Nestled by the water on the south end of Babylon, a town in Suffolk County, is the Village of Babylon, a two-square mile incorporated entity that is home to a little over 12,000 residents. Babylon Village isn’t very large, but it is home to some of Long Island’s most popular places to be—as well as a thriving condo market.
A Look Back
When it was first settled by farmers in the early 1800s, Babylon was called Huntington South, thanks to the many Huntington residents that flocked to the South Shore to collect salt hay to feed livestock and gather mulch for planting.
Legend has it that Nathaniel Conklin and his family built a house on the northeast corner of what is now the intersection of East Main Street and Deer Park Avenue in 1803, and Conklin's mother came up with the name “Babylon” for their home, which was much more isolated than her home had been in nearby Dix Hills. Some believed this was prompted by a reference to the quotation from the Psalms: "By the water of Babylon there sat we down; yea we wept, when we remembered Zion.”
According to the Babylon Historical Society, Babylon was able to separate from Huntington in 1872 and put its own local government in place. In 1893, the village was incorporated officially. The Historical Society has a room devoted to this time period, with farm tools, photos of mills and accounts from some early Babylon residents. Judging from published material from that time, life in Babylon was typical for a farming community of the day. There were also a number of mills in the area that made use of the waterpower produced by the streams running in the Great South Bay.
In 1842, the railroad began in the area and stagecoaches came to the village and down to the dock to meet the ferries to Fire Island and Oak Beaches. By the time it was incorporated, Babylon was a resort town, complete with hotels and large estates. This “Gilded Age” roughly spanned the decades between 1870 and 1890.
Hotels blossomed at this time. The Argyle, the American, the National and the Watson House on the mainland, and the Surf Hotel on Fire Island were among the many that sprang up and catered to weary city-dwellers who migrated to Babylon for seaside relaxation away from the urban crush.
The estates in the area provided employment, as did the waterfront for the clamming and fishing boats. During the 1930s and '40s railroad people lived here; aircraft corporations provided employment prior to World War II and during the war, and for many years following. Once the war ended, the village became a commuter community and it has remained that way for the last 60 years.
Famous residents included Henry Livingston, who edited the Southside Signalnewspaper, architect and builder Robert Moses, who transformed the infrastructure of the entire metropolitan area; famous funnyman Rodney Dangerfield, Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of wireless telegraphy, Tom Bohrer, who won two Olympic silver medals in rowing, and Bob Keeshan, star on the children's television show Captain Kangaroo.
Home in Babylon
In June of this year, a new condo development called Village Park Condominiums opened on Rosebud Lane.
“Each [two- and three-bedroom unit] has more than 2,300 square feet and a one-car garage in the heart of Babylon Village,” says Georgia Westcott, owner/broker with the Westcott Group, based in Babylon. “These are brand new and priced around $500,000, and we are just showing the model for the first time" in June, she says.
In addition to these condos, a number of others are within the village’s domain, and Westcott says that while prices followed the housing market's downward trend in 2009, this year has seen a nice upswing in condo purchases.
“There are condominiums for every price point here,” says Westcott. “There are luxury condos on the water that will sell from $500,000 to $1 million, and then there are lower priced ones for first-time buyers priced at around $300,000. It’s a very diverse community as far as what’s available in our real estate market.”
According to Brooke Jankow, a realtor with Coach Realtors who serves Babylon Village, the major condos in the area are The Cresent by the Shore, Whaler's Cove, Village Commons, The Bridgeview, Babylon Cove and The Village Oaks.
“Condos on the market now range from around $335,000 to $899,000 for most of these,” she says. “The Village Park Condominiums in the heart of the village are new, as well as the South Shore Villas, which are nearby West Babylon. Pricing for those is still being determined.”
Although there are no co-ops in the Village, says Jankow, there are several in nearby West Babylon, the largest of which is known as Fisherman’s Wharf. Currently, there are three units on the market there with an average asking price of $204,000. Five units are currently under contract (with an average sale price of $180,000) and another three were sold during the first quarter of 2010 (with an average sale of $166,000).
Sales prices for both co-ops and condo units have increased since 2009, but the co-op units have stayed on the market longer, averaging around four months.
Whatever the market, Westcott credits the town’s diversity with attracting so many people to the area.
“It has a little bit of everything,” she says. “It has a lot of activity, it’s very close to Fire Island—just a short ferry ride away—and the village is very pretty and we have a lot to offer. It’s on the Bay, there’s a nine hole golf course, Main Street in the village is very active. There’s a ton of restaurants, many with dining outside in the summer.”
Jankow echoes Westcott's sentiment, and says she often deals with people who are returning to the area or who currently live there and want to upgrade—she believes that it’s a village that people don’t ever want to get too far away from.
“People are attracted to Babylon because it's just a beautiful and historic town with a lot of charm, great shopping and fantastic dining,” she says. “In addition to the beautiful colonials, and historic churches and buildings, it's also a community that really appreciates its boating and beaches.”
Surrounding Argyle Lake and its bucolic Argyle Park is Southard’s Pond and the municipal slips, private marinas and boatyards on the Great South Bay. There’s also a famous gazebo that stands south of the lake and serves as a venue for free Friday night concerts in the summer and annual celebrations year-round.
“I think that Babylon is and always will be a very family and community-oriented town,” Jankow continues. “Many residents who grew up here are now starting their own families here as well, which says a lot about the quality of this town.”
Someone who couldn't agree more is the mayor of Babylon, Ralph Scordino. He obviously has a special bond to the village, but he credits the fact that he’s part of three generations of Babylon residents with fostering his love for the area. He also cites the village’s efforts for a greener, safer community, its good schools and thriving Main Street as more reasons why people love the area.
“My 91-year-old mother remembers when it was all dirt roads, and she talks about what it was like, watching the changes come,” Scordino says. “I think in the late 1960s and early '70s, Babylon Village was kind of holding its own, but then all of a sudden in the late '80s and early '90s, it became very vibrant.”
Among the changes were the addition of huge storefronts on Main Street, a new golf course and a rise in boat slips in the village. “It’s a very unique place,” says Westcott. “It’s very representative of an old fashioned Main Street kind of feel. These days that’s not very easy to find.”
“I think when you walk through our streets and our business district, you get a sense of how friendly our residents are,” says Scordino, who has served as mayor for eight years. “The old fashioned light poles and our hanging baskets throughout the district bring a sense of vitality and friendship, and a softness that just makes it a very great community to live in.”
“For me, it’s always been home,” he says. “It’s a wonderful place to live.”
Keith Loria is a freelance reporter and writer, and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.