In 1925 the Long Island State Park Commission announced the proposed route for the Northern State Parkway.
According to Steve Andersen of nycroads.com, is was described in the 1927 LISPC report entitled, “Main Highways and Parkways Provided and Proposed for Long Island," the parkway was to be routed through, “the highlands of Wheatley (Old Westbury), Manetto (Plainview), Half Hollow and Dix Hills in the northern part of the Island.”
The real struggle in getting the parkway to Half Hollow and Dix Hills was not construction problems or even finance concerns, but the power of Long Island’s Gold Coast residents. Nevertheless, the parkway finally made its way to our neck of the woods in 1949.
The controversy surrounding the route of the parkway was between Robert Moses, Governor Smith, and the Long Island Parks Commission and the wealthy estate owners in Nassau County, particularly those in the Wheatley Hills/Old Westbury area. The owners of these properties did not want the parkway to divide or come close to the boundaries of their estates.
According to the June 2, 1925 New York Times, representatives of those opposed to the route formed the Nassau County Committee and proposed a Middle Parkway route as a substitute, pointing out that, “on account of the large estates of wealthy person of which that section is almost entirely made up, it would be the most expensive possible land the State could acquire for park purposes, whereas further to the southland was not as high priced.”
The battle between the estate holders and the LISPC raged on for years, delaying the construction of the parkway. The New York Times reported on March 31, 1929, four years after the parkway’s announcement, that “Work on Long Island’s Parkway system delayed by big estates on in Nassau County.”
It took nine more months for the situation to be settled, and a deal brokered. A meeting was held with representatives of both sides present, and “the settlement was reached by shifting the proposed route somewhat to the south over a distance of some five or six miles in the center of Nassau County to meet objection of property owners,” according to the Dec. 20, 1929 New York Times.
According to Robert Caro in The Power Broker, Robert Moses made deals with the property owners. “With at least a dozen barons he would move the parkway away from the homes to the edges of their property, out of sight of their castles, if they would in turn donate the right-of-way… with a dozen more, where moving it to their estates’ borders was impractical, he agreed to move it as far as was practical—and, so that equestrians could proceed unchecked on their rides and hunts, to build, at state expense, bridges, one for each estate, over the parkway for the exclusive use of the [estate].”
When the proposed route threatened to cut Otto Kahn’s private 18-hole golf course in half, another deal was made. According to Caro, “Kahn… offered to secretly donate $10,000 to the Park Commission for surveys, if some of the surveys found a new route for the parkway in the Cold Spring Harbor area, a route which would not cross his estate at all. And Moses accepted the money.”
And so the route was shifted south—through the estates of Congressman Ogden and Colonel Winthrop. And so it was shifted further south—through the estates of Colonel Stimson and Robert W. DeForest.
While the battle raged with the Nassau residents, Moses began to acquire the rights of way along the eastern part of the parkway. Luckily DeForest’s Dix Hills’ estate proved to be less of an obstacle than the Nassau ones.
On May 7, 1928, the New York Times published a letter from Governor Smith to Robert W. DeForest. The letter read, “I have just learned of your dedication of rights of way, aggregating fifty acres, through your West Hills and Dix Hills properties on Long Island for the Northern State Parkway.” Later in the letter, the Governor did reference a “small group” that remained in opposition to the parkway, but he thanked all those who had donated land.
A list of right of way donors was published in the Long-Islander on May 11, 1928 and included other Dix Hills estate owners, including Ernest Bigelow and Charles Gould. Finally all the deals were made, the estate owners appeased, the rights-of-way acquired and with a new revised route, and construction began in 1931.
In 1943, the parkway had not reached Suffolk County yet, and the, “tract of 813 acres at Dix Hills… which the late Robert DeForest maintained for many years as a natural park has been sold… The extension of the Northern State Parkway will pass through some of the wooded valleys of the tract,” according to the June 25, 1943 New York Times. And so the LISPC had to acquire a new right-of-way from the new owner, as the old one expired after eight years with no construction.
Originally the right-of-way requested was 165 feet wide, but now they were asking for one 250 feet wide. The new owner, John Dawson, agreed to donate the land at the smaller width, originally agreed to or be paid about $33,600 for the land.
In 1947 construction began on the extension of the parkway east, and by 1950 the parkway was open as far as Deer Park Avenue. The next three-mile push to Sagiktos and Sunken Meadow was completed in 1952. And the final segment to meet the Veterans Memorial Parkway wasn’t completed until 1965, 40 years after the initial route was announced.
Today it is hard to imagine being without the Northern State Parkway, though if you ever wondered why it seems to take so long to get from NYC to LI on the parkway versus the Long Island Expressway remember this, “the accommodation [to Nassau estate owners] condemned users of the parkway to a perpetual detour of five miles around the Wheatley Hills.
Coupled with the six-mile detour forced on parkway users by Moses’ accommodation with Otto Kahn and other Dix Hills barons, it meant that a commuter who lived anywhere east of Dix Hills and who used the parkway… was condemned to drive… 22 extra and unnecessary miles,” according to Robert Caro in The Power Broker.