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The Long Island Barrens-Their Condition, Price, and Crops.
WITHIN one to three hours' ride of the city of New York, by railroad, there lies a vast body of uncultivated land popularly known as “The Barrens." Why an area so extensive should have remained unappropriated and idle, within cheap and easy reach of a population of nearly a million of consumers, has long been a subject for wonder and speculation. But of late years the public attention has been more particularly turned in that direction, principally by publications of the Farmers' Club of the American Institute, the writings of Hon. John A. Dix, Mr. Thomas Schnebly, Dr. E. F. Peck and others, from whose examinations and reports the substance of the following account has been compiled.
It would perhaps be difficult to say exactly how these lands first acquired the damaging name of " Barrens.” In the early settlement of Long Island they secured a very different character, and were held in the highest esteem by all who either described or lived upon them.
them. The writers of two centuries ago referred to them as exceedingly fruitful, with a fine climate, and beautiful streams and bays abounding in all kinds of fish and water fowl. They enumerate the grains, the fruits, and the
grasses that they produced. None of them mention the land as being poor or barren. The plains, free from timber, and covered with grass, were wonderful as natural curiosities. A traveller in 1759, says that strangers were always taken to them as the only great curiosity of the kind then known in America. Other portions of the island were covered with immense forests.
It is suggested by Mr. Schnebly that the character of barrens attached to these lands in consequence of their being held in very large bodies, whose owners cultivated only a few acres, allowing the forest to occupy the remainder. The island was mapped out by patents owned by various parties, whose possessions extended from the waters on the north and south sides to the middle and woodlands in the centre. The Nicholas patent, at West Islip, contained originally ten miles square. There were numerous other holders of enormous tracts. They made little effort at cultivation, neither did they desire any others to improve them, “and consequently shut out all investigation, and while they lived among gorgeous scenery, a genial climate, and on so productive a soil, were satisfied with cultivating a few acres to supply their wants, leaving the balance of their territory to unproductiveness, which in time, for that reason, became known as the wild or wood lands of Long Island."
Such is Mr. Schnebly's explanation. More modern times have substituted “barren” for “ wild." But the fact of land being thus held in vast tracts on Long Island affords another illustration of the evils inseparable from a land monopoly. These owners became an aristocracy. They not only failed to improve their possessions, but, by refusing to sell, prevented others from doing so. When the monopoly was broken up by their descendants dividing and selling, population flowed in and farms were established. Emancipation in Russia is producing like results, and such will follow the enactment of the Homestead Law.
The great bulk of these lands were comparatively inaccessible to the public. There were roads, it is true, but they were few in number. The island was not a thoroughfare, having crowds of travellers from other States passing over its soil. Few, therefore, saw these tracts, and these few, seeing that they were uncultivated, adopted and propagated still further the popular idea that they were barren. The opening of the Long Island railroad served to dissipate this delusion. It opened up a tract of country ninety-five miles in length.
In September, 1860, the Farmers' Club made excursions over the railroad for the purpose of examining the Barrens. They say that “a stranger unacquainted with the country would readily remark the immense quantity of uncultivated land traversed by the railroad, with only here and there a spot exhibiting tillage, and hence the inquiry would naturally arise, why is it that this extensive tract, so near the great city of New York and its sister city, Brooklyn, remains unsubdued and untilled, and what means can be economically used to make this apparent wilderness productive and remunerative
to the labor of man ?" Along the railroad line is a district containing 150,000 acres, but partially cultivated. In Queens and Suffolk Counties there were nearly 200,000 acres of unimproved land, as shown by the census of 1855. All this lay within two and three miles of the railroad. In leaving the cultivated lands about Jamaica, there is an unoccupied, uncultivated, unenclosed expanse, without tree or shrub to obstruct the view for miles.
Numerous towns held great tracts containing thousands of acres, which were kept for public use as commons. Hempstead originally held 17,000
North Hempstead disposed of her lands at low prices, and was largely benefited by the influx of new settlers. When the railroad was opened in 1844, it traversed an almost unbroken wilderness, in which scarcely a dwelling was to be seen. But twenty years have wrought wonderful changes in the condition of the lands adjoining it.
In many places on and near the railroad, within about an hour's ride of New York, there is land for sale at moderate prices—Mr. Schnebly says at from ten to thirty dollars an acre, according to location. He refers to the crops produced by various farmers on land in this condemned region. Peach trees grow luxuriantly and bear profusely. Corn, oats, barley and rye are produced as largely as in the best regions, while the average wheat product of the island exceeds that of the State. The State Agricultural Society awarded to Mr. Van Sicklin, of Riverhead, the premium for the best cultivated farm, he having produced crops worth $3,300 at an expense of $1,100 for manure and labor. Another party, who bought land at $12.50 per acre, so cultivated it as to produce one hundred bushels of oats to the acre, and the same season grew turnips which yielded an additional profit of $29 per acre.
A tract of these neglected lands has produced twentyfive bushels of wheat per acre, a year or two after being taken up.
These lands have been a frequent subject of discussion at the New York Farmers' Club. As the parties who share in these discussions are experienced agriculturists, some of their opinions are quoted. Professor Nash said:
“ It has been stated and denied that the land is loam, and not sand or gravel. I have lately spent some days in examination of this soil, and find that statement correct, and that it is beautifully adapted to garden culture, and capable of producing various crops most profitable to the cultivator. This loam has produced and is able to produce $400 to the acre in strawberries. I wish the slanders that have been spoken against the lands of Long Island could be counteracted, and their value better known and made useful to the world. Although not as rich as prairie soil, it is well worthy of the attention of small farmers and men in search of lands for homes. Such homes can be made upon the wild lands of Long Island as well, to say the least, as in the west."
Dr. Peck said that these lands do not need renovating, but merely cultivation. The whole centre of the island is a natural clover field. He added that upon just such land as that which is called barren, fifty-four bushels of wheat had been grown,