Fire reshaped the face of downtown Huntington frequently in the village’s formative years, visitors taking part in a historic walking tour and pub crawl learned as they wandered through the village on a beautiful summer evening.
It’s inevitable when large wooden structures were the order of the day, noted , who led a group of about 35 walkers on a three-hour tour with stops for chatting, drinking and snacks at three local pubs.
Hughes stood in the walkway between the and the current Bank of America building (originally built as the Bank of Huntington in 1888, a sign the sleepy village was growing, he said) as he passed around old photos showing that block with the Brush General Store intact at the corner of Main Street and New York Avenue.
“When it caught on fire, it went quickly. The family was lucky to get out in their night clothes,” Hughes said. After the fire, the family rebuilt it as a three-story brick building in 1889, but that building, too, has been altered in successive rebuildings.
Across Main Street from the church is the building that housed an early fire department, where the lower building of is now. It was built in 1911 to replace the 1892 wooden Opera House, which burned in 1910.
“We didn’t know about the fire house, I have to go look at that,” said Ruth Erickson, who took the tour with her daughters Lisa and Karin. “So many beautiful buildings were torn down over the years, you see how it’s all changed.”
Next to the fire house was a grocery store, Stop & Shop, which moved there in 1938 for more space from New York Avenue, where it had opened in the 1920s. The owner painted the words Stop & Shop on the sidewalk, but the letters eventually wore off except for “hop,” to the delight of children, Hughes said.
Around the corner on New York Avenue, Hughes noted the street shifted to more commercial enterprises in the 1920s after the trolley line was electrified in 1909. Look up as you walk by 342-344 New York Ave., he pointed out, and you’ll see the Masonic insignia on the 1904 Masonic lodge building, which is still home on the top floor to Jephtha Lodge 494.
The next block, where Meehan’s now stands, had several early buildings, including the Huntington Office Building and the Huntington Mortgage Building.
Early residents loved their theaters. The Huntington Theater once stood across from Meehan’s, in the spot where the IMAC operated until 2009 and the 1,600-seat Paramount Theater is expected to open within a year. Hughes related that a constable was shot during a robbery attempt there in 1932. The Palace Theater was located where now stands at 349 New York Ave., and the Bijou Theater once stood where Samurai Hibachi Restaurant now is located.
Take the tour for more village history and for stories about Dr. Finley’s Publick House, and (drinks aren’t included in $10 tour price). You’ll also get some insight into the people who are depicted in the mural painted on the outside wall of Finnegan’s (they include images of residents as well as Jimmy Cagney and Harry Chapin).
Finnegan’s is the oldest continuously operating bar in the village and will celebrate its 100th birthday next year. The original mural artist, Philip Jordan of Cold Spring Harbor, is expected to repair some recent graffiti damage in time for next year’s anniversary celebrations.
Other walking tours/pub crawls are scheduled for Aug. 19 and Sept. 15. Space is limited. Reservations are required; please call the Huntington Historical Society at 631-427-7045, ext. 401.