Monday, June 23, 2014

Fathers of the Five Towns: William Soper Pettit

William S. Pettit
(photo courtesy Linda Forand)
From humble beginnings in a family that traced its roots to the earliest settlers of the Town of Hempstead, William Soper Pettit became one of the most respected and influential civic leaders in the New York metropolitan area.

William Pettit was born on January 20, 1880, to Mary Elizabeth Craft and Theodore Edward Pettit.   From the age of 9, he sold newspapers and delivered telegrams at the Cedarhurst LIRR Station.  He was a descendant of Joseph Pettit, the first clerk of Hempstead (about 1657).

After graduating with Far Rockaway High School's Class of 1900,  Pettit went on to attend Columbia University's Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1903.   He authored a book History and Views of the Rockaways, published in 1901.  

Pettit was a leader of the secessionist movement to separate Far Rockaway from New York City and to create a "Rockaway City."  Although the movement was popular and Pettit felt that the legislation's passage was inevitable, it was vetoed by New York's mayor in May 1915.   In 1915, he also served as Special Counsel to the Nassau County Board of Supervisors.  He subsequently served as Chairman of the drafting commission for the Nassau County Charter, Chairman of the Nassau County Child Welfare Board, President of the Nassau County Historical and Genealogical Society and President of the Long Island Y.M.C.A.  In 1920 the Nassau County Republican party backed Pettit in an unsuccessful bid for Justice of the Supreme Court. 
Mary and Theodore Pettit
(courtesy Linda Forand)

In 1925 he won the first Alfred C. Bossom Gold Medallion for distinguished public service by a New York high school graduate.  The award was made for active work in furthering the development of the Rockaways and for leadership in civic and welfare enterprises."  (NYT 5/20/48, p. 60)  When the citizens of Hewlett Neck voted for incorporation of their village (1927), they met at Pettit's home on Barberry Lane in Woodmere.  Pettit was the attorney for the property owners in their quest to have more control over the future of their community.

     During World War I, Pettit headed the local draft board and during World War II, he was chairman of the Lynbrook Ration Board.  He organized the Five Towns War Finance Committee, was a president of the Nassau County Bar Association and a vestryman of Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church in Hewlett (now Trinity-St. Johns) from 1920-1947.  In addition, he was one of the first Trustees of the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, when is was established in 1947.

Unfortunately, his illustrious career was cut short in May 1948, when he was killed in a collision with a truck in upstate New York. His wife of forty years, the former Dorothea Smolling, was seriously injured in the accident, but survived.  After his death, his home in Lawrence became the headquarters of the Five Towns YMCA, an institution he helped to found. They had no children.  Mr. and Mrs. Pettit are buried in the family plot in Trinity-St. John's churchyard.

Plaque in honor of W.S. Pettit
from the Trustees of the
 Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library

A 1929 article in the Rockaway Beach Wave listed Pettit's business affiliations:
  • President and Director of the Bus Line Holding Co., Inc.
  • Director and counsel of the National Bank of Far Rockaway,
  • Director and counsel of the Rockaway Beach National Bank
  • Vice President, director and Counsel of Hewlett-Woodmere National Bank
  • Director, Long Beach Trust Co., Vision Realty Corporation, Coney Island Estates, Atlantic Beach Realty Corporation, Madison Mortgage Corporation, Equitable Mortgage and Title Guarantee Co., Darwinian Realty Co., Bay Ocean Realty Association, Boardwalk Associates Inc. and Sarego Realty Co.

Further reading:
Bea Jones. "Nassau Civic Leader Dies in Crash, Newsday, May 20, 1948, p. 3.   (requires HW Library card login)
"Citizens of Hewlett Neck Vote for Incorporation," Long Island Daily Press, February 4, 1927, p. 10.
"Mitchel rejects the Rockaway Bill," The New York Times, May 2, 1915, p. 19.
"W.S. Pettit killed in auto accident," The New York Times, May 20, 1948, p. 60.
William S. Pettit. "The Cornell Cemetery, Far Rockaway," Long Island Forum, August 1946.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New York World's Fair 1964-65

One of the great events in the memories of baby boomers and their parents living in the metro New York area, the New York World's Fair opened to the public on April 22, 1964. 
The Unisphere
 The Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library is proud to share some of the photos in our collection, taken the late Max Hubacher, a local resident, during his many visits to the Fair.

The Unisphere, the most recognizable symbol of the Fair, was presented to the Fair by U.S. Steel in 1964.  Standing 140 feet tall, it was the World's Fair's most popular meeting place and is the centerpiece of the modern Flushing Meadow Corona Park in Queens.

 For an adult admission of $2.00 ($2.50 in the 1965 season), and a children's admission of $1.00, visitors could spend the entire day in the world of the future.  In 1964 color TV was in its infancy, computers were limited to large businesses, where they occupied entire rooms with less computing power than an average laptop.  The Fair gave visitors a glimpse of a future that was right around the corner, a world united by technology and trade -- and a universal love of strawberry-topped Belgian waffles!
 New York mayor Robert F. Wagner and a team led by master builder Robert Moses, chose Flushing Meadows Park, the site of the 1939 World's Fair, as the location for the exposition.  Many years before the Fairs, this reclaimed garbage dump had been referred to as "the city of ashes" in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925).  It was transformed into a pristine and usable public space, close to  transportation hubs and New York City's many attractions.  
The New York State Pavilion
At the height of the Cold War,  the theme "Peace Through Understanding" resonated with the public as America took on the challenges of the nuclear arms race, the Vietnam War and the future of space exploration.  Thirty-six foreign nations and twenty-one states sponsored pavilions  -- among the most celebrated were the the Vatican Pavilion, where Michelangelo's Pieta was displayed, the New York State Pavilion (above) with its rotating towers, and the Swiss Sky Ride (below).   

In the part of the fairgrounds closest to the Van Wyck Expressway, more than 45 pavilions  surrounded a pool around which was held a nightly fireworks show. With pavilions from Ford, DuPont and  General Electric Pavilion’s Progressland, the Industrial area was a showcase for corporate America. The Kodak Pavilion’s roof was designed like the surface of the moon, and Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s egg-shaped IBM Pavilion, where visitors sitting on grandstands were lifted swiftly into a theater. At the Bell System exhibit, visitors previewed touch-tone phone technology that was soon to replace the rotary dial.

Lake Amusement Area
Walt Disney Studios introduced "audio-animatronics," their new robotics technology, in the form of the Illinois Pavilion's Abraham Lincoln, the General Electric "Carousel of Progress," which showed the progress of the American family  through the technology of the Twentieth Century and the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion’s Unicef-Disney production of “It’s a Small World,” featuring animatronic dolls in their national costumes and a theme song, sung in several languages, destined to be lodged in the memories of all who attended.

The United States Pavilion
While it never became a financial success, over 51 million people visited the Fair over its two seasons.  And for this visitor, who first saw the spectacle as a wide-eyed twelve-year-old, the memories of the exhibits, the rides, the pageantry and the belief that all things might be possible are recollections almost as sweet as those waffles!

More Information:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Woodmere Kennel Club

The February 10th opening of the The Westminster Kennel Club 138th Annual Dog Show at Madison Square Garden brings to mind a little-known treasure of early 20th-century Woodmere -- The Woodmere Kennel Club.

The inhabitants of the Branch communities, home to the Rockaway Hunting Club since 1878, were avid canophiles -- much  like their modern counterparts.  Besides having family pets, many had their own kennels, as well as private stables, in what was then a very rural area.  Long Island dog enthusiasts formed local kennel clubs based on breed or locale and the Woodmere Kennel Club was one of the early clubs in the area.

The Woodmere Club had a small opening show on a rainy May 18th of 1913, but on June 28 of that year, a second show was held on the grounds adjoining the Broadway Central Hotel on Broadway in Woodmere (Rockaway News, July 2, 1913, p. 1). The two-hour long event was held in a tent with two rings.  Best in show was one by Sun of Llenrud, a nineteen-month old British-bred Pekingese owned by Mrs. A. McClure Halley of New York.

A Rockaway News article from June 21, 1913 lists prizes offered for the second event, including:

Bull Terriers:
Mr. Wex Jones offers $2.50 in gold for best brace of Bull Terriers.
Dr. A.C. Daniels offers twelve pounds Puppy Bread for the best puppy dog and twelve pounds for the best bitch.
Bulldogs:Mr. P. Seixas offers Set of Cuff Buttons for best Miniature Bulldog
Dr. A.C. Daniels offers a Mark Cross Safety Razer [sic] for best American bred dog or bitch.

Other classes included Irish Terriers, French Poodles, English Toy Spaniels, Children Classes, Scottish Terriers, Great Danes, Setters, Maltese Terriers, Pekingese Spaniels, Dachshunde, Collies, Toy Poodles.
To be shown by a "lady", the woman must be the dog's owner.

Within a few years, the shows had outgrown the Broadway Central Hotel.  In 1915, shows were held in the ballroom of the Nassau Hotel in Long Beach, the Hoffman House and the Hotel Gregorian (42 West 35th Street) in Manhattan.  The Club held shows at the Hotel Gregorian for many years.

On October 21, 1914, an unusual event was held at the Hotel Gregorian.  Billed as "Dogs in Toyland," the Woodmere Kennel Club held a special show for miniature breeds.  It seems that at a prior show there were issues between on of Charles Ludwig's Great Danes and a Pekingese. So large dogs were not invited to the next event.

In December, James R. Meade, a breeder from Brooklyn, resigned from the presidency of the club, which he had held for three years.    Over 100 members attended his farewell meeting, at which speeches were made and a silver loving cup was presented to Mr. Meade (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 22, 1914, p. 2)   Meade, who raised Boston Terriers and Pekingese, resigned his position so that he could devote time to showing his dogs.  One year later, tragedy hit when his entire kennel of Pekingese was lost to an unnamed epidemic.

The Club's new officers of 1914 were overwhelmingly women.  Mrs. M. C. McGlone was elected president; Mrs. J.L. Conklin, Mrs. H. Taylor and Mrs. E. Allis Cox, Vice Presidents;  Mrs. L. Shillings, Treasurer; George Heiline, Secretary.

A 1915 article in The New York Sun (June 27, 1915, p. 16) praises the Club for its activities in bring new breeders and amateurs into the world of dog fancying.  184 entries, a very large number for the time, were judged at one evening show.  In 1915, active members of the Club were working towards running dog shows under the American Kennel Club rules, and granting championship points through that organization.

In the 1930s and 40's local dogs such as the collies of Noranda Kennels, owned by Mrs. and Mrs. William H. Long Jr. of Hewlett Harbor (New York Times, February 2, 1941, p. S6; New York Herald Tribune, February 21, 1937, p.B9A), Hi-Wood Mike, a black Labrador Retriever owned by Mrs. John S. Williams of Hewlett (The New York Times, November 24, 1941, p. 23.) appear as winners of major shows throughout the nation. By that time, the Woodmere Kennel Club seems to have faded into oblivion.  As the "horsey set" moved to the North Shore of Long Island and the residential neighborhoods of the Five Towns no longer welcomed dog kennels, breeders moved farther out on the Island and organizations like the Long Island Kennel Club in Oyster Bay took in the members of many local clubs.

Further Information:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Branch in the World Wars (HWPL Gallery - November 6, 2013-January 5, 2014)

Our exhibit of posters from World Wars I and II  demonstrates  the power of the graphic image to inspire, inform and persuade.   The collection, a gift to the Library from former Hewlett Bay Park resident Blanche Cirker, offers highlights of the ad campaign created by the U.S. government to inspire patriotism in  its citizens during a time of personal sacrifice and heightened responsibility.  Mrs. Cirker and her husband, Hayward, founded Dover Publications in 1941.

The display cases show a more personal side of the wars, mementos and photographs from the Library's collection and private collections from the community.

 The exhibit will be on display in the Gallery and the Reference Room from 

November 6, 2013 through January 5, 2014.


New York State residents comprised 10% of the American armed forces during WWI.1 Over 493,000 New Yorkers enlisted for the Regular Army, National Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and U.S. Guards2, between April 9, 1917 and November 11, 1918.3

Draftees from New York and Long Island usually were processed and trained at Camp Upton in Yaphank, later the site of Brookhaven Laboratory.  The men of the 77th Infantry Division, most of them  from Long Island and New York City, trained there before sailing for battlefields in France.  Nicknamed "The Metropolitan Division," they sported a Statue of Liberty emblem patch on their uniform.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”  --  from "History of Veterans Day" (Veterans' Administration Web Site)

"On September 16, 1940, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft. This was the first peacetime draft in United States' history. Those who were selected from the draft lottery were required to serve at least one year in the armed forces. Once the U.S. entered WWII, draft terms extended through the duration of the fighting. By the end of the war in 1945, 50 million men between eighteen and forty-five had registered for the draft and 10 million had been inducted in the military." --  National WWII Museum

After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. entered World War II.  During a three-day period in February 1942, male citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 were required to register with their local draft boards, if they had not already done so.  Over 900,000 New Yorkers served in World War II's armed forced.  In this area, Local Draft Board 722 of Cedarhurst had registration at four sites: School No. 4 in Inwood, School No. 2  in Lawrence, School No. 3 in Cedarhurst and Woodmere High School.4

As Nassau County geared up for a possible air attack, residents experienced test blackouts and air raid drills.  Rationing of sugar, gasoline, rubber, metal and other household necessities was accepted as a necessary sacrifice and War Bond and relief drives allowed citizens to make an individual contribution to the war effort.  Almost every family had someone in the service, but because of its proximity to New York City, its aircraft industry and air fields and it's long coastline, Long Island residents took their defense very personally.  According to a 1942 Newsday summarizing the war's first year:
  • In January 1942, five airmen sacrificed their lives to avoid endangering residents as their bomber crashed in New Hyde Park. 
  • Women and high school boys were eligible for training in manual of arms and rudiments of marching.
  • A local branch of the Civil Air Patrol was founded and women were informed that they would be eligible for "limited participation".  
  • More than 50,000 men between the ages of 45 and 64 [too old for active service] registered for occupational draft.
  • All boardwalk and commercial lights on [the] North and South Shores were ordered blacked out by [the] U.S. Army.
On Memorial Day 1942, an honor roll of Woodmere and Hewlett men in the armed services was dedicated on the grounds of Woodmere High School.  The memorial  now stands at the corner of Broadway and Conklin Avenues.

At the June 1943 high school graduations, many wore uniforms instead of caps and gowns.
"Diplomas were presented to 109 graduates at the 36th annual commencement of Woodmere High School.  [The] Theme of the exercises was "The Four Freedoms," honor students speaking on Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Need and Freedom from Fear as defined by the Atlantic Charter."  5

On June 7, 1944 -- as the D-Day invasion was being fought along the French coast, Long Island's religious institutions. In Cedarhurst St. Joachim's School had a special assembly, while in Lawrence Temple Israel, the Lawrence Methodist Church, as well as Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Joseph's in Hewlett opened their doors for special prayer services.

After the War, the changes which transformed Long Island left The Branch a different place.  As the economic changes of the Great Depression transformed great estates into subdivisions, the GI bill and home construction on a grand scale created neighborhoods where once there had been fields.  The Branch, now called The Five Towns, was forever changed.  And a whole new generation moved in to start their civilian lives and raise their families.

"WWI. Total Troops Furnished by Each State." New York State Archives: Remembering World War I, 1914-1918. New York State Archives, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2013.

2 The United States Guards were a formation of the Army created to guard strategic installations and areas in order to free infantry regiments for war service in the First World War.
3  "47 Cedarhurst Selectees Ready to Join Services." Newsday, February 13, 1942, p. 3. 
4 "All Up to Age of 45 Must Register Here During Next Three Days," Newsday, February 13, 1942, p. 3
5 "Nassau at War - Dec. 7 to Dec. 7", Newsday, December 7, 1942, p. 3. 


Further information:
Web sites
Dwyer, Norval. "The Camp Upton Story, 1917-1921,"  Long Island Forum, January 1970. pp. 6-10;
Part 2 February 1970, pp.31-34; Part III, March 1970, pp.54-57.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hewlett Embroidery Works

The next time you pass the Hewlett Fire House, to pick up some donuts -- take a moment and look UP!  At the corner of Franklin and Railroad Avenues is a building which displays roofline crenellations, an architectural element more common to castles than to donut shops.  One hundred years ago, it was the site of the Hewlett Embroidery Works.  The firm specialized in Swiss Embroidery  (also called broderie anglais), a white-on-white variety of lace which was very popular in the Edwardian world.

The Hewlett Embroidery Works

was incorporated in New York on May 3, 1911 The firm, whose corporate offices were located on East 18th Street in Manhattan, manufactured and sold embroideries, laces, silk, wool, cotton, linen and other textile fabrics.   The President of the company was Albert Brenwald of Woodmere; Henry Ruppert of New York City is listed as Secretary, and Charles Englehard  of Roselle, NJ as Director.

Brenwald (also spelled Brennwald) (born 1874 in Zurich, Switzerland) emigrated to the U.S. in 1902.  He lived on Brower Avenue with his wife, Anna, and son, Adolph.  He and Ruppert (also a Swiss native) formed their partnership in 1909.  Apparently, Brenwald had the embroidery expertise; his partners had the business experience.

The 1912 New York State Register of Factories lists a workforce of 6 men and 22 women at the Hewlett Embroidery Works (2). In 1914 a branch site opened at Pitz’s Hall in Lynbrook, which employed 100 female operators (3).

An average female embroidery worker earned about  $387 a year. A two week vacation at half pay was a luxury and any minutes they did not work were deducted from their time at the end of the week. This was an era of sweatshops, where workers tolerated overcrowding, long hours (average 53-hour work-week and low wages in factories  to support themselves and their families.(4)  The 1911 Triangle Factory fire, which took the lives of 146 workers trapped in the burning building, served as a catalyst for better working conditions, through union intervention and government legislation.

As early as 1891, a Ladies’ Home Journal article described a group of embroidery workers who decided that if each worker could spare ten unpaid minutes a day, they could read to each other.  In this way, they got 800 minutes a day, 1800 minutes a week, etc. of reading accomplished during their working hours (5).  In 1900, only 19 percent of women of working age participated in the labor force and children comprised 6 percent of the labor force (6).

Later History of the Company
With the start of World War I, the market for decorative lace diminished.  Over the next few years, the firm’s management changed -- Ruppert is listed as Secretary and Director in 1915. and in 1917 and 1919 , Milton J. Gordon is listed as President and Treasurer (7).  Mary Simon was Secretary and Director in 1918.  Albert Brenwald’s family relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where he died in 1925.

By 1922, The American Textile Reporter lists the Hewlett firm under the name Sands and Appel Embroidery Works .  Sylvester Sands (d.1934) and Moses Appel (c1858-1934) owned several factories in New York City, one of which was involved in a fire in November 1905, which was an eerie harbinger of the Triangle fire (8). The firm was dissolved by Proclamation on March 12, 1926.

Ladies working at the loom at the Kursheedt embroidery factory in Tennessee.  
The Smith family recruited the factory from New York.  
It made fine Hamburg lace and during World War I, i
t produced patches for military uniforms. (Lewis County Museum)

Further Information:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fathers of the Five Towns: Isaac D. Levy

Roselle Manor in Cedarhurst, built in the style of an English Renaissance manor house, was the summer home of Isaac D. Levy and his family.  Levy, president of Oppenheim, Collins and Co., a women's specialty department store, lived in the home for over 20 years.

When it was built in the early 1900s,  the mansion was surrounded by five and a half acres at Cedarhurst Avenue and West Broadway.  The $300,000 mansion was designed by the architects Buchman and Fox, and  was landscaped by the firm of Lord and Burnham, who also designed the attached conservatory.   According to Long Island Country Houses and their Architects, 1860-1940:
 the sedate mansion incorporated curved gables, mullioned windows and other motifs of English Renaissance manor houses.   (p.86)
Rosetta and Isaac D. Levy (c1920)

Born in London, Isaac Levy's family came to the United States in 1880.  After a brief stay in New York, they settled in Chicago, where Isaac got a position as a cash boy for $2 a week in the cloak department of The Fair, a popular retail store.  He learned quickly, and by 1891 was a cloak and suit buyer for another large retail establishment.  His experience and innovation earned him a transfer from Chicago to New York.  It was shortly after this that Levy approached Charles J. Oppenheim of Oppenheim Collins with the idea of opening a retail store.  For a business which had formerly catered only to the wholesale trade, this was a major endeavor, but Oppenheim backed Levy's vision and a store on 21st Street and Broadway was quickly replaced by a larger emporium at 35 West 34th Street. 
Oppenheim & Collins' 34th St. store, c1955 (Library of Congress)

In 1902, the "prominent young business man of New York" married "one of the belles in Jewish society circles of the city [Boston]."  The "strikingly handsome" Miss Rosetta Davis and Isaac Levy were wed in a ceremony which was detailed in  the Boston Globe (June 10, 1902, p.8) 

Manhattan changed rapidly during the next few years  years and 34th Street, which had not been a fashionable shopping area, was developing thanks to the efforts of John Howes Burton (another Branch resident) and the Save New York Committee.  The area became second only to Fifth Avenue as a shopping center.

Levy's career took off and their country home was built to accommodate their growing family.  The 1915 New York State census lists the Isaac and Rosetta Levy in Cedarhurst with their daughters, Miriam and Kathleen and a son, Robert.  Another child, Dorothy, had died. An estate the size of Roselle Manor required a staff of eleven living on the property. 

While maintaining their Manhattan apartment, the Levy's summered in Cedarhurst for at least twenty years. But by 1925, they had decided to sell Roselle Manor.  A legal dispute arose between the Levys and their agents, resulting in a 1927 compromise in which Roselle Manor was donated to St. Joseph's Hospital in Far Rockaway as a memorial for Dorothy.  The house was to be used as a convalescent home for children. It was eventually turned over to five trustees to sell and use the proceeds to build a maternity and children's wing for the hospital. The house was eventually demolished in the 1960s.  

After leaving Cedarhurst, the Levys  relocated to Deal, New Jersey, where Isaac Levy died in 1934, after a brief illness. Over 700 people attended the funeral of the man the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called "the prince of merchant princes in the realm of ready-to-wear"   Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, a close friend,  eulogized Mr. Levy as 

an outstanding and revealing personality.    ...What he believed he said and what he said he believed.  He spoke the truth, for he loved the truth and he hated a lie.  He loathed anything that was unfair.  He rose from obscurity to a place of power and distinction in the world of affairs.  His business meant much to him, and he gave unwearyingly [sic] of his time to it, not for his own sake but for the sake of those close to him and for the reputation of his business.  - (The New York Times, September 12, 1934, p. 23)

J.J. Schmidt, whose great-grandmother, Annie Turner (Wallace)  worked at Roselle Manor, has allowed us to use some images from his collection, which show the mansion in its glory days.

Further Information:   (Some links may require HWPL library card login)
"Isaac D. Levy Dies, head of Big Store," The New York Times, September 16, 1934, p. 17.
"Isaac D. Levy, merchant, dies at Home,"  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 10, 1934, p. 7.
"Suit is Turned into $200,000 Hospital Gift, as Litigants Transfer Estate as Memorial," The New York Times, February 22, 1927, p. 21.
"Levy-Davis: Members of Jewish Society of Boston, New York and Philadelphia unite in Celebrating the Event." Boston Daily Globe, June 10, 1902, p. 8.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fathers of the Five Towns: James E. Gaffney

With the start of this year's baseball season underway, it seems appropriate to reflect on some local baseball history.  In the days when Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Cy Young were active players, James Gaffney exerted great influence in the world of baseball, as a financier and a guy who could make things happen.

The son of Irish immigrants, Gaffney became a Tammany Hall alderman and the owner of  the New York Contracting and Trucking Company, a construction company which handled such projects as the  Pennsylvania Railroad Passenger Terminal (the original Penn Station in Manhattan).  His wife, Essa Irene (nee Smith) was active in the company.  The subject of several newspaper interviews, Mrs. Gaffney is portrayed as beautiful, charming and possessing a keen head for business.   Although his home was in Manhattan, Gaffney owned a Spanish style home on the corner of Broadway and Washington Avenue in Lawrence, where he and his family spent many summers.  

Gaffney's house on Broadway and Washington
Charles F. Murphy, the powerful Tammany Hall boss, was a close friend, and this affiliation brought Gaffney many financial rewards.   Among Gaffney's many business investments were real estate interests in Cedarhurst the Rockaways as well as a string of race horses which were stabled at Gravesend in Brooklyn.  One of these, Irene's Bob (named for his daughter and her husband), was a winner at Saratoga.  The Daily Racing Form reported that Gaffney spent $40,000 in a three month period of 1909, purchasing several fine  race horses.

But baseball became Gaffney's passion.  In 1911,  It was rumored that Gaffney lent money to his friend Clark Griffith, manager of the Washington Senators  to purchase an interest in the team. (McClures Magazine, May-October 1912,  v.39, p. 241).  In December of that year, Gaffney financed the purchase of the Boston National League team for $187,000.  The team had not won since 1898 and Gaffney was prepared to put another $100,000 into it to turn it into a winning team  (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/23/1911, p. 10).  With his partner John M. Ward, a former player and manager, Gaffney hired a new manager in 1913 (George Stallings) and beefed up the bullpen.   The team, which had been variously named the Beaneaters, the Doves and the Rustlers, now became the Braves.  New York's Tammany Society was named for  Tammany or Tammanend, a Delaware Indian chief, and the members were known as "braves".  The press had named Gaffney "the Brave of Tammany Hall" and Gaffney thought it a great joke to flaunt the New York Democratic machine in the face of the conservative Boston brahmins. 

Ward quickly lost heart and sold out to Gaffney, but the newly-energized team went from last place in early July 1914 to first place at the end of August.  They defeated the New York Giants for the National League pennant and went on to sweep Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.  

With this momentum behind the team, Gaffney took the opportunity of creating what was then the largest and most expensive ballpark in the country. Braves Field was to be built about four miles outside of Boston center and would hold 42,282 seats.
Braves Field, c1915

 16,691 [would] be in a one-story grandstand, so constructed that a second deck [might] be added later; 18,015 [would] be built in bleachers back of the first and third bases, admission to which [would]be 50 cents, and 5,336 seats [would] be provided to the right of center field for the 25-cent patrons.  (Idaho Daily Statesman, 12/29/1914, p. 2)

Gaffney wanted the playing field to be large enough so that it would be possible to hit an inside-the-park home run in any of the outfield directions.  He used his connections to erect a departure station within the stadium walls and convinced the Boston Elevated Railway System to construct a closed loop from the Field to the mainline tracks.  Easily accessible by trolley, the new steel stadium was immediately christened "the world's greatest baseball park" by Baseball Magazine.

Unfortunately, the Braves did not live up to their promise and soon declined in popularity.  Gaffney suffered the same fate, as he became implicated in graft and corruption scandals in New York State and gradually faded from the public arena.  The home in Cedarhurst was sold in 1931 to an industrialist and Gaffney died the following year while vacationing in East Hampton.

Visit our local history display on James Gaffney

Lower Level near the Reference Desk

Further Information