19 Aug 2014
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Historical Markers Coming to Garden City

With the marker ordered and the village tweaking its website to have backup historical information, the first installation is scheduled soon.

Historical Markers Coming to Garden City
A half-dozen years ago, Bill Bellmer and Cyril Smith, residents with a mutual interest in Garden City history, approached village officials with the idea that, given such a rich and varied history, Garden City should have identifying markers at these historical sites.

The first series, which marked Camp Mills, Camp Black and Base Hospital, were put in a few years ago. Camp Mills was a very large WW 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 Transverse and Wetherill, where a large hospital was built. It served the Camp Mills troops and the returning casualties from 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 in 1898. These markers are of the classic NY State blue/gold cast metal type.

Bellmer and Smith did further historical research into Garden City's other sites and events worthy of markers were identified. They also found that marker technology had changed. Markers now utilize laminated boards, allowing 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 what the significance of the site is.

Under Kevin Ocker of the Recreation and Cultural Dept., 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, now the Chamber of Commerce building, on Seventh St. This small but unique appearance building has 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 in it.

In 1908, Wiliam K. Vanderbilt, an early motor car enthusiast and auto racer, built the Long Island Motor Parkway (LIMP). 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, then the premier auto race in the world.

The LIMP, being a toll road with limited access, had an entry on Clinton Road/Vanderbilt Ct. 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 toll keeper 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 St. where it serves as the Chamber of Commerce offices and has a small museum 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 the 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 DC, and many other outstanding buildings in American and Europe. He is considered in the top tier of American architects.

Next time on Seventh Street, look carefully at this small but wonderfully designed building. The chamber and village are maintaining it in its original state. Once one of the 12 toll lodges that dotted the 48 miles of Motor Parkway, Garden City's is one of the very few remaining and considered the best preserved.

Trustee Dennis Donnelly, liaison to the chamber, was an advocate that 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 website to have backup 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.

Submitted by Cyril Smith

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