The Construction of Long Island’s State Parks and Parkways

Authored by Mireille E. Stürmann

An image of a 1929 map of the state parkways and parks on the Western portion of the South Shore of Long Island

State Parkways and Parks of the Western Section of the South Shore of Long Island

Context

In the 1920’s, the concept of leisure was changing. With the assembly line and mass production techniques shaping a new workweek, and the rates of car ownership skyrocketing, the people of New York City had time and mobility previously unknown to the working and middle classes (Caro, 1974, 143-144).

In need of open space, and with New York City and its surrounding areas almost entirely developed, they began to look to Long Island. Without adequate roads, it was largely inaccessible. Robert Moses had a plan to change that. In 1924, with great public support, a bill written by Moses to create a parks system was approved, and the Long Island State Park Commission was created (Caro, 1974, p. 177). Robert Moses served as the head of the commission and the main driver of the park system’s construction (Robert Moses, n.d.).

The Parks

In planning the parks and parkways, the presiding circumstances of the land dictated the layout of the system on the map, as the commission seized every opportunity to use land already in their possession. Jones Beach and Fire Island State Parks were already gifted to the commission, and the five tracts of land that became Valley Stream State Park, Hempstead Lake State Park, Meadow Brook State Park, Wantagh State Park and Massapequa State Park – totaling 3,500 acres – had been purchased in 1874 by the City of Brooklyn as water supply properties (Caro, 1974, p. 158).

The Southern State Parkway was drawn straight through the old water-supply properties, and the Jones Beach Causeway, connecting the Southern State Parkway to the beach, was built entirely within the property that became Wantagh State Park. (Caro, 1974, 162).

One-fifth of the famous Belmont Estate was purchased for Belmont State Park (“State Gets Tract in Belmont Estate,” 1926) and the Taylor Estate was purchased for Heckscher State Park, though not without controversy (“Rich Long Islanders Fight Park,” 1925).

The final results were remarkable. When the Long Island State Park Commission was first established in 1924, the sole park was the largely inaccessible 200-acre Fire Island State Park. By 1929, there were 14 parks – nine of which are on this map – totaling 9,700 acres. (Caro, 1974, p. 237). According to Young (1928), it was “a system of extraordinary beauty and utility.”

Conclusion

The Long Island State Park system opened Long Island to the masses, though not without controversy. While those in New York City cheered the project, Long Islanders fought long and hard to protect their land. As such, there was then and is still today much controversy over Robert Moses’ ethics, methods and politics. Taking into account both sides of the argument, his contributions to New York State and its citizens are undeniable. For Paul Goldberger (1988), “There was one great thing Robert Moses brought to New York… and that was his unwavering commitment to the idea of the public realm.” Robert Moses strove for service and excellence, and worked hard to create opportunities for the public as a whole.

References

Caro, R. A., The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1974.

Goldberger, P., “Robert Moses: Patron Saint of Public Places,” The New York Times, December 18, 1988, p. H38. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.jerome.stjohns.edu:81/docview/110397470/fulltextPDF/3A9C023ECD9E4F2DPQ/16?accountid=14068

Rich Long Islanders Fight Park Despite Heckscher Donation: W.Kingsland Macy, Opposition’s Leader, Insists That State Relinquish Tylor Estate. Moses Defends Project Commission Chairman Sure Courts Will Uphold State — Submits to Examination: Rich Long Islanders Fight Park Project,” The New York Times, September 12, 1925, p. 1. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.jerome.stjohns.edu:81/docview/103642732/fulltextPDF/19D9D15D57043F1PQ/2?accountid=14068

“Robert Moses,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/393591/Robert-Moses

“State Gets Tract in Belmont Estate: Buys 200 Acres of Famous Long Island Property for its Park System,” The New York Times, April 2, 1926, p. 21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.jerome.stjohns.edu:81/docview/103691066/AEE815BF9C0C4E1BPQ/1?accountid=14068

Young, J. C., “State Parks Progress in Long Island Chain: At Valley Stream Park,” The New York Times, August 26, 1928, p. 120. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.jerome.stjohns.edu:81/docview/104483610/D1460E423071417CPQ/1?accountid=14068

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *