Named for the natural cold-water springs running through the area, the quaint hamlet of Cold Spring Harbor in the Town of Huntington has a long aquatic past that reached an apex in the mid-19th century, when the local whaling business reached its zenith. As the number of whaleboats declined in the ensuing decades, the area was reborn as a center for science, with the founding of the world-famous Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1890.
In the century-plus since then, Cold Spring Harbor’s namesake lab has contributed numerous scientific advancements, particularly in the field of genetics, while the hamlet proper evolved into a charming bedroom community with a surprising amount of local attractions, considering its relatively small 3.9-square-mile footprint. For visitors, there are several can’t-miss spots devoted to the area’s history and natural features, as well as highly recommended outdoor activities.
“Cold Spring Harbor is a quaint, historic waterfront community, home to great restaurants, parks and recreational attractions, and it is just a few short minutes from the amenities and entertainment downtown Huntington village offers,” says Huntington Town Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci.
For a firsthand glimpse at Cold Spring Harbor’s picturesque landscapes and fascinating legacy, spend some time absorbing the following:
CRACKING THE CODE
The place that put CSH on the map in modern times is Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (1 Bungtown Rd., 516-367-8800, cshl.edu), an active, working lab which has played a vital role in biomedical research and education, specializing in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology, and boasting eight Nobel Prize winners. The private not-for-profit lab’s grounds and architecture are stunning and provide a delightful setting for a scenic walk, followed by a guided tour of the laboratory campus (call in advance to book). Summer programs are offered to students, and a variety of special tours, events, lectures and concerts are held throughout the year. Don’t miss the lab’s current “Ötzi the Iceman Museum Tour” at its companion DNA Learning Center (334 Main Street, 516-367-5170, dnalc.org), featuring a 3D replica of the famous Ötzi mummy.
HOME AT SEA
Prior to its rebirth as a center for science, Cold Spring Harbor was a hub for whaling, and the premier stop in town for learning more about this maritime history is The Whaling Museum & Education Center (279 Main St., 631-367-3418, cshwhalingmuseum.org), featuring a collection of some 6,000 artifacts and archived materials. Highlights include the only fully equipped whaleboat with original gear on display in the state, as well as one of the Northeast’s most important collections of decorative scrimshaw carved on whale ivory and whalebone. There are also displays of whaling implements, ships’ gear, navigational aids, ship models and maritime art, plus a library and archival collection of 2,800 materials. Try to catch the museum’s special exhibition, “Heroines at the Helm,” which runs through Labor Day 2019.
All that maritime history may inspire a longing for some oceangoing adventures of your own, so if you’re feeling the urge, head over to JK Kayak & SUP (130 Harbor Rd., 800-489-0398, jkkayak.com), one of the island’s leading guided mobile kayak and stand-up-paddleboard (SUP) touring providers. JK offers 1-, 2- and 3-hour guided kayak tours of Cold Spring Harbor, as well as 90-minute SUP and SUP yoga lessons, run by American Canoe Association-certified instructors. The 2019 season begins at the end of May and runs through October. Memberships are available for repeat guests, and JK also sells used craft and equipment for those making a more permanent commitment.
As locals know, nature is another integral component of what makes Cold Spring Harbor great. Don’t let LI’s typically flat landscape fool you. Hikers can experience a real up-and-down challenge on the trails at Cold Spring Harbor State Park (95 Harbor Rd., 631-423-1770, parks.ny.gov) encompassing 40 acres of hilly terrain that provides excellent views of the harbor. Stroll (or snowshoe, in season) among its impressive large oak trees, which measure as much as three feet in diameter, as well as thickets of wild mountain laurel. The park is a key spot for observing spring and fall songbird migrations and is home to great horned owls and red-tailed hawks. It is also the northern trailhead of the Nassau Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, extending to Bethpage State Park and Nassau County’s South Shore. Pets are permitted but must be kept on a leash.
A less strenuous yet similarly rewarding nature experience can be enjoyed at Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium (1660 NY 25A, 516-692-6768, aquaticcommunity.com/cshfha), a public aquarium and fish hatchery founded in 1883. It features a wide variety of native fish and reptiles, including trout, carp and bowfin among 30 fish species showcased in its aquariums and numerous fish ponds, as well as the largest living collection of native amphibians in the Northeast and a large outdoor turtle pond. Visitors can purchase food to feed the fish, and there is a gift shop and discovery area for the kids. Fishing for trout is also permitted, for a $5 fee plus an additional fee for each fish caught (you must keep your catch). Anglers are permitted to either use their own gear or rent equipment at the hatchery.
While on that note, a trip to the Uplands Farm Sanctuary (250 Lawrence Hill Rd, 631-367-3225, dec.ny.gov/outdoor/63816.html), is another welcome diversion. The former dairy farm, still containing a silo and the remnants of cattle pastures, is now the 97-acre headquarters for The Nature Conservancy’s Long Island Chapter. Take the sanctuary’s double-loop trail through bird and butterfly meadows, deciduous forests and a ravine shaded by white pine, keeping an eye out for wildlife such as bobolinks, meadowlarks, red-tailed hawks and migratory warblers.
Cold Spring Harbor also boasts a proud firefighting history, which you can explore at the Cold Spring Harbor Fire House Museum (84 Main St., 631-367-0400, cshfirehousemuseum.org). Displays include an 1852 Phenix Hand Tub, the department’s first piece of equipment; a 1920s Ford Model TT Chemical Truck and 1919 Ford Model TT Delivery Truck; fire hats, clothing and gear; historic ledgers and photos; a restored cupola from the fire house; “fire grenades” used to stop fires in the 1800s; a memorial to those who were killed at the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks; and much more.
Regardless of your spiritual leaning, another recommended stopping point is St. John’s Episcopal Church (1670 Route 25A, 516-692-6368, stjcsh.org), founded in its current location in 1835. Walking the church’s lakeside grounds is pure bliss, as is time spent inside the building, viewing its dazzling stained-glass windows, including panels crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who built Laurelton Hall, his 84-room, 600-acre country estate, nearby in Laurel Hollow. Many of the church’s famous windows have undergone recent restoration and provide a breathtaking backdrop for Sunday service.
Finally, witness the rebirth of another Cold Spring Harbor place of worship — the former Methodist Episcopal Church — as home base for Preservation Long Island (161 Main St., 631-692-4664, preservationlongisland.org), featuring exhibits celebrating LI’s cultural heritage. Past exhibits have spotlighted LI decorative arts, landmarks, maps, antiques and photography; this season’s upcoming new exhibit (details TBA) opens Memorial Day and runs through fall 2019.
WHERE TO DINE
Cold Spring Plaza Delicatessen
15 Harbor Rd., 631-367-3533
The Gourmet Whaler
111 Main St., 631-659-2977, gourmetwhalerny.com
134 Main St., 631-367-6060, grassosrestaurant.com
Harbor Mist Restaurant
105 Harbor Rd., 631-659-3888, harbormistrestaurant.com
55 Main St., 631-498-6188, lessings.com
Sweetie Pies on Main
181 Main St., Ste. A, 631-367-9500, sweetiepiesonmain.com