History

This history of the Lewis Oliver Farm was written by the surviving granddaughter of Livingston P. Lewis Sr., Janice Healy Hanlon in 1998, the year of the original farm’s 100th birthday. 

Origin of Farm & Family Roots

The original farm owner was a Vincent Lewis as far as can be determined who had the farmhouse built, some claim as early as 1828 but far more likely 1880’s or 1890’s would be correct.  The original barn with wood pegged floors was built in 1898.

Livingston P. Lewis Sr. purchased the farm at 51 Burt Avenue, Northport in 1920 apparently from the Vincent Lewis mentioned above.  The earliest maps available of the area show that Vincent Lewis owned a large tract of land bordered on the West by a line that later became Burr Avenue.  The South border was Main Street up to 100 feet before Burt Avenue and then ran along a line roughly parallel with Burt Avenue to the corner of what is now Willis Street, where the boundary runs East bordering Monroe Burt’s land, to Waterside Avenue going North along Waterside Avenue to the corner of the now existing Oak Street, running West along Oak Street to the current Burr Avenue.  There were other houses along Burt Avenue, 8 to be exact from the Willis Street crossing South to Main Street.  Livingston P. Lewis purchased this described land consisting of 25 acres, a big farmhouse and barn.

The house still stands on the NW corner of Willis ST. and Burt Ave. basically unchanged.  It was probably built in the late 1800’s.  The 2 ½ story building was a duplex or two family house when purchased by Livingston P. Lewis.  The ground floor consisted of 4 rooms and two porches occupied by the Chris Cole family of four.  The basement level had a dirt floor with an outside slant door entrance and an interior door at the top of a staircase.  Later the Cole family bought a farm on the NW corner of Norwood Ave. and 25A, leaving the 51 Burt Ave. house to be solely occupied by the Lewis family.

The Lewis family moved into the top floors with 3 daughters and Mrs. Lewis pregnant with Livingston P. Lewis Jr.  He was born there that first December.  The two older girls slept in the attic in a thick feather bed covered with quilts to keep warm.  The other children had small rooms on the second floor near their parents.  The family also had a master bedroom, living room and eat in kitchen area.  After the Coles moved the second floor was converted to all good sized bedrooms a sewing room and inside bathroom.  The first floor was opened up to have a large kitchen, dining room, foyer and living room with a stone fireplace.  The living room ran the full length of the house front to back.  As the years passed the house was modernized and very comfortable.

There was an oversized 2 car garage to the rear of the house and the yard was landscaped with beautiful flower beds mostly roses and shrubs.  Between the house and barn was a large fruit orchard followed by a field usually planted to corn.  Two types of corn were planted, sweet corn for human eating and canning and corn for the cows.  Cows corn was cut into a product called “insulage” and stored for winter in two silos at the back of the barn.  One silo was on the north end of the barn, the other the south end.

Standing in the front facing the barn, the center part with the two large doors and one smaller one to the right is the original barn which housed the horse stables and the hay storage area with a large hayloft for more storage.  The small door to the left is the tack room where saddles, harness, reins etc. were kept and behind which was the storage area for feed grains in big bins.  Across the whole back of the barn is the shed like area where the milking cows were kept in their stanchions for feeding and milking purposes.  Weather permitting after the cows were milked they were put out to pasture in the fenced area along Oak St. and Burt Ave.  This was the north west corner of the farm where the pasture came right up to the outer barn buildings.  Burt Ave. was the border for the chicken coop and yard as part of a larger barn houseing machinery, tractors, trucks and such.  Under the same roof is an open alley to the pasture and two fenced off pens One for the bull the other for cows to be “freshened” and bear the calves that keep the milk cycle going.  A bull was only kept until artificial insemination was available.  Once this process was used, the bull was removed with this whole area going to the cows for a maternity ward.

The opposite side of the main barn is an addition houseing the walk in refrigerator for milk storage.  Behind it is the room where milk was cooled and bottled, one more room back is steamy with deep sinks for washing and sterilizing delivery bottles.  Above these rooms is a storage area that will become offices for the new owner when L.P.L. sells the farm business.

The Dairy did not really begin at 51 Burt Ave.  It really began on the Hodgkins farm around 1914.  Mr. Lewis was working this farm for the owner producing milk and field crops.  There was more milk than the immediate family could use.  Friends and some people in Northport Village asked to buy his milk.  So Mr. Lewis agreed and the two oldest daughters delivered milk to the Village on their way to school each day.  The first customers were the girls paternal grandparents who lived on the corner of Scudder Ave. and School Street as well as Louis Jones Pharmacy.  Which had a soda fountain that served great ice cream sodas.  The girls used a pony cart with a 20 or 30 quart milk can sealed with a mushroom shaped cover on it using a scoop or dipper to fill each customers order on sight.  Milk did not come in bottles or paper containers as it does today.  Each household had its own metal covered milk pails roughly in the shape of a bottle that would be put in a box by the outside door for the girls to fill.

When the Lewises moved from the Hodgkins farm, which was where the Northport Veterans Hospital is now they must have brought a cow or two with them.  Because we know that at least one cow was kept to produce milk for L.P.L. Jr.  They did continue to supply the customers that they already had, but the main focus of the farm at this time was on field crops.  Cauliflower, Cabbage and potatoes were grown and harvested to sell as their cash crop giving them an income to live on.  The Cauliflower and Cabbage were sold to the East Northport Pickle Works to be pickled or made into Sauerkraut.  The milk business grew to where there were two delivery routes and all customers received their milk fresh everyday.  By now they also had commercial customers like stores and schools.  The cash crops were discontinued and the farm focused on the milk business and grew corn, vegetables and anything else they could to feed the livestock and family.  This was the right way to go since everything began to prosper.

Life was hard in the early days but as new technologies came along making work a little easier the business thrived even more.  I remember when milking machines were first introduced to the cows.  They didn’t like it very much.  Cows preferred human milkers but most of them got used to the machines.  Eventually with persuasion the hold out cows complied too.  They all had to be hand stripped after the machine came off anyway.  It did speed up the process but children missed watching hand milking, especially when the milker squirted a stream of milk into a waiting cats mouth.  Then to see the cat wash the excess off its face.

This farm was and is the only Dairy Farm within the incorporated village of Northport.  It was always a focal point for not only the neighborhood but the community as well.  Many of the communities young men worked part time on the farm before going on to other careers.  I remember one in particular Ralph (Skiddy) Skidmore Jr. who worked there until WWII when he went into the Airforce.  Unfortunately he was one of those who died in WWII.

There was one full time employee who was at the Dairy as number two man under L.P. Lewis Sr., old Mr. Martin.  I don’t know when he joined the team but he was there for a lifetime of work.  As the Dairy prospered and grew more land was added.  The whole family was involved in the business in one capacity or another.

It was around the late 1930’s when the law went into effect on total pasteurization of all milk.  Only a few farms had the new equipment for pasteurizing. Those without had to haul their milk in 20 or 30 quart cans to the nearest processor to be done and then picked up when completed ready for bottling.  Brushes Dairy on Park Avenue, Huntington was our closest plant in the beginning.  Later Silbersteins Dairy on Elwood Road now the Oak Tree Dairy was closer so we used them.  A lot of customers were not happy with the pasteurized milk but before long Homogenized milk came into the business.  Everyone was happier then.

When the Dairy was at its peak there were 63 cows on the milking line.  The herd was a mixed one consisting of Holsteins, Guernseys and Jerseys with the largest number being the Guernsey breed.  All the milk and milk products that were sold from the Lewis Dairy were not entirely produced on that farm.  Some milk and cream was bought from other local Dairies.  A Babylon Dairy produced excellent heavy cream from their herd so 10 or 20 quart cans of their cream was bought for our use.  I believe that Dairy is gone now.  The Marshall Field estate had a herd of specially registered Jersey cows that produced the highest grade of milk possible at that time.  Their facility was kept so clean and sparkling it is said one could eat off the floor even in the barn.  Lewis Dairy bought 30 or 40 quart cans of Marshall Field milk from Brushes Dairy who was the exclusive handler of this very special milk.  By adding these other milks to its own milk production the quality was greatly improved.  Milk was graded by the percentage of butterfat it contained with some breeds naturally producing higher butter fat content than others.  So Dairy men standardized their milk by combining different percentages of milk from different cows.  The end result was great in the case of the Lewis Dairy because business continued to grow.

The whole herd of cows had to be inspected and certified with a clean bill of health periodically.  Dr. Arthur Frederichs had that Veterinarian job as well as care of all the farm animals for as long as I can remember.  The herd was especially checked for signs of Tubercle Bacillus infestation.  The Lewis herd had no problem being certified with Doc Fredericks on the job.  He was the best.

All crops were planted, nurtured and harvested to create as self sufficient an operation as possible.  Everything that could be reused or recycled into something else usable was done.  The animal manure was spread on the fields for fertilizer and other plant and animal by products were recycled into the next step in the cycle of life.  As little as possible was cast off as useless waste.

My first driving lesson came because Dad and a couple of workmen needed someone to drive the manure truck while they spread the manure from the flat bed on the back.  I was far too young to even think of driving vehicles.  But Dad knew I could do it so he lined the truck up to go straight down the row, put it in gear and showed me how to work the clutch and gas peddle saying, “Now just go slow and steer straight ahead.”  I did it right and nobody fell off.

The orchard bore abundant fruit like several varieties of apples, including Macintoshs and Greenings, also pears, cooking red cherries, eating black Bing cherries, peaches and plums.  Nearby was a strawberry patch and currant bushes and the vegetable gardens.  Everything that was not used at its harvest season was preserved for winter with the excess sold to neighbors and the community.

It was exciting and interesting to ride “shotgun” on the summer routes with both of the doors off the truck cab for air conditioning natures way.  It was also a quicker and easier way to slip out of the front, pickup the milk order from the truck bed, running to deliver it to the door step box.  There also were seasonal accounts to summer residents at Crab Meadow Beach, Asharoken Beach and Fort Salonga.  Some of the customers were famous personalities from the worlds of business, finance, politics and entertainment as well as others.

Northport Snow. Northport Historical Society

The weather had a lot of control over the farm work.  One particularly stressful time was the blizzard of 1934.  We lived across the street from the farm then and my father was working the night shift in the old Northport Fire House.  He was one of two Housemen working 12 hour shifts at the time.  At the end of his shift it was impossible to drive a vehicle on Main Street.  There were no fancy snow plows like the ones today.  Trucks were driven with some kind of board arrangement attached to flatten and pack the snow around town.  Salt was not used yet either only sand was spread on the worst spots but this blizzard was so bad that nothing they had could keep up with it.  The snow drifts were so high no vehicle could plow through and there were no 4 wheel drives yet.  So with the roads being unnavigable, Dad put on firemens hip boots and walked home from Main Street Town Hall area to 51 Burt Avenue.  I stood in front of the French doors watching for Dad to climb over the huge snow drifts to the kitchen entrance.  Being only 6 years old some details are cloudy but I do remember Dad changing into dry clothes while warming up and eating some breakfast before going to the barn to help Grandpa.  He tried to get the delivery truck started but it was so cold that nothing he tried could make it kick over and run.  He was the best mechanic in town if he couldn’t get it to run no one could.  So the only way milk would be delivered that morning was by animal power.  The team of work horses was hitched to a sleigh with milk being delivered a bit late that day.

Two popular winter activities were ice skating and sleigh riding.  There was a nice pond in the hollow where Burr Ave. and Main Street meet.  Which is where the young folks of the community gathered to skate and enjoy each others company.  A great spot for fun.  New houses on Burr Ave. ended that activity in that area.  There were other places around the Village where skating continued to be a great sport.

Individual sleigh riding was fun even when one used a geography book to slide down School Street hill.  But more fun was when L.P. Lewis Sr. hitched a horse to his wagon sized sleigh and we all huddled under woolen horse blankets in the back, rode all around town singing and laughing all the way.

Another season of the year brought great excitement to young and old alike.  The BIG TENT CIRCUS would come to Mr. L.P. Lewis and he let them set up in the field behind the farmhouse which now had an entrance on Burr Avenue.  This occurred when I was 5 or 6 years old.  Arriving early in the morning to set up for an evening performance, Mother said I could watch the activity from the safety of Grandmas back yard and if I obeyed her I could stay up late to see the show inside the big tent that night.  You better believe I behaved that day.  I was so excited seeing the tents raised and sideshows set up and all those strange animals I had only seen in my books.  Elephants, trained horses wild looking animals in cages etc. were all brought to Grandpas barn to be fed and watered.  Any child would be thrilled to see all this and clowns too, “up close and personal” as they say now days.  Grandpa even held me up so I could touch some of the animals.  Needless to say the whole Village came to the show that night.

There were two periods of time that caused serious adversity for the Dairy.  The first was the stock market crash of 1929 with the subsequent worst depression we had ever known.  The depression wasn’t really felt in Northport until the early 1930’s.  There were so many people without jobs and losing their homes because of the old way banks handled their mortgage business.  Establishing amortized mortgages was the right solution but it did not go into effect soon enough to save most of the middle income families homes.

The Dairy was able to continue producing and delivering milk but a lot of families were not billed until economics were much improved.  They still received the milk they needed especially for the children though.

The Lewises were deeply affected by the crash too.  The polo ponies that they raised lost their high monetary value overnight reducing the same horse flesh to hack values.  At the same time Mr. Lewis was working in the Real Estate business partially by developing some of his land along what is now Burr Ave.  When the crash hit he already had at least four houses built and suddenly no market for them.  Trying to save as much as they could they decided to rent the farmhouse and move to another farm in Fort Salonga making it a good producing farm again.  L.P. Lewis farmed the property on the NE corner of Bread and Cheese Hollow Road and 25A.  He also farmed the land up the road on the east side of Bread and Cheese Hollow Rd. for the Longbothum family.  With Mr. Martins help they were able to keep both farms out of the red.  When the economy improved the Lewises moved back to the Burt Ave. farmhouse working as hard as ever.

Both the Burt Ave. and Fort Salonga farms did more than just produce and sell milk.  There were other milk products being produced as well as chickens and eggs.  The food for both humans and livestock was grown on both farms with any excesses being sold.  During this depression time pigs were raised for winter use.  We made our own pork chops, roasts, sausage, sugar cured hams and bacon etc.  There were dogs of different breeds over the years as well as endless numbers of kittens and cats.  They were great at catching mice and other vermin thus preventing them from infesting the grain bins.

Everything was running smoothly until adversity #2 on Sunday, December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor disaster) came turning everyones world upside down.  WWII began with the Dairy being declared an essential industry.  Work conditions changed making farm work more difficult.  We had our own gasoline pump and underground tank which saved a lot of gas for the war effort by not having to waste time and gas getting to a station every time a vehicle or machine needed to fill up.  The major change was made in how delivery of milk was accomplished.  Instead of delivery being made everyday to all customers, routes were divided into two major routes.  Each route customer received a double order every other day.  Only one route had to be delivered each day thus saving on gas, tires and truck wear and tear.  It all made for a more efficiently run operation too.  Once the war was over life on the farm was different not only because of the men that we lost like Skiddy and our accountant Harry Rockwells son but new methods and materials were available to us now.  This made farming more efficient and business grew progressively better for the Lewis family.

The secondary business of the Lewis farm was horses.  The solid strong work horse was essential in the beginning but there were also saddle horses.  The girls in the family were all accomplished riders and the men were too as well as being polo players.  They raised polo ponies for themselves and sold them too.  Good polo ponies were Quarter Horses like you see on western ranches herding cattle, because of the way they are trained to turn sharply in any direction the rider indicates and runs hard in short spurts but can stop suddenly making quick turns as needed.  Some polo players preferred race horse type thoroughbreds for their speed.  That is when the game became a rich mans hobby.

The sport of polo was very popular on Long Island and Northport had a lot to do with that.  There were 6 or 7 practice fields in the Village alone.  One of these was on Mr. Lewises farm.  The one I remember best was on 25A at Russell Bennetts place.  Later Miss Titus and Russ Bennett built a Roller Skating Rink, so no more polo was played there.  While there was still a polo field on that sight games were played Sunday afternoons.  Russ Bennett played in those games along with L.P. Lewis Sr., Ira Lewis, cousin to L.P.L., Dr. Arthur Fredericks and as substitutes Hank Lazarus, L.P.L. Jr. and a few others at times.  The team consisted of four mounted riders with helmet and mallets made with a wooden shaft.  When a player showed up with a metal shaft any man with an ounce of sense refused to play with him.  This sport is dangerous enough without making it lethal.

Polo games like football today had half time shows.  One of the shows was done on a Ford model A or Chevy altered by cutting away the body just behind the front seat and installing a platform with roll bars on the back part of the frame.  A man stood on the platform with a polo mallet, playing polo against one other player while the vehicle rode up and down the field.  A bit hairy and unsafe but the guys had fun.  My Dad Harvey Healy built these kind of rigs and drove them too.

There were other half time shows too, like Running Polo done on the field without horses.  Livy Lewis Jr. played in a lot of these games with young fellows like Ken and Don Richie, Ed and Charles Ahlschlager, Eddy Myers and Bill Schwartz.  Many of the games were on horseback too, such as the Barrel Game and had prizes to be won adding to the competition.

There were a lot of other playing fields on L.I. Bostwick Field and Bethpage are two that seem to have lasted the longest.  In the hay day of polo Hempstead, Rockville Centre and Smithtown had very good facilities with stables to hold horses for the Wed. games especially through winter time.  Smithtown had the best indoor fields and were favored by the Lewis teammates.  There were no fancy horse trailers to transport animals to the games for most of the players.  Livy Lewis Jr. and his friend Ken Richie solved this problem by each one riding a horse and leading a second one from Northport to Smithtown.  Their ingenious solution was to ride from the farm to the L.I. Railroad tracks following the tracks right into Smithtown while the team drove there.  After the game the horses sometimes were left there for the Sunday games.  How much easier these things have become over the years!

Again like football games of today, polo games had their tailgate parties too.  The games were fun and exciting but the best part for me was the tailgate party.  Ella Lewis was a great cook just like her mother and fortunately for all of us this still has been passed on down through the generations.  She made the best potato salad, fresh lemonade by the gallon etc. etc.  Everyone ate and drank more than they should but it was just too good to pass up.  Polo was a very popular sport until the depression hit our area hard.  Just overnight high priced ponies were only worth as much as a hack horse.  The Lewis Dairy became a Riding Stable with L.P.L. Jr. taking riders out on the trails around the farm and through what woods still remained so they wouldn’t have to lose all the horses.  The last two horses they had were Brownie and Pat who were ridden by L.P.L. Jr. and Ken as often as they could get time.  Even the little Shetland pony that I rode was gone.  Some of the men still continued to play polo off and on but when WWII came along most of the men had to give it up too.  After WWII Livy Jr. and Dr. Fredericks were able to play polo once in awhile at various places around the area but they have hung up there mallets too.

The Dairy Farm was the center of this Lewis familys life.  When the four children grew up, went off to college and started their own careers, their father, L.P.L. Sr. gave each one their own piece of farm land.  The two youngest children eventually sold their land but the two oldest girls each built a house on their land.  Mr. Lewis was also selling off some of the land since they were no longer producing crops to feed the cows but the milking was still done on the farm and delivery of milk continued.

The eldest daughter, Bernice had the house across the street from the farmhouse built by Clarence Irvin for herself and her husband Harvey Healy in 1927.  One of the later occupants of our house was the Karp family of East Northports, Karp Lumber and Hardware business (as it was known then) and later yet one of our local school Principals lived there.

The second daughter Camilla and her husband Ted Root, a carpenter built their house on her land on the east side of Burr Ave. between Willis and Monroe Streets.  They sold it around the time of WWII.

Mr. & Mrs. Lewis sold the big farmhouse during WWII and moved to a smaller house just behind the south end of the barn facing onto Burr Ave. After the war they had a two bedroom ranch house built on part of the corn field between the original farm house and the barn.  Some of the rafters for this house came out of the wooden silo that was being taken down behind the barn.  This house was built for Ella Lewis by her brother Willis and nephew Howard Burt.

There was one piece of equipment that always was put up wherever the Lewis family lived a one foot high cast iron bell mounted on top of a sturdy post.  This bell was sounded to call the men in for meals but if you heard it any time other than meal time everyone ran as fast as possible to the house because it meant something serious was happening and all hands were needed to help.  Wherever they lived their home was the center of all kinds of family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, weddings, picnics, barbeques, anything for a good time.  The climax one of a lifetime was Mr. & Mrs. Lewises 50th Wedding Anniversary.  There were two celebrations, a private family one with the whole family participating and the Sunday afternoon “Open House” that the whole Village was invited to join.  That proved to be a glorious time for everyone where even the press had a big writeup with pictures of four generations of Lewises.

Livingston P. Lewis Sr. was getting older now wanting to slow down a little and “Take some time to smell the roses” as the saying goes.  He decided to sell the Dairy and semi retire in 1953.  He sold the business to Kenneth Gloyd, who subsequently bought the Oliver Dairy of East Northport and changed the name to Lewis-Oliver Dairy.  Mr. Lewis and Mr. Martin continued to produce milk from their own herd on sight selling the milk to Ken Gloyd for distribution for a few more years.  When the men decided not to do this anymore the working Dairy closed down with the cows being sold and Mr. Gloyd bought his milk elsewhere but distributed it from the Burt Avenue “Lewis Oliver Dairy Farm’.

The farm continues today under capable hands of the Bill Davenport Family with a different theme.  It is still a place for the whole community but now there is a Deli with Dairy products for sale and a meet the animals type of farm for old and young to come and enjoy while learning how another part of nature works.

Mr. Lewis retired from actively working the farm but not from gardening and doing all the things he knew best and enjoyed most.  His hobby was housed in a coup behind the south side of the barn.  Rare breeds of chickens, pheasants and other exotic creatures lived in this coup giving Mr. Lewis and many of his friends many hours of enjoyment.  Mr. and Mrs. Lewis continued to live in their ranch home until Mrs. Lewis died there in 1957.  Mr. Lewis continued to live there after his wifes death until his own death in 1969.  All the years they lived and worked there and in the community they were good to the land and it was good to them leaving all of us with a Historic Landmark that we all need to treasure and preserve.

 SOURCES OF RESEARCH MATERIAL

  • Huntington Historians Archives
  • Huntington Historical Society Archives
  • Huntington Public Library Genealogy Department
  • Family Records
  • Northport Village Archives
  • Descendants Interviews
  • Livingston P. Lewis Jr.
  • Janice N. Hanlon (nee Healy)
  • Vintage pics source: Google images and Northport Historical Society

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