2018-10-04 / Columnists

The Sunrise Hwy. Trail - Part 1

by Sandi Brewster-Walker

During the winter of 1930, an incident on Sunrise Highway was reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper on Tuesday, February 11: “The open road appealed to three boys more than life in a Brooklyn orphanage, so they scaled the walls of the asylum and headed for Montauk Point,” according to a story they told police .

The boys, Patsy Fareno (13 years old), Edward Pogorsky (16 years old), and John Perron (14 years old) were walking along Sunrise Highway in Lynbrook when Patrolman Kenneth Frost found them. “After warming up in the local police station the boys admitted they had sought freedom by scaling the walls of St. John’s Orphanage on St. Mark’s Ave., Brooklyn.” The three weren’t aware that Sunrise Highway ended at the Nassau- Suffolk County line, and did not extend to Montauk.

Back on June 19, 1921, the New York Times told its readers about a Long Island Highway Plan. It seemed the City of New York owned a 200 foot conduit right of way, which had been “acquired many years ago by the city authorities to provide pipes beneath the surface for the Brooklyn water supply.”

St John’s Orphanage for Boys, Brooklyn, NY St John’s Orphanage for Boys, Brooklyn, NY The article mentioned, “The proposed Conduit Boulevard would provide a wide gateway from Brooklyn and Queens through Nassau County into Suffolk County at Amityville.”

In Kings, and Queens Counties the new road was called Conduit Boulevard, and in Nassau County, the Long Island Press Group had suggested the name Sunrise Highway, the New York Times, November 24, 1925 reported.

In 1927, just two years before the stock market crash, the New York Times informed its readers January 16, that $4,000,000 would be spent on 48 miles of roads. A. E. Howard, resident engineer of Babylon reported on the work in Nassau and Queens, “Much of the grading and widening of the Sunrise Highway is finished, and completion of this important artery is set for the year 1928.”

Governor Alfred Smith Governor Alfred Smith As spring 1928 approached, the New York Times, March 18 reported on the growth of home building in Nassau County.

“At Massapequa, many acres of land which had been in the ownership of the Floyd-Jones family since 1672 have passed into the hands of land developers, who have subdivided it and are selling it for home sites. Much of this land is adjacent to the large lakes in the new state park at Massapequa.” The new road would give families easy access to the city, if they owned a car!

The New York Times advertised Massapequa Park, a development built between the new Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road by a real estate firm owned by Michael Brady, Frank Cryan and Peter Colleran. Several dozen of the homes were from Sears Roebuck catalog of “Modern Homes” kits (1908-1940s), and would arrive by freight train.

New York Stock Exchange Crash 1929 New York Stock Exchange Crash 1929 By April 10, a bill was signed by the New York State Governor authorizing the city of New York to hand over to the state the lands and rights of way that it owns along the so-called Pipe Line adjoining the Sunrise Highway (Conduit Boulevard) “to prevent improper use of city-owned lands.” The bill was for the protection of the boulevard project, and place the Highway Department of New York State in control of all the land within the pipe line boundary.

The New York Times stated, “The adjacent lands will be utilized by the State Highway Department primarily for the protection of the boulevard from encroachment by commercial enterprises, and ultimately will be landscaped with the cooperation of local communities and the Long Island State Park Commission.”

New York Stock Market Crash – Riot 1929 New York Stock Market Crash – Riot 1929 The September 4 issue of the New York Times announced, Frederick Stuart Greene, commissioner, State Department of Public Works, and Robert Moses, president of the Long Island State Park Commission had worked hard on the second step in bringing about the protection of the Sunrise Highway from encroachment of commercial enterprises, advertising signs, and unnecessary intersecting roadways!

During the initial discussions of the new road, Al Smith (1873 – 1944), a Democrat, who would summer in Amityville, was governor from January 1, 1923 until December 31, 1928.

On November 6, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), another Democrat, won the election for New York State Governor. In 1929, state and local government meetings, community engagement sessions, and route planning discussions would take place on the Suffolk extension, and how to turn a pipe line into a highway.

“Suffolk Supervisors OK Sunrise Extension,” the Long Islander (Huntington) newspaper, January 4, 1929 told its readers, Sunrise Highway in Nassau County was almost complete. The focus now was whether it should continue eastward between the Hamlets of North Amityville and Great River without interruption.

One of the biggest issues was the legal right “to pass along a specific route through grounds or property belonging to another,” such as the Simpson Methodist Church property in North Amityville. “…the Board of Supervisors has formally approved the plan asking the state to proceed, and pledging its support, particularly in the matter of rights of way.”

The article continued, “It was expected that there might be a serious delay over legal technicalities regarding the name of the highway, and the route. But, county engineer Smith said, “These matters have been adjusted.” Some believed, the matter of procuring the rights of way from Simpson Methodist Church might be too expensive.

A special appropriation made by the NYS legislature was required, so that the road may be built in 1930. The country would soon be in the Great Depression, and this highway project would put some of the men back to work.

It seems there were other road concerns in New York State regarding Southern State Parkway and Northern State Parkway, as well as “…a plan favored by upstate counties to have the state assume all of the cost of construction and maintenance of county highways...” Some Suffolk County village residents were upset about the route of the new highway!

In early spring, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 23 mentioned petitions were signed by several thousand asking the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors to extend Sunrise Highway south of the Long Island Railroad through the Village of Amityville, Copiague, Lindenhurst, Babylon, Bay Shore, and Islip. The petitioners believed the road would cost less and bring people to the villages. But, some time ago a plan was adopted to extend the road north of the railroad tracks through North Amityville, in a northeast direction without touching the business districts, the Eagle stated.

As the summer began, Eagle, June 29 told its readers how the South Shore the area was growing fast and causing traffic problems. The Sunrisers, a division of the Long Island Chamber of Commerce issued a report stating, “Sunrise Highway is favorably advertising the region through which it passes as motorists using it are impressed by its accessibility to many points. Results of this silent salesman service are seen in the sale and occupation of homes in the zone ranging in value from $6,500 to $20,000 each.”

The same Eagle issue reported that contracts were awarded for work on nine other roads in the Town of Babylon totaling $142,315.30. The road work was slated for Harrison Ave (Amityville), Oak St. (Amityville), Trolley Line Road (Babylon), Great Neck Road (Copiague), New Highway (North Amityville), Arnold Ave (West Babylon), Wellwood Ave (Lindenhurst), Straight Path (Wyandanch) and Commack Road (North Babylon). Men would be put to public work.

In August, a minor recession begun followed by the October 24 stock market crash. There was a brief recovery, but the stock market collapsed again on October 29, known as “Black Tuesday.”

By November 2, the Eagle reported on a secret State Highway Department’s engineers plan for the new route of the Sunrise Highway extension. They proposed to take the extension across County Line Road just north of Sterling Place crossing the Louden-Knickerbocker Hall property continuing northeast toward the northern part of Copiague. Eleven days later, on November 13 the stock market bottomed out,

During 1930, the recession deepens, then between September and December, more than 300 banks fail and over $550 million in deposits were lost!

The following year, 2,294 banks collapsed with almost $1.7 billion in deposits, and unemployment reached 16%. May and June saw the second major round of banks fail.

The Suffolk County News (Sayville), October 16, 1931 stated, “In an effort to relieve unemployment the members of the Babylon Town Board in the near future may decide that no public road work shall be awarded on contracts next year. Instead a plan has been suggested where Superintendent of Highways John Sayre Wolf (1877-1956) will supervise all permanent work as well as that of maintaining secondary roads. The proposal was to have approximately $50,000 of the taxpayers’ money to be paid to town workers engaged on the roads.

By the end of 1931, Patsy, Edward, and John from St. John’s Orphanage on St. Mark’s Ave., Brooklyn still would not have been able to walk along Sunrise Highway in Suffolk to get to Montauk Point.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt was entering his fourth year as governor of New York State, the country’s unemployment rate was at 23% with over 13 million in the United States out of work.

Sandi Brewster-Walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at USDA. Winner of the Press Club of Long Island’s 2017 Media Award – 3rd Place for Narrative: Column.

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