Photo of the Week
December 4th – 10th, 2023
ARTIST’S VIEW: LAKE RONKONKOMA, 1888
FROM THE SCHS LIBRARY ARCHIVES
“How shall we know it is us without our past?”
– John Steinbeck
An Artist’s View of Lake Ronkonkoma, 1888. Artist unknown. (Image from Handbook of Long Island, published in 1888 by the Long Island Rail Road, an original copy of which is in the holdings of the Suffolk County Historical Society Library & Archives. All rights reserved.)
Reproduced here are excerpts from the LIRR Handbook, an illustrated publication intended to promote tourism on Long Island. Like the artist, the writer is unnamed.
“When the writer first saw Ronkonkoma he had been riding for hours through farm land and forest. The sun shone with pleasant early morning warmth, the wind sighed in the tree-tops, and myriad birds lifted their voices toward the blue sky. Suddenly, before the nucleus of a village, the forest disappeared, and in an instant there was disclosed a great, pear-shaped lake, skirted by a broad, gently sloping beach, and around that, in a third rude oval, the enclosing hillsides, dotted with pretty cottages amid lawns and groves, and connected by a bowery road.
“No wonder that artists have drawn and painted the lake from a hundred standpoints; that poets have raved about it and tourists have been shouting praises of its beauty for fifty years or more. Probably none has done it justice or ever can. It is unique; its beauty grows upon one, not for an hour or even a week, but for a summer; and every month it is new to the gaze in the changing hues of the foliage and the altering light of the skies…. Its mirror-like surface is tinged with the reflection of the foliage of the shaded hill-sides all around it. A Lake of Glass, the water is as pure as if distilled, and as sweet as ever water was, so transparent that the smooth, hard bed, and every tiny ridge upon it, is visible at considerable depth. Its surface is nearly fifty-five feet above the surface of the [Long Island] Sound, but it has in one place a depth of eighty-three feet. Every inch around it is hard; there is no marsh, no mud, no foot-hold for those dreaded M’s–miasma, malaria, or mosquitoes.
“Here health is in every whisper of the breeze…the calm, cool forest almost surrounds the lake; its refreshing atmosphere must ever be, in summer, vastly more cool than that of almost any other inland watering place…. A more healthful place is not to be found, or one more attractive to ladies or safer for children. It is inviting to sportsmen also, for not only are the woods close at hand, but the lake itself is the occasional resort of nearly every species of waterbird found in the United States. There hardly could be a richer field for the student of natural history. Perch, black bass, Oswego bass, and catfish are the denizens of the crystal waters. The little belfry of St. Mary’s by the Lake, an Episcopal Church, is seen above the oaks and chestnut trees on the south side.”
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Suffolk County Historical Society
300 West Main St.
Riverhead, NY 11901