Just a stone’s throw away from Manhattan in a length of about 200 km is the island of Long Island, which with its 7.5 million inhabitants is the most populated island in the entire United States of America. With an area of 3,567 km², it is also the largest island of the continental USA.
The island, located east of Manhattan, consists of four counties: Brooklyn and Queens, which are self-governing boroughs of New York, and Nassau and Suffolk. The overpopulated western part of Long Island thus mixes with New York. The island is mostly flat and its North Shore is dotted with picturesque harbors and coves. There are other small sandy islands scattered along its southern coast, which were created by the wind, waves and currents of the Atlantic Ocean.
A significant battle took place on Long Island in the past. On August 26-31, 1776, British and American troops fought here. Finally, General Howe expelled Washington and his troops from the island and it fell to the British. In the past, the island was a paradise for farmers, you came across farms here at almost every turn. They are now seen only on the southeastern tip of Long Island. Fishing, shipbuilding and shipping also developed here, but all that is already in the past. Today, the waters of Long Island are used more for sports, and the whole island thus belongs more to tourists than to merchants.
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In the early 20th century, wealthy prominent businessmen and industrialists began to build their residences on the North Shore of Long Island. Perhaps that is also why this northern region began to be nicknamed the Gold Coast. The 1920s marked a period of prosperity and development for the island as a recreational center for the wealthy. However, after the Second World War, all these plots were turned into residential buildings and shopping centers. Today, you can easily meet famous Hollywood stars on a walk here, and the shops are packed with overpriced goods for the upper ten thousand.
Although today’s Long Island is no longer what it used to be, you can still come across places that give you a sense of the past. One of these places is the horticultural paradise of the rich Old Westbury House and Gardens. This sprawling estate with 42.5 hectares of land was built in 1907 by John Jay Phillips for his English bride. The mansion is still equipped with period and antique furniture. Canvases by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Sargent can be seen on the walls.
From all sides, this magnificent palace is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden. There is also a garden called the Walled Garden enclosed by a brick wall, which has an area of about one hectare. Its flower beds boast colorful flowers from spring to autumn. In this garden you will also find a rose or boxwood garden, an avenue of European lindens, a hemlock hedge or a promenade made of primroses. You could say that a visit to the garden will enchant you in any month. Everyone has something for themselves – for example, in May, about two thousand blooming tulips attract attention, and in June, an arrangement of 300 large carnations.
Another prominent structure on Long Island is the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park. The name Planting Fields is a translation of an originally Native American name that referred to the area of the northern coast of Long Island that was used for agriculture. The Arboretum sits on 165.5 hectares of land once owned by Englishman William Coe. In 1921, his house in the Elizabethan style was also completed here. In the garden, which belongs to the house, there are more than 600 types of plants, including rhododendrons and azaleas. 300 camellias are then placed in a small greenhouse.
You can step back in time during a visit to the former farm in Old Bethpage Village. It looks like it did in the early 19th century, the 50 buildings here are a true copy of the village of that time and show the people of today the simple way of life of that time. Powell Farmhouse stands on its original site, as well as a church, general store, pubs and commoners’ homes. The farm is still being worked on today, but only for the eye – employees here in period costumes show tourists old agricultural techniques and skills.
US President Theodore Roosevelt also lived on Long Island for a while. After graduating from Harvard, he helped design the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, a stately 23-room mansion built in an interesting irregular style. During his presidency, Roosevelt used it as a summer White House. The interior is decorated with hunting trophies and travel memories. The decoration thus perfectly reflects the active life of the Roosevelts. In 1938, Roosevelt’s son built the Old Orchard House villa right next to Sagamore Hill. Today it houses the Roosevelt Family Museum.
American writer, poet and journalist Walt Whitman, who is considered the founder of modern American poetry, also spent the first four years of his life on one of the farms here. Today, you can find the Walt Whitman Birthplace here, which is furnished with period furniture. The life of this great poet is brought closer to visitors by his manuscripts, artifacts, a tape with his voice, as well as more than 130 portraits of Whitman.
Long Island is also an area rich in museums. In 1939, for example, the Museum at Stony Brook was founded here, which together with the famous Carriage Museum form a unique historical complex. More than 300 wagons and carriages can be seen here, and a real rarity is a seven-meter-long omnibus painted with landscapes, people and animals. In turn, the Art Museum houses the works of the painter William Sydney Mount, who focused on scenes from the countryside of Long Island. Even his family home, Hawkins Mount House, dating back to 1725, has been preserved on the museum grounds.
Of course, Long Island also has beautiful sandy beaches, which are located more on the south coast. The most sought-after beaches are Fire Island National Seashore with its iconic lighthouse and Jones Beach State Park. On an area of 976.5 hectares, there is untouched nature, which is home to many plant and animal species. An unforgettable experience can be sailing on a ferry that will take you to the open sea and you will have the opportunity to observe whales.