What is now Babylon Town and Village was originally part of Huntington Town and known as South Huntington (or Huntington South). Lightly settled from 1689, its main industry, in common with much of the area along Great South Bay and South Oyster Bay (both actually lagoons), was the harvesting of salt hay, which was used as cattle feed and bedding.
When a coherent community grew up in the area by 1803, prominent local citizens sought to adopt a new name. An influential local lady, Mrs. Conklin, was used to living inland in what is now considered Dix Hills and was at unease with the home site that her grandchildren would be raised in. The bible-reading Mrs. Conklin compared the new hamlet to the biblical city of Babylon and proposed that name in apparent defiance of the area's rather bawdy reputation as a stop-over place for travelers on Long Island's south shore. Her son Nat was appalled by the use of an "unholy" name. The family legend states she replied: "But it will be a new Babylon." The name stuck, despite some effort to change it. The adjacent part of Islip town, an effective extension of Babylon, was originally considered as part of Babylon, or as East Babylon, but today is the hamlet of West Islip.
Hotels and Gateway to Fire Island
Babylon soon became the primary gateway to the nearby barrier beaches, including Fire Island, a position it held until the building of the current Captree Causeways allowing automobile access to the beaches nearest the Babylon shore. Beachgoers arriving by train or coach, or staying at local hotels typically took the Babylon Railroad, originally a horsecar line and later a trolley, to the Babylon Dock for ferries to Oak Island, Muncie Island, and Fire Island destinations.
As now, the epitome of the luxury lifestyle was summering on the ocean. This led many affluent individuals and families to reside at Babylon's seaside resorts, both on the mainland and on barrier beach islands. Muncie Island, (was just north of Oak Beach, island was depleted for the construction of Ocean Parkway) was host to one of the most elite sanatoriums and nearby Saltaire was host to the Surf Hotel offering several hundred rooms to guests. Guests of the Surf would take the rail road to Babylon's trolley and then cross the bay by a ferry. Off Robins Avenue at Stone Dock was the South Shore Inn and Watson House on Fire Island Avenue was famed to be "L.I.'s most luxurious hotel" when it was built. Those of even greater wealth would have homes or compounds built on the shore or barrier beach islands for vacationing. Stage stop hotels include the La Grange Inn, now used as a catering hall and is actually in adjacent West Islip.
Some of Babylon's hotels:
The Argyle Hotel & Park
The famous Argyle Hotel in Babylon was one of many built in the late 19th century to accommodate wealthy summer visitors from New York City. It was constructed in 1882 by August Belmont, the LIRR and resort entrepreneur on the former estate of Brooklyn railroad magnate Electus B. Litchfield. Financing was provided by a syndicate headed by Long Island Rail Road President, Austin Corbin. The grounds, which included a large millpond, Blythebourne Lake became renamed Argyle Lake, for one of the hotel’s largest investors and town aristocrat, the heir to the Dukedom of Argyll. The renaming gave the Hotel & Park a more genteel English flavor yet the hotel proved a bad venture: it was near the end of the era of such projects, it was built much too large with 350 rooms, and so was rarely more than one-third filled. After about a decade of disuse, it was finally demolished in 1904, some of the structure being used to build homes west of the lake in the neighborhood now known as Argyle Park. In 1921, the land that is now the Argyle Park was donated for passive recreation to the Village of Babylon, by J. Stanley Foster,Esq. This park is still popular, drawing substantial numbers of visitors from outside the community for fishing, strolling, playing on the children's playground, and winter ice skating (including a lighted area for night skating).
Effingham Park/Hawley's Lake Park
Effingham Park was the site of the Old Mill on what is now the Babylon Village-West Islip border and South Country Road, now Montauk Highway (Main Street in Babylon). The old mill is claimed to be the first permanent structure in the Village area and was constructed for Judge Garrett Montfort and operated by the Oakley family for approximately 100 years. Nathaniel Conklin also owned the mill and in its final years, ownership was in the hands of David Ricketts, the second mayor of the Village. Ricketts used the mill as a toy whip factory which he later relocated to George Street. At one point, a bridge was used to carry Main Street over the overflows connection to Sumpwams Creek.
The park belonged to the estate of Effingham Sutton that later came into the ownership of Edwin Hawley, a U.S. railroad tycoon. Hawley demolished the Old Mill and parts of Sutton's Estate to erect an even more opulent estate including guest cottages, staff housing, and stables. Hawley turned the overflow from the Old Mill into a waterfall that matched and, some claim, exceeded the splendor of the still-existent Argyle Falls at Argyle Memorial Park. In addition to the falls, there were two bridges crossing the north side and mid-northeast side of the lake in many old postcards and photographs. The north side bridge was likely the bridge that carried George Street over the stream feeding Hawley's Pond, before New York Highway 231 was put through the area.
The Hawley Estate was gated off from the public with hedges and grand ornate estate fencing so that the public rarely saw its vast luxuries and amenities. In the late 1960s the site of Hawley's Pond was in a rundown state, being unkempt and dilapidated. When Route 231 was being built, Hawley's Lake Park lost all hope of being repaired and restored to its former glory: the routes northern and southern terminus were run directly through the estate. Some sources even claim that the lake was made considerably smaller and was partially filled in during the expressway's construction. Today, Hawley's Lake Park is an unused resource due mostly for its lack of parking and lack of village concern. The aging grand falls were replaced with a more modern, less ornate and less attractive setup. The Babylon Beautification Society tries from time to time to maintain the site, although no plan has proved considerably successful. Since there is no parking at the site, and because access to families that might otherwise want to use it is constrained by the necessity of crossing active highway lanes, the current status of the site has remained unchanged. Between the park and the Lake Drives in West Islip and the northern terminus of Route 231 is a small group of ponds also belonging to the former Effingham Park. This portion is no longer designated as park property, and is accessible to the homes on Lake Drive South and Lake Drive North. The overflow pool from Hawley's Fall opens into two tunnels beneath Main Street that drain into Sumpwams River, known locally as East Creek, and eventually into Great South Bay.
Baseball and African-American History
Many of the black service personnel of the Argyle Hotel formed a baseball team, the Babylon Black Panthers, said to be the first black professional baseball team. The team so dominated local white teams that Walter Cook, a New Jersey promoter, put up the money to have them travel and play as the "Cuban Giants." Calling black ballplayers (or ballplayers in "white" professional clubs in that era who seemed too dark to be Caucasian) "Cuban" was a common practice through World War II. There were no Cubans in the Cuban Giants.
The team went on to become the "world colored champions" of 1887 and 1888, and spawned imitators.
Babylon Village today has three baseball fields for the high school, little league and adult play, and the high school team is named the Babylon Panthers. The Babylon Panthers varsity baseball team won Long Island championships in 2005-2006, 2012, and the New York State championship in 2007. The village also has one of Long Island's older continuous African-American communities, of which the employees of the Argyle are said to have formed the core. This community still maintains two of the village's 12 churches, the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, both on Cooper Street.
Another prominent African-American, the film actress Thelma (Butterfly) McQueen, moved with her family from her birthplace of Tampa, Florida to live on Cottage Row in Babylon, where she went on to graduate from Babylon High School and then pursued her acting career before later attending several universities and attaining a degree in political science. Cottage Row still exists but no longer has any housing on it, falling prey to parking space for business district stores.