Historical Society













Historical Vignettes




Written by Connie Shakalis Friday, 21 January 2011

(Source: Farmingdale Observer)

Philip Darby, circa 1880.

Courtesy of Joyce Darby Bailey.

Do You Know Their Names?

Eagle Scout Patrick Looney and the Farmingdale Bethpage Historical Society joined resources last year, getting involved to honor, at last, forgotten local heroes from the Civil War. Three brothers-in-law and their friends left Farmingdale one morning to fight, and now, after 149 years, they will be honored. A memorial is coming, and the veterans, all boys and young men, are being identified.

It will be a carved granite statue called a Tree of Life. A portion of the tree will be missing, to represent the shortened lives of the veterans. Wellwood Memorials of Lindenhurst is designing and installing the monument. A bronze plaque, attached to its center, will bear the known veteranses. Designers will leave space on the plaque for additional names, as they come to light. At the Tree of Lifeࢡse will rest a representation of a soldier಩fle and pack.

Looney launched a mission to find and identify the graves of the civilians-turned-soldiers who left their cozy farms and families that day in 1862. His Scout troop, number 261, searched through miles of local wooden area in and around Farmingdale, looking for indications of graves. The tallest scout eased down into a grave the troop had just discovered. During the past century, the soil had given way and the soldierയmbstone had worked its way into the casket.

The Scouts篲k inspired members of the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society, who lent their support to the project. The societyදlunteers did research on the veterans and began raising money for the monument.

FBHS Trustee Serena Brochu drove to cemeteries and libraries, looking for clues to the men೴ories. At first, she focused on two brothers from the Waltersডmily. Both had been part of the Farmingdale group. One had died of disease during his service, the other of his war wounds.

Brochu, however, was on a productive and complex trail. Using,, library archives, and pension records, she began to form a picture of who these men had been. She found descendants of their friends, relatives, and neighbors.

For one soldier, Philip Darby, she located his great-great-granddaughter. Darby is buried in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and on one of her trips, Brochu realized he had no stone for his grave. She reported its absence to government officials, who issued a headstone for him. Brochu discovered that Darby had been shot in his jaw, an injury that in those days would have caused him lengthy suffering. His pension was $8.

Two of the veterans are still in graves not yet discovered, perhaps in places far from Farmingdale.

No one will ever know what motivated the Farmingdale group to take that August train ride in 1862, but maybe it was a plea President Lincoln made on July 2. He asked for 300,000 enlistments; his earlier request had failed. On September 17, 1862, four weeks after the Farmingdale men enlisted, more Americans were killed or fatally hurt in the Civil War Battle of Antietam than in all other 19th Century U.S. wars combined.

Brochu reminds us that these men are not just names on a plaque; they were people. They had families, farms, secrets, and plans. A plan they shared was the Union cause. As Northerners, Farmingdale೯ldiers were fighting to keep the Union intact. Invading the South and attacking the Confederate Army accomplished this.

The Tree of Life will stand in Farmingdale֩llage Green near existing monuments for veterans of other wars. These earlier monuments are to be rearranged so that all the monuments will be in chronological order. Room will be left, unfortunately, for future monuments.

Memorial Day 2011 is the date of the monument௦ficial unveiling. This leaves time for anyone with additional information to contact the historical society.

More than three million Americans served in the Civil War; more than 600,000 of them died fighting in it. These veterans gave us, as Abraham Lincoln said in 1863, a 巠 birth of freedom.羚nt>

The historical society asks not just for financial donations but for any information or stories people might have about those who served during the war, from 1861 to 1865 or about their families or friends. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society at





The minutes of the Village of Farmingdale's Board of Trustees from 1910 reflect frequent meetings to discuss needs and concerns of the growing Village. Six years before, when the Village was incorporated, an enumeration revealed 1047 residents. The 1910 Federal census reflected 1567 inhabitants, an increase of 520. 

At the annual election in March 1910, Adolph Bausch was re-elected as Village President to the second year of his eventual four year tenure (1909-1913). 

Two questions were also on the ballot that March. The first was to create the office of Police Justice. This was passed by a vote of 47 to 32. The second was to authorize the Village to construct a sidewalk on South Front Street from Main Street to the Farmingdale LIRR Station, a distance of approximately one thousand feet. This item would represent a major improvement in an era of unpaved streets. It was approved, 47 to 36. 

In other matters that year: 

*The Village water department received approval to extend lines to streets previously unserved. In a special referendum in November 1909 the Village residents had authorized the purchase of the existing system of the Nassau County Water Company which lay within the Village, primarily the central "downtown" area. The purchase price of this original water system was $23,500. 

*The six-year-old Village took pride in its practice of planting trees along residential streets.  A resolution in May 1910 adopted by the Board called for a $50 reward for those providing information leading to the conviction of any person found guilty of tree vandalism. 

*Electric and telephone service was being made available to growing numbers of homes and shops. The Village Board took a vigorously pro-active role in determining the placement of utility poles in order to preserve the character of the Village's appearance.  Frequent discussions were held with the New York Telephone Company and the Babylon Electric Company on this matter. 

In that era of trolley cars, few paved streets, and very sparse auto traffic, the recently-formed local government of Farmingdale was working industriously to improve the quality of life for all who lived or worked in the Village, a tradition which has endured now for over a century.




What do cars, trucks, bricks, bottles, pickles, and picture frames have in common? The answer is that all have been products of Farmingdale industries at one time or another.  Of course, this list does not include farming, the chief industry of the area until the early years of the twentieth century. It was farming that land developer Ambrose George noted when he renamed the Hardscrabble settlement as Farmingdale around 1838, three years before the Long Island Rail Road arrived. In the 1870s the Farmingdale Farmers' Club was one of the most prominent local organizations. And it was by no accident that the State of New York chose Farmingdale in 1912 as the site for Long Island's first public institution of higher learning, for the school was originally dedicated to the study of agriculture. Today we know it as Farmingdale State College. 

Certainly the excellent cucumbers, cabbages, and cauliflowers grown in the Farmingdale area gave rise to various food processing plants, often specializing in sauerkraut or pickles. Stern's Pickle Works was established in the 1890s and survived about ninety years. Early in the 1900s there were several such plants similar to Stern's, including Lattin's, Central Park, Block and Guggenheimer, Fuechsel's, Botto and Karp, and Keller's. 

The area's pure water was a major attraction of the Rudolph Weber family when they moved their Independent Silk Dyeing Company to Farmingdale in 1914. The company, later known as the Independent Textile Dyeing Company, employed 250 workers as late as 1949, by which time silk was giving way to artificial fibers. 

The commercial growing of flowers began in the area with Frank Manker in 1913. Other sizable flower-growing firms since then have included Dinda's, Birkentall, Klarmann's, Schwarz, and DeHaan's. This local industry ended where it started, with the Manker greenhouse site becoming the location of the Farmingdale Public Library in 1994. 

 The Page automobile was built on Motor Avenue, South Farmingdale, from 1921 to 1924. The Fulton Motor Truck Company   produced their trucks on Broad Hollow Road, East Farmingdale, from about 1917 to the mid-1920s. They were known for their rugged dependability. 

In 1890 a factory began making glass bottles in Farmingdale. Richard Runge, the founder, is remembered by Richard Street, near the site of his bottle works. Another early industry was the picture-frame factory established by Robert Bausch in the 1880s. Later this business was expanded to producing sash, moldings, shingles, shutters and other products of wood. In 1909 the Bausch firm employed over 100 workers. 

One of the earliest industries was to survive the longest. In 1865 a brick works was established just north of Farmingdale on the rich clay beds of that area, In the 1870s the brick works was purchased by Alexander T. Stewart, the department store magnate who was planning a community which he named Garden City. Railroad tracks were laid to the brickyard along a spur so that bricks could be more easily transported to the construction sites at Garden City. Today the old right-of-way of the rail spur is known as Thomas Powell Boulevard. The tracks were removed during the scrap metal drives of World War II. The brick works, later known as the Nassau Brick Company, continued to make high quality bricks until it went out of business due to rising energy costs around 1981. 

In 1910 the Bausch Picture Frame Company moved from its original location at Rose and Richard Streets to a new factory on Eastern Parkway. Beginning in the World War I era the empty Bausch facility was occupied by Lawrence Sperry for his aircraft plant. This marked the beginning of the aviation industry in Farmingdale, which over the next seventy years included not only Sperry but also other illustrious aviation names such as Seversky, Republic, Grumman, Fairchild, Ranger, and Liberty. It is fitting that the seal or logo of the Village of Farmingdale carries as one part of its design an airplane, for aircraft manufacturing was the area's chief industry for the majority of the twentieth century.





In 1925 the Village of Farmingdale established its own police department. The increase in auto traffic in the mid -1920s was a major  factor leading to the formation of police departments across Long Island around that time. Coincidentally, the Nassau County Police Department was established in that same year, 1925.


During the years 1925 to 1941, Chief of Police Arthur Powell reported directly to the village's mayor.. The chief commanded a small staff of officers who patrolled the village on foot, by motorcycle, and patrol car. The police department officers were local residents, active in community life. They included Sgt. Alex Mayerhofer, John Bailey, Cliff Burhans, Frank Cerny, Robert Ketcham, Alonzo Platt, and Charles Squire. A number of these men became Nassau County Police Department officers on January 1, 1942 when the Village Police Department was merged into the NCPD.


In early 1932, the present Village Hall/ Fire House was dedicated. One original feature was  "the jail", a block of three cells, which was primarily a temporary detainment facility. After the merger with the NCPD in 1942, the jail became unnecessary and the space was used as a storage area for the next thirty-seven years. In 1979 this obsolete facility was razed when Village Hall was remodeled and enlarged.


Alex Mayerhofer, the last of of the former village police officers to leave NCPD service, is remembered especially fondly by a number of  Farmingdale residents who are now adults, as Officer Mayerhofer's last assignment was as crossing guard at Northside Elementary School. A school assembly in 1972 attended by children, parents, school staff, and NCPD precinct and headquarters commanders honored this beloved police officer on  his final day in uniform after nearly a half-century of village and NCPD service. 

In the 1920s and 30s, Farmingdale was much less interdependent with other areas of Long Island than today.. Residents for the most part attended school, worked, shopped, attended houses of worship and socialized within or near the community. The members of the Farmingdale Village Police Department served the Village extremely well during that less complex time.




Farmingdale residents are likely more familiar with the Main Line of the Long Island Rail Road than the Central Branch. After all, Farmingdale Station, now almost 115 years old, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located on the Main Line, which first served Farmingdale in 1841.The "Main Line" designation derived from its being the route to Boston, with ferry service  linking Greenport to Connecticut. 

But what is the story of the single track rail line  which forms the southern boundary of the Village of Farmingdale? It was originally built as part of the Central Railroad of Long Island in the early 1870's by Alexander T. Stewart, the wealthy merchant who developed Garden City. Its Farmingdale station was located on the east side of Main Street, a short distance south of Fulton Street, and was later  known as South Farmingdale Station after becoming part of the LIRR.

The Central's route from Flushing included, among several others,  station stops at Garden City, Hempstead, Island Trees (Hicksville), Farmingdale,  Breslau (Lindenhurst),  and Babylon. It crossed the LIRR at Bethpage Junction, still an active division point, just west of Merritts Road. In its early days in the 1870s, the Central Railroad provided Farmingdale with seven daily trains, as opposed to just two for the LIRR. The station agent was the son of W. C. Dupignac, whose hotel was located just north of the Central's station in Farmingdale.

A spur of the Central line ran from Bethpage Junction up to the Nassau Brick Works in what is now Old Bethpage. The bricks were transported by rail to Garden City to build A. T. Stewart's planned community. Part of the right-of-way after World War II  became Thomas Powell Boulevard, named after Farmingdale's founding settler. 

By 1881 the Central Railroad was acquired by the Long Island Rail Road. Some of the lines the LIRR swallowed during this time of consolidation were just village-to-village routes, but the Central was a major acquisition.

The Central Branch was to figure in railroad and bicycle history on June 30, 1899, when Charles "Mile-A-Minute" Murphy pedaled a bicycle behind a LIRR train for a measured mile in 57.8 seconds southeast of Farmingdale.

Today the Central Branch continues to serve the LIRR by enabling diesel-powered  trains to bypass the heavily trafficked section of electrified track of the South Shore Line west of Babylon. Heading eastward, these trains use the Main Line to Bethpage Junction, then connect to the South Shore Line via the Central Branch.

The  whistles of the diesel locomotives on the Central Branch approaching the grade crossings at Staples and South Main Streets help to recall an era almost  140  years ago when Farmingdale residents  had two railroads vying to serve them!




A name that is familiar to longtime Farmingdale residents is also significant in the two southernmost counties of Texas --- Hidalgo and Cameron --- along the Rio Grande River which forms the boundary with Mexico. The name is that of Benjamin Franklin Yoakum. 

Why the relationship? Yoakum was born in Texas in 1859. As a young man he became a railroad worker serving on a surveying team as the network of rails expanded in the post-Civil War era.  His energy and skill brought him a rapid rise through the managerial ranks, and while still in his twenties he became an officer of a major railroad. When the St. Louis and San Francisco (Frisco Line).

Railroad merged with the Rock Island Line in 1905 to form a 17,000 mile network, it was Yoakum who was named chairman of the executive committee. At the time, it was the largest system under single management in railroad history. 

In addition to his railroading expertise, Yoakum was an able recruiter, for he attracted skilled farmers to the areas opened by his rail lines, provided them with artesian wells, and taught them citrus farming. That is why it has been said that "South Texas was built by Yoakum's genius". 

In 1907 Yoakum moved to New York City to take a position in the world of banking.  There he lived in a town house, but still favoring the openness of a rural area, he purchased a country estate in Farmingdale --- a spread of 1100 acres lying along the northern border of the recently formed village. (Farmingdale was incorporated in 1904.) 

In Farmingdale Yoakum raised prize cattle and high quality fruit and vegetables. Once a year he would hold his "farm dinner" for village residents, proudly telling them, "Everything was raised right on this place", as he greeted his neighbors gathered around the tables. Mr. Yoakum was especially generous to the Farmingdale Fire Department and to the caddies of his golf course, for whom he built a clubhouse. 

The Lenox Hills Golf Course which Mr. Yoakum established on his estate proved to be an omen of things to come. Following his death in 1929, the northern portion of the estate became the core property of the new Bethpage State Park, in which a total of five eighteen-hole golf courses were built. The southern portion, lying within the Village of Farmingdale, was developed by homebuilders, beginning in the 1930s, as the Lenox Hills area. 

Two thousand miles away, in south Texas, Benjamin Franklin Yoakum is still perhaps remembered as the man who brought the railroad, water, and citrus farming. In Farmingdale, his adopted community, he is remembered as the generous, kindly estate owner whose legacy is Bethpage State Park and the stately Lenox Hills section of the Village of Farmingdale.




Occasionally longtime residents of Farmingdale are questioned for information on "the orphanage that used to be in town". The institution in question was the Nazareth Trade School, which opened in 1900 and closed in 1940. The "trade school" as it was known locally, was located on the site now occupied by the Howitt Middle School, but the three-story structure faced  Conklin Street, rather than Van Cott or Grant Avenues as do the Howitt buildings. 

The Sisters of St. Dominic, who staffed the orphanage throughout its forty years, provided an elementary education to the boys who were residents there.  Older youths were offered instruction in practical trades such as shoe repair, carpentry, and printing, as well as courses in agriculture and horticulture. Local townspeople usually taught these vocational courses. 

To most Farmingdale residents of that time, the presence of the orphanage was most evident on days of parades, as the institution had a highly regarded marching band, outfitted in military- style uniforms. These band members spread Farmingdale's name widely as they marched in competitions on their way to several New York State championships. 

After the orphanage closed, the main building was used for preparing aircraft plant workers to take their places on assembly lines in local aircraft factories during World War II. In 1946 the voters of the Farmingdale school district approved purchase of the site. Before its demolition however, the old orphanage had one last life, as the temporary location of the new Technology Department of what is now Farmingdale State College. 

Today, there are still some reminders of "the trade school" in the Farmingdale area. In the lobby of the original 1953 wing of the Howitt School on Van Cott Avenue stands the bell and cornerstone of Nazareth Trade School. In Conklin Hall of Farmingdale State College, a commemorative brick from the old orphanage provides a link to the Technology Department's origins in 1946. The finest memorial for Nazareth Trade School, however, is reflected in the lives of the men, who despite unfortunate family circumstances in early life have lived successful and productive lives stemming from values nurtured during their years in Farmingdale at Nazareth Trade School.




Late summer 2009 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the trolley era in the Farmingdale area. A grand parade and an all-day celebration heralded the start of trolley service on the Cross-Island Line on August 25, 1909, with a sandlot baseball game, a vaudeville show and a community ball. 

The first two decades of the twentieth century were the heyday for electric powered trolleys, or street cars, in this country. Ownership of private cars was not widespread until the 1920s, so trolleys filled a vital need. It has been said that one could travel from the East Coast as far west as Milwaukee by interurban trolleys in the World War I era, provided one had the time and patience to change lines repeatedly. 

Although it operated for just over ten years, 1909-1919, the story of the Cross-Island Trolley Line forms a colorful chapter in Farmingdale's history. The line ran north to Halesite and south to Amityville, with a major transfer point at the Farmingdale LIRR station. A two-story tower was added to the west end of the 1896 structure in 1909 to house electrical equipment needed to power the trolleys. Ceramic insulators are still visible on the north side of the tower. 

The Cross-Island Trolley connected three stations and lines of the Long Island Rail Road: Huntington on the Port Jefferson line, Farmingdale on the Main Line, and Amityville on the Babylon-Montauk Line. The trolley line in Farmingdale came south from Halesite on Broad Hollow Road (now Route 110), and swung west on Conklin Street into the Village of Farmingdale.  On Conklin Street, just east of where the telephone building now stands, the track turned north into a dead-end spur which served the railroad station at Depot Avenue. Trolleys then continued back to Conklin, turning south on Main Street, and leaving the village at a crossing of the LIRR Central Branch on their way to Amityville. 

One of the dozen or so passing sidings on the single track line was located at Staples and Main Streets in South Farmingdale. The eighteen and one-half mile line was divided into six zones, each with a nickel fare, so one could ride the whole route for thirty cents. The scheduled running time between the end points was 76 minutes. 

The aging of the line's equipment, the difficulty in maintaining the right-of way, the loss of a U.S. Mail contact, and the increasingly successful encroachment of unlicensed jitney operators all took their toll on the Cross-Island Line. On September 23, 1919 after the schedule for the day was completed, the line was shut down. 

So ended Farmingdale's trolley era. In their time, the trolleys helped area residents to shop, go to work, attend religious services, and even to attend the  new Farmingdale High School, which opened with a ninth grade in September 1913. Although some complained about its service for a variety of reasons, the Cross-Island Line filled a needed role in its time.





The Theaters of Main Street

The Village of Farmingdale has had at least four theaters during its history. The first was the Farmingdale Opera House built by Adam Heiselmann in 1909. This large frame building, which stood at the corner of Main and Richard Streets opposite Main Street School, was also known as the Heiselmann Opera House. The term "opera house" was common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century throughout the United States. Most, like Heiselmann೴aged far more touring vaudeville programs than operas. Unlike the later theaters, Heiselmannﳵp>s staged live entertainment; the other three were motion picture theaters. The opera house eventually became a factory before being razed.

Farmingdale had two movie theaters, the Unqua and the Strand, which dated back to the silent film era. The Unqua stood on the east side of Main Street a few shops north of Conklin Street. It was originally a primitive shed-like structure, but was later remodeled into a traditional movie theater. The Strand, whose structure still stands, was on Main Street near the corner of Prospect Street. Both survived into the era of "talkies," which began in 1927.

The Farmingdale Theater, built adjacent to the Strand at the corner of Main and Prospect Streets, opened in early 1942 only weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This beautifully appointed theater suffered a fire in 1950 but was quickly rebuilt. Like many movie theaters across the nation, the Farmingdale eventually succumbed to cable TV, rental movies on VCR's, and multi-screen entertainment complexes. It closed in 1984 and was remodeled.  A tradition dating back over three quarters of a century of "going to the show" on Main Street closed with it.