What to See and Do in Cold Spring Harbor

Cold Spring Harbor  - Cold Spring Harbor's diverse sights serve as natural and manmade imprints.

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What to See and Do when visiting Cold Spring Harbor in New York

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Founded as far back as 1890 when the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established a field station on Cold Spring Harbor's western shore so that students could study nature instead of books, the laboratory offered its first course in biology and has since shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, and plant and quantitative biology. It spawned eight Nobel Prize winners.

"(Its) education programs introduce students to the newest ideas, discoveries, and technologies in biology and the life sciences, and allow them to work alongside some of the most innovative scientists in the world in an open, collaborative environment," according to its website. "We offer programs for children, teachers, college, high school, and graduate students, as well as established scientists." For the tourist or day-tripper, 90-minute campus tours are scheduled.

Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium

Founded in 1883 by the State of New York and now a nationally recognized historic landmark, the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium took up initial residence in two leased woolen factory buildings at the harbor's head.

"The fish hatchery was an immediate success," according to Hughes (op. cit. p. 32). "Its first superintendent, Frederic Mather, introduced brown trout from Germany. Soon, thousands of pounds of fish were being grown and released into local rivers and lakes."

In 1982, it reinvented itself as a nonprofit environmental education center, aquarium, and working trout hatchery dedicated to increasing the awareness and understanding of the state's freshwater ecosystems. It contains its most extensive collection of aquatic reptiles, fish, and amphibians.

Several exhibits enable the visitor to gain a greater understanding.

The Fairchild Exhibit Building, for instance, serves as the facility's entrance, gift shop, and aquarium. The latter guise displays blue-spotted sunfish, bowfin, black bullhead, crayfish, and spotted, bay, snapping, spiny softshell, wood, and northern in its larger turtle tanks diamondback types. Its "New York Amphibia" exhibit, featuring frogs and salamanders, is the largest living collection of native amphibians in the northeast.

Outside are trout, warm water, and turtle ponds covered with nets to protect them from hungry heron and osprey attacks.

"The hatchery and aquarium's turtles and warm water fish are kept in water that originates in St. John's Pond, located south of the hatchery and east of St. John's Church," according to the facility. "This water flow is raw lake water; no processing or filtration is used. The water temperature ranges from 34 degrees in the winter to over 80 degrees in the summer. The warm water fish thrive in water which reaches such temperatures."

Two round, self-cleaning ponds hold brook and rainbow trout between 1.5 and 2.5 years in age.

Visitors may feed or catch fish in the Tidal Raceway, whose water empties into Long Island Sound. Bait is available for purchase, and there is a per-pound fee for any catch.

The Hatch House and rearing pools, located across from the main facility, serve as the incubation and hatching areas of brook trout eggs taken in early November and produce life the following month. After four months, they are moved to the rearing pools themselves, considered intermediate facilities between the Hatch House's troughs and the larger, outdoor Trout Ponds.

The Walter L. Rose II Aquarium Building, the fish hatchery's second such indoor display, houses more than 30 different species of freshwater fish native to New York State, such as smallmouth bass, yellow perch, channel catfish, brown bullhead, chain pickerel, green sunfish, and lake trout. Newly hatched turtles from the outdoor Turtle Pond are also displayed here.

Behind the building is one of the five artesian wells that supply the hatchery with fresh water.

Bungtown School

A wooden marker behind the fish hatchery faces the upper parking lot of St. John's Parish, the location of the so-called "Bungtown School," or the first West Side Schoolhouse at the head of Cold Spring Harbor. Built in 1790 and initially measuring 24 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 14.5 feet high, it gained additional notoriety when President George Washington traveled from Widow Platt's Tavern in Huntington to Oyster Bay on April 23 of that year, passed through Cold Spring Harbor, and observed its construction.

According to the now-legendary story, he stopped, lent a hand raising one of the rafters, and even left a silver dollar for the workers.

The single-room structure was functional but hardly opulent: long, wooden benches on either side faced equally wooden plank desks fastened to the wall beneath the windows. A large fireplace provided warmth. Grades varied according to age, which ranged from five to 21 years.

While the curriculum consisted of reading, writing, grammar, spelling, arithmetic, and geography and employed both slates and copybooks, it included religion. The day, in fact, began with either a prayer or a Bible verse reading after students, who themselves chopped the wood, warmed themselves at the fire.

Increased enrollment soon necessitated increased size-in this case, to 51 feet in length. Aside from education, the school became the breeding ground for those who ultimately entered the whaling industry. The stoppers used to seal the wooden whale oil barrels, or "bungs," earned its "Bungtown School" name.

Nevertheless, serving its purpose for more than a century, it was closed in 1884, its last class taking place on December 21 of that year.

St. John's Episcopal Church

The Bungtown School briefly served a secondary purpose-namely, as a location for Cold Spring Harbor's Episcopalian services until the definitive St. John's Episcopal Church was constructed there in 1835 after area founders had each pledged $2,000 for the project.

Fabricated by the post-and-beam method, hand-hewn timbers fitted with mortise joints and pegs featured plastered indoor walls, cedar shingle-sheathed outer ones, and Tiffany stained glass windows. It was consecrated two years later, in April.

In 1950, it was relocated further north and 40 feet east of the landfill. Twelve years later, an addition enlarged it.

St. John's Pond and Nature Sanctuary

A seemingly oval gem of blue tranquility surrounded by dense greenery and dotted with ducks gliding across its glass surface, St. John's Pond and Nature Sanctuary, to the side of the church, not only reflects the sky but almost appears to mirror the souls above it.

It is created by the lower dam and surrounded by steep, farming-prohibitive terrain; it features Long Island's oldest woodlands. It is the perfect setting for solitude and communing with nature.

Cold Spring Harbor Library and Environmental Center

Propped above the town with commanding views of the harbor, the imposing, 26,500-square-foot Cold Spring Harbor Library and Environmental Center occupies five acres of Cold Spring Harbor State Park and reflects the ever-increasing size of community patrons, now representing some 8,500 residents.

At the turn of the century, the Post Office served this purpose. It traced its origins to 1886, when it stored its book collection in a tenement house. In 1913, it moved into a brick structure, and 73 years later, it took up residence in the East Side School. The current rendition opened in 2006.

A carpeted Reading Room, almost resembling a study in a palatial mansion, is located on the left side after entry. Its atmosphere is further completed by easy leather chairs, a marble fireplace, and Stokely Webster's painting, "Punta Della Dogana," hung above the mantel. A rocking chair-adorned outside terrace offers views of the harbor and its moored boats.

The oil-on-linen "Reflections II: Lloyd Harbor View" painting by Pauline Gore Emmet in the Quiet Room expands the facility's gallery feel. But of historical significance here is the wooden plaque that lists the 43 names of those from the two Cold Spring Harbor school districts who fought in the Civil War between 1861 and 1866.

The three-floor library's other facilities include a Children's Room, a Storytime Room, a Hands-On Learning Center for Crafts, a Tween area, an Environmental Center, a Local History Room, an Archives Room, and the newly-opened, teen-targeted Underground.

Cold Spring Harbor State Park

Both part of and next door to the library is Cold Spring Harbor State Park, which, according to its own description, "comprises 40 acres of hilly terrain that offer scenic vistas of Cold Spring Harbor. It features a mixed hardwood forest with notable large oak specimens that measure three feet in diameter, as well as thickets of wild mountain laurel."

It is topographically steep; it requires a rigorous climb of dirt and wooden steps to reach and continues up a slope. Passing giant tulip trees and mighty oaks that loom over gnarled groves of mountain shrubs before descending to the pond on the other side, offering views of horned owls and red-tailed hawks. Various songbird migrations can be seen during the spring and the fall.

As the northern trailhead of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, it extends to Bethpage State Park and, eventually, to Long Island's South Shore.

Along the Waterfront

The Huntington ramp is located across Main Street (Route 25A) from Cold Spring Harbor State Park. But a walk to it may be met with an olfactory waft of fish-scented air before the water surface, and the slowly moving boats rounding the sandspit are actually viewed.

Like floating buoys, they mark the threshold to this North Shore Long Island hamlet. A small parcel of grass serves as the ideal place for a picnic here. Fishing poles protrude from those hoping for the day's catch and the evening's dinner.

A walk further into town reveals another harbor-eyes-view. Still, its tranquility is a sharp contrast to the commemorative cross-of-sorts encountered-a World Trade Center artifact dedicated to the memory of local victims lost during September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and erected by the Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department. "All gave some, but some gave all," it philosophically proclaims.

Closer to the sidewalk is another but more ancient reminder-an historical marker advising that "Israel Ketchum of Cold Spring Harbor, while jailed for counterfeiting, revealed a plot to assassinate Washington in June of 1776." Ill-intentions apparently always existed, regardless of how far back they occurred.

Another historical marker, on the corner at the beginning of the town's cluster of shops and restaurants, reminds of its once-prevalent mills.

"Paper Mill, built by Richard Conklin circa 1782, produced fine linen paper--site at (the) end of Mill Dam and Bridge, northerly 250 feet," it advises.

While the mill itself no longer exists, much of the town's architectural heritage has been preserved.

"Cold Spring (its original name) was, over 200 years ago, much as it is today," according to the Fall 2019 edition of the CSHFHM Newsletter. "The same harbor, the same hills, the same valley through which Bedlam Street and Black Street ran and which today are known as Main and Spring Streets. It was a community where commerce was strong."

Aside from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium at the entrance to the town, there are several other essential attractions here.

Cold Spring Harbor Fire House Museum

Like the public library, the town's firehouse had several locations before it occupied the present one. The museum building that preserves and interprets its history survived more than a century before it could do so.

In the Harness Store, but known as the Teal Building, its first location was chosen on April 11, 1896, by the Cold Spring Harbor taxpayers, and its Hook and Ladder Company #1 served a one-mile fire district. Moving to a new, larger firehouse constructed in 1906, it became a co-resident with the Phenix Engine Company, which had protected the community since 1852.

In 2007, local citizens saved the original Teal Building from demolition. It was acquired, relocated, restored, and preserved and, as the front portion of the current museum, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We invite you to step into the past," its brochure states. "Visit our nationally registered firehouse. See and feel the texture of the wainscoted walls and ceilings. Delight in the tiny sounds of the museum's century-old nickelodeon. Let your imagination take you back to a time when neighbors stood side-by-side in this small whaling port and fought the ravages of fire."

The museum's equipment includes a Phenix hand tub, a Ford Model TT chemical truck, and a 1939 American La France Engine. Other artifacts and displays encompass a Pompier ladder, signal lights, bells, copper and brass extinguishers, fire grenades, leather buckets, and fire gear.

The cupola that adorned the firehouse as far back as 1930 is located outside, behind the museum. Discovered in pieces after the District's Board of Commissionaires voted to have it replaced with an aluminum one, it was painstakingly restored to its present condition.

Methodist Episcopal Church and Preservation Long Island

Across Main Street and not far from the Cold Spring Harbor Fire House Museum is the Methodist Episcopal Church, another of the town's buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Constructed in 1842 by Israel Valentine, a local craftsman, during the whaling era on a site acquired from Judge Richard M. Conklin. Who himself was one of the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company's partners; it was subjected to various architectural modifications throughout the years, particularly its front façade and steeple configuration.

At the time, the town's Main Street, reflecting its pre-motorized days, was a path only wide enough for a horse-drawn carriage to occupy, and it passed right outside the church's front door.

After serving the congregation for 149 years, Preservation Long Island's building was closed and acquired in 1996 as an upper-level exhibition gallery and a lower administration office.

Founded in 1948 as the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, but amending its name in 2017, it states its mission is "to work with Long Islanders to protect, preserve, and celebrate our region's cultural heritage through advocacy, education, and the stewardship of historic sites and collections."

With more than 8,000 objects, it possesses one of the most significant regional assemblages of material culture in New York State. Its exhibition gallery has showcased four centuries of fine and decorative arts, architecture, and historical documents. Some of its past exhibits have centered around landmarks, maps, photography, and antiques.

The Whaling Museum and Education Center

Of Cold Spring Harbor's many attractions, the Whaling Museum and Education Center ranks as one of its more significant ones.

It totes itself as "the only museum open year-round which explores the whaling history of Long Island."

'Long Island boasts a particularly vibrant whaling heritage," according to its website. "Historically, whaling was one of Long Island's most important commercial industries, significantly shaping the economic development and social foundation of the region, as well as contributing to American's emergence as a global power in the 19th century. One of the three whaling ports on Long Island (along with Sag Harbor and Greenport), Cold Spring Harbor... offers a microcosmic view of the quintessential 19th-century American whaling town."

The cornerstone of the museum is New York State's only fully-equipped, 19th-century whaleboat. Constructed of white oak and featuring canvas sails and American hemp ropes, the 1,000-pound vessel is 28 feet long and six feet wide. Typically crewed by a half-dozen, it was provisioned with18 to 22 oars. It was last used by the Daisy, a New Bedford whaling brig, during one of the final American whaling voyages from the Caribbean to South George Island in the Atlantic between 1912 and 1913. During the era, the more than 143 whaling ships that made someone thousand voyages from Cold Spring Harbor, Sag Harbor, and Greenport were equipped with between three and five such boats that were only lowered to the water after a whale sighting.

"... (The full-sized) ship had three masts, carried four or five small boats, and had the largest crew," according to the "Golden Age of Whaling" article in the Amityville Record (July 13, 2021). "There were six men per small boat, and ship keepers (steward, cook, cooper, blacksmith, or carpenter) stayed aboard the vessel when the small boats were chasing whales. The ship was built to travel the longest distance and could stay at sea for three to four years."

The crew occupied their time during long stretches by etching images into whalebones.

The last Long Island-based whaling ship sailed in 1871 but never returned.

Other museum exhibits include a ship model of the Charles W. Morgan, the skull of an orca whale, a diorama depicting Cold Spring Harbor during the 1850s, maritime art, and one of the northeast's most significant scrimshaw collections. The era is brought to life with re-creations, such as "James General Store," "Chores on Deck," and "Life Below Deck." Other displays include "Waterproofing a Whaleship," "Whale Oil Barrels," and "Cooking with Whale Oil in a Trypot." Video monitor films enhance the experience, with documentaries like "The 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan."

The museum's 6,000 object and archival holdings preserve Cold Spring Harbor's maritime history, and its 2,800-strong library collection consists of primary and secondary volumes and manuscripts from the town's whaling fleet, ship logs, journals, records of Long Island coastal trade, and documents from the Cold Spring Harbor Custom House.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's DNA Learning Center

The DNA Learning Center, the educational arm of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is the town's last major attraction but is considered the world's first biotechnical museum.

"Since the DNA Learning Center was established in 1988," according to its website, "we've been advancing genetics education for students and families. We deliver biotechnology instruction through laboratory field trips for students in New York and beyond. More than 700,000 middle and high school students have experienced our hands-on approach to science instruction over the last 30 years. We offer in-person field trips and summer camps on Long Island and in New York City."

Shopping at Cold Spring Harbor

While shopping may not carry historical connections, Cold Spring Harbor's structures prove to be preserved pockets of its past.

"... many of our shops and businesses are located in buildings that once served as the homes of ship captains," the Fall 2019 edition of the CSHFHM Newsletter explains. "Our beautiful harbor now welcomes visitors who arrive by yacht and serves recreational boaters, baymen, and fishermen."

Antiques, art, souvenirs, trinkets, and candles are all sold in shops that line Main Street, which almost exudes a New England atmosphere.

A waft of scents and fragrances meets the visitor as he enters the Heritage and Candle Home. Country Club Studio, for instance, bills itself as offering "gifts with a Tiffany touch." And Kellogg's Dolls' Houses displays and sells meticulously assembled, museum-quality dollhouses made from 3/8ths-of-an-inch birch plywood.