for 20 prime acres that fronted on both the south shore of the Poospatuck Creek and 1500 feet on the western bank of Forge River aka Mastic River. Buck arranged for a surveyor to map out the land with the purpose of preparing it for a house. This map is huge and covers a large table top. In early 1883 construction began on Moss Lots. Both he and Kitty believed in the ideology of a "BIG HOUSE" That is rather than just being an ostentatious demonstration of ones wealth, a large house could provide employment for those less fortunate. The Danas employed 24 Mastic area people to keep Moss Lots running smoothly.

 

To See Who Got What Click Here

 

Buck's money came about not as a lawyer but rather from a fledging financial magazine "Hunts Merchants Magazine" that he purchased during the Civil War and turned into one of the leading financial publications in America.

 

"The Commercial and Financial Chronicle"

 

Kitty Floyd, who was an author of childrens stories under the pen name of Olive A. Wadsworth ( which secretly meant "only a woman ") loved Mastic and often wrote about it . She grew up in Utica NY, which is where she met Buck. (Remember William moved upstate after the revolutionary war) The extended Floyd family had a long tradition of spending summers at the Mastic estate. It was out to Mastic where Buck had to ironicilly and reluctantly go to "Meet The Parents" He too came to really love the area. Sadly Kitty only lived for about three years after Moss Lots was finished. They had no children of their own but the Danas adopted three Jack, Ethel and Dick. They also spent their summers in Mastic. In spite of the unique opportunities presented to them, all three children had a great deal of personal problems and upheaval in their later lives. Ethel aka "Daisy" married a Frederick Shepherd but Frederick had a severe alcohol problem. The Shepherds came to live at Moss Lots in the 1890's with their young son Bill. who was born in 1892 . William Dana Shepherd was later adopted by Buck as his son and his name was changed to William Shepherd Dana in 1908 with Buck's hopes that he would take over the Chronicle. He didn't. Buck died in October 1910 at the age of 81 leaving Moss Lots to Daisy and his now 18 year old son Bill.

 

THE DANAS

Kitty & Buck circa 1881

Photos: William Floyd Estate /FIIS

 

Moss Lots South Face

photo: Moriches Historical Society

CLICK HERE FOR ANOTHER VIEW
THE SOUTHWEST FACE OF MOSS LOTS CIRCA 1910

a fantastic real photo

 

 

A Dana note card circa 1925 / Wm Floyd Estate/ fiis

NEXT
STEP INSIDE MOSS LOTS