Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Horses in the Five Towns

The farmland surrounding the Long Island Rail Road's Rockaway Branch was comprised of small homes and farms through the Nineteenth Century.  In the years before World War I, the land increased in value and real estate development became a major project of businessmen who could afford to invest. Even so, developers like Robert L. Burton made an effort to maintain the rural flavor of the area, installing paved winding roads and transporting full-grown trees to decorate the park-like expanses of lawns.  As late as the 1940's, horses were still a regular sight in the area and local riding stables were a major recreational venue for residents through the 1960s.

The  Rockaway Hunt Club was founded in 1878 as a fox hunting organization.  While tennis and golf eventually surpassed fox hunting in popularity, many members maintained their interest in equestrian activities and kept horses for polo and leisure riding at their country estates in Cedarhurst, Lawrence, Woodmere and Hewlett well into the Twentieth Century.  One of the Club's members, Franklin Brooke Voss  (1880 - 1953) of Hewlett, was a noted painter of equestrian scenes and became "almost an artist-in-residence to the Whitneys and the Vanderbilts." (Fairley, page 24.)

In 1902, Robert L. Burton, the developer of Woodmere, posted a sign on his property. At the time, his property included the entire village of Woodmere. At all of the entrances to the village bright red lettered signs, announced that automobiles would be barred from entering the property. According to an article in The Brooklyn Eagle (July 17, 1902), Burton was protecting his seasonal residents from

"the outrages perpetrated by automobilists, who run their machines at a high rate of speed and endanger the lives of drivers and pedestrians. The driveways through the Burton property are all eighteen feet wide and winding. Occupants of the cottages all have fine blooded stock, and as the animals become frightened at the puffing machines Mr. Burton has wisely made the ruling prohibiting their entering his grounds."

In addition to the main location of the Rockaway Hunting Club in Lawrence, a steeplechase course which bore the name Hewlett Bay Park,  was created in 1913 on the current site of Hewlett High School.  It is described as an "ideal" course. 
"It is laid out over natural hunting country, and has two circuits, one of two miles, with brush and water jumps for steeplechase events and rail fences for the hunting races, and the other one mile on the flat.  Both are in plain view of the stands and parking spaces, which are on a hillside overlooking not only the course, but Hewlett Bay and the ocean as well."  (NY Times, May 3, 1914, p. X2.)

Russell Sage driving Meek and Humble at his Lawrence estate 

Russell Sage, an avid horseman who relished his reputation as a ruthless financier and politician, would race his matched colts, Meek and Humble (above) on Central Avenue, scattering pedestrians.  In an 1898 interview, Sage commented:

"You are quite right about my affection for animals and pets.  Only an hour ago I was delivering a eulogy on a pet horse, and my wife said I could hardly keep house without my two pet Maltese cats.  My horses are all very fond of me and know me well, and I always drive myself.  I have two young colts I am especially fond of.  I often pet them in the stable, and when they hear my voice they go crazy to get at me and rub their noses against my hand."

Cedarhurst resident and Rockaway Hunting Club member James R. Keene, a Wall Street stockbroker and owner of Castleton Farms in Kentucky, was an internationally recognized breeder of fine thoroughbred horses.  In 1908, The London Sportsman wrote that Keene possessed "the greatest lot of race horses ever owned by one man." Castleton Farms produced six Belmont Cup winners before Keene retired from racing in 1910.

This unknown rider (note side-saddle) displays her talents at a local stable, c.1906

The 1913 Telephone Directory for the area lists the following Riding Academies and Livery stables:
  • Far Rockaway Riding Academy and Horse Exchange (Hewlett)
  • Cedarhurst Livery (Cedarhurst)
  • John Hanlon, Livery (Lawrence)
  • Thomas Heenan,  Livery (Hewlett)
  • William D. Reilly, Livery (Cedarhurst) 
  • John M. Ruhl,  Livery, (Cedarhurst)
  • Henry F. Willis, Livery (Hewlett)
The telephone directory for 1926-1927 lists the following:
  • Cedarhurst Riding Academy (Fair Oaks Pl., Cedarhurst)
  • John Hanlon, Livery (Lawrence)
  • R. Montgomery Riding School (Willow Avenue, Cedarhurst)
  • Peninsula Riding Academy (Atlantic Avenue, Cedarhurst)
  • Peninsula Riding School (Woodmere)
  • Pursehouse riding Academy (Fair Oaks Place, Cedarhurst)
  • Sweet Meadow Farm,  horses (Atlantic Avenue, Cedarhurst)
  • Lawrence R. Walton Horse Farm (Atlantic Avenue, Cedarhurst)
  • Burt Wood Riding Academy (Woodmere)
After World War II, the development of the Five Towns communities resulted in many large estates being subdivided.  Most of the residents no longer kept their own stables, but recreational riding was still popular through the 1960's.  Current residents remember being taken for pony rides at a stable on the Hewlett-Lynbrook border, the current location of a CVS pharmacy.  Anyone who remembers the names of these establishments is invited to post a comment below.

Further information:


pharmacy one said...

Highly energetic article, I enjoyed that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

Hewlett-Woodmere Public LIbrary said...

We would love to expand the article as more information becomes available. Please contact the Library if you have antique photos, receipts from local vendors or other Five Towns memorabilia that you would like to share!

jammelia said...

theThe CVS Pharmacy on the edge of Hewlett/Lynbrook occupies the site of Mrs.rallyZeff's Pony Rides.

I remember as a child sitting on pony and going 'round & 'round the small paddock.

Shelly said...

I'm trying to remember the name of the stable that was on Broadway in Hewlett, heading towards Lynbrook, where they had quite a few horses, maybe ponies
where my sister and I took riding lessons, which was owned and run by a German couple who had a son. Definitely not Mrs, Zeff, This was in mid 1940's. The stable was later torn down and I believe condo's were built on site (maybe CVS came later.)
Hoping someone can remember name of the stable or of the owners!

Hewlett-Woodmere Public LIbrary said...

I believe you are referring to the stables owned by J. Von Falkenstein. The farm, stables, and barnwere located at 1728 Broadway Hewlett until the property was sold. - MV