Annals of the Hempstead Plains: An Account of Both the Former Central Railroad of Long Island and the Formation of Levittown

Azalea Road Park, Levittown (May 26, 2014)
Azalea Road Park, Levittown (May 26, 2014)

When it was created in 1899, Nassau County adopted one of the early names of Long Island, “Ye Island of Nassau.” The name was chosen by Rockville Centre editor George Wallace. Laws enacted in 1897 to consolidate neighboring districts into New York City did not include the more rural portion of what was Queens County. Thus, the three eastern townships which encompassed two hundred and seventy-four square miles became a new municipality. Indeed, much of Central Nassau was a vast meadow employed as farmland. Within fifty years most of the grassland was cleared and replaced with new residential communities. The forerunner of these post-WWII localities was Levittown. The succeeding text is a summary of the construction of Levittown and the railroad that once traversed the former prairie.

Early Settlement

Hempstead is the oldest settlement in what is now Nassau County. In 1643, Reverend Richard Denton and thirty or forty families from Connecticut came to establish a community at Hempstead. It was named for the Dutch Heemsteede, a town in Holland, and embraced territory from the ocean to Long Island Sound.[1] During the American Revolution, southern Hempstead township was loyal to the King. Known as Tories, the Loyalists held a meeting on April 4, 1775 and logged the Hempstead Resolutions, expressing their loyalty to the King. After the war, in April of 1784, the people on the north side of the town sought to separate from the south in order to distance themselves from the Tories. A division soon followed to form North and South Hempstead towns. However, the south changed its name to Hempstead in 1801.[2]

Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)
Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)

When the original settlers of Hempstead divided land, the area of modern-day Garden City was the town pasture.[3] In fact, receding glaciers left behind a vast prairie that covered most of Central Nassau. While Indians lived mostly along the coast, the colonists utilized the plains as common grazing land for sheep and cattle. The grassland was also ideal for settlement since there were no forests to clear and no hills.[4] The sixty thousand acres of flat, treeless grasslands was known as the Hempstead Plains, once considered the largest prairie in the eastern United States. The story of what is now Levittown and Plainedge begins with the eastern end of the plains.[5]

The first settlement in this region was Jerusalem, which encompassed much of the two modern-day hamlets. Jerusalem was established in 1666 by Captain John Seaman and his six sons, to whom a special patent was granted by Governor Nicholls for a considerable track of land previously purchased by the Seaman family from the Meroke Indians.[6] Influenced by their religious background, early settlers adopted the name Jerusalem. It originally applied to all land to the South Shore. However, following the construction of the South Side Railroad to Patchogue, the southern section was named Ridgewood, later Wantagh. Thus, by the 1870s, Jerusalem corresponded roughly to current school districts five and twenty-six, Levittown and Island Trees respectively. The name is still found on four roads in the area: Jerusalem Avenue east from Hempstead village to Wantagh Avenue, North Jerusalem Road east from North Merrick to Gardiners Avenue in Levittown, Old Jerusalem Road from Gardiners Avenue to Wantagh Avenue, and Jerusalem Avenue running south from Hicksville to Hempstead Turnpike.[7]

On the eastern edge of what was Jerusalem and Hempstead Plains is modern day Plainedge, the name derived from “plain’s edge.” Land in this area was purchased in several sections from 1688 to 1699 from the Massapequa Indians by English settlers Thomas Powell and William Frost.[8]

Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)
Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)

A small region on the north edge of Jerusalem, Island Trees, was so-named most likely because it contained a tall group of pine trees which resembled an island unto itself. Early residents were mainly farmers of English descent. The arrival of the Long Island Rail Road at Hicksville in 1836 allowed farmers to transport their goods to markets on the western end of the island. It also permitted shipments of feed and fertilizer to reach Island Trees. Such economic feasibility attracted German land developers to purchase large parcels of land.[9]

By mid-nineteenth century German farmers dominated the area, predominantly members of the German Methodist Church of America. In 1856, the Town of Hempstead gave one acre of land to a German mission to build a church and lay out a cemetery.   Present-day St. John of Jerusalem Cemetery was built in 1865. The first cemetery lots were sold for $5 and the first burial was Frederick Doscher, born on December 9, 1814, who died in September of 1862. The last entry in the German Methodist-Episcopal Mission Church record is dated August 1, 1912. The church remained unused from 1912 to 1926, at which time the local Lutheran congregation occupied it until 1940. Lastly, it was used from 1949 to 1969 by the United Christian group. From that time, the cemetery has been under the guidance of the current trustees. Restoration of the church is forthcoming.[10]

Saint John of Jerusalem Cemetery and Church, Levittown (May 26, 2014)
Saint John of Jerusalem Cemetery and Church, Levittown (May 26, 2014)

Railroading on the Eastern Hempstead Plain

The narrative of railroading on the eastern end of Hempstead Plains begins in the year 1869. New York merchant A.T. Stewart bought 7,000 acres of the plains from the Town of Hempstead for the sum of $400,000. Known as the “Plains Fund,” the money went on to support schools and the poor. North of Hempstead village, Stewart planned to lay out Garden City. Additionally, he prepared for railroad facilities. To access Hunter’s Point, Flushing, and beyond, he organized the Central Railroad of Long Island in 1871. Dubbed the “Stewart Line,” the established route left the Flushing & North Side Railroad at Flushing and ran southeast to Creedmoor. From there it crossed the Hempstead Plains and intersected the Long Island Rail Road at modern-day Floral Park. Beyond Garden City, a branch line traveled to Hempstead while the main right-of-way continued east to Bethpage through what is now Levittown and Plainedge. In fact, Stewart operated a brick company in Bethpage. While Stewart agreed to finance a steel double-track road within the boundaries of his purchase from Floral Park to Farmingdale, the Flushing & North Side Railroad, operated by the Poppenhusen family, agreed to build a steel double-track road from Flushing to Floral Park. Scheduled completion date was July 4, 1872.[11]

Former Central Railroad of Long Island, west of Newbridge Road, track view east (Circa 1936: Levittown Historical Society Collection)
Former Central Railroad of Long Island, west of Newbridge Road, track view east (Circa 1936: Levittown Historical Society Collection)
Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view west, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view west, Levittown (January 12, 2008)

During the winter of 1871 to 1872, Stewart and Poppenhusen decided to extend the railroad east to Babylon.[12]  Under the name of Central Railroad Extension Company, a road was planned from Bethpage Junction to the Fire Island dock in Babylon with the intention to draw traffic to the resort destination. The new company was leased to the Flushing & North Side Railroad.[13] The seven miles from Garden City to Farmingdale opened for through traffic on May 19, 1873, with the extension to Babylon to follow.[14] Operated by the Flushing & North Side Railroad, initial service on the “Stewart Line” was three trains a day.[15] When service to Babylon opened in the middle of July of 1873, service fluctuated between seven and ten trains per day, depending on the season, running at roughly two-hour intervals.[16] At just one hour and five minutes from Hunter’s Point and a stagecoach transfer, Babylon connected the summer traveler to Fire Island.[17]

Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)

Not only did the extension to Babylon bring a large area of Long Island within easy reach of New York City, it offered farmers in eastern Hempstead Plains a facility to transport produce.[18] Within a year, three stations served the Jerusalem farming communities of what is now Levittown and Plainedge. Island Trees (Hicksville) Station opened when service on the line commenced in May of 1873. By the winter of 1873 to 1874, three daily trains and one Sunday train made station stops, both eastbound and westbound, to and from Hunter’s Point. Additionally, daily freight service was available, complete with a turnout.[19] A depot building was located at the Jerusalem Avenue crossing and in December of 1875 the station agent William Place operated a telegraph office. By April of 1874, two more stations were listed on the Central Railroad of Long Island timetables. New Bridge Road Station was located at the intersection of current New York State Route 106. It is unclear whether a depot was built but in the summer of 1874 Charles Kieiling constructed a large hotel near the station.[20] The third station was Central Park (Jerusalem). Located on the east side of Stewart Avenue in today’s Plainedge, the station agent Smith used a room in his house for a public waiting area since there was no depot or freight house. However, a side track was installed for freight cars in January of 1874 and a swing pole for farmers to load hay and straw.[21] By November 12, 1874, a total of five Babylon-bound trains stopped at all three stations, two in the morning and three in the afternoon and evening. Hunter’s Point-bound service also made stations stops at Central Park (Jerusalem), Island Trees (Hicksville), and New Bridge Road, with three in the morning and two after noon.[22]

New Bridge Road Station
Central Railroad of Long Island Island
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened April 1874
Station closed October 1876 (timetable)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island New Bridge Road Station, Newbridge Road Crossing, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island New Bridge Road Station, Newbridge Road Crossing, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Island Trees (Hicksville) Station
Central Railroad of Long Island Island
Historical Fact
Date
Station and depot building opened May 1873
Station closed May 1, 1876
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Island Trees (Hicksville) Station, Jerusalem Avenue Crossing, view west, Levittown (May 17, 2014)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Island Trees (Hicksville) Station, Jerusalem Avenue Crossing, view west, Levittown (May 17, 2014)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Island Trees (Hicksville) Station, view east, Levittown (May 17, 2014)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Island Trees (Hicksville) Station, view east, Levittown (May 17, 2014)
Central Park (Jerusalem)
Central Railroad of Long Island Island
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened April 1874
Station closed October 1876 (timetable)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Central Park (Jerusalem) Station, Stewart Avenue Crossing, view west, Plainedge (November 6, 2005)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Central Park (Jerusalem) Station, Stewart Avenue Crossing, view west, Plainedge (November 6, 2005)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Central Park (Jerusalem) Station, view east, Plainedge (November 6, 2005)
Location of the former Central Railroad of Long Island Central Park (Jerusalem) Station, view east, Plainedge (November 6, 2005)

The “Stewart Line” was built to the finest standards.For the summer season of 1874, palace cars were prevalent on the road. They were equipped with silver plated water coolers, featuring handsome silver cups attached by a silver chain, to provide passenger comfort.[23] Also, the American Parlor Car Company constructed several fine parlor cars.[24] The expansion of Long Island railroads led to the consolidation of several Poppenhusen roads and the “Stewart Line” into the Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad as of July 20, 1874.[25]

Another railroad also planned to traverse the Hempstead Plains. In 1870, the Hempstead Plains Railroad Company was organized to build from Bay Ridge to the plains. It was later consolidated with the Hempstead & Rockaway Railroad Company to form the New York & Hempstead Railroad Company whereby a branch from Valley Stream to Hempstead was operated under lease by the South Side Railroad. While the line from Hempstead to the edge of the plains in Jerusalem was graded, the rails were never laid.[26]

Despite frequent passenger and freight service, the Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad was relatively short-lived. In fact, the “Stewart Line” undermined the entire route since it served few villages of importance. Ridership was low especially in the farming territory of the eastern plains, which served as a “revenue vacuum.”[27] Furthermore, the competition of several railroads across the island necessitated consolidation. In what served as a landmark decision, Long Island railroads were consolidated into one operating whole as of February 1, 1876.[28] The old Long Island Rail Road was made the backbone of a unified system with Conrad Poppenhusen as president. Thus, the old Long Island Rail Road branch from Hempstead to Hempstead Crossing was abandoned and a connection at current Floral Park allowed trains to run to Hempstead over the “Stewart Line.” Additionally, the Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad was leased to the Long Island Rail Road.[29] The shuffle ended service to the eastern plains communities. Island Trees (Hicksville) Station was abandoned as of May 1, 1876. Both New Bridge Road and Central Park (Jerusalem) were last listed on timetables dated October of 1876.[30]

However, successful operation of a unified system under Poppenhusen lasted only eighteen months. In early May of 1879, service on the entire “Stewart Line,” or Central Railroad, was abandoned. Later in the year, the right-of-way from Flushing to Creedmoor was torn up. Subsequently, Austin Corbin and a syndicate of Boston and London capitalists purchased an interest in the Long Island Rail Road from Drexel, Morgan, & Co. in December of 1880.[31] While the sixteen miles from Garden City to Babylon was abandoned for several years, it was reactivated during the Corbin days. In fact, during the 1880s and 1890s, and up to about 1898, express trains to points beyond Babylon ran via the old Central Railroad. However, by the turn of the twentieth century, the right-of-way through the eastern plains was no longer used by passenger trains. Freight service for the farming communities continued until at least the mid-1920s. In 1908, five miles of the right-of-way was a project test site for the East River tunnel construction.[32] According to the website Trains Are Fun, a second Island Trees Station opened in 1916 at the Hicksville Road crossing and was utilized for an undetermined amount of time. It served the real estate developer Merillon Estates Corporation and featured a 1,000-foot long, low, cinder platform.[33]

LIRR Time Table no. 26, in Effect May 27, 1903: By 1903, the old "Stewart Line" was no longer utilized for service to Babylon, however, timetables for the Central Extension detailed the former set-up without through service
LIRR Central Extension Timetable Effective May 27, 1903: By 1903, the old “Stewart Line” was no longer utilized for service to Babylon, however, timetables for the Central Extension detailed the former set-up without through service

Establishment of Levittown

By the late nineteenth century, farming communities, mostly composed of immigrants from Germany, dominated the eastern Hempstead Plains region. Cabbage and cucumbers were the cash crops until a severe blight hit the area in 1912 and farmers shifted to potato farming.[34] Limited freight service was available on the old Central Railroad, by then referred to as the Central Extension. Fertilizer, manure, and seed potatoes were delivered and farmers received letters when a shipment was ready in boxcars.[35]

Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)
Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)

Settlement in Island Trees in the nineteenth century was limited to the crossroads of Wantagh and Jerusalem Avenues. There was a blacksmith and general store. y the early twentieth century Island Trees soon became the center of potato farming in Nassau County since the arrival of the railroad in Wantagh stimulated the development of trading and shipping centers. B However, in the mid-1930s, the golden nematode potato bug seriously damaged crops.[36] While it had no entity as a village, no post office or local government, Island Trees had a school district.[37] It was formed as school district twenty-six in 1902 and the original one-room school house was located on Hempstead Turnpike. The little white building had twenty-five seats, with a coal stove supplying heat during the winter months.[38] It opened January 25, 1904.[39]

Bertram Place, Plainedge (May 17, 2014)
Bertram Place, Plainedge (May 17, 2014)

The evolution of the Hempstead Plains and the establishment of a new county government set the stage for the development of Levittown. By 1900, the central Hempstead Plains was owned by the Merillon Corporation representing the estate of the late Stewart. To residents of the newly established Nassau County, the plains were for the hunting of quail, peasants, possums, woodchucks, rabbits, and foxes. It also featured violets in May and hazelnut. Additionally, the building of the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway in the early twentieth century began a new era of car racing in the plains. Otherwise, there was little in the way of development, except for eastern and western ends. The exception was Hempstead, Garden City and the new county seat at Mineola.[40]

Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)
Hempstead Plains, Nassau Community College, Garden City (May 17, 2014)

As the twentieth century progressed,   the plains became the country’s center for aviation. In 1908, Glenn Curtiss, the well-known builder and flier of aircraft, was asked by the Aeronautical Society of New York to construct an airplane. Following delivery, the Morris Park racetrack proved too small for successful flights. Therefore, Curtiss chose the large, level tract of land just east of Mineola as an ideal place for flying since the flat plain enabled safe emergency landings, common in early aviation. In July of 1909 Curtiss won the Scientific American Trophy on the Hempstead Plains. The flight went from Mineola east to Meadow Brook and returned, covering twenty-eight miles in fifty-eight minutes. Upon landing, Curtiss declared that “this flight at Mineola gave this place a start as the headquarters for aviators.” A month later his student Charles F. Willard completed the first long-distance flight on the plains, ending in a forced landing at Hicksville. In time, aviation grew as a major activity on Long Island. In the fall of 1910 the International Aerial Tournament was held at Belmont Park.[41]Throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, Nassau dominated advances in travel. In 1962, NASA selected Grumman Aircraft Corporation as a prime contractor for the Lunar Excursion Module for the Apollo space program. Aviation both matured and declined in Nassau. However, thanks to Hempstead Plains, it received its title of “Cradle of American Aviation.”[42]

Meanwhile, on the eastern plains, the golden nematode wiped out a large part of the area’s potato crops. By 1945, farmers were selling off land. At this time, Abraham Levitt and his sons Alfred and William under the firm of Levitt & Sons purchased an old potato field in Island Trees.  A lawyer by trade, Abraham was involved in real estate. During the Great Depression he completed the Strathmore complex in Rockville Centre. Additionally, at the onset of WWII, Levitt and Sons won a Navy contract to build homes for shipyard workers in Norfolk, Virginia.  Here, they developed and perfected mass production techniques that were used in the construction of Levittown.[43]

William Levitt enlisted in the service during WWII at which time he realized the need for post-war housing as sixteen million troops would return home. Following the purchase of the land, Levitt & Sons divided the potato field into small lots and planned to build simple, inexpensive mass-produced homes for veterans and their families. To construct homes quickly, Levitt & Sons decided to eliminate basements and build their new homes on concrete slabs. Following a building code modification by the town of Hempstead, the firm began construction. The abandoned Central Extension of the Long Island Rail Road was reopened to bring construction materials to Island Trees.[44]

Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Village Green, Strawberry Lane, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Village Green, Strawberry Lane, Levittown (January 12, 2008)

On May 7, 1947, Newsday announced that 2,000 $60 rentals would soon be available in the project dubbed Levittown. Island Trees was no longer to be referred to as a separate entity but rather only as a school district. The Jerusalem named was dropped entirely. By the end of the month, veterans had filed over 6,500 applications. Subsequently, Levitt & Sons purchased more land to build over 4,000 additional units. By October of 1948, the first 200 families moved in.[45] Soon, the practice of renting homes led to a Federal Housing Authority-guaranteed risk-free mortgage for $7,990. Houses came complete with Bendix washer and glass-walled living room.[46]

Typical Levittown kitchen, Levittown Historical Society (August 1, 2014)
Typical Levittown kitchen, Levittown Historical Society (August 1, 2014)
Bertram Place, Plainedge (May 17, 2014)
Bertram Place, Plainedge (May 17, 2014)

The Levittown project came to an end on November 22, 1951. In total 17,447 homes were built.[47] The original Levitt house was a Cape Cod with 720 square feet of first-floor space. It first sold for $6,990 but the price was raised to $7,990.   Later, ranch-style homes provided somewhat larger space, complete with an attractive brick fireplace which opened into both the kitchen and living area, that eventually sold for $9,000. Levitt & Sons also planned an attractive environment for the community.   Random street layouts were used and landscaped with fruit trees and shade trees. Other Long Island communities soon mirrored Levittown, such as Uniondale and East Meadow. In fact in 1950 the town of Hempstead added over 40,000 new residents. The following year the number was 55,000. Some of the new locales were built along the commuter railroad lines of the Long Island Rail Road, especially on the south shore.[48]

Plainedge also grew following the establishment of Levittown. Although the school district dates from the early nineteenth century, the hamlet, like former Island Trees and Jerusalem, was primarily used as a pasture and hay farm, and there were only a handful of homes. By 1960, Plainedge grew to 6,000 homes.[49]

Periwinkle Road, Levittown (May 26, 2014)
Periwinkle Road, Levittown (May 26, 2014)

Expeditiously, shopping centers, playgrounds, and a $250,000 community center sprang up to accommodate Levittown’s active residents.  The July 1951 issue of the Nassau Daily Review Star claimed that “Levittown’s fame has spread so widely, both in America and abroad that it now ranks near the Statue of Liberty among the seven wonders which New York City visitors want to see!”[50]

One of the greatest challenges was the coordination of local school systems, especially the establishment of facilities to handle the rapidly growing enrollment. In 1945, school Districts Five, which included most of present Levittown, and Twenty-Six, which comprised Island Trees, had forty and twenty-three pupils respectively. District Five jumped to 19,000 in 1955. New grammar and high schools were constructed.[51] On June 15, 1949, voters approved the construction of a new Island Trees school in District Twenty-Six, commonly called Farmedge School but renamed the Stephen E. Karopczyc School in honor of First Lieutenant Stephen E. Karopczyc who was killed in Vietnam on March 12, 1967. Several more buildings followed: the Island Trees Memorial School in September 1953, the Michael F. Stokes Elementary School in January 1955, the Geneva N. Gallow Elementary School in 1955, the J. Fred Sparke Elementary School in 1956, and finally the Island Trees High School in 1957. Due to the dramatic increase in population, the district grew to 5,852 children in 1963.[52]

Gardiners Avenue Elementary School (Circa 1960s: Levittown Historical Society Collection)
Gardiners Avenue Elementary School (Circa 1960s: Levittown Historical Society Collection)
Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown (Circa Late 1960s: Levittown Historical Society Collection)
Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown (Circa Late 1960s: Levittown Historical Society Collection)

Today

An anonymous quote once declared that “someday [Levittown would] be the slums of Long Island.” Naturally, this has not happened.  To the contrary, from the day occupants arrived on October 1, 1947, Levittown has been the choice of many couples to forge a family on suburban Long Island. More than ten percent of residents are now over the age of sixty-five and the Asian and Hispanic population has grown. There are four schools in the Island Trees School District.  Levittown School District has six elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools.  Most of the original Levitt houses have been modified, no longer resembling the assembly-line design developed by Levitt & Sons. Moreover, the couples who purchase homes are both wage earners in the family.  Thirty years after the establishment of Levittown, William Levitt suggested that “Levittown could not be built on Long Island in 1977 because of the price [the Levitt company] would have to charge, the financing terms and the ecology concerns…the one-family house today is limited to fifteen percent of the American population…in 1947, the figure was ninety percent.”  Following the death of Abraham and Alfred Levitt, the firm was sold to International Telephone and Telegraph in 1968. William went on to form Levitt Industries. [53]

Azalea Road Park, Levittown (May 26, 2014)
Azalea Road Park, Levittown (May 26, 2014)

The old “Stewart Line” on the eastern Hempstead Plains is all but a memory in the twentieth-first century. While freight service on the Central Extension continued until the 1920s, through traffic from Garden City to Babylon concluded at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1925, the old Central Railroad right-of-way between Farmingdale and Babylon was extensively overhauled for through service to Babylon and points east following electrification of the Montauk Division to Babylon. Dubbed the Central Branch, it was linked to the Main Line at Farmingdale.  The old Central Railroad right-of-way between Garden City and Farmingdale was cut back to Stewart Avenue in Plainedge but once farm freight ended, the eastern rails were abandoned. To the west, the Long Island Rail Road provided passenger service as far as Salisbury Plains in Westbury. During WWII the Salvage Division of the War Production Board considered using the eastern section for the war effort and asked the railroad to the give up the rails. However, the rails were missing. An investigation proved that a scrap dealer seized and sold them off. Consequently, with permission from the Office of Defense Transportation and other regulatory bodies, the railroad was granted permission to abandon the right-of-way east of Westbury. However, some new rails were re-laid eastward for Levittown construction to a point just east of the Wantagh Parkway.  It crossed the parkway at grade level where it was necessary to flag trains to pass. Following completion of Levittown, the right-of-way was cut back to Meadowbrook Hospital. Later, it was cut back again to Roosevelt Raceway upon construction of Meadowbrook Parkway and formation of Salisbury Park.[54] Today the old Central Extension terminates near Nassau Community College in Garden City.

Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)
Central Railroad of Long Island right-of-way, view east, Levittown (January 12, 2008)

In the communities of Levittown and Plainedge, all that remains of the old railroad that in 1872 the Flushing Journal considered “to become the most important on Long Island” is a line of high-tension wires running across what was once the Hempstead Plains.[55] Considering the rise in population in Central Nassau, it is a shame that the Central Extension was not left intact for through traffic to and from Babylon. No doubt, stations at the former Central Park (Jerusalem), Island Trees (Hicksville), and New Bridge Road would serve a populous area. Indeed, infrastructure of Nassau would be vastly improved with the old right-of-way from Garden City to Babylon. Currently, residents of Levittown and Plainedge utilize other Main Line stations such Hicksville or Bethpage, or Montauk Division stops such as Wantagh or Bellmore. Service running on the old right-of-way would not only improve travel time for those working in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens, it would provide another transportation option in place of the automobile.

 

Next page: Benefitting the Gold Coast: A History of the Long Island Rail Road’s Preeminent Service to Locust Valley

__________________________________________________________________

[1] Henry Isham Hazelton, The Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 1609-1924 (New York: Lewis Historical, 1925), 853.

[2] Ibid., 861.

[3] Ibid., 865.

[4] Rhoda Amon, “A Prototype for American Suburbia,” in Home Town Long Island: the History of Every Community on Long Island in Stories and Photographs (Melville, NY: Newsday, 1999), 22.

[5] “A Brief History of Levittown, New York,” Levittown Historical Society, accessed May 11, 2014, http://www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org/history.htm.

[6] Benjamin F. Thompson, History of Long Island: Containing an Account of the Discovery and Settlement (New York: E. French, 1839), 358.

[7] Jeanne Lewis, Island Trees History (Levittown, NY: J. Lewis, 1975), 18.

[8] Amon, “A Prototype for American Suburbia,” 57.

[9] “A Brief History of Levittown, New York.”

[10] John H. Meyer, “Long Running Church Served Immigrant Community,” Massapequan Observer, accessed May 11, 2014, http://www.antonnews.com/massapequanobserver/64-massapequannews/11068-long-running-church-served-immigrant-community.html.

[11] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 395; Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History,vol. 2, Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 85.

[12] Ibid., 89.

[13] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 396.

[14] “Long Island Notes,” Long Islander (Huntington), May 23, 1873, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[15] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 396.

[16] Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 108; “Long Island,” New York Times (1857-1922), June 20, 1873, http://www.proquest.com.

[17] “What We Know about Babylon,” South Side Signal (Babylon), August 16, 1873, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[18] “Choice Poetry,” South Side Signal (Babylon), August 23, 1873, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[19] “Flushing and North Side Railroad, and Central Railroad of Long Island,” South Side Signal (Babylon), February 21, 1874, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com; Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 104.

[20] “Long Island Notes,” Long Islander (Huntington), July 17, 1874, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[21] Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 149.

[22] “Central Railroad of Long Island, the Stewart Line,” Arrt’s Arrchives, accessed May 11, 2014, http://www.arrts-arrchives.com/about.html.

[23] “Babylon Record,” South Side Signal (Babylon), June 20, 1874, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[24] “Babylon Record,” South Side Signal (Babylon), August 29, 1874, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[25] Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 99.

[26] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 398.

[27] Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 119.

[28] Ibid., 124.

[29] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 401.

[30] Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 149.

[31] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 402-403.

[32] Seyfried, Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 140.

[33] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History,” Trains Are Fun, accessed June 3, 2014, http://www.trainsarefun.com/lirrphotos/LIRR%20Station%20History.htm.

[34] “A Brief History of Levittown, New York.”

[35] Jeanne Lewis, Jerusalem Remembered (West Islip, NY: Long Island Forum, 1971), 53.

[36] “A Brief History of Levittown, New York.”

[37] Lewis, Island Trees History, 18-19.

[38] “History of Island Trees,” Island Trees School District, accessed May 11, 2014, http://www.islandtrees.org/districtinformation/history.htm.

[39] Lewis, Island Trees History, 12.

[40] Ibid., 28-29.

[41] Edward J. Smits, Nassau, Suburbia, United States America: The First Seventy-Five Years of Nassau County (New York: Friends of the Nassau County Museum, 1974), 79-80.

[42] Ibid., 118.

[43] “A Brief History of Levittown, New York.”

[44] Ibid.

[45] Smits, Nassau, Suburbia, United States America, 189.

[46] Amon, “A Prototype for American Suburbia,” 22.

[47] Smits, Nassau, Suburbia, United States America, 189-190.

[48] Ibid., 195-197.

[49] Amon, “A Prototype for American Suburbia,” 57.

[50] “A Brief History of Levittown.”

[51] Smits, Nassau, Suburbia, United States America, 210.

[52] “History of Island Trees.”

[53] Irvin Molotsky, “Levitt Marks the 30th Anniversary of His First Levittown, on Long Island, as Another Rises in Iran,” New York Times (1923-Current file), October 2, 1977, http://www.proquest.com; Vivien Kellerman, “If You’re Thinking of Living In: Levittown,” New York Times (1923-Current file), August 29, 1993, http://www.proquest.com; David M. Halbfinger, “New Buyers Renew Levittown, now 50,” New York Times (1923-Current file), September 28, 1997, http://www.proquest.com.

[54] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, 140.

[55] “Rails Used upon the Central Railroad of Long Island,” South Side Signal (Babylon), June 1, 1872, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

 

Next page: Benefitting the Gold Coast: A History of the Long Island Rail Road’s Preeminent Service to Locust Valley

8 thoughts on “Annals of the Hempstead Plains: An Account of Both the Former Central Railroad of Long Island and the Formation of Levittown

  1. Nice well researched write-up of Levittown. I grew up there from 1953 until 1982 which gave me an intimate perspective on Levittown. Most of what I read about Levittown is either stiffly abstract PhD dissertations by people who would not set foot in Levittown if it didn’t mean their career or defensive originals who work the word “wonderful” as many times as possible into their descriptions confusing their childhoods with the place itself.

    Levittown’s significance has become historical. But it’s now just a working class place with very high property taxes. Levittown’s roots really are shallow just like the willow trees which fell in subsequent hurricanes. Still there are thousands of people like me trying to make sense of it and not doing a very good job of it.

    I was surprised to find that the little pre WWII history it had, the Long Island Motor Parkway, Long Island Aviation Field, AT Stewarts Railroad and The German farmers really has had no influence on it. One world stopped and another began. And the one that began feels no more permanent now than it did 60 years ago. in fact less so since so much retail has folded on Hempstead Turnpike.

    I remember safe streets and big distances to even get milk. I remember young professionals leaving and harsh working class people moving in. I remember angry underpaid teachers who seemed to be always threatening to strike. And I remember an angry agreement not to fund the schools which prompted New York State to take over the budget.

    But no one really cares about this place. Not one library seems to have a complete Newsday archive, not even Newsday itself. The Levittown Historical Society is cute but, no, it doesn’t understand. Levittown may deserve to be in the dustbin of history as far as I know.

  2. Thanks for the input. I was debating whether to post your comment since it a very sad, darker side of Levittown that you seldom hear. I am sure you saw the transformation of the place in the thirty-years that you lived there.

    1. Sorry for the dark tone. I am also saying that Levittown is not properly documented which is why I liked reading your post. Of course it was a mix of things. But of the thousands of kids who were graduated in the 60s and 70s very few were reflective or could write about it in any meaningful way.

      The Greens for example were a huge success in our daily lives. The sameness of the houses and ten thousand identical floor plans were actually comforting in such turbulent times. I think the ranches are attractive to this day. Well designed for such a tiny footprint. And the fireplaces. For poor people like us.

      But there was a past underneath that no one was there to see. A brook ran down Bloomingdale Road Hamlet then Ranch then Water Lane into a Duckpond in Wantagh. It’s still there except in conduits. It created ridges and is reflected in some of the streets layouts and names. Gallow taught in the one room school house. The island of trees in the potato fields can be seen in early aerial photos of Levittown. Tiny Pilot Lane is the only indication the wealthy were still landing their planes while people were moving in to houses that surrounded Blacksmith Road.

      1. Thanks, I enjoyed writing it. I heard criticism of the sameness of the houses from one of my history professors but I can see a comforting sense in it. The greens as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s