Thursday, February 16, 2012

Horses, Horses, Horses (and more horses) . . . in Great Neck

Horses once roamed wild on the Great Neck peninsula.  Okay, not really.  Okay, not at all.  But horses were a big part of daily life here, and most everywhere, before small mechanized vehicles (a.k.a. cars and trucks) became all the rage.  An extensive series of bridal paths was one of the things that sold homeowners on buying in the Village of Russell Gardens.  News stories about runaway horses found grazing on front lawns were common during the years when rural farm/estate Great Neck was becoming bedroom community/suburban Great Neck.  Horses were everywhere, because horses did a lot of work for their human masters.
Roswell Eldridge, owner of the pre-Village estate of Saddle Rock, on one of his prized horses.  Eldridge had stables in Great Neck and England and raised saddle horses. He also raised Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and, occasionally, eyebrows (see May 2011 Local History Blog Post on Saddle Rock's 100th Anniversary).

Did you know that Great Neck once had an annual horse show?  On October 14, 1899, the Great Neck Horse Show Association held its first annual exhibition at Gracefield Farm, the home of prominent Great Neck resident and former New York City mayor William Russell Grace.  By 1930 the Great Neck Horse Show had grown to include 490 entries in 21 different classes.  Hosting 3,000 spectators, it had been moved to the grounds of the Alker Farm on Kings Point Road.
Look familiar?  Helen Merritt posed here with the same horse on the same Saddle Rock hillside as the photo above.  There's a good chance that these photos were taken contemporaneously.  Ms. Merritt was a founding member and treasurer of the Great Neck Library and friend of the illustrious Louise Udall Skidmore Eldridge, the "First Lady" of Great Neck.
In 1903, amateur jockeys began to run in the first horse race at Gracefield, sponsored by the Great Neck Racing Association.  In the early 1900's, Great Neck's polo team, the Freebooters, played against other local teams.  There was major coverage in the press of these polo games and tournaments, which were closely followed by many locals, particularly the wealthier set.  Practice and home polo games were played on the estate of William R. Grace.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the Alert Fire Company relied on large draft horses (the original horsepower) to get their pumper to a fire.  This and other postcards can be viewed online at the Great Neck Local History Postcard Collection.
Before automobiles became the main means of personal and commercial transportation, horse-drawn vehicles were commonplace on the streets, fields, and paths of Great Neck.  Work horses plowed the fields and did the heavy hauling on Great Neck's farms and estates before tractors, trucks, and large lawnmowers were available, or affordable.  Harness sales, carriage repairs, carriage sales, feed and hay supply, blacksmithing, horseshoeing, stables, and all manner of horse and rider related services were major contributors to the local economy.  In Great Neck, these services were provided by the likes of Robert A. Ellard (carriage maker and horseshoer), George H. Fowler (dealer in feed, hay, straw and grain), John Higgins (blacksmith and horseshoer), the Schenck Brothers Coaching, Carriage & Wheelwright Shop, The Thomaston House (livery stable), Karasek & Swan Fine & Heavy Harness Shop, Crampton Brothers (livery/boarding stable, horse contracting and teaming), the Burke Feed and Grain Shop, the Thurston Blacksmith Shop, Edward M. Scott (saddler), and Fileman's Harness Making.
Photo of Belle Beach Bain (not in the collection of the Great Neck Library).  Several years ago, librarians were asked to find information on Belle Beach Bain, who was a famous and gifted horsewoman, a renowned horse trainer, and an expert on horse riding and handling.  Ms. Beach was most active in the late 1800's and early 1900's.   She was considered by many to be the "greatest equestrienne of her time."  She spent the last years of her life in Great Neck, appearing at local horse shows and around town.  At this time she was dealing with many health issues, some of which were likely due to injuries received over the years while riding, racing, and working with horses.  Ms. Beach’s Riding And Driving For Women of 1912 was a landmark book in its day.  Belle Beach died on January 8, 1926, at her home in the Ninesling Apartments on Middle Neck Road.  Though news reports and obituaries from this period did not mention these things overtly, Ms. Beach may have died by her own hand.
An early 1900's postcard showing horse-drawn carriages (and a lone automobile) on Middle Neck Road, between Hicks Lane and North Road.  Avram Wolf's real estate and insurance business, and Ed Belinson's watchmaking and jewelry business can be seen on the left of this image.  Across the street is the driveway entrance to what is now Kings Point Auto at 744 Middle Neck Road.  This and other postcards can be viewed online at the Great Neck Local History Postcard Collection.
John C. Baker mowing hay at the Baker farm.  The Baker farm ran from Middle Neck Road to East Shore Road in what is now called the Baker Hill area of the Village of Great Neck.  More information about the Baker Family and their farm is available through a searchable online version of Mills P. Baker's  Breezy Hill, The Baker Hill Farm.
Nell (woman), Monte (dog), Pepita (horse)
and their cart (carriage), at Locust Cove (Kings Point) north
of the Mill Pond (Udall's Pond).  Photograph taken August, 1901.

Solomon Harris giving John Baker's daughter Anne Roesler and children a sleigh ride through the Baker barnyard.  Photograph taken 1937. See Breezy Hill, The Baker Farm for much more information on, and photos of, the Baker Farm.


Do you recognized this rider?  This horse?  This location?  The Library's Local History Room recently acquired 3 photos of this rider (on this horse, at this location), but we do not know where in Great Neck the photos were taken, only that they were indeed taken here.  Please contact the Great Neck Library Reference Department if you have any information on the content of this photo ~ 516-466-8055, ext. 218.

Section of a circa 1920 Baker/Crowell Real Estate map showing the half mile race track on the William Gould Brokaw Estate, Nirvana (now North High School, Beach Road, Polo Road, and Lawson Lane).  Polo Road was so named because of the polo matches and drills that were held on the Brokaw estate.  Equestrian competitions, training and breeding were so important in this era that maps would indicate where such things as race tracks, stables, and bridal paths were located.
The photo above of a rider at the Great Neck Horse Show, and two similar ones, were purchased with funds donated in honor of librarian Risha Rosner, a major force behind the creation of the Great Neck Library's Local History Collection and services. Contributions to the Risha Rosner Fund aid in developing our knowledge of Great Neck history, and can be made by contacting the Library at 516-466-8055 or  If you have historic photos or other materials to share, the Library can scan and/or copy them and return them to you, often while you wait.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

And just why was the Long Island Rail Road taking so many pictures in Great Neck in 1934?

In 1933 the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) was planning to eliminate the congested, some would say dangerous ground level crossing on Middle Neck Road by constructing an overpass.  The LIRR insisted that lowering, or "depressing" the tracks, which Great Neck residents wanted,  was too expensive.  A solution was only arrived at when William and Florence Barstow donated $32,000 to cover the additional cost of lowering the tracks.  Seventh Avenue, which joined North and South Station Plaza was renamed in their honor - Barstow Road.  Lowering the LIRR tracks through Great Neck was quite a large and complicated job for a small town, involving much planning, surveying, earth moving and old fashioned manpower.  Many would argue that track depression is the way most other Long Island communities should have gone, considering the number of ground level crossing accidents and fatalities they've had, and how few incidents Great Neck has had.  Still, by 1935, residents had another concern: a sizable fare increase.  The cost of the 60-trip ticket rose from $9.46 to $11.40.

The Great Neck Rail Road Station ~ LIRR photo, June 9, 1934.

Celebrating the opening of the new station on March 7, 1925, built by Ernest L. Smith "in the English style" at a cost of $50,000. Photo by Great Neck photographer Alexander Culet.

Railroad Avenue, now Station Plaza North, looking east from Middle Neck Road. The white building at the end of the street is the Great Neck Glass Works. The Wychwood Apartment Building is on the right. LIRR photo, June 9, 1934.

The Stone Yard ~ LIRR photo, May 5, 1934.

The Lumber Yard ~ LIRR Photo, May 5, 1934.

This photo of the auto and pedestrian traffic over the LIRR tracks on Middle Neck Road shows why a different crossing solution was needed.

Looking north on Middle Neck Road toward the Grace Building. LIRR photo May 5, 1934.

A view toward Middle Neck Road from the Wychwood Apartment Building, taken by the Takagi Studio at 3 Grace Avenue. Photo May 22, 1930.

Most of the photos shown above were purchased for the Great Neck Library Local History Collection with money from the Risha Rosner Fund and the Frank Lesser Fund. To help fund the purchase of future Local History materials through the Risha Rosner Fund, contact the Reference Department of the Great Neck Library at 516-466-8055, ext. 218, or


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Additions to the Library's Historical Photo Collection - Picturing Great Neck in the 1940's

The presence of the United Nations Security Council in Lake Success brought many residents from other countries into our community.  In this wire service photo dated 1948, Philippe Pressel takes his turn reading for the class in English.  According to the caption for the photo, "The youngsters are generally quick at picking up languages, so the teachers in the Great Neck school have little trouble with their new pupils.”

Photograph purchased by Risha Rosner Memorial Fund.
A 1945 confirmation class at Temple Beth-El.  Temple Beth-El, the oldest synagogue in Great Neck, was founded in 1928.
Photo contributed by Barbara Freedman Wolfson, a member of this class.
Girl Scout Wing Troop, Great Neck, New York, circa 1946.
Photographer: Joan Faigle (perhaps related to Fred Faigle, friendly neighborhood butcher, whose shop sat where the Bohack supermarket used to be, opposite the Village Green, now 683 Middle Neck Road.  Photograph contributed by Troop member Barbara Freedman Wolfson.
Is Gus Stevens waiting on Polo Road for the lunch crowd from the Great Neck High School?  Probably.  There was only one high school in 1946.

Photograph contributed by Charles Quatela.
Great Neck Girl Scouts have a Halloween party at the Girl Scout House on Berkshire Road in1947 or 1948.  The Girl Scout House was razed in 1986. Five houses were later built on the property.
Photograph contributed by Merle Holstein.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Portrait of Alexander Culet, Great Neck Photographer

cu·let  kyü-lə(noun) - The small flat face at the bottom of a gem cut as a brilliant.

Photograph  of Culet photography studio, ca. 1930. Note the gas street lamp above the auto on the left.

This is what we know about Alexander Eugene Culet, according to the U.S. Census.  He was born in France and was 29 years old in 1920.  His photography business, and possibly his home, were in a small building on the east side of Middle Neck Road, opposite St. Aloysius Church.  Despite the fact that we know so little about Mr. Culet, one thing is certain: he was a very good photographer.  Alexander Culet took photos which were used on numerous postcards showing prominent Great Neck homes.  These postcards may actually have been produced by Mr. Culet in his Great Neck studio.
Hand drawn map by Mills P. Baker, from his book,
Breezy Hill: The Baker Farm, showing the Culet
studio (red asterisk), next to the O'Connell Saloon.

An example of Culet’s work is shown in the postcard below, recently acquired by the Library’s Local History Collection.  We are unsure where this image was taken - presumably at an estate or location called "The Oaks."  A home can be seen in the background of this image, behind the bushes.  This new postcard was purchased with funds donated in memory of librarian Risha Rosner.

The Oak’s, Great Neck, L. I.
Postcard photo by Alexander Culet.

Judging from their style, Culet's cards were printed in the “golden age of postcards," sometime between 1907 and 1915, when postcard collecting was all the rage.  The postcard images of this era offer some of the most beautiful photography of the period, and Culet's cards are no exception.   Many postcards created during this time were actual photographs - developed photo images on photographic paper - as opposed to pixelated images made in ink on a printing press.
Pergola C. Proctor, Great Neck, L. I. Postcard photo by Alexander Culet.
In 1906 Kodak came out with the Folding Pocket Camera.  Negatives were the same size as postcards.  Culet's postcard photographs were likely produced with this particular Kodak camera, as the hand lettering on his cards suggests.  A small metal tool, provided with the camera, allowed the photographer to write directly on the image.

Another of Culet’s postcards in the Library’s collection shows a distant view of the Bayview Avenue Bridge as seen from Nirvana, the estate of William Gould Brokaw.
The Bridge from Brokaw’s, Great Neck, L.I.
Postcard photo by  Alexander Culet.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

From New Hyde Park & Great Neck, Around the Globe, Signatures on Petition are Children’s Plea for Peace

Photo by James Kavallines, taken for the New York Herald Tribune.
In 1961, two residents from the New Hyde Park/Great Neck area, Hazel Kaufman and Fran Wunderlich, became increasingly alarmed by the ominous signs of war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  The rhetoric between Kennedy and Khrushchev was constantly escalating.  Media reports were dire and threatening.  Children in Great Neck, including those of Hazel and Fran, were being told to hide under their desks in case of a Soviet missile attack.  Nuclear war seemed inevitable, even imminent.  Fran and Hazel decided to take matters into their own hands.  They wrote a petition, to be signed mostly by children, simply pleading for peace, not war, between the two superpowers.  It called on Kennedy and Khrushchev to stress reason and discussion over rhetoric and confrontation.  They called their movement The Children’s Plea for Peace.  Children took copies of the petitions to school and asked other students to sign them.  This was done in cooperation with the Great Neck Public Schools’ administration.  Other children and parents from other communities heard about the petitions and asked for copies.  Soon, people were circulating the petition all over the U.S., and in England, Japan, and India.  Word of the Plea for Peace began to spread.  Extensive coverage in the media followed.  Participants in the Plea for Peace were interviewed by the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Post, and many local newspapers.
Participants in the Children’s Plea for Peace included Elissa Kaufman (14), Michael Wunderlich (10), and Richard Lazes (13), who traveled with fellow students from New Hyde Park to the United Nations to rally.   Their aim was to present a scroll comprising 10,000 petition signatures to the international organization.  Their pleas were recognized – undersecretary Ralph Bunche accepted their petition scroll on behalf of the United Nations, and media coverage of the Plea for Peace took off.  Photo by James Kavallines, taken for the New York Herald Tribune.
When 10,000 people had signed, Great Neck’s Plea for Peacers attached all of their petitions together, end to end, to form a huge scroll.  A large group of children traveled to the United Nations in Manhattan with placards in hand, asking that they be allowed to officially present their petitions to the international body.  Dr. Ralph Bunche, noted diplomat, academic, and U.N. administrator received three of the Plea for Peace children, and accepted their petition scroll, which remains in the U.N. archival collection to this day.
Signatures for the petition arrived from around the world, including over 700 students from the Mar Basil High School, Kothamangalam, Kerala State, South India (left), and the Kamakura Prefecture, Japan, near Tokyo (right).
Other than advocating for peace and respectful, constructive communication between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., participants in The Children’s Plea for Peace learned a valuable lesson in civics.  They discovered that their efforts and concerns could be recognized, and that their activities could have real effects on the social discourse of the day.  Many of the Plea for Peace children went on to become advocates, activists and civic leaders.  The Children’s Plea for Peace had taught them how to act on the issues that mattered to them, and speak up for what they believed in.
Press coverage in local and New York City papers took off as the Plea for Peace grew, culminating with the response to the presentation by children of over 10,000 signatures at the U.N.
Images and information for this blog post were provided to the Great Neck Library by Hazel Kaufman.  This blog post is a companion to a local history display at the Main Building of the Great Neck Library, on view until September, 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Main Street Great Neck, 1912

A century ago, postcards were the favored social networking tool.   Because of this non-electronic format, we have a record of one of the main shopping areas in our community, as it appeared a hundred years ago.
Postcard view of Main Street, Great Neck, circa 1912.
This view of Middle Neck Road, called Main Street here, was printed in Germany for the Ninesling’s  Brothers Department Store, some time before 1912.  The card was addressed to Hasel L’Hommedieu of St. James, L. I. (in Smithtown).  By 2011, this card had found its way to Las Vegas.  The L'Hommedieus were also a prominent Great Neck family around this time, very active in the business, religious, and civic life of the community.
A sign painted on the H. Ninseling & Sons store, on the right, advertised dry goods, furniture, and sporting goods as well as laundry - phone number GreatNeck 134.  A date at the roof line indicates that the building was constructed in 1881.
The view looks north from Beach Road.  Just visible on the left is the canopy of the LeCluse Brothers General Store.  One of this store's owners, Egbert LeCluse, was a member of the Alert Fire Company, and later a justice of the peace.  He had the distinction of having the first telephone in town, GreatNeck 2, because he was instrumental in bringing phone service to Great Neck.   Calling GreatNeck 1 got you the local phone company office, which opened on September 28, 1899.   Mr. LeCluse is also said to have helped dig holes for Great Neck's power and telephone poles.  Telephone numbers from this period can be found in the Library’s collection of telephone books on microfilm.  Several of these books will soon be available online, through the library's website.
Egbert LeCluse - from the Great Neck News, December 10, 1937.
Behind the LeCluse store sat the colorful Kortlander & Rempe general store, which sold wine, liquor and groceries.  Behind Kortlander & Rempe was the Lincoln Market, phone number GreatNeck 81.
Horses and carts also appear in the background of this image.  The strangely small automobiles traveling on the minimally paved road were added after the photo was taken, probably to make the image seem more up-to-date.  If you look closely, you can see the "cut marks" around the images of the cars.
A very similar postcard in our collection offers a less colorful view of the same scene.  On first viewing, these images look the same, except for the automobiles.  A closer look reveals that the images were definitely taken at different times, as small details, like the people posing on the sidewalk, are not the same in each.
Postcard view of Main Street, Great Neck, circa 1909.
West side of Middle Neck Road at Beach Road, part of the area shown in the postcards above, in 1977. Photo by Mort Shapiro.
The 1912 postcard was purchased with money from the Risha Rosner Memorial Fund, which is made up of contributions donated in recognition of Risha Rosner, a dedicated, longtime Great Neck librarian and local history enthusiast who passed away in March of 2010.  To contribute to this fund, please call the Great Neck Library Reference Department at 516-466-8055, ext. 218.  Contributions are spent on adding items to the library's Local History Collection, and preserving, conserving and providing better access to the collection.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Saddle Rock Turns 100

2011 marks the Centennial of the Village of Saddle Rock, the first village established on the Great Neck peninsula.
Louise & Roswell Eldridge founded the Village of Saddle Rock in January of 1911The Eldridge estate, in its entirety, made up the new village of Saddle Rock.  At the time, the new village had 77 residents.  All of them had lived on the Eldridge estate, and were either somehow related to the Eldridges, or worked for them.  The Eldridge mansion was called Redcote; it sat on a hill overlooking Long Island Sound, not far from the Saddle Rock Grist Mill.

"Redcote," the home of Louise and Roswell Eldridge, in Saddle Rock (no longer in existence).

Roswell was the first mayor of Saddle Rock, but Louise succeeded him when he died in 1927.  Louise was the first female mayor in the State of New York.  Given her previous experience with all things municipal (she was a founding member of many local entities, including the Great Neck Library, the Great Neck Society for Social and Educational Advancement, and the Great Neck Park District), Louise probably had little trouble serving and leading the new village.
Louise had inherited land and family money, and continued to make wise investments during her lifetime.  Roswell had made much of his fortune from the reorganization of The Hoboken Ferry Company.  Several Great Neck contemporaries of Roswell's had also gotten wealthy investing in shipping and ferrying lines.  Roswell also invested heavily on Wall Street.  Before he died he was a millionaire, living a life of leisure as a gentleman farmer and breeder of his beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Raising Cavalier King Charles Spaniels was one of Roswell Eldridge's true passions in life . . .
. . . riding his prized horses around Saddle Rock was another.
Stock certificate for 18 shares of The Hoboken Ferry Company, owned and signed by Roswell Eldridge, dated June 16, 1897.
This 1933 Chevrolet "woodie" was probably once the official vehicle of Saddle Rock and the Eldridges.  It was purchased by a Long Island collector in 2009.  "Saddle Rock - Great Neck" was painted in gold leaf on the driver's side door.  The owner sent us this photo, hoping that we might have further information about the van.
Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge, the Grande Dame of Great Neck, onetime mayor, and owner, of Saddle Rock.
The oldest image of the Saddle Rock Grist Mill that the Great Neck Library owns is on this postcard.
The note written on the back of this postcard is signed "L. U. S.," which is probably either Louise Udall Skidmore, or her mother, Louisa Udall Skidmore.
Cool  Saddle  Rock  Facts
Most of the streets in Saddle Rock are named after famous American and British poets.
The Saddle Rock Grist Mill is the oldest known structure in the Great Neck area.  It dates back to the late 1600's.
For more information on Saddle Rock, visit the
History Page from the Village of Saddle Rock Website