Roland Ray Conklin, an entrepreneur and financier previously based in Kansas City, MO, but with ancestral ties to Huntington, purchased considerable acreage in 1893, commissioning Wilson Eyre to design a residence with gardens atop a west-facing hill with a steep declivity toward the Long Island Sound . To resolve this challenging topography, Roland and his wife Mary MacFadden Conklin, a former opera singer, borrowed an idea from his colleague Edward Bouton’s Baltimore landscape, Rusty Rocks, where a terraced garden descended the slopes of a former quarry.
In 1912 the Conklins asked Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., to transform their sloping ‘bowl’ into a sizable amphitheater, with semi-circular turf-covered tiers for an audience of nearly 3,000, descending to a stage at the bottom, separated by a moat. Conklin envisioned that when not in use for performances, it would be an attractive landscape feature. With the complicated engineering and significant financing required to retain the sandy slopes while providing adequate space to traverse each terrace, this was a short-lived and problematic commission for the Olmsted firm. Conklin took the plans and proceeded to construct the amphitheater on his own, with occasional consultations from Olmsted and his architect Charles Wait. Olmsted did not approve of Conklin’s material selections, and even his wife criticized the inconsistent grading of the finished project in 1916. Nonetheless, the amphitheater was used for various performances, attracting major actors of the day.
After his wife’s death in 1919, Conklin sold the property to the Brooklyn Diocese, who by 1924 built the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, later also becoming a retreat and conference center. In recent years, the landscape has benefited from renewed appreciation and volunteer clearing efforts that have targeted small invasive trees and brush.