Saturday, November 29, 2008

Woodmere Woods

Photo: Max Hubacher (from the H-WPL collection)

In 1956, as the need for housing transformed Nassau County's landscape, the last remaining area of natural woodland in southwest Nassau was the subject of a tug-of-war between residents, conservation groups and land developers.

Woodmere Woods, over 100 acres of woodland bordered by Peninsula Boulevard and Mill Road, was originally part of the Long Island Water Corporation's watershed property. a much larger tract that

"extended from just a few blocks north of the railroad line in Hewlett and Woodmere, straight across woodland and marsh, field and farm, to Rosedale. There was one cinder road that wound through a fine woodland; beyond the waterworks what is now Hungry Harbor Road was a dusty track between farmlands." (-- Robert S. Arbib, Jr.)
Though generations of residents had used the area for camping, hiking, bird-watching and horseback riding, in 1956 it was discovered that Lawrence Lever of Rockville Centre had the option to buy the property and develop it for housing, apartments and a shopping center. A local group, the Woodmere Woods Conservation Committee, organized to petition the Town of Hempstead to purchase the property and turn it into a park.

Photo: Ethel Dubois (from the H-WPL collection)

Two years later, an article in The New York Times highlighted the housing development and its 318 homes, Hewlett Park. The Peninsula Shopping Center now stands on the site where Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts once had camping weekends and the Linnean Society sponsored nature walks.

In an article in Newsday, film maker Jonathan Demme remembered the Woodmere Woods of his youth:

`It characterized the Long Island I knew growing up - vast tracts of nature you just walked into and maybe never encountered anybody while you were bird-watching or pretending to be an Indian. ... I would love to find it again. But I'm afraid to look, because there are probably houses where Woodmere Woods stood when I was a boy more than 40 years ago.''

Further information:
Arbib, Robert. The Lord's Woods: the passing of an American woodland. New York : W.W. Norton, 1971.

By BYRON PORTERFIELD Special to The New York Times. "L.I. GROUP SET UP TO SAVE A WOOD :Park District Proposed for 118-Acre Woodmere Area in Southwest Nassau Residents Form Committee Petitions the First Step." New York Times (1857-Current file), December 10, 1956,

"Modern Sunroom Adjoins Bedrooms :Sun Room Creates Informal Living Area in Long Island Split-Level." New York Times (1857-Current file), August 17, 1958,

NATALIE G. RESSNER "OPINION :High in the Saddle, High on Life." New York Times (1857-Current file), July 22, 2001,

Joseph Gelmis, "Jonathan Demme" in Long Island: Our Town,

"FADS IN HOUSES GO ABOUT IN CIRCLES :Cape Cod Capitulates to the Split-Level, Which Bows to the Colonial, Etc.." New York Times (1857-Current File), May 31, 1959,


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Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if these woods were the ones on the northeast corner of Mill Road and Peninsula Blvd. They lasted through the 50's but were eventually replaced by a shopping center on Peninsula. The interesting thing about these woods was that a LIRR spur ran through them to the water plant (still there) buried in the woods off Mill and Rosedale Rd. The spur branched off of the main Far Rockaway line just south of Peninsula, then crossed Peninsula, then into the woods I've mentioned, then across Mill Rd. and up to the water plant to deliver coal. This operation ceased in 1954 but the tracks remained for several more years and the Mill Rd. crossing was visible into the early 60's. There is scant documentation on this spur and no extant photographs of it have come to light.

Amy Bentley said...

I think the woods were on the northwest corner of Peninsula and Mill Road. There are some maps out there that show the spur, as you say. But, also, looking at earlier maps, it shows another spur to ther waterworks. This spur, also crosses Mill Road, but it is on the southwest corner of Rosedale Road and Mill Road. (That would be the northeast corner of the woods.) This spur, based on the map, crosses Mill Road and eventually ends at the Gibson train station, actually a little north of the station. It goes to the building where Goldie's (sp) restuarant is located - I think Dubois Avenue.