Henry Ingraham Nature Preserve
Location: Northport, NY
Size: 27 acres
Date of hike: June 26, 2016
If the thought of hiking through a cemetery gives you the willies, then Henry Ingraham Nature Preserve might not be for you. But we'll get to that in a bit. I'll start by saying I stumbled upon this preserve by accident. I intended to visit Alexander G. McKay Preserve at Cranberry Hill County Park, aka Fuchs Pond Preserve, but I couldn't find the entrance since there was no sign at the time. Then I spotted a sign for Henry Ingraham. It felt like it was meant to be.
Before exploring, I did some online research to learn about Henry Ingraham Nature Preserve. The top result was a trail guide on the Town of Huntington's website, which said the preserve includes a cemetery with graves dating before the Revolutionary War. "In the past, the site's vegetation was cleared for farming," the trail guide said. "However, over time an oak-tulip tree forest progressively established on what was once more open land." The region's terrain was created by retreating glaciers that left behind kames, which are small hills containing glacial sediment, and kettle holes that formed from blocks of melting ice, according to a 2003 story in The New York Times. It's also part of the headwaters for the Jerome A. Ambro Memorial Wetlands Preserve. In 1998, the land was acquired from the Ingraham family by Huntington, Suffolk County and the Iroquois Gas Transmission System, according to a sign by the trail. The site's wildlife includes red-bellied woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and star-nosed moles, while greenery includes American beech, Canada mayflower and Pennsylvania bittercress.
The preserve's entrance is located on Waterside Avenue, just south of Eatons Neck Road. The parking lot is a pebble-covered nook with room for a few cars. The parcel starts with a narrow trail that leads to the old cemetery after two minutes. It was eerie, to say the least. A large rock was engraved with a description calling it the "Crabmeadow Burying Ground." The stone said more than 150 residents of Crabmeadow who fought to establish American independence were buried on that very hilltop between 1738 and 1892. The youngest was three months old, while the oldest was 95 years old. "Time, weather and vandalism have destroyed their individual markers," the engraving explained. The rock also contained the names of 15 families whose members were buried there and states that a full list of those buried on the property can be found at the Huntington Town Historian's Office, Huntington Historical Society and Northport Historical Society. I thought that was a very nice touch.
I couldn't help but admire the incredible collection of cracked and crumbled headstones, most of which were entirely illegible except for one or two words. One of the older stones, which was toppled over, had a long passage carved on it that was almost totally worn away. It saddened me to think of the great time and effort spent creating them many centuries ago, with the hope that they'd last forever. The only readable marker belonged to Epenetus Smith, a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War who lived from 1745-1826. I wondered if his headstone, being the only one in near perfect condition, had been installed more recently by the town or somehow survived the elements over the past 190 years. I also wondered if the hill's trees, leaves and grass were mystically filled with the souls of those who had been buried there.
After the cemetery, I continued to the preserve's more hilly sections. Since the property is relatively tiny, I just wandered at my own leisure. I began by going north on a trail that split the middle of a hill, with a drop-off onto a wetland obscured by overgrowth. Once that path reached Eatons Neck Road, it went west and south up the hill. This was the highest point. In a weird way, the parcel's multiple levels reminded me of the classic game Donkey Kong. In fact, I almost thought a big gorilla might appear and suddenly start hurling barrels at me. Between levels, there was also a charming makeshift teepee made out of fallen tree limbs.
My music of choice was Evergrey's 2014 album, Hymns for the Broken. It's among my top albums in recent years, and its soul-searching lyrics were the perfect accompaniment for a hike in the empty preserve. "Becoming numb must wake a change," vocalist Tom Englund sings on the record's fourth track. It's pretty clear to me that Englund has overcome some emotional times in his life. When I met him last year, I thanked him for his powerful songs.
Looking back, I definitely recommend Henry Ingraham Nature Preserve. The opportunity to explore a Revolutionary War-era cemetery is rare, and I feel honored to have experienced it. May the assortment of heroic souls buried within its hilltop rest in peace – now and always.
(Updated: April 19, 2019)
Video: Henry Ingraham Nature Preserve (360-degree view)