North Babylon Community Profile
The lush countryside of North Babylon became known for an abundance of large estates owned by wealthy New Yorkers, including Long Island Rail Road President Austin Corbin, August Belmont, Col. M. Robert Guggenheim, Hall of Fame baseball player John Montgomery Ward, and Royal Phelps. Seeking refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life these titans of industry built lavish estates that bordered well-stocked fishing ponds and enjoyed the bounty of game available in their leisurely pursuits. Living legacies remain as to the beauty of such tranquil settings these estates boast can be found at Phelps Lane Park and Belmont Lake State Park.
August Belmont had a 1,100-acre estate which included a 24-room mansion, and a horse-breeding farm where he also trained his famous racehorses. During World War I, a portion of his horse track was used as the site for U.S. Army Air Corps, as Camp Damm. Col. Guggenheim was known to have bred some of the finest dogs at his Firenze Farm and kennels, on Deer Park Avenue.
Like the titans of industry before them, many middle class families chose North Babylon to build modest summer cottages and escape the city heat, beginning in the years before World War II.
Beginning in the late 1800s, wealthy New York City residents began purchasing large tracts of land in the North Babylon area for use as summer residences, including Austin Corbin, President of the Long Island Rail Road and developer of Coney Island. Situated between the bustling Deer Park and Babylon railroad stations, the area was well-regarded for hunting, fishing and other recreational pursuits.
Merchant Royal Phelps purchased a North Babylon estate in 1863, which included a celebrated trout pond known as “The Reel.” The old Phelps property passed through several owners, including famed baseball player John Montgomery Ward, before becoming Phelps Lane Park in 1960. The mansion in Phelps Lane Park dates to 1942 when it was built as the country residence of Dr. David and Else Schnur.
David Schnur fishing in his pond, circa 1945, which is now part of Phelps Lane Park. Else and David Schnur named the pond Elda Lake, using the first two letter of their first names.
A Jewish family, the Schnurs left Nazi Germany before World War II to escape persecution, eventually settling in New York City.
Photo courtesy of the Schnur Family.
Royal Phelps is attributed with introducing August Belmont to the rural community. Beginning in 1867, Belmont purchased 1,300 acres upon which he established a horse breeding farm and a spacious 24-room mansion. The row of pine trees leading to Belmont’s estate remain in the Southern State Parkway median.
The country residence built for August Belmont Sr., pictured around 1925, just before the house was demolished. Reportedly, a portion of the house was moved to Straight Path and Little East Neck Road, for use as a church (presently, Wyandanch Missionary Baptist Church).
During World War I, the Belmont estate horse–racing track became Camp Damm, an Army Air Corps training facility, 1918-1919. After the War, the Army camp was disbanded. A portion of the vast Belmont estate later became Belmont Lake State Park, and much of the remaining property was sold for houses. The old Belmont estate was bisected by the Southern State Parkway.