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Digging into the History of Garden City

By Lizz Panchyk

Like any other bustling town on Long Island, Garden City has centuries of history that deserve to be recognized. Long before there was Garden City, the entire area in the village where Adelphi is currently located was just grass. The Hempstead Plains, the largest prairie east of the Mississippi, stretched from Western Nassau all the way to Suffolk in central Long Island and included what is now New Hyde Park, Mineola, Garden City, Hempstead and Uniondale.

Garden City Hotel, aerial view from 1924 Photo from National Archives

This actually made for a great area for military camps because of the flat land and open space. Camp Winfield Scott (1862), marked by a sign at the corner of Washington Avenue and 11th Street, was the first of these. But the area would not stay undeveloped for long. In 1869, Alexander Turney Stewart (after whom Stewart Avenue is named) bought a big section of the Hempstead Plains to develop into a planned settlement and thus Garden City was born.

Though he died in 1876, the community kept growing. Houses, hotels, a train station, stores and schools were built as well. The Cathedral of Incarnation, an Episcopal church, was completed in 1885. It was funded by A.T. Stewart’s widow, Cornelia, and contains the largest pipe organ on Long Island. The pointed steeple can be seen from Adelphi’s campus. St. Paul’s School, also funded by Cornelia, was built in 1884 and was a designated preparatory school for boys which ran until the early 1990s. While both of these buildings still stand tall today, just a mere few minutes from campus, so do a lot of the original Victorian homes of the 19th century, such as the historical society building named A T Stewart Exchange, which is on Eleventh Street.

Aerial view of Cherry Valley Country Club in 1936 Photo from National Archives

Though the Hempstead Plains were partly overtaken by the Village of Garden City, there was still plenty of flat open land to the east of the Village, and this was perfect for flying fields, which began in the area in 1909 and eventually turned into the world famous Roosevelt Field where Charles Lindbergh took off. Garden City became the so-called Cradle of Aviation, and a museum by that name opened in 2002.

The Long Island Motor Parkway, built in 1908, was the first modern highway built for the automobile. It was 45 miles long and charged tolls. The current Chamber of Commerce building on Seventh Street is a former toll parkway house. However, in 1938, the parkway was shut down and the sections within Garden City were abandoned.

By the 1920s, Garden City was thriving and a decision was made by Adelphi College in Brooklyn to relocate there. The famous firm of McKim, Mead, and White, who had designed the original Penn Station in Manhattan, were called upon to design the three original Adelphi campus buildings. They also designed the original Garden City Hotel (which was later demolished and replaced by the current version).

In the early 20th century, Doubleday Publishing set up its headquarters in Garden City, and published editions of many of the most well known books of the day based from that location. Doubleday even had its own dedicated train station built called Country Life Press.

The Garden City we know today is a thriving place that has plentiful restaurants and shopping, including the Roosevelt Field Mall (which replaced the airfield), the Cradle of Aviation, along with Nassau Community College and Adelph, and much more that has been built over the the past century on top of what used to be flat plains. Whatever the future holds for this beautiful place, it will likely still be built upon the historic foundations of its past.

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