This morning, Robert and I embarked on a quest to locate the mythical land of Hagerman.
Geographic names are not limited to their assignment on maps. They are living, fluid things, often varying according to region. And sometimes they are vestigial, outliving their original function. They can linger long after they serve their purpose as official place names. Such is the case with Hagerman, a name featured prominently in East Patchogue, but lacking any designation as a Long Island village or hamlet.
Traveling east through Patchogue, Robert and I reached Swan Lake. Here, the road splits, taking drivers into scenic Bellport if they bear to the right. Robert and I chose to head left, bringing us into commercial East Patchogue. After passing rows of strip malls and industrial areas, we came upon a large sign.
We had entered the Hagerman Fire District, yet we were in East Patchogue. How did this happen? Like a less-romantic El Dorado, the lost city of Hagerman exists only in the dusty pages of Long Island’s small history.
The story of Hagerman is one of entrepreneurship and, ultimately, financial ruin. By the late 19th century, the Austin Corbin’s Long Island Railroad was the most efficient method of travel between Manhattan and eastern Long Island. But Corbin’s son-in-law, Frederick Dunton, saw room for improvement. He invested his fortune in a revolutionary new train called the bicycle railroad. Inventor Eben Moody Boynton saw that by laying one track on the ground and another above the train, cars could carry more weight without having to compromise their speed. Dunton formed the New York and Brooklyn Suburban Investment Company, and named George Hagerman as secretary and treasurer.
Recognizing the competition that Dunton’s railway would bring to the Long Island Railroad, Corbin blocked his son-in-law attempts to build on his company’s land. Although the train’s test run in East Patchogue was a success, the project’s budget was $1.6 million. Dunton was unable to compete with the Corbin’s powerful and influential LIRR, and the company soon went bust.
Then what remains of Mr. Dunton’s failed dream of a “monorailroad” across Long Island?
Other than street names and the fire district itself, the only physical evidence remaining are a series of gently rolling hills on South Dunton Avenue. They were the raised beds that served as the right of way for the old Bicycle Railroad.
Luckily, our journey had thoroughly
bored lulled Robert to sleep. Our quest had come to an end, and our journey into the lost land of Hagerman was now a distant memory.
Many thanks to the South Country Retired Educators Association for their diligent research.