In the late 1890s and early 1900s, large homes rose on former farmland on and just off Highland Road in Glen Cove to house people who would catch commuter trains to Manhattan at the nearby Glen Cove railroad station.
Doctors and downtown Glen Cove business owners also purchased homes there, according to historical surveys and recollections of former residents.
City officials are now reviewing whether to designate the gracious neighborhood the city’s first historic district and to apply for its placement on national and state historical registries.
“Glen Cove has a lot of beautiful character that you don’t want changed,” Mayor Reginald Spinello said.
The Glen Cove Landmark Preservation Commission is meeting Wednesday to discuss the matter, said Timothy O’Rourke, who chairs the panel. If the proposal goes forward, public hearings would be scheduled at commission and City Council meetings.
If the National Park Service adds the area to the National Register of Historic Places, it would be the sixth in Nassau County. Suffolk County has 41 national historic districts.
The Glen Cove proposal would encompass 73 homes on Highland Road — many on lots of at least a half acre — and on several streets that cross Highland, O’Rourke said.
“The homes can be characterized as small estate homes, built in styles that were fashionable at the time,” said a consultant’s 2004 survey of the neighborhood commissioned by the city.
Perhaps the area’s most famous resident was Henry Clay Folger, the president of Standard Oil and owner of the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials, which are now in a Washington, D.C., museum that bears his name.
The state and national designations would make homeowners eligible for tax credits when they rehabilitate their houses. Local historic district status would limit changes owners could make to areas of their homes visible from the street, O’Rourke said.
Front additions and other major construction could not detract from the neighborhood’s historical character, he said.
Highland Road resident Karen Dahl, 53, doesn’t mind the potential restrictions and believes a historic district would increase the value of her home.
“It’s a good selling point,” Dahl said of the historic district designation as she stood on the porch of the 1920s-era house she and her husband bought 15 years ago. “Look at Cape May [N.J.] and all of the other places that are historic districts. People want to live in places that are unique.”
Dean Yoder, 54, said the district designation would protect the area from investors who might seek to demolish homes.
“Sometimes it’s cheaper to tear down houses and build a McMansion that doesn’t go with the neighborhood,” Yoder said.
Five years ago, Yoder and his husband, Jonathan Grimm, 55, hosted a meeting of about 20 residents in their 1910-era home to discuss a previous proposal for a historic district. That effort was abandoned largely because of a resident who vocally opposed any restrictions, he recalled.
Highland Road homeowner Bob Haley, 54, wasn’t at that meeting, but he opposes the historic district designation because of concerns about overregulation.
Haley last year retired with his wife to Florida and is selling the 1890s Victorian house where they lived. He said they liked the house because of its history but believe homeowners have a right to make whatever changes they want to their houses.
“You can’t infringe on a next-door neighbor and tell him what to do,” Haley said. “That’s just un-American. People have property rights.”
He believes the restrictions would turn off potential homebuyers.
But O’Rourke said the designation and other potential historic districts would bring stature to Glen Cove and attract visitors. He imagines promotional materials beckoning people to “come visit the historic buildings of Glen Cove.”