John H. Van Siclen Collection

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John H. Van Siclen Collection
Railroad Surveyors, 1900

Collection Facts


Historical Context

John Henry Van Siclen was born in Brooklyn in 1873 to Rebecca Bergen Van Siclen and James Van Siclen. The Van Siclen family (also spelled Vansiclen, Van Sicklen, or Van Sickle) lived in the New Lots district of Flatbush in Kings County. The Van Siclen’s descended from one of the first Dutch families to settle in Kings County, Long Island in the 17th century.

John Henry Van Siclen worked as a railroad surveyor for the Long Island Rail Road. He surveyed the tracks east from Bridgehampton to Montauk. John married Ella Brown in October 1901 in Brooklyn, New York. In the U.S. Censuses from 1920 and 1930, his occupation is listed as carpenter. John lived in Brooklyn until his death in 1967.

John worked in Montauk at the end of the 20th century, during a time when it was transitioning from pasture, hunting, and fishing land to a more developed tourist destination. In 1894, Charles Pratt and Austin Corbin of the Long Island Rail Road purchased 5,500 acres extending the railroad to Montauk in 1895. The Long Island Rail Road built Montauk’s first inn, the Montauk Inn, in 1899.

Scope of Collection

The small photographic collection documents the development of Montauk at the turn of the 20th century when John Henry Van Siclen worked in Montauk as a railroad surveyor. The collection comprises photographs of Montauk’s first buildings, including the U.S. Life-Saving Station (built 1885); Montauk Lighthouse (opened in 1797); First House (built 1744, later rebuilt 1798, burned down in 1909); Second House (built 1746, reconstructed in 1797 after a fire); and the Montauk Inn (completed 1900). Additional subjects include the sheep at Second House, yachts in Fort Pond Bay, and a group photograph of railroad surveyors, including Walter Meserde, William Ryder, John Van Siclen, Samuel Ryder, and Richard Jones. The photographs in the collection date 1900.

The collection was compiled by John Henry Van Siclen, who is pictured among the land surveyors in a few photographs. James Schwarz donated the collection to the Montauk Library Archives.