Local History Matters: The First House in Beacon Hill

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The Tuxill House, 1913

Col. John Sands, who commanded the Port Washington Militia in the Revolutionary War, placed tar barrels on tall poles at the top of what is now known as Beacon Hill Road. When wrapped in straw and set ablaze, they cast a beacon of light that could be seen for miles to warn our neighbors that the British were coming. Thus, it was later named Beacon Hill.

The land passed into the Howell Family who maintained it as an orchard and farm until the turn of the 20th century when the developer Charles E. Tuxill purchased its 160 acres for $300,000. He envisioned an upscale neighborhood that would be more like a park than a development.

His timing and choice of location could not have been better. Port Washington had already established itself as a summer destination for city dwellers. We had yacht clubs, seaside hotels, and, as the Brooklyn Eagle put it, “a variety of hill and valley and waterfront scenery hard to match.” Most importantly, by 1913, the Long Island Rail Road could transport a commuter to Manhattan in 45 minutes.

Tuxhill wasn’t alone. On the other side of town, “Buck” Hyde and Percy Baxter were selling similar lots in a new development, and had the advantage of being well-known Port Washington residents. Tuxill proved himself to be an aggressive and creative competitor.

Our featured photo is a reproduction of a full-page advertisement that ran in Plain Talk, a bi-weekly, 16-page magazine edited by Henry K. Landis. From 1911 to 1914, Plain Talk provided in-depth coverage of business activity, civic life, and social events in Port Washington. A full-page ad was unusual, and Landis responded with positive editorial coverage of the Beacon Hill development. Tuxill understood the importance of good public relations.

He offered to donate a half-acre plot at the foot Beacon Hill Road as a site for a new library building. After due consideration of his offer, the library declined “as the location was not near enough to the center of population.” Although Baxter Estates ultimately won that skirmish for the library, the middle-class market they targeted was big enough for both developers.

The original lots ranged in price from $1,500 to $3,000. To ensure architectural quality, a home had to cost a minimum of $10,000 to construct and plans were subject to approval. Some buyers bought lots and built their own homes, and some lots were purchased by contractors who built houses they put up for sale.

One such speculator was Frank Tuxill, Charles’s little brother, who was also the sales manager for Tuxill Realty. He purchased his first lot in 1913, built a house over the winter, and sold it in the spring. That house is the one featured in the advertisement and is still standing, virtually unchanged, at 32 Summit Road.

The Tuxill House has the basic elements of a Dutch Colonial: a gambrel roof with flaring eaves, chimneys at both ends, short roof overhangs on the gambrel side, and an extended dormer on the roof. Calling it Dutch Colonial is not to say that it is a replica of a house from Holland. American architecture borrowed elements from different styles and combined them in ways that made them our own. Its symmetry is traditional colonial. The square columns are typical of the American craftsman style.

Porches were typically American and especially popular in the early 20th century. This one, because it is enclosed under the extended eave, is a perfect transitional area, half indoors and half out. Porches were a place to gather in the evening and interact with your neighbors. Unfortunately for our sense of community, they went out of style with the advent of heavy traffic, air conditioning, and television.

Charles Tuxill’s vision for an attractive neighborhood was fully realized and has been well preserved by homeowners in Beacon Hill. A walk along the cloverleaf roads extending off lower Beacon Hill Road takes you through a virtual museum of early 20th century residential architecture.

Ross Lumpkin is a trustee at the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, www.cowneck.org.

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