2013-01-17 / Community

New Historical Markers To Be Installed

By Cyril Smith

Two residents with a mutual interest in Garden City history, myself and Bill Bellmer, approached the Village six years ago with an idea. Given Garden City’s rich and varied history, we believed that the Village should have identifying markers at its historical sites.

The first series, marking Camp Mills, Camp Black and Base Hospital, was installed a few years ago. Camp Mills was a very large World War I Army base in the southeast portion of Garden City 1917-1919. A very large number of American soldiers shipped out to France from Camp Mills: Douglas MacArthur, Wild Bill Donovan, Joyce Kilmer and Father Duffy among them. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a soldier at Camp Mills. This marker is on Commercial Ave. Another marker was placed a year later, at Tranverse and Wetherill, where a large hospital was built. It served the Camp Mills troops and the returning casualties from the trench warfare.

The following year, a marker went up for Camp Black. This large mobilization camp, just east of Stewart School, served the New York troops embarking to Cuba in the Spanish American War in1898. These markers are of the classic NY State blue/gold cast metal type.

As Bellmer and I did further historical research, we identified Garden City’s other sites and events worthy of markers. Also, we found that marker technology had changed. Markers are now made of laminated boards, which allow for a more expansive description along with vintage photos and QR codes. The QR code allows smart phone access to the Village website and other Internet source material. This greatly increases the effectiveness of the markers in conveying the site’s significance.

With assistance from Kevin Ocker, chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Cultural and Recreational Affairs, a plan for placing these new-style markers at appropriate locations was developed. One of the candidates was the Long Island Motor Parkway Toll Lodge on Seventh Street, which is now home to the Garden City Chamber of Commerce. This small but unique building played a big role in Garden City’s history. It would also allow a nutshell history of the Motor Parkway and Garden City’s important role.

William K. Vanderbilt, an early motor car enthusiast and auto racer, built the Long Island Motor Parkway in 1908. It was the first concrete highway in America, and its first toll road. It ran from Flushing Queens to Ronkonkoma in Suffolk and passed through Garden City. Vanderbilt used portions of it for the famous Vanderbilt Cup Races 1908-10, which at the time was the world’s premier auto race.

The LIMP, being a toll road with limited access, had an entry on Clinton Road and Vanderbilt Court in Garden City. Motorists, upon entering and exiting, would stop and pay their toll at the Toll Lodge. A bit like EZPass, regular users could obtain a bumper mounted pass. The tollkeeper and his family also lived in the Toll Lodge. When the Motor Parkway was abandoned in 1938, the Northern State Parkway helping its demise, the Toll Lodge remained as a private home. In 1989, the Village moved it to the present location on Seventh Street, where it serves as the Chamber of Commerce offices. It also has a small museum dedicated to the Motor Parkway.

In addition, the Toll Lodge provides another fascinating insight into Garden City and American architecture. It was designed by John Russell Pope (1874-1937). In 1908, he was personal architect to Vanderbilt and responsible for many of the beautiful Vanderbilt mansions on Long Island. Pope went on to design such notable buildings as the Jefferson Memorial, The National Archives, the National Museum of Art, all in Washington, D.C., and many other outstanding buildings in the United States and Europe. He is considered in the top tier of American architects.

Next time you are on Seventh Street, look carefully at this small but wonderfully designed building. The Chamber and Village maintain it in its original state. Once one of the 12 toll lodges along the 48 miles of Motor Parkway, Garden City’s lodge is now one of the very few that remain and is considered to be the best preserved.

Trustee Dennis Donnelly, who is the Board’s liaison to the Chamber, wanted the Toll Lodge be the first marker installed. Its location offered high visibility, good foot traffic and parking. Donnelly added that Althea Robinson and John Wilton of the Chamber are tireless promoters of Garden City, and historical markers helped promote the Village by increasing community pride.

With the marker ordered and the Village tweaking its Web site to offer more historical information, this first installation is scheduled soon. The team of Ocker, Bellmer and Smith are already at work on the second candidate marker and site. Garden City is blessed with a good number of excellent candidates.

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