The Tilden family traces its roots back to some of the earliest English settlers in what is now the United States. Nathaniel Tilden, a ship’s carpenter in Kent, England, helped to outfit the Mayflower for its voyage to the New World. (Another ancestor of the family, Edward Doty, was a member of the Pilgrims who traveled aboard the Mayflower to their new home.) Nathaniel the Elder, as he was known, then made the journey to Massachusetts himself in the 1630s aboard the ship Hercules; he began the story of the Tildens in America.
In the 1770s, Nathaniel’s great-great grandson Israel Tilden Sr. relocated south from Massachusetts to Long Island, and settled in the village of Huntington. In 1779 he married Elizabeth Wicks, one of the daughters of a prominent Huntington family. He purchased what is now Tilden Lane Farm from his wife’s family in 1793 for 240 pounds. His son, Israel Junior, was born in 1789. He married Sarah Ann Oakes in 1812 and built a home for them that still stands today on Tilden Lane.
Israel Jr.’s son, John William, was born in 1829. He wed Anna Amelia (“Annie”) Kissam, from another well-known Huntington family, in 1884.
John died in 1910 and his son John Leroy (or “Roy,” as he preferred to be called) took over the farm.
The following year he married Daisy Angeline Gardiner. Daisy was the granddaughter of Alexander Gardiner, a successful Greenlawn farmer who helped establish pickles as a major area crop.
Ray spent his entire life on the farm, and witnessed countless changes throughout his lifetime, from mules and wagons to trucks and tractors; the hard work always remained the same.
Roy was the first to plant Christmas trees, and sold them outside the family house and barn.
Roy and Daisy’s son Herbert Smith Tilden would take over the farm from his father to become the fifth generation. Herb ran a popular farmstand; he grew strawberries for wholesale, retail, and one of the first pick-your-own operations on Long Island; and he raised five sons on the farm with his wife Mable: Jeffrey, Bruce, Lee, Donald, and John, the farm’s sixth generation.
Beginning with the Bicentennial in 1976, Tilden Lane Farm was recognized as a bicentennial farm for our long history of continuous family operation, including this cover story in the Suffolk County Agricultural News.
When the National Bicentennial Farm program was instituted in 1988 to mark the bicentennial of the Constitution, Tilden Lane Farm was one of the first farms to be granted national recognition in honor of 200 years of continuous family operation. We still proudly display our National Bicentennial Farm sign at the farm’s entrance.
As nursery stock and Christmas trees became the farm’s primary crops, Herbert’s sons, grandchildren, and their families took a greater role in operating the Christmas tree farm.
In 2004 our brother and uncle Jeffrey passed after an extended illness. Along with many years of dedicated service to New York City schools as an educator, he always made time each year for “tree season,” and we remember him fondly.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Herb’s grandchildren – the seventh generation – began taking on greater responsibilities on the farm.
The Farm Today
In the last decade, the farm has gone through more changes as we bid farewell to Herbert, who passed peacefully at home on the farm in 2014 following an extended illness. He is greatly missed, but his sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are proud to continue the traditions passed down to us.
We have been blessed to welcome new members to the family — both through marriage:
— and welcoming the eighth generation of the family, beginning with Logan!
Logan is now the first of a crew of seven grandchildren: he and siblings Matthew and Meghan and their cousins Nicholas, James, and Owen are all very busy serving as the farm’s branch managers and are outstanding in their field. If you visit the farm during Christmas tree season, you will see the cousin crew helping out with holly harvesting, pinecone selection, and candy cane inspection, and we couldn’t get it done without them.
Our extended family works throughout the year: planting, pruning, mowing, irrigating, and maintaining the farm and trees. We now also host beehives and are very excited to offer honey from our hives! (Ask us during your visit and we’ll be happy to show you the hives – if it’s a warm day some bees might even be out for a flight.)
We work throughout the year, but Tilden Lane Farm always looks forward to the upcoming Christmas season most of all, when we welcome friends and neighbors who come to select and cut their own Christmas trees. Our family is spread across the entire East Coast and Canada, but at tree season, we all come home to pitch in.
In 2020, Tilden Lane Farm was honored to participate in the Town of Huntington’s “Farming In Huntington” exhibit, mounted by Town Clerk Andrew Raia for Archives Month 2020. We were able to offer several artifacts from the farm’s history to be included in the display presented at Town Hall, and Bruce represented the Farm at the opening of the exhibit, where he accepted this certificate recognizing Tilden Lane Farm’s contribution to the town.
In 2022 we welcomed a new granddaughter, the newest member of the farm’s eighth generation! We are so excited for her first trip to the farm and her cousins are excited for a new member of the cousin crew!
Our crew today is headed up by Bruce with his wife Jeanne; son Andrew and his wife Katie, daughters Abigail and her wife Sanna, Rebecca and her husband Mike, and Emily and her husband Jon; grandchildren Logan, Matthew, Nicholas, James, Meghan, Owen and the newest baby cousin; and crewmembers Jimmy (Jeanne’s brother) and lifelong family friends Pete and Tim.
We look forward to your visit, and hope that our family farm tradition will become a part of your family’s treasured Christmas memories as well. See you at the farm!