West Babylon History
The location of the Great South Bay and it’s accessibility to the Atlantic Ocean has involved the lives of those who lived here from the beginning to the present. This and the area surrounding were purchased from the Sumpwam Indians in 1670. It was originally known as Huntington South. The farmers came down from Huntington to the South Bay area to harvest “salt” hay for bedding and feed for their livestock. It was a journey so the farmers would stay a period of time before returning home. Travelers would stop in Babylon on their three-day trip to the end of Long Island from New York City, creating the need for supplies on their coast journeys. Flounder, blue fish and shellfish were abundant in the bay, providing income and sustenance for the settlers. Fresh streams from the north provided power for mills that produced grain, lumber and paper. By 1800, Babylon had became a hub of activity for farmers, fishermen and merchants.
When a coherent community grew up in the area by 1803, prominent local citizens sought to adopt a new name. One of the earliest settler here was Nathaniel Conklin, and his family. His influential wife, Mrs. Conklin, was used to living inland in what is now considered Dix Hills and was at unease with the home site that her grandchildren would be raised in. The bible-reading Mrs. Conklin compared the new hamlet to the biblical city of Babylon and proposed that name in apparent defiance of the area's rather bawdy reputation as a stop-over place for travelers on Long Island's south shore. Her son Nathaniel Conklin was appalled by the use of an "unholy" name. The family legend states she replied: "But it will be a new Babylon." The name stuck, despite some effort to change it.
Babylon and "West" of Babylon enjoyed the attentions of affluent vacationers who arrived during the height of Babylon’s resort era, and built summer houses bordering Beaver Lake. But, it was middle class families seeking vacation getaways in the 1920s and 1930s that left an indelible mark on the landscape. Many of those summer bungalows eventually became year round homes, establishing the beginnings of neighborhoods that found their peak during the post-World War II population boom. Today, West Babylon is the largest hamlet within the Town of Babylon.
Dutch farmers found the soil of the West Babylon ideal for growing tulips, dahlias, and other flowering bulbs, thus establishing a thriving flower industry. Vast bulb farms, including Van Bourgondien Bros. and Bulk’s Nurseries, adorned the landscape. The windmill image used throughout West Babylon, today, refers not only to the area’s Dutch heritage, but to a towering windmill that stood at Bulk’s Nurseries during the mid-1900s.
Hence, a tulip-growing center which the area started as a floriculture zone. John Van Bourgondien bought 36 acres of land in West Bablyon, NY and established a greenhouse business in his name in 1939. The Van Bourgondien Family operated a Tulip and Bulb farm on a 38 acre section of land in West Babylon from the 1920s to the 1960s. In the early 1970’s the family business was forced to move out of West Babylon and relocate; Peconic. The original site of the greenhouse is now part of the County park system and is named Van Bourgondien Park. It is located on Albin Ave in West Babylon, and the French Tutor homestead still stands. For many years, West Babylon held a tulip festival in the Spring to celebrate the many flowers which were cultivated here. The local community preserves the history and traditions of the place and many old places and artifacts have been preserved with loving care.
The Village of Babylon was once just a crossroads with a tavern and a general store. As people from the North and West began to settle here, the community grew. After the Civil War, when the railroad came to Babylon, it brought with it a host of summer travelers looking for fresh air, sun, and water, along with a bit of recreation and entertainment. At first, the travelers used the mainline, taking the train as far as Deer Park and then riding in a Stage Coach to Babylon. Those who didn't find their fun on the mainland could ferry across to their barrier beaches.
As railroads and other means of transportation came to Babylon, a central hub of businesses and tourism developed. Hotels blossomed: The Argyle, the American, the National and the Watson House on the Mainland, and the Surf Hotel on Fire Island were among the many hotels. Some of the most beautiful hotels on the South Shore were in Babylon, the largest of them being the famous Argyle Hotel was one of many built in the late 19th century to accommodate wealthy summer visitors from New York City. It was constructed in 1882 by August Belmont. The grounds, which included a large millpond, Bournemouth Lake became renamed Argyle Lake, for one of the hotel’s largest investors and town aristocrat, the heir to the Dukedom of Argyle. The renaming gave the Hotel & Park a more genteel English flavor yet the hotel proved a bad venture: it was near the end of the era of such projects, it was built much too large with 350 rooms, and so was rarely more than one-third filled. After about a decade of disuse, it was finally demolished in 1904, some of the structure being used to build homes west of the lake in the area now known as Argyle Park. In 1921, the land that is now Argyle Park was donated for passive recreation to the Village of Babylon, by J. Stanley Foster,Esq. Although the hotels are gone today, the village retains much of its charm from the past.
A statue of Robert Moses established in 2003. Robert was the “master builder” of the mid-20th century of the Tri-State area. He was the most distinguished figures in the history of urban planning in the US. He changed shorelines, built bridges, tunnels and roadways, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation.
Robert Moses himself participated in the cornerstone laying ceremony of Santapogue Elementary School, in the fall of 1951. The school opened in September 1952, relieving the overcrowded situation at Main School. Today, West Babylon now has five elementary schools, a Junior High School, and a Senior High School. School colors are navy blue and yellow gold and their school mascot is the eagle.