Gus Neuss has once again completed a story, this time telling of a number of Yaphank fires. Stories of the fires

         Stories of the Fires
Gus Neuss

Camp Siegfried
Inn & Restaurant

Sterilizing Building
Ryenveldt Bulb Farm

The Horse
County Almshouse Farm

Roswell Davis Residence

“The Lilacs”

Camp Siegfried
Inn & Restaurant

  The Inn and Restaurant building at Camp Siegfried was the home of James Coombes prior to its being sold to the German American Bund.  After our country became involved in World War II with Nazi Germany, the Bund property was assigned to the Alien Property Custodian, a United States Government agency.  This group had custodial responsibility for this, as well as other land and buildings which were owned by hostile parties.  The Custodian would have control until the end of the war at which time the decision on disposition would be made.  Prior to the termination of this conflict the Inn-Restaurant was destroyed by fire.

  I was no longer a resident of Yaphank when the structure was consumed
by flames.  I do not know the exact date of the occurrence.  Yaphank Fire Department records may be a source for this information.  The story as it was related to me was unusual and difficult to believe.  The Yaphank volunteers responded to the call that the Inn-Restaurant was ablaze.  The Department’s pumper rushed to the scene, was positioned adjacent to the lakeshore near  the Lakeview Inn.  With the Upper
Lake as the reservoir there would be no shortage of water.  For some unknown reason the firemen were unable to prime the pump on the fire truck, causing a considerable delay.  When the pump was finally delivering water to the fire the building was engulfed in flames.  The Inn-Restaurant was a total loss.

  The cause of the fire was never determined.  Arson was suspected but could never be verified.  Yaphank lost, forever, what had become an infamous historical building.  A
photograph of the Inn-Restaurant can be found in the Longwood web-site article detailing the German American Bund activities in Yaphank.


Sterilizing Building
Ryenveldt Bulb Farm

  The Ryenveldt Bulb Farm was located on Main Street in Yaphank
immediately west of the Yaphank Presbyterian Church Manse.  The arable land of the farm was about three hundred acres in size.  This farm was adjacent to the church property to the north and extended to the east as far as the northern boundary of the Yaphank
Cemetery.  It was originally owned and farmed by Charles E. Walters who sold it to Herman Ryenveldt in the early 1930s.  The Charles E. Walters family moved to a residence located just east of the Presbyterian Church on the north side of Main Street.  The former Walters’ home was occupied by Cornelius Zyerveld and his family.  Mr. Zyerveld managed the farm for Ryenveldt.  The Manse was occupied by two elderly ladies, sisters, Miss Black and Mrs. Phillips.

  On January 1, 1938 the sisters in the Manse were awakened by the reflected light of a fire.  The blaze was in a building on the bulb farm property. There was no telephone in the Manse.  To report the fire and alert the Yaphank Fire Department, Mrs. Phillips went, as rapidly as possible, to the Charles E. Walters home and had the family place the call for help.  The weather was clear but bitterly cold with the temperature hovering around zero degrees.  On the south side of Main Street, opposite the Ryenveldt property home, was a well type hydrant.  Several of these hydrants had been purchased from the Village of
Bellport when water mains were installed in that town obviating their need.  This type hydrant was ideal for Yaphank as water was near the ground surface.  The suction connection was made from the pumper to the hydrant and a good supply of water was available at the hose nozzles.  Because of the low temperatures it soon became apparent that no nozzle could be shut off as the hose would immediately start to freeze.  In addition water on the ground froze as it hit the surface making for dangerous walking. With a good number fighting the fire which was consuming the building which housed equipment for sterilizing bulbs, we were alerted to trouble at the Manse.

  John Ed Davis and I left the fire scene and entered the Manse.  Mrs. Phillips had collapsed and was lying on the living room floor.  Contact was made, using the Walters’ telephone, with Dr. Dranitzke at Patchogue.  He was made aware of the situation and in a  rather short
time arrived at the Manse.  He gave Mrs. Phillips a quick check and advised that she had departed this life.  The stress of the fire and the exertion of her effort in having it reported was fatal.  Dr Dranitzke asked that her body be placed on a sofa until further arrangements could be made.  John Ed, although he had been acquainted with the sisters for years, would not touch Mrs. Phillips’ body.  Henry Scesny came in from the fire scene and the two of us lifted her, discretely, and followed the doctor’s request.

   The loss of the sterilizer building and World War II  brought about the demise of bulb growing in Yaphank.  Perhaps some current resident will provide an update on the present status of the farm.


The Horse Barn
Almshouse Farm

  The Suffolk County Almshouse at one time was supplied with food and milk produced on the acreage which was located north, west and east of the main building.  North of the Almshouse were two good sized barns, one for dairy cows and the second for horses.  The horses were used for all farm related activity for many years prior to the acquisition of tractors.  In addition to farm produce, [vegetables] for table use the farm produced wheat, corn, oats and hay for livestock feed.  It was not unusual to see a wheat thrasher at work, separating grain from chaff and creating a huge pile of wheat straw in the process.  Prison labor, [trustees as they were called] was used for many of the labor intensive projects.  The Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead, N.Y. was the source of this free help.  With the advent of improved farm machinery the farming was mechanized and the horses retired from the farm.

  As part of the improvement and modernizing of the Almshouse facilities the original water tower which was the supply for the main and auxiliary buildings was deteriorating. The tower, constructed of cypress lumber, was aging and in need of replacement. A new and larger capacity tank and tower of steel construction were erected north of the main building and connected to the existing water mains.  A goodly supply of water was now available for normal use and for emergencies. This proved fallacious reasoning.

  One day in the early 1930s, {the Yaphank Fire Department may have the exact date] the alarm sounded alerting the local volunteers to rush to the
County Farm.  The horse barn, gratefully devoid of horses, was afire.  The Yaphank F.D. engine arrived in a timely fashion and proceeded to make fast the suction hose to a hydrant near the barn.  This hydrant was one originally installed when the Almshouse was constructed and apparently had not been used for years.  Within minutes it became apparent that the hydrant did not have sufficient capacity to supply the Yaphank F.D. pumper with water to combat the fire. The supply lines to the hydrant were so rusted that when a faucet was opened in the main building air was drawn in, no water came out.  Fortunately the Brookhaven Fire Department had responded to the first call and, recognizing the desperate need for an adequate supply of water, dropped a line of hose from the Yaphank truck to the Lower Lake.  They then proceeded to pump the lake water through this hose into the tank of the Yaphank F.D. truck. By this time the horse barn was too far gone to save.  Thanks to the water from the lake the adjacent buildings were saved.  Thanks, too, to the Brookhaven Fire Department.


Roswell Davis Residence

  The home of Roswell Davis was located on the north side of Main Street west of the lane leading to the Yaphank
Cemetery.  It was approximately opposite the octagon shaped
firehouse, [formerly the one room schoolhouse]. 
Roswell was deceased and the house was occupied by his daughter, Florence Davis.  She had never married.  Her companion was a small dog, either a Pomeranian or a Pekingese.  She was always stylishly dressed and each day, weather permitting, would walk to the post office/store for exercise for herself and her pet.  She was very personable, always ready for a neighborly conversation.  She was in her late thirties when we first became acquainted.

  Fire of undetermined origin started in the house.  This was in the early 1930s.  The Yaphank Fire Department may have an exact date.  Florence escaped from the burning building unscathed.  She made a fatal mistake.  Suddenly, realizing that her pet dog was still inside the doomed structure, she dashed back into the fire in an unsuccessful rescue attempt.  She was severely burned and in addition suffered from flame inhalation.  She was rushed to the Suffolk
County Hospital, formerly the Suffolk County Children's Home, for treatment.  I visited her at the hospital the following day. Florence was swathed in bandages and even though she could barely speak she tried to communicate, which she did with a smile. The home was a total loss, cause of the fire unknown.

   Florence Davis did not survive.  She sacrificed her life for her best friend, her dog.


“The Lilacs”

  “The Lilacs” was the residence of Clara Weeks.  It was situated on the north side of the Yaphank-Camp Upton road opposite, and to the east of “The Octagon”, the home of her
brother, James Weeks. “The Lilacs” was so named because of a row of this spring flowering shrub which adjoined the highway in front of the house.  The home was a two story frame structure, built in the 1800s, in the architectural design of that period. An extension on the north or rear of the building included a one story room and a two floor living area.  The first level was a kitchen and the second was bedroom.

  Miss Weeks was a maiden lady, very proper, and always dressed in the style of the 1900-1910 time period.  Long skirts, ruffled blouses with lace collars and cuffs, hair done atop her head on which sat a small but suitable hat.  For transportation, she had a vintage ladies’ bicycle which she used to get her mail or other necessary items at the combination  post office and general store located at the intersection of Main Street and Yaphank Avenue.  The bicycle was equipped with a curved wood rear fender or mudguard held in position over the wheel by cords which ran radially from the outside of the rear axle to the guard.  This design gave excellent protection in keeping her long skirts out of the spokes.  Although she had no children of her own she did have a family in that big house.

  In the 1920s Clara had four children with her who I believe had been in the Suffolk County Children's Home.  This facility, located on Yaphank Avenue, later became a hospital.  The reasons why these young ones were without parents I do not know.  Clara served as a surrogate.
Two of her wards were sisters, Winnie and Marie Schenck.  The two boys were Billy Harris and Frank Mapes.  The girls had their living quarters in the main house with the boys residing in the second floor of the extension.  These children were undoubtedly kept occupied with chores to assist in the maintaining of the household.  Clara did have a garden plot across the highway which provided vegetables for her family each summer.  Two of the years I plowed the garden area for her in the early spring using our small garden tractor. I presume that the labor for the planting and care of the crops was part of the children's daily summer activity.

  It was not all work.  Clara would invite some of the neighborhood children to “The Lilacs”, about monthly, for an evening of games, primarily cards.  This gave her four an opportunity to fraternize with others of the same age in a wholesome pastime.   Radio and television were none existent and I don’t recall her possessing a phonograph.  Each evening always ended with layer cake and milk.  Clara’s cakes were a work of art.  The icing was invariably decorated with sugar candies, mostly heart shaped each inscribed with endearing words.  She did her best to make her children feel like part of a real family.

  Clara went to her eternal reward July 31, 1929.  Where Winnie and Marie went I do not know.  Billy Harris was living in Patchogue in the 1930s and would occasionally return to Yaphank, selling notions. Frank Mapes remained in Yaphank.  He was employed by Louis Vogel for several years.  Vogel operated a hay feed and coal business located on the road to West Yaphank opposite the David Jones orchard.  Frank married Hazel Simpson and raised a family in Yaphank.  “The Lilacs” was empty.  Most of Clara’s siblings were deceased and other relatives lived out of town.

   Laura Lawless, daughter of Clara’s sister, Julia, visited the house, so the story goes, one day in the early 1930s to check on its condition.  Early the following morning the siren sounded alerting the local firemen that there was trouble.  “The Lilacs” was ablaze.   Clara’s home was engulfed in flames when the volunteers arrived with the one fire truck that the District possessed.  It was impossible to extinguish the flames. “The Lilacs” was reduced to ashes with only the chimney standing.  One reason for the intensity of the fire was a natural gas line in the basement. The line had fractured and was shooting a flame at least fifteen feet long under the main body of the house.  Fighting this fire was a losing battle.  Two days later to prevent death or injury should it fall, the weakened chimney was pulled down.

  The Clara Week’s home is history.  Thank goodness she was not there
to experience the demise of her pride and joy, “The Lilacs”.

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