Raynham Hall Museum – Oyster Bay, New York - Atlas Obscura
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Oyster Bay, New York

Raynham Hall Museum

Spies, love letters, and ghost stories have all left their mark on this home-cum-museum. 

This Colonial house was part of George Washington’s spy ring, home of America’s first valentine card, and is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a girl who died of unrequited love for an enemy English officer.

Raynham Hall was originally the family home of Samuel Townsend, a well-to-do merchant and Town Clerk of Oyster Bay, Long Island. Following the Patriots defeat in the Battle of Long Island in 1776, Raynham Hall was taken by the British army to quarter their officers, among them was young Lt. Colonel John Graves Simcoe. After their home was garrisoned by the British, Townsend’s eldest son Robert joined in as part of George Washington’s spy ring. Under the codename “Culper Junior” the younger Townsend used his position as a merchant to move about unheeded, collecting intelligence. Samuel’s daughter Sarah however, took a completely different stance towards the invaders and fell in love with John Simcoe.

It was this affair that led to what the museum claims is the first Valentine letter sent in America, which Simcoe sent to Sarah in 1779 extolling his rapturous love for the young woman. Simcoe returned to England after the war ended, never to return, and Sarah died unmarried at the age of 82, the much folded Valentine found left in her possessions.

In fact, each of the Townsend daughters must have been held in high esteem by the quartering British officers. This can be seen in a set of three etched panes of glass, which were located above the door on the ground floor. Scratched into the glass by British officers, are the words “to the adorable Miss Sarah Townsend – J. MacGill”. Another pane is dedicated to AT (Audrey Townsend, Sarah’s sister) “the most accomplished lady in Oyster Bay.”

After a number of renovations, the house now stands as a permanent museum and historically protected site. The interior of the house has been restored to its Colonial decoration and contains a number of pieces of historic ephemera including the etched windowpanes and a letter from George Washington. The house is also seen as a hotbed of paranormal activity with a number of stories about white ladies and cold spots throughout the site. The most popular tale of course being the lonely ghost of Sarah Townsend which has allegedly been seen searching for her lost love.

Know Before You Go

A short walk from Oyster Bay train station on the Long Island Railroad.