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The village of Kingspoint, New York, is home to an interesting contradiction. On the one hand, the town of 5,000 people located in Nassau County, New York, is a prosperous village populated mostly by Iranian immigrants and their families. On the other, it is a historic Long Island town that is home to one of the least-known but most important branches of the United States Service—the United States Merchant Marine Academy. A visit to Kingspoint will quickly reveal both sides of this town to the observer, cementing its place as one of the most unique towns in the Greater New York area.
The United States Merchant Marine is a little-known but important branch of the United States Service that dates back over 100 years. The Academy in Kingspoint is the central training location for all merchant marines, the servicemen who operate the ships that are the backbone of United States military across the world. Opened in 1943, the current campus shifted to peacetime use after World War II, but has played an instrumental role in ever US war since. In fact, the Merchant Marine Academy was so integral to the United States war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan that in 2006, President George W. Bush gave the commencement address at graduation—making him the first sitting President to do so.
Visitors curious about this often-neglected branch of the service can visit the Academy at Kingspoint to gain a better appreciation for what role the cadets play in our country’s military presence around the world. Besides for touring the campus itself, you can visit the United States Merchant Marine Museum, an impressive collection of maritime art and artifacts stretching back throughout United States history. The collection includes genuine gunboats used in battle and one of the five surrender swords presented to the United States by the Japanese at the end of World War II. Located near the museum is the Maritime Hall of Fame—a gallery that honors people and ships who have played an integral role in the American presence at sea.
However, only a few minutes’ drive away from the Merchant Marine Academy, the atmosphere of militaristic rigor drops away and a visitor will soon realize that he is in one of the most affluent villages in the North Shore of Long Island. Kingspoint is one of the villages that make up the area known as Great Neck, a prosperous, largely Jewish and immigrant community with a median household income of about $250,000.
This luxury is nothing new to Kingspoint—the town was a prosperous place even in the late nineteenth century, when New York City mayor W.R. Grace made it his home. Tourists can still visit the Grace Mansion, an impressive historic home featuring 11 fireplaces and a five-car garage. During the 1920’s, Kingspoint became a national symbol of the decadence and luxury that typified the Jazz Age. During this time, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Kingspoint, in a modest home very similar to the one occupied by the protagonist of his novel, The Great Gatsby. The fictional towns of East and West Egg portrayed in the novel are said to be based on Kingspoint and nearby Sands Point, two towns that reveled in the kind of luxurious lifestyle portrayed in the book.
Disciplined merchant marine or indulgent Jazz Age partier, quiet military village or austere prosperous town, Kingspoint is a small place with two very different identities.