Ninety years ago this year, The New York Times ran a small squib that advertised an auction sale of massive proportions.
It estimated the lumber on offer alone totaled 51 million feet, enough to stretch from New York to San Francisco and back. It listed for sale “complete houses, bungalows, stables, sheds, storehouses, hospital buildings, refrigerating plants, water pumping stations, 1,574 telegraph poles, miles of wiring, toilets, plumbing supplies, bakeries, laundries, garages, fence wiring, doors, electric lights, heaters and stoves.”
The description was no hyperbole, as this was the sale of the mighty Camp Upton, built in 1917 in central Suffolk north of what’s now Shirley. It was a training camp for the 77th Division, famed for its bravery in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in 1918, and deactivated shortly after the end of the First World War.
In its heyday the camp comprised 1,400 buildings and could house 40,000 troops. But by the end of 1921 everything moveable had been sold and hauled away. The roads were all that remained.
With World War II raging in Europe and the distinct probability that the United States would join with the Allies, the government decided to rebuild the camp.
Following the war, in 1945, Camp Upton II was declared surplus. This time however, it wasn’t demolished but instead converted into the Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Camp Upton is long gone, but many of the buildings sold in 1921 still exist. Bruce and Susan Clark’s neat bayside ranch house in Jamesport is one of them.
“It belonged to my wife’s side of the family,” explained Mr. Clark. “According to a history my wife’s mother wrote down, her parents bought it in the 1920s from the original owner, a man named Williamson. The house was officers’ quarters and Williamson brought it to its present location. We have no idea how.”
The three-bedroom, two-bath house has a screened-in porch that was originally open, Mr. Clark said.
“A kitchen was added in the 1930s and the porch was enclosed in the 1950s,” he said. “Mr. Williamson also built a brick fireplace, but otherwise the house is pretty much as it was.”
Four other homes in their neighborhood are said to be former officers’ quarters. Out in New Suffolk, the bar side of Legend’s Restaurant, which was recently removed as part of a renovation, was once a Camp Upton building.
The Clarks are proud that they’ll be able to pass on a piece of World War I history that has remained relatively untouched through the years.
“We even have one of the pair of rockers our family painted in the colors of the 1939 World’s Fair,” said Mr. Clark. He doesn’t know what became of the orange chair but the blue one still sits on the porch.
The Clarks say the house escaped major changes in large part because the construction was relatively sound for a structure that was meant to be temporary.
“We have a crawlspace attic and the two by fours are actually two by fours,” said Mr. Clarke.
Mr. Clark says he is delighted to own a piece of salvaged history, especially one that originated from the illustrious Camp Upton.
“We’re definitely on the cutting edge with our recycled house,” he joked.
Northville farmer David Wines also owns a Camp Upton structure, but he’s not quite as impressed by the quality of the construction.
“It’s lasted, but with a lot of work on our part,” he said. “It’s had three roofs in my lifetime alone. It’s very light construction so it’s quite a project to keep it going.”
Mr. Wines says his great-grandfather would have been the one who bought the building at the auction. Originally a horse stable at Camp Upton, the structure was divided into three or four pieces, at least one of which became a summer house somewhere in Jamesport. Another piece morphed into the Wines’ shed.
“We think it was dismantled and reassembled because you can see rough numbers on the ends of the lumber,” said Mr. Wines. “We knew it was a stable because there was a number above each stall.”
The building has served several purposes. “My grandfather kept all the farm equipment in it,” said Mr. Wines. “Then we used it as a henhouse for a while. After that we kept tractors there.”
The building will soon have yet another use, this time as a milking shed.