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Smithtown seniors gather for a walk down memory lane
Mary Ellen Jones recalled struggling to be noticed at age 6 at the checkout counter at Blue Jay Market -- Smithtown’s first supermarket.
“When I was little, my uncle worked at the market,” said Jones, 74. “I was so little and the counter was so high that the workers wouldn’t wait on me because they couldn’t see me.”
To take a walk down memory lane, Jones sat in on a lecture Monday night by Smithtown Town Historian Brad Harris at the historic Frank Brush Barn.
Jones sat among nearly 50 seniors -- most of whom she or her older sisters grew up with -- listening quietly at first, but later interjecting her own intricate memories of growing up in Smithtown.
Harris focused the lecture on how different Smithtown was in the 1930s, a turning point for the town with a quaint Main Street that was then a mix of Victorian homes and small shops.
Eighty years ago, the town was separated into two distinct communities: Smithtown, a community in the area that now encompasses Head of the Harbor; and Smithtown Branch, which included what is now the downtown area of Smithtown hamlet.
In 1927, Smithtown Branch’s Main Street became the commercial heart of the town, with a wide, four-lane highway with curbs and sidewalks. Five years later, two traffic lights were installed to control the increased vehicle traffic.
During the lecture, Harris mentioned the old gas station, Smithtown Hotel, the local bakery and other stores that thrived off the small business it received from locals.
“Freelan Jones’ gas station had nine gas pumps where gas could be purchase from different companies at different prices,” Harris said. “What his customers didn’t know was that he only had one large gas tank in the ground that he drew gas from.”
The audience chuckled in unison, nodding their heads in remembrance.
They also discussed Smithtown Bakery, a place children passed by on their way to and from school on New York Avenue, often stopping in, succumbing to the tantalizing smells.
Many of the seniors smiled and let out a “uh-huh” in agreement.
Harris also mentioned Smithtown Branch’s first diner, which opened in 1933.
“A man named Angelides dragged an old railway dining car onto an empty lot near
Town Hall,” Harris said. “He reconditioned the car and opened it for business as Angelides’ Diner.”
Also, the arrival of a brand-new movie theater came in 1933, just across from the Bank of Smithtown, which is now the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.
Jones said she misses walking down the street among Victorian homes and local grocery, candy and bakery shops where everyone knew her name, but would welcome improvements today.
“People were so friendly in those days,” she said. “After seeing small businesses thrive in my day, I just hate seeing the decay of these buildings with empty storefronts. I don’t want Smithtown to go back to being quaint. I love it here and I really want to see the area thrive.”