School Prayer Then and Now

Our school prayer was the issue and our district was the defendant in the case that ended school prayer in America.

Text of the Supreme Court decision

From School Prayer Divides LI

U.S. Supreme Court agrees with parents who oppose prayer in a Herricks school

The parents -- who had a total of 10 children in the district's schools -- had lost at trial in State Supreme Court in Nassau and lost every appeal until the case got to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the high court's decision was announced on June 25, 1962, it was met with a storm of protest. Newsday editorialized against the decision, and religious leaders and some polititicans opposed it.

"I am shocked and frightened that the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional a simple and voluntary declaration of belief in God by public school children," said the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, Cardinal Francis Spellman. "The decision strikes at the very heart of the Godly tradition in which America's children have for so long been raised."

"It means that asking divine guidance in the schools is wrong," said Rep. Steven B. Derounian (R-Roslyn). "I think to ask divine guidance is right anytime and anywhere."

The reaction locally was more vicious. Parents who brought the suit were bombarded with crank calls and obscene and threatening messages calling them Communists and atheists. The assault included the burning of gasoline-soaked rags in the form of a large cross in the driveway of one of the plaintiffs, Lawrence Roth, who lived near Engel. [Joe Roth, Larry's son is now head of Revolution Studios.]

A postcard was mailed to all five plaintiffs. It began: "You damn Jews with your liberal viewpoint are ruining a wonderful country." In fact, two of the plaintiffs were Jews, one a Unitarian, one a Protestant, the fifth an agnostic.

The prayer, composed by the State Board of Regents and recommended for use by school districts, was brief: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country."

In its 6-1 decision, with the majority opinion written by Justice Hugo Black, the Supreme Court concluded that the prayer violated the First Amendment, which begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ... " On the normally nine-member court, one justice was ill and another did not vote because he had not been on the court during the oral arguments.

"In this country," Black wrote, "it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as part of a religious program carried on by government ... By the time of the adoption of the Constitution, our history shows that there was a widespread awareness among many Americans of the dangers of a union of Church and State."

Engel said he had mixed feelings about the national publicity. "I know my name is in history," he said. "But I really wish it could have been resolved with the board of education. I'm proud of one thing: The Nassau Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union evolved out of this case."

He was asked if, knowing what he knows now, he would do it again. "That's a strange question that I don't know the answer to. Knowing what happened ... somebody had to do it. If religious freedom was going to have any meaning in America, somebody had to do it."
Great Neck


Great Neck was prime real estate for centuries, long before theater stars, captains of industry and well-to-do commuting suburbanites made it the western anchor of the Gold Coast.

The Great Neck peninsula was surrounded by water rich in oysters, crabs, clams and many types of fish, and the land was thick with rabbits, beavers, foxes and other animals useful both for their fur and their meat. The Matinecock Indians alternately called it Menhaden-Ock, which may be translated as `place of fish,' or Wallage. When Europeans arrived in the 1640s, the name Menhaden-Ock evolved into Madnan's Neck. By 1670 the name Great Neck (compared to Little Neck just to the west) was in use, and during the next century it supplanted Madnan's Neck as the name for the peninsula.

Indians co-existed peacefully in the area for several decades, although the Rockaway Sachem Tackapousha protested well into the 1680s that the Indians were undercompensated for Madnan's Neck and Cow Neck, the peninsula to the east that is now Port Washington.

Seventeenth Century settlers initially used Great Neck as a giant cattle pen. With water on three sides, a fence along the southern end kept cows well confined. Soon, families began acquiring land on the peninsula for farming. By 1681, there were enough farmers to form a viable political bloc, sometimes supporting different candidates in elections than the rest of what was then Hempstead Town. Halfhearted moves to secede from Hempstead flared up periodically.

Gristmills were built, furthering development. The Saddle Rock Grist Mill, run for many years by Henry Allen, dates to 1702. Saw mills and clothing mills also operated on the peninsula.

As the Revolution neared, Great Neck and Cow Neck were two of the colonies' most fervently anti-British communities. Indeed, in early 1776 they formed an association and wrote a loyalty oath - the first in America - that any newcomer had to swear to. Like the rest of Long Island, Great Neck suffered during the long British occupation.

After the war, Great Neck became part of the new Town of North Hempstead and the focus returned to agriculture. Great Neck farms supplied much of the New York area. The boat landing at the Grist Mill saw a steady stream of produce headed for the city, and an equally steady stream in return of manufactured goods - as well as manure scooped from city streets, to be used as fertilizer on Great Neck farms. As farmers prospered, businesses such as blacksmiths and carriage makers set up shop in the area.

The landing soon saw steamboat service, which became popular with commuting tycoons after wealthy industrialists started buying up farms for estates in the 1870s. William R. Grace, a wealthy trader who served as mayor of New York in the 1880s, built a 200-acre estate in Great Neck and some of the area's shopping districts.

Grace was also somewhat responsible for the start of what became Great Neck's substantial Jewish population. He brought his tailor, Avram Wolf, to Great Neck to live. One of Wolf's sons, I.G., became a major real estate salesman in Great Neck, later making Jews feel welcome in Great Neck. Temple Beth El was the first synagogue in Great Neck, built in 1929.

As the 20th Century dawned, other well-known estate owners included oil tycoon Harry Sinclair and hotel executive Ellsworth Statler. The chairmen of two auto giants, Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors and Chrysler Motors founder Walter P. Chrysler, lived in mansions in Kings Point. William K. Vanderbilt II, who had an estate in nearby Lake Success, was a proud member of the Vigilant Fire Co., often pitching in to fight fires.

In addition, the glamor of Great Neck attracted many Broadway actors, musicians, artists and film stars of the day. The result was a society scene famously immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in ``The Great Gatsby,'' which he wrote in Great Neck Estates.

In the early part of this century, the rich and less-rich alike were protective of Great Neck's quiet character. They were leery of what they perceived as weak North Hempstead town zoning and building laws, so a succession of villages was incorporated across the peninsula. Great Neck Estates and Saddle Rock were first, in 1911. Kensington was next, in 1917. Kings Point and Great Neck followed in 1922. Lake Success formed in 1927, Great Neck Plaza in 1930 and Thomaston in 1931. Russell Gardens was the last village incorporated, in 1931.

The Depression brought much of the high times to an end. Many of the estates were subdivided. Apartments and commercial development, particularly on Middle Neck Road in Great Neck Plaza, led to persistent traffic problems. That, in turn, led to the village becoming the first on Long Island to install parking meters, in 1946. The density and ethnic diversity that has characterized much of Great Neck since the early 1960s has given the area a more lively, more cosmopolitan aspect than much of the rest of Long Island.

HDM: My pediatrician, Dr. Maxwell Stillerman, lived and had his office at 20 Polo Road in Great Neck.
Mineola the County Seat of Nassau County

While Mineola was designated the Nassau County seat when Nassau County seceded from Queens County on January 1, 1899, the county seat was actually built in Garden City as part of a real estate scam that began a long-standing Nassau County tradition.

In 1898, after Long Island City, the Towns of Flushing, Jamaica and Newtown and the Rockaway peninsula of the Town of Hempstead had joined New York City, the eastern 3 towns (Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay) had to pick a location for the new county seat as the previous county seat was now inside New York City.

The choices put before the voters were: the Hamlet of Hicksville in Oyster Bay, the Hamlet of Mineola (Mineola was not yet a village) in North Hempstead and the Village of Hempstead in Hempstead. The residents of the two smaller towns, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, did not want the county seat to be in the Town of Hempstead because of reasons dating back to the Revolutionary War when the residents of that area were loyal to the King. They voted for Mineola in the Town of North Hempstead. Mineola won.

However, A.T. Stewart's Garden City Co. which owned property just south of Mineola wanted the county seat built closer to their property to increase its value. They offered land in Garden City free of charge to the new county government. This land was accepted, and to cover up this real estate scam, the Mineola postal zone was dragged down across the town line to cover this part of Garden City in the Town of Hempstead.

The County Executive building, Supreme Court and the County Court the 3 key elements of a county seat are all inside the Village of Garden City in the Town of Hempstead and all have a Mineola mailing address.

Meanwhile, the Garden City Co. owned all the land surrounding the county seat like a doughnut surrounds its hole and profited very nicely, thank you. 

HDM: Most of my father's friends were fellow Grumman engineers, whose children went to Mineola schools.
Lake Success

Village of Lake Success

Lake Success is one of nine Villages that make up the overall area commonly called Great Neck, and participates in regional cooperative projects in this area.

The Village was incorporated in December, 1927. It is one of 32 Incorporated Villages in the Town of North Hempstead, which constitutes the northwestern quarter of Nassau County. Village government has local authority within its borders which is equivalent to the authority of the Town of North Hempstead in the unincorporated areas outside of the Village.

Lake Success Village covers about two square miles. Lake Success contains 1,195 acres of land, of which 43 acres are lakes. The largest of the three lakes is Lake Success, deriving its name from an Indian chief named "Sacut". The lake is geologically a "kettle hole" gouged out by the glaciers during the last Ice Age. The surrounding glacial moraine is some of the highest land on Long Island. The lake is approximately 75 feet deep in the center and contains many varieties of fish. It is spring fed and is a sanctuary for numerous water fowl.

The population of the Village was 2,390 as of the 1990 census.

We have pre-1850 landmark buildings still standing in our Village, namely: Willets House (1750) at 9 Round Hill Road; Provost House (1800) at 280 Lakeville Road; Maple Cottage (1814) at 42 Farm Lane, and Wooley House (1814) at 325 Lakeville Road.

The first home of the United Nations was in the Administration Building of the Sperry Gyroscope Company on Marcus Avenue at the corner of Lakeville Road, presently owned by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The 1957, by referendum of Village residents, the golf course was purchased for one million dollars just in time to stop it from being developed as a huge subdivision when the Long Island Expressway was constructed.

The Village Park (Vanderbilt Field) was acquired after World War II from Commodore Vanderbilt who had constructed and operated a Naval Reserve Training center there, and his original swimming pool was replaced by the present Olympic size pool in 1956.

Until 1958, the Village Office was located in the original farm house (over the Police Station) which was replaced in 1999 by the Police/Court/Recreation building at Vanderbilt Field. 
Roosevelt Field


On a chilly day in late April, 1955, five men, handsomely garbed in topcoats and felt hats, dug shovels into a deserted airfield on the vast Hempstead Plains. They were about to change Long Island's style of living and shopping. They were breaking ground for the mammoth Roosevelt Field Shopping Center. The men, all big shots, were Nassau County Executive A. Holly Patterson, Hempstead Town Supervisor Harold Herman, Roosevelt Field president Herbert I. Silverson, Macy's president Wheelock H. Bingham and, most imposing of all, developer-tycoon William Zeckendorf.

In 1954, when the Jones Beach State Parkway Authority was planning to extend Meadowbrook Parkway to connect Northern and Southern State Parkways, Webb & Knapp donated 48 acres so that the extension would cut through the airfield. "When they gave us a cloverleaf in the middle of it, we had our shopping center," Silverson said, "the largest in the country." The center, which some have called Long Island's premier shrine to consumerism, was built at a cost of $35 million. It began in 1956 as an open-air mall, with space for 11,000 cars.

Designed by architect I.M. Pei, it was to be more than a shopping center. "We put in an ice skating rink, the first for a shopping center," Silverson said. There was also a 400-seat community theater, an art gallery, space for auto and boat shows. By the end of '56, Webb & Knapp had developed more than 300 acres, including the shopping and industrial areas, restaurants, bowling alleys, a hotel, a medical building.

The mall did not take off in the early '60s. In fact, it lost nearly $8 million total over '62 and '63. The turnaround came in 1968 when the shopping center was enclosed. But Zeckendorf's empire had collapsed, and the property was sold to a combine for $35 million.

HDM: Roosevelt Field had a Macy's and a Gimbel's but the Gimbel's did not have a Stamp Department, so I still had to go into NYC for that. It had a Cinerama movie theater where I saw 2001 Space Odyssey and Dr. No.
Eisenhower Park

In the 50s and 60s this was Salisbury Park

Nassau County

It was the 1920s and there was nothing ordinary about the Hempstead Plains. The era was full of gaiety, opulence, and probably, bathtub gin, following the then current madness of this roaring decade.

The name "Eisenhower Park" was not in existence at the time, but the land that held its future was flourishing under the banner of the Salisbury Country Club. It was a wonderland glittering along the border of north shore's "Gold Coast". A siding of the Long Island Railroad transported club members and their guests to the posh club for either an overnight stay or a simple day of relaxation.

The Great Depression of the 1930's changed the course of history for the area. The owners could not catch up with back taxes and the County acquired the property. Additional land was added by acquisition and administered custodially during World War II by the Nassau County Real Estate Department. In 1944, the Nassau County Park at Salisbury was established and officially dedicated in October, 1949. Located in the geographical center of Nassau County, Eisenhower Park has become the county's recreationa l hub playing host to over 1.5 million visitors each year.

On October 13, 1969, the park was re-dedicated as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Park at an official ceremony that was attended by Ike's grandson, Dwight D. Eisenhower II, and his wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower. This 930-acre treasure, larger than New York City's Central Park, features fields and courts for most sports, vast picnic groves,a major restaurant, Salisbury Lake, monuments to our veterans and firefighters, a Special Activities Center and the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre, which attracts over a quarter of a million visitors each summer to a wide variety of concerts.
East Hills

But even before it was incorporated, East Hills has been a part of the recorded history of the United States since 1643. In that year, the Rev. Robert Fordham and John Carman sailed across Long Island Sound from Stamford, Connecticut and purchased what we now know as the townships of Hempstead and North Hempstead from the Rockoway, Mericock, Marsappeaque and Matinecock Indians.

Settlers came the following year and named the area Hempstead, in honor of their home city, Hemel-Hempstead in Great Britain. The area fell in relative obscurity for about a century after that.

East Hills cannot boast that George Washington ever slept here, but his diary does refer to an Oyster Bay visit, and of his breakfast at what we now know as the George Washington Manor on Old Northern Boulevard in Roslyn. We also know that President Washington inspected the paper mill in Roslyn park, and it certainly doesn't take much imagination to have the Father of Our Country riding, or walking, the 100 yards to what was to become East Hills.

Perhaps the one thing in East Hills which has been in existence longer than any other man-made object is Harbor Hill Road in East Hills. "A path alongside Harboure Hill" is mentioned in records dating back to 1661.

For many years, much of what now is East Hills was the home of a few wealthy families. The neighborhood now known as Fairfield Park was once a polo field. The Country Estates neighborhood was the home of the Clarence Mackay family for 30 years, starting in 1898. The Prince of Wales, who later abdicated the throne of the England to marry Mrs. Simpson, was entertained at the Mackay estate in 1924. And Charles A. Lindberg rested at the Mackay estate after his return to the United States following his historic solo flight to France in 1927.
Williston Park

The area that became Williston Park sat where the northern edge of the vast Hempstead Plains met woods used by Matinecock Indians to hunt and camp. Henry Willis, in 1675, was the first European to settle in the immediate area, and because of what became his large family, locals began calling the area Williston. It remained rural for more than 200 years, until the Long Island Rail Road forged north toward Glen Cove from Mineola. Williston initially warranted only a freight station, but soon industry - such as brick and carriage works - attracted enough residents to justify both a passenger train station and a post office.

After World War I, as a real estate boom spread east from the city, the community east of the railroad tracks formed the incorporated village of East Williston in 1926. Those on the west side followed suit a few months later, forming the village of Williston Park. That year, New York developer William Chatlos bought 195 acres in the village and announced his plans to build 1,000 homes. By the following summer, model homes were being eagerly inspected by city dwellers and many purchased what became known as Happiness Homes. Many of those houses remain, albeit significantly expanded and updated.

HDM: Many of us grew up in Chatlos houses. This is the first I knew they were originally called Happiness Homes.
New Hyde Park and Herricks

A mile-square area was incorporated as the village of New Hyde Park in 1927. The population grew rapidly as farms were subdivided into housing developments starting in the 1920s.

North New Hyde Park remained an unincorporated section of the Town of North Hempstead, and nearby Herricks was developed mostly as part of the post-World War II building boom that covered much of Nassau County with houses. Herricks apparently took its name from Herricks Path, which existed as early as 1659 (though for whom the path was named is lost to history).

The Herricks school district, which draws students from several communities in North Hempstead, was established in 1813, making it one of the oldest in Nassau County.

Shelter Rock and North Hills

There really is a Shelter Rock, an 1,800-ton boulder, largest known on Long Island, deposited by a mighty glacier more than 11,000 years ago near what is now Shelter Rock Road in the village of North Hills. The Matinecocks, who had a village on the site, used its 30-foot overhang for shelter and weaved many legends around it, as did the European colonists who arrived in the 1600s. The stories range from runaway lovers riddled with arrows before they could reach the shelter to buried treasure (never found). The giant boulder is on the private estate of the late John Hay Whitney, publisher and ambassador to England. It's not visible from the road.

The English settlers built a fence in 1658 along what is now Northern Boulevard. The north side was cow pasture; the south, including the present-day North Hills area, became a farming community. One of the largest farms in 1848 belonged to Isaac Underhill Willets, namesake of I.U. Willets Road (which bisected his property, to his displeasure). The farm is now a golf club.

To protect their way of life, landowners organized a village in 1929 with two-acre zoning. Decades later, a 10-year battle raged over a zoning ordinance, passed in 1970, which, among other provisions, allowed for multifamily housing at 10 units to an acre, cluster housing and commercial development.

Albertson sits just north of the great Hempstead Plains, and like the prairie itself, was first cultivated as farmland by early European settlers in the 1640s. John Seren, a member of the initial group of settlers to come from Connecticut in 1644, settled there first. His name, after a spelling change, is the source of the neighboring community of Searingtown. In the second group of settlers, this time from Virginia, was a man named Townsend Albertson. He ran a farm and a gristmill, leading it to be named Albertson Square. The community remained stubbornly rural for three centuries. When the Long Island Rail Road built a branch to Glen Cove in 1864, it named the local station Albertson, and that designation stuck for the community.

Builder William J. Levitt bought acres of Albertson farmland in 1946 and covered them with mass-produced houses - one of several communities in which he perfected the method that he would use to build Levittown the following year. Other developers quickly bought the remaining farmland and in less than two decades none was left. By the mid-1960s, Albertson was as well developed as any of the older suburbs in Nassau County.
North Hempstead

The Town of North Hempstead occupies 58 square miles. Its western border is roughly 14.5 miles from Manhattan. It is bounded on the north by the Long Island Sound, to the south by the Town of Hempstead, to the west by the borough of Queens, and to the east by the Town of Oyster Bay. Its northern land boundaries are extensively arranged along the Little Neck and Manhasset Bays, and Hempstead Harbor.

This suburban community has a population of 212,063. There are 74,587 year round households. Estimated average household size is 2.78. The median house value is $291,600. The median family income is estimated to be $85,212. The average commute is 31 minutes.


In 1980 Manhasset celebrated its tricentennial, 300th anniversary, making it one of the oldest communities on Long Island. It was first occupied by the Matinecock Indians, members of the Algonquin tribe, and other Indian tribes, among them the Manhanssets, who also occupied Shelter Island.

Manhasset Bay was called Cow Bay. In those days it was enclosed by a post and rail fence which extended from Hempstead Harbor to the head of the creek dividing Cow Neck from Great Neck, "and every person was entitled to put in a number of cows or cattle to pasture, in proportion to the number of standing gates or panels of fence made by him." On the map (in Nassau County photo album), you can see where a post and rail fence was constructed by the early settlers to enclose a communal pasture between the bays. The cow path leading from Plandome Mill became the road to Herricks.

After the Revolutionary War, the Town of North Hempstead was formed by the State Legislature of New York. There was no official Town Hall building and meetings were held in taverns in Roslyn and Manhasset.

The Long Island Rail Road came to Great Neck in 1866 and wealthy business men from New York began to have visions of country estates close to their offices. Real estate ads for summer homes in Manhasset began to appear. The extension of the railroad to Manhasset was finalized in the late 1890's.



Midway between the North and South Shore villages of western Long Island stretched a vast prairie called the Hempstead Plains. The area was populated mostly by farmers until 1787, when the opening of the Queens County Courthouse - Nassau was then part of Queens - brought a bumper crop of lawyers to what was then called Clowesville. Today there are 1,353 lawyers listing their business address in Mineola, now the seat of Nassau County government, law and politics.

Mineola first became a hub in the 1830s when the Long Island Rail Road built a track from Jamaica to Hicksville with stops in Brushville (now Queens Village) and at the Clowesville courthouse. In 1839 the railroad extended a line from Hempstead Village to the main branch. The little village at the junction became known as Hempstead Branch.

It was rich farmland where corn, potatoes, cattle, sheep and poultry produced considerable wealth. But by the mid-1800s, the percentage of farmers was dwindling. By 1844 the Branch had its own post office called Mineola. The first postmaster reportedly picked the name of an Indian chief who led an uprising in Nebraska.

The name, officially adopted in 1858, became known nationwide in the early 1900s, as daring young aviators made pioneer flights from the Mineola fields, staking Long Island's claim to being `the cradle of aviation.' Glenn Curtiss came in 1909 with The Golden Flyer, which he kept in a tent next to the Gold Bug Hotel on Old Country Road. Leather-helmeted fliers hung out at the Gold Bug, nicknamed Aeronautical Headquarters. Crowds watched Curtiss take off in his box-like craft every morning. More of the curious turned out to watch a young flier named Charles Lindbergh take off on his historic flight to Paris in 1927 from the adjacent Roosevelt Field.

When Queens County joined New York City in the big consolidation of 1898, Nassau seceded, and Mineola became the new county seat.

The Meadow Brook Hunt Club still chased the fox through eastern Mineola, but many of the large farms were breaking up into small building lots. The Mineola Park Co., an 1890s developer, offered 25-by-100-foot lots at $50 and up (one dollar weekly without interest), in a community described somewhat inaccurately in the company ads as ``a few minutes ride by the Long Island Railroad from 34th St., N.Y.'' No matter how small, nearly every house was surrounded by a white picket fence.

The village was incorporated in 1906. It already had a volunteer fire department, started in 1888, and a police force since 1899. Auto racing was a popular sport and drivers vied for a chance to compete in the Vanderbilt Cup Races, started in 1904 by William K. Vanderbilt II, with a triangular course that skirted Mineola on Jericho Turnpike, and began and ended at a point west of Jericho.

During World War I, Camp Mills, an embarkation camp set up in Garden City, filled Mineola with soldiers, while the Army Air Force was crowded into cattle sheds on the Mineola County Fairgrounds.

The Hempstead Plains Aviation Field, renamed Hazelhurst Field during World War I, became the site of daredevil air shows after the war. On the ground, a building boom was going on. The Mineola Theatre opened in 1927, a showplace of its time. 
Stewart Manor


The grassy Hempstead Plains that covered much of modern-day central Nassau include what is now Stewart Manor. By the mid-1800s, the town-owned plains were seen as useless and were sold to wealthy New York merchant Alexander T. Stewart. He developed Garden City on the plains and sold off most of the rest of the land. As late as the 1920s, long after Garden City had become established, its neighbor to the west was still treeless, barren and largely unoccupied.

Realty Associates, a Brooklyn developer, hoped in the 1920s to develop a portion of Garden City, but that village's developer, the Garden City Co., would not sell land to Realty Associates. Realty decided to buy land as close to Garden City as possible, and in 1925 began building and selling houses on Jefferson Street and Elton Road. Realty called the new community Sunrise Gardens, and the company promised to build a country club and a pool for residents. Homes sold well, even though Sunrise Gardens had unlighted dirt roads, no stores and no police. But what apparently irritated early residents most was the community's name. They begged Realty to change it, and the company did in 1926 - to Stewart Manor. Residents voted to incorporate as a village in 1927, primarily to avoid being annexed by the adjacent village of New Hyde Park. That same year, the promised country club and pool opened. 
Nassau County


Nassau County, birthplace of American suburbia, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1999, but its colonial roots go back 355 years, to when almost half of it was acquired by two Englishmen in one of Long Island's most prodigious land deals.

The saga began inauspiciously in 1640 when a small band from Massachusetts landed on the North Shore, only to be driven off by the Dutch, who claimed territory as far east as Oyster Bay. The English went east to settle Southampton. But three years later, John Carman and Robert Fordham crossed Long Island Sound from Stamford, Conn.; they negotiated with the Indians for a deed to a 10-mile-wide swath from Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean and founded the first English settlement on the Hempstead Plains. The colonists who followed negotiated a patent from the Dutch, who hoped more Englishmen would come to help control the Indians. The English obliged. By 1653 they were colonizing the present-day Oyster Bay, Westbury, Jericho and Hicksville. In 1664 they drove out the Dutch.

The independent colonists were no more eager to pay taxes to the duke of York than they were to pay the Dutch. Their chafing brought about the colonial assembly of 1683, which created the counties of Suffolk and Queens. Queens included the Towns of Oyster Bay and Hempstead. North Hempstead seceded from Hempstead during the Revolution, when Patriots in the north broke from the Loyalists in the south. But in the next century they shared a growing desire to split off from Queens County.

The planting of the Queens County Courthouse on the Hempstead Plains in 1785 sowed the seeds of resentment, and secessionist talk increased after the Civil War, when western Queens became increasingly urbanized and Democratic, the eastern towns rural and Republican. Finally, in 1898, when Queens joined Greater New York City, the eastern towns found themselves still part of Queens but not of the city. Community leaders met in Allen's Hotel in Mineola and resolved that the Towns of Oyster Bay, Hempstead and North Hempstead form a new county.

Suggested names -- Matinecock, Norfolk, Bryant, Sagamore -- lost out to Nassau, once the legal name for all Long Island. It honored the late 17th-Century King William III, who came from the House of Nassau. Nassau County came into being on Jan. 1, 1899. On July 13, 1900, then-New York Gov. Theodore Roosevelt of Oyster Bay laid the cornerstone for the first Nassau County Courthouse on land purchased in 1869 by Alexander T. Stewart, founder of Garden City.

The 20th Century brought rapid change, accelerated by two world wars. In the early years the Hempstead Plains became the site of pioneer aviation feats, motorcar and horse racing. On the northern Gold Coast, rich New Yorkers played polo and chased the fox. South Shore communities became popular beach resorts. Robert Moses, New York's master builder, turned a barren shore into famed Jones Beach. After World War II, communities of subdivisions spread across Nassau at a dizzying pace, creating the tightly packed suburbia, populated by nearly 1.3 million people, that is Nassau County today. But the sprawl still left room for pockets of opulence: According to Worth magazine, 11 of the nation's 30 most expensive communities are in Nassau County, all but one (Hewlett) on the North Shore.
We grew up at ground zero for suburban sprawl in America.

Willsiton Park

In 1926, during the Roaring Twenties, a developer named William Chatlos stripped 195 acres of land and built 1000 Happiness Homes in Williston Park. A mile square area was similarly stripped and developed the next year in New Hyde Park. At about the same time, work was started on the Grand Central Parkway, Northern State Parkway, Southern State Parkway, and Wantagh Parkway.

When I moved from Garden City to Williston Park at the mature age of two, there was a lovely hill at the end of Hillside Avenue in Williston Park and Hillside Avenue was a scenic two lane road. By the mid fifties, the hill had been bulldozed away and Hillside Avenue was four lanes connecting with Willis Avenue. There was a working farm there, which stayed a little while longer. The farmhouse is now a fancy restaurant. The year I moved to Williston Park, William J. Levitt started developing homes in Albertson along the lines of what was done in Williston Park and New Hyde Park.

In the late forties and early fifties, Albertson Dairy was in a beautiful valley. The dairy wagon was pulled by a horse. We had an ice chest and the iceman delivered by horse. There were abandoned sandpits, like something out of Star Wars, across the street from the old Junior High School. A truck farm stretched from there to Hillside Avenue. Beyond the sand pits was an open field with an abandoned car, then Herricks Pond and Herricks Woods. Where the High School and Hamilton Park are there were more woods and Bloody Hollow where arrowheads indicated a battle was fought. In downtown Williston Park on Willis Avenue was the abandoned Simpson estate which we called Simpson's Woods. We played in the sand pits and the various woods.

Shelter Rock Road was a winding two lane road overhung by trees on both sides. It was the most beautiful road I have ever seen. I loved it. When the Expressway came it was four-laned, straightened and the trees were all cut back from the roadside. There was little traffic in the late forties and early fifties but it got worse and worse as more and more subdivisions were built.

By the time we were in High School, there was little scenic beauty left and a textbook example of suburban sprawl. Everywhere you went there was traffic. There were few first run movie theaters; but in Williston Park there were lots of bars. We had one Chinese Restaurant in the area and their specialty was cat.

H. David Marshak, Spring 2002
Garden City


Thousands of years before tree-lined streets stretched past graceful, formal homes, the place that would become Garden City sat in the heart of the Hempstead Plains, the only prairie east of the Mississippi River. It was a flat, barren meadow -- as clean a sheet of paper as any developer could hope for. No hills. No forest to clear or swamps to fill. In pre-colonial times, Indians lived on the shores, using the plains only for hunting. Then, for more than a century before Garden City was developed in the mid-1800s, the plains were public land in the Town of Hempstead, used as pastures available to all. Some of Long Island's first horse-racing tracks were laid out on the plains. Every so often in the years after 1850, town officials would try to put the 7,000 acres they controlled up for sale, but voters routinely vetoed the attempts.

Enter wealthy New York merchant Alexander T. Stewart. He offered to pay an astounding $55 an acre - and promised to invest millions of dollars to build homes, roads and neighborhoods. It would be one of the nation's first planned communities. In 1823, Alexander Turney Stewart, an Irish immigrant, opened a small dry-goods shop at 283 Broadway in Manhattan. By the 1860's, he was one of New York City's wealthiest residents, with a business consisting of stores, warehouses, and factories. Stewart and his architect, John Kellum, got to work laying out their new village, which Stewart named Garden City, after Chicago's informal nickname. Stewart liked the sound of it.

Much of 1870 was spent clearing and grading land and building an occasional house. The first one, a two-story cottage at 4 First St., was the headquarters for the enterprise. Workers erected 28 miles of white picket fence around the empty blocks, and Kellum had 6,500 sugar maple trees transplanted from Flushing. In 1871, builder James L'Hommedieu of Great Neck won the first contract to build 20 ``fine villa residences'' in Garden City, priced between $2,000 and $20,000. Construction began the following year on the original Garden City Hotel. Despite the trappings of a fine village, residents were slow to arrive. They may have been put off by Stewart's insistence on retaining ownership of the entire village. He leased every house and every business to occupants. By the end of 1874, only 40 families had moved to Garden City. But Stewart persevered. He built a railroad to serve Garden City. He built a waterworks and the first sewage system in what was then Queens County. He built more stately houses.

And then he died, in April, 1876. His village was still a shell, with empty roads, saplings and empty houses. Stewart's widow began work on a massive memorial to him - the magnificent Cathedral of the Incarnation. The Episcopal church was completed in 1885.

Control of the village passed to the newly formed Garden City Corp., and in the 1890s, the village came to life. The company encouraged renters to buy their homes and hired famed New York architect Stanford White to remodel the Garden City Hotel. It was an instant success. The hotel attracted the Astors, the Vanderbilts, the Pierpont Morgans -- the richest citizens of the day. A golf course was similarly successful.

At the same time, the inability to attract land buyers prompted the Garden City Corp. in 1910 to sell 40 acres on Franklin Avenue to Doubleday, Page & Co. -- a rare invitation to industry from the planned community. Former President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone and the publishing plant's 700 employees soon were turning out 6,500 books a day.

The Army's use of the remaining plains as campgrounds during the Spanish-American War and World War I brought visitors to the hotel and village. And nearby Roosevelt and Curtiss airfields attracted aviators. Charles Lindbergh stayed at the hotel in the week before his flight to Paris in 1927.

In time, thanks both to the railroad and automobiles, Garden City finally began to fill up. It incorporated as a village in 1919, and its exclusive reputation led nearby communities to spring up and associate themselves with it, particularly Stewart Manor and Garden City Park. Adelphi College (later upgraded to university) moved from Brooklyn to Garden City in 1929, becoming the first four-year college in Nassau or Suffolk. And in the 1930s, hundreds of houses were built to accommodate a population boom, though Garden City used a strict zoning code to preserve Stewart's vision. Alone in central Nassau, the village retained a sense of orderly development, true to its rigorously planned roots.

Claims to Fame: The Episcopal cathedral and a more modern -- but less stylish -- version of the Garden City Hotel remain. The original headquarters building of the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway is now a private home near Clinton Road. The adjoining toll lodge was moved in 1989 to Seventh Street, east of Franklin Avenue, and is now the headquarters of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce. It includes a pictorial exhibit of the parkway.

Going Back

July 2002 I came back to Long Island for my 40th Herricks Senior High School Class of 1962 Reunion after many years absence. I stayed in the new Garden City Hotel. They were doing construction so the famous Polo Grill and the night club were closed.

Herricks Pond is  a mockery of its former self. It is much smaller than it used to be and the swampy land around it is gone. The sand pits have been filled in and are now homes.

The old part of Williston Park has not changed but the homes seem even smaller than they used to. The Picture Lounge on Hillside Avenue is gone; but the Silver Dollar Bar on Willis Avenue is still there. The Masonic Lodge is now a fancy seafood restaurant.

Hamiton Park has not moved an inch; but it is now in Roslyn according to the entry sign and community website.

Shelter Rock Road is now six lanes in places. The "new" homes on the New York City side of Herricks and Searingtown Roads are surrounded by mature trees and many of them have substantial additions. Manhasset Hills is a very prestigious address and even Williston Park is well thought of, at least by some. After the reunion, I had an opportunity to stay on for a few days in the Inisfada mansion near the high school. It is now a Jesuit Retreat House. It was quite a delight to stay there with its beautiful downstairs rooms, grand grounds, and hilltop view.

Somehow Long Island seemed smaller and easier to get around than I had remembered.

H. David Marshak, Fall 2002
Copyright H. David Marshak, All Rights Reserved
Most of the history on this page comes from Newsday's excellent Long Island Our Story Site.