A few weeks (months?) ago, we received an inquiry from someone who was interested in any history we have of Gravel Hill Road. It has taken us an embarrassingly long time to finally put cursor to ether and cobble together this tale.
In our defense, researching this stuff can take time, especially when you go off on tangents and ask other people for their input (far easier and quicker if we just make it up out of whole cloth). One way or the other, here is what we have got on Gravel Hill Road.
For those unfamiliar with our hamlet, Gravel Hill Road starts on Montauk Highway between the railroad “bridge” and Shinnecock Animal Hospital and runs south to Fanning Avenue. “Wait!” you say, “It runs all the way to Argonne Road.” Yes, it does now. In 1925, it was reported that Mr. William Hubbard and “his force” were building the road to Argonne. (For the curious, Mr. Hubbard was in charge of road maintenance.) But there seems to have been a period when it only reached to Fanning.
Today we know Gravel Hill Road as the shortcut to the high school and the extended and unofficial parking lot for high schoolers who have failed to qualify for the main lot. This has also led to it – along with Argonne Road – being a favorite dragstrip for teenagers. We might even commend these roads to police officials trying to make quota.
So, what was the first house on Gravel Hill Road? A more complicated question than you might think. We have it on very good authority that the Bussinah house was built circa 1916 and that Gravel Hill Road was, in effect, just their driveway from Montauk Highway. The house, built by Howard and his father Miley, actually has its front door facing towards Montauk Highway, since that was their road at the time. Extending the “driveway” to Argonne created a road and decreed that the Bussiniah family use the side door as a front door for generations.
While Howard worked at the bank, he also “farmed” the property. There was a barn, a large garden and each spring a horse and plow would show up to prepare the garden. Youngest daughter Vera wasn’t thrilled with the garden and the accompanying weeding that she was required to accomplish. Mrs. Bussiniah sold pies for a time. We’d imagine these extras were to augment the Bank salary and feed the family during the depression.
From a lifetime spent on this road, we have scores of memories to choose from. None include a horse and plow or a garden large enough to need one.
In any case, the same pattern we have seen in other roads appears to have played out here: from driveway to common driveway to private road to public road to through street. However, it seems as if it may have done all these steps in less than a decade.
The closest house to Montauk Highway, the King house, owned by Ranceford and Rita, would seem to be the oldest one. Rance’s parents, Charles and Grace, owned the house on Montauk Hwy where the Shinnecock Animal Hospital now sits. Rance’s house would be directly behind it. According to our archives, In 1924, Ranceford and Rita were occupying the Smith cottage on Montauk Hwy. Two years later Rance had improved his home by adding a “sun parlor” across the front. Same house? We are not sure. One of these days, we shall tackle land records to answer these sorts of questions, but that is in the quite distant future we’re afraid. Of course, then we found this, which messes up all of that.
However, it does seem to confirm that the new highway, Gravel Hill Road, ended at Fanning Avenue for a time.
Odd note: there appears to have been an attempt at a development called Hampton Bays Heights, on Gravel Hill just north of Indian Lane. Whether anything was actually built under that name is not clear. The story goes that the people who purchased the land were told that the area was going to take off in popularity due to Carl Fisher’s developing Montauk. Take didn’t work out they way they expected.
The next house we have intel on is the Douglas King house. It was the home of VIcky and Doug King, Here are Mr. King’s notes regarding his humble abode.
A 1934 newspaper article claims that Burton Coons had rented his ‘cottage’ on Gravel Hill to Mr. & Mrs. William Muller, an employee of Sheffield’s Dairy. As with other snippets, it leaves us with more questions than answers. We are familiar with the Burton Coons home, but not sure that we would refer to it as a cottage. Was there another structure there? Where did the Coons family go? Wherever they were, two years later the “home” was rented by Mr. & Mrs. Leonard Fleming. Why the change from cottage to home? Anyone’s guess. Memories from youth say that the Coons were neighbors who resided in their home full time. Their daughter Birdie, and her children, were next door. Regardless, we know this home was constructed within a decade of the road’s creation.
Other homes that popped up. One owned by Chester and Charlotte Sinclair, neighbors of Doug and Vicky. They broke ground for their new abode in 1951. We are unsure exactly when, but probably within the next few years Chet’s mother and sister both built homes directly to the north of them.
Should you look at an old map you will find Indian Land and Indian Lane. Indian Land refers to a strip of property that appears to have been owned by the Shinnecocks from east of Jackson’s Lumber (Ricky’s Plumbing) all the way to the bay. This accounts for the headstones behind the Canoe Place Chapel and, indeed, the placement of the chapel itself. Indian Lane provided access to some of this land. And if you are wondering what the last vestige of Indian Lane might be, you need look no farther than the driveway of your society’s president. Tours on alternate Tuesdays.
There is a small complication when researching this road – and there are certainly many similar complications wherever you go – in that Gravel Hill can relate to the road, but can also relate to the area. There must have been a gravel quarry at some time, perhaps used for construction projects, roads or the canal, and the name must have stuck. There are other references to the area that mention Strawberry Hill – we will leave that as an exercise for the class.
!952 saw Joe Kennedy (no, not THAT Joe Kennedy) purchasing land on Gravel Hill. This purchase eventually led to other Kennedy family homes on what is today the private road, Kennedy Lane.
1957 was a banner year for Gravel Hill – mercury street lights were installed! And an unnamed Society board member was born.
In a quirk of fancy, the curious gentleman who first posed this innocent question, could not have known that three board members have loved ones who lived on or grew up on Gravel Hill. One lives on Kennedy Lane. Hence, we had the ability to dredge up a bit more info than we may have for other roads in our hamlet. In fact, the grandfather of two board members, “boarded” with the grandfather of another board member. Yes, we still live in a small town. Or perhaps it’s just a small Historical Society.