Racing, firefighting highlights of New Hyde Park's history
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An intrigued Mildred Tassone, while sifting through old photos at Village Hall recently, examined the black-and-white photo of the first international road race in the country.
“It was a race that had 100,000 people on the side of Lakeville Road and Jericho, amongst farmland, cheering,” said Tassone, vice president of the New Hyde Park Museum, which is opening in April on the second floor of New Hyde Park Village Hall. “The races expanded and it finally got too big to have on the streets [the last race was held in 1910], and ultimately NASCAR was formed from this type of racing.”
Tassone, who was born and raised in New Hyde Park, plans to launch the museum in the spring to provide residents with photos and documents from the community’s past.
“Generations of my family have lived in New Hyde Park since 1915,” said Tassone. “My daughter is the fifth generation of Tassones to live here.”
New Hyde Park was formerly called Hyde Park. The English and Dutch settled in the mid-1800s, followed by the Germans, Irish, Polish and Italians. New Hyde Park Village became incorporated in 1927.
Village Historian Carol Nowakowski said that in the early 1800s, Jericho Turnpike served as a plank toll road for carrying produce to the market in New York City.
“Along Jericho Turnpike, there were once general stores, Park Theatre, a hotel,” said Nowakowski, 71, who has lived on First Street since 1962. “This was a main thoroughfare with a toll gate at one point. This wide, now-busy road was a dirt road.”
In the 1850s, Irish and German immigrants began to buy farms in the area, which only had four houses on Jericho Turnpike and farms scattered throughout open fields.
In the early 1900s, the population began to increase and commute to New York City. Cars, and buses became common, so Jericho Turnpike was paved and widened. By 1924, 140 homes were built and 450 additional acres of farmland were being developed into housing.
While researching, Nowakowski found that New Hyde Park’s first Active Hook and Ladder Company was formed in 1896. At that time, firefighters would put out fires with bucket brigades. That practice continued until water mains and hydrants were used starting in 1907.
The first fire district was established in 1910, and now there are five companies in the New Hyde Park Fire Department. Nowakowski also remembers the stories her late husband, Frank, would tell about the fire fighting competitions he was involved in.
“They had ladder, hose and bucket competitions and they still run these competitions today,” said Nowakowski of the competitions, which started in the village in the 1930s. “It’s a very interesting sport. I personally love it.”
In 1886, the first school was built on New Hyde Park Road. Later, School District No. 5 formed in 1905 and because of the increase in population, another school was built. The Sewanhaka Central High School District was created in 1926. The district, which serves New Hyde Park Floral Park, Bellerose, Garden City Park. Franklin Square and Elmont, operates several schools including New Hyde Park Memorial High School.
“The reason I think people are drawn here is because you have a good education system and there’s a sense of community,” Tassone said. “You have a lot of businesses, it’s close to medical facilities and nothing is too far away.”
Nowakowski remembers her husband proposing to her in the kitchen of Walter’s Inn, which was a popular place to have dinner in the 1960s and is now Walk Street Tavern.
“While the women stayed home, the men would go after work to one of the local pubs, like Angelo’s, on the corner of South 12th Street and Jericho. It was a small bowling alley and had bowling leagues,” Nowakowski said.
Although Frank Nowakowski died in 2003 at the age of 74, she never once thought she’d leave New Hyde Park because “it would always be home.”
“I’ve never really wanted to go any other place,” Nowakowski said. “This was my husband’s home. This is my home and when my husband passed away . . . well, if it was good enough for my husband all these years it’s certainly good enough for me.”