History of Glen Cove

By Antonia Petrash, Carol Stern, and Carol McCrossen

 The history of Glen Cove, like that of most other settlements on the North Shore of Long Island is closely associated with the history of its waterfront.  Surrounded by water of three sides, Glen Cove presently has over ten miles of waterfront including: three public beaches, two nature preserves, a public golf course and a public park.  It was the waterfront that first attracted the Native Americans, the City’s founding fathers and ultimately the wealthy families who would later create the Gold Coast of Glen Cove.

I –  A Settlement is Founded

On May 24, 1668 Joseph Carpenter of Warwick Rhode Island purchased about 2,000 acres of land to the northwest of the Town of Oyster Bay from the Matinecock Indians.  Later in that year he admitted four co-partners into the project –  three brothers,  Nathaniel,  Daniel, and Robert Coles, and Nicholas Simkins, all residents of Oyster Bay.  The five young men named the settlement “Musketa Cove,”   which in the Matinecock language means “this place of rushes.” These settlers have been known forever after as the five original proprietors of Musketa Cove Plantation.

Carpenter and his friends saw great potential in their new community.  They constructed a saw mill and a gristmill across what is now known as Glen Cove Creek.  The harbor was ideal for shipping lumber to New York City and the creek was dammed to provide power for the mills.  Their goal was furnish New York City with lumber for the construction of housing. The site for the saw mill had many congenial conditions – a fine stream, opportunity for a short dam, and easy access to navigable water at high tide.

The proprietors and their families built their homes near the campfires of the Indians along a street atop a hill overlooking the saw mill. They were blessed with the brave spirit of the pioneer.  They were not afraid to work long hours to mold the raw materials of nature into the finished products needed to build a civilization.  While each had land for his own homestead, much of the land was maintained as common space for the grazing of cattle.  The first settled street in Glen Cove, called “The Place” still survives today.

The lumber produced by the saw mill found a ready market in New York City. By 1679, two years after Carpenter’s purchase from the Indians was officially ratified by the colonial New York government, the mill was producing nine different thickness of boards and timber, as well as tile laths, shingle laths, wainscot, “feather-edged” boards for paneling, and custom-cut walnut for cabinet-making.

By this time the tiny group of settlers had grown considerably. A contributing factor to the sudden influx of settlers was King Philips’s War, which drove many out of New England for fear of their lives.  In less than a decade after its settlement, the community of Musketa Cove had among its population carpenters, weavers, wool spinners, saddlers, tailors, millers, shipbuilders, and many tradesmen. They had their own town government, constable, overseers, Justice of the Peace and Recorder.

Some of the mill’s accounts were recorded in the Musketa Cove Proprietor’s Book, a hand- written record of the early settlers’ land transactions and agreements. Musketa Cove Proprietor’s Book is an outstanding primary record; its pages contain a copy of the Andros Patent of 1677; references to minor land disputes with the Matinecock Indians, and family records of the Coles, Thornycraft and Carpenter families.

Some of the earliest entries are dated  November 30, 1668; listed are  certain Articles of Agreement signed by the five proprietors. The Proprietors agreed that “no trees shall be cut for pipe staves except as agreed upon by vote of the majority;  no one shall put out hogs or cattle for summering except as agreed on by majority vote; only by vote of the majority shall any highway be built, lots laid out or fences erected.”

The saw mill built by the proprietors provided a major influx of capital from outside Glen Cove. A gristmill was built in 1677.  The exports of the lumber industry were not the sole source of income, however.  Colonial Governor Lord Bellomont  wrote in 1699 to the Board of Trade in London describing Musketa Cove as one of the top four ports for smuggling on all of Long Island.  Goods smuggled to avoid the high import taxes demanded by Mother England included brandy, rum and wine.

II – A Country Goes to War

Most Musketa Cove residents were at first uninterested in taking an active part in the Revolution.  Prior to the incredible rout of the Patriot Army during the Battle of Long Island in August of 1776, more than 70 per cent of the local inhabitants attempted to remain neutral; of the remainder, only 12 per cent took the Patriot side, the other 18 per cent remaining loyal to English rule. But after the defeat of Washington’s army at the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the fires of patriotism were lit.  The local militia was reorganized as the “Musketa Cove Company of the Loyal Queens County Militia.” Its officers wore red uniforms, with blue facings and silver buttons.

Long Island was one of the few places in North America that the British held uncontested throughout the Revolution, and as a result, dozens of British Provincial Corps (armed loyalists) and Hessian regiments were stationed on Long Island, housed in homes abandoned by Patriots who had fled the area.  The population of Musketa Cove in the decade after the Revolution grew to nearly 250.

III – The Growth of Industry

The second major “industry,” in Glen Cove, following the mills of the 17th and 18th century, was the mining of clay. About 1810, a local physician named Thomas Garvie, a native of Scotland, discovered that the large deposits of clay on his property (now called “Garvie’s Point”) were of sufficient quality for use in manufacturing pottery. Within a short time clay was being dug, and marketed in New York City, with some finding its way to the potteries of Huntington and Greenport.  The discovery of clay furthered the use of the waterfront for both commercial shipping and commuter transportation.

In 1827, Dr. Thomas Garvie opened negotiations with Cornelius Vanderbilt to begin operating a steamboat between Glen Cove and New York City on a regular basis.  In 1829 a daily steamboat run was made between Glen Cove and New York City.  But many New York residents were reluctant to visit the town because they didn’t realize that there was a difference between “mus-kee-tah” (this place of rushes) and “mosquito” (a rather pesky insect). A public meeting was held in 1834 to discuss the matter. Several possible names were suggested as alternatives. Local legend has always claimed that someone had suggested “Glen Coe,” after a rather pretty spot in Scotland, which was misheard as “Glen Cove.” The residents agreed to change the name to Glen Cove.

By the late 1850’s steamboat operation between New York and Glen Cove was in full swing.  Glen Cove became a resort community. By the time of the Civil War there were half a dozen major hotels in Glen Cove, most centered near the steamboat landing (which was at the foot of Landing Road, within present day Morgan’s Park). The largest of these was the Pavilion Hotel, which was used as a convalescent home during the Civil War for wounded soldiers. In addition to the hotels themselves, a number of “oyster saloons,” taverns, and boarding houses opened in the Landing. The community catered to wealthy New York City residents who were beginning to build summer estate homes.

The Industrial Revolution did not reach Glen Cove until the 1850’s around the same time the Duryea Corn Starch Manufacturing Company relocated their main plant from Oswego to Glen Cove. The Duryea Starch Works sprawled over more than an acre and employed nearly 600 people.  Employees lived in company-owned apartments, bought their food and clothes from the company store, and read the Glen Cove Gazette, which was printed at least part of its life on a press owned by the starch company. The Starch Works was not well loved by those Glen Cove residents who had no financial interest in it. The volumes of waste produced by converting corn into corn starch was flushed into Glen Cove Creek, where it settled to form a layer of putrefying, obnoxious-smelling organic detritus. The smell, pervasive in both the Glen Cove Landing and Sea Cliff, depending upon the wind, was irritating to resident and visitor alike.

IV – A Community Moves into the Twentieth Century

By the beginning of the 20th Century the Glen Cove began to see an influx of wealthy industrialists, bankers and business people who built lavish estates, many along the waterfront.  Some of the families had already established businesses in the City, including the Ladew family who built the Ladew Leather works, and the Duryeas of the Duryea Starch Works, but other wealthy residents came as well.  JP Morgan, son of the industrialist,  purchased an entire island, East Island where he established a palatial home.  Charles Pratt of Standard Oil built a home in Glen Cove, as well as homes for seven of his eight children. Department store magnate Woolworth built Winfield Hall on Crescent Beach Road.  These wealthy residents drew upon the rich pool of skilled and unskilled labor that was abundant in Glen Cove, and often built housing for their workers.  Many of these estates are still standing and are in use today as schools, houses of worship and executive retreats.

For 250 years Glen Cove was part of the Town of Oyster Bay. But as the population grew to over 10,000 residents it became evident that the existing machinery of government was no longer adequate.  On June 8, 1917 the Governor signed into law a bill proclaiming Glen Cove to be a City.

Since the time of the first settlers the Glen Cove community has progressed beyond anything its five original proprietors could have possibly imagined.  Through wars, industrial revolutions, and changes in government it remains a thriving, growing City moving steadily into the Twenty-first Century.