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 purely by accident. I'd intended to visit Fuchs Pond Preserve, which I glimpsed on Google Maps while visiting Makamah Nature Preserve last July. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the sign for Fuchs despite driving three times up and down Waterside Road. Then I spotted Henry Ingraham.
I pulled into a pebble-covered parking lot that had spaces for five cars just north of a sign for Henry Ingraham, which is on Waterside Road just north of Seaside Court. Then I pulled out my phone and researched the preserve to familiarize myself with its history before exploring. The top result was the Town of Huntington's trail guide, which said the preserve takes hikers through a cemetery dating back to the Revolutionary War. The region's vegetation was once cleared for farming, but over time an oak-tulip tree forest became "progressively established," the guide said. The preserve was also protected in 1998 as a tripartite public-private venture with funding through the Town of Huntington, Suffolk County, and Iroquois Gas Transmission System. Other websites called the preserve a freshwater wetland that's a component of the headwaters of nearby Jerome Ambro Memorial Wetlands Preserve. The land was reportedly formed by retreating glaciers that left behind kames, which are small hills made from glacial sediments, and kettle holes that were created as a result of imbedded blocks of melting ice.
The preserve entrance starts with a narrow trail that leads to the cemetery after two minutes. It was eerie, to say the least. A large rock was engraved with a description of the cemetery, which it called "Crabmeadow Burying Ground." The rock said that more than 150 residents of Crabmeadow who fought to establish American independence were buried on that hilltop between 1738 and 1892. The youngest was three months old and the oldest was 95 years old. "Time, weather and vandalism have destroyed their individual markers," the rock said. "This monument was erected in 2003 to honor their memory." The rock also included the names of 15 families whose members were buried there and states that a full list of those buried at the location can be found at the Huntington Town Historian's office, the Northport Historical Society, and the Huntington Historical Society. I thought that was a great touch.
I walked around for a few minutes to view the dozens of cracked and crumbled headstones, most of which were entirely illegible except for one or two words. One of the stones, which had fallen over, had an extra long passage carved into it that was almost totally worn away. It made me sad to think of the time and effort that loved ones had spent on the headstones centuries ago, thinking they'd last forever. The only legible marker was for Epenetus Smith, a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War who lived from 1745 to 1826, according to the carving. I'd wondered if that stone, being the only one in near perfect condition, was installed by the town more recently or somehow survived the last 190 years. I also wondered if the hilltop's trees, leaves and grass contained genetic material from the deceased people buried there.
After the cemetery, I continued to the preserve's more hilly sections. Since the preserve is relatively small, I didn't pay attention to the trail guide and instead just wandered at my own leisure. There was nobody else in sight. Just how I like it. I started north on a trail skirting the middle of a hill with a drop off into a wetland obscured by overgrowth. Once that trail hit the border with Eatons Neck Road, the trail turned west and south to the very top of the hill. This was the highest point. The preserve's multiple levels reminded me of the classic video game Donkey Kong. I almost expected a giant ape to suddenly appear and start throwing barrels. Luckily, that didn't happen and I was able to climb the hills to my heart's content.
The trails were peppered with benches and wire fence remnants, one of which I tripped over. Some of the higher paths also led to neighboring homes. At one point I passed a man with two large unleashed dogs, likely a neighboring homeowner out for a stroll. Unleashed dogs always makes me uneasy, but he yelled out that they don't bite. I also passed a makeshift teepee made out of fallen tree limbs and twigs, as well as diverse greenery that ranged from American Beech to Canada Mayflower to Pennsylvania Bittercress. The animal life also ran the gamut from red-bellied woodpeckers to ruby-throated hummingbirds to white-tailed deer.
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 in the album's fourth track. As a fan of his music, it's pretty clear to me that Englund has overcome some emotionally challenging moments in his life. When I met him last year at ProgPower USA XVI in Atlanta, I made sure to compliment him for his inspirational lyrics.
Looking back, I'd definitely recommend Henry Ingraham Nature Preserve as a special place that combines both hiking and history. The opportunity to explore a Revolutionary War-era cemetery doesn’t come around every day, and I feel quite privileged to have experienced it. May the assortment of heroic souls buried within that hill rest in peace – now and always.