Wyandanch once known for dense woods, mineral springs
At one time in her life, Pecolia Bostic, 68, wanted to move out of Wyandanch.
She was married with seven children, working out of town and exhausted by the commute. The idea was quickly vetoed by her children.
“They told me, ‘You always say we have lots of mommies and daddies here in Wyandanch,’” Bostic recalled. “‘Why would we leave?’ What could I say to that?”
She and her family stayed in Wyandanch.
Pecolia Bostic said she never had to worry about her children because there was always someone in the neighborhood looking out for them.
Wyandanch proved to be small-town living at its best.
In fact, it seems that Wyandanch did remain remarkably quaint until well into the 20th century, said Mary Cascone, historian and archivist at the Town of Babylon Office of Historic Services, who is working on a book about the hamlet’s history.
Wyandanch’s Long Island Railroad station was built in 1842 -- one of the first on Long Island -- but the hamlet didn’t experience a large population growth for almost a century, though there were farms and some factories including C&D Cement, the largest African-American-owned business in Suffolk County.
In 1922, the population of Wyandanch was 75 and the number of new houses built the year before was four, according to a booklet published by the LIRR. It goes on to describe Wyandanch as having “dense woods, towering trees” and fresh mineral water known as the Colonial Springs -- “well known for their medicinal properties.”
The area of land above the springs, where for years water was bottled and also used to make bricks, was owned by Wyandanch’s most famous resident, Captain Jacob Conklin, a “supposed pirate” who sailed with Captain Kidd, Cascone said.
The property was eventually owned by Col. James F. Casey, the brother-in-law of Ulysses S. Grant, who is thought to have stayed at the home often.
“The entire Grant family would come and stay,” she said. “They actually had big plans to build a hotel, but it never came to fruition.”
Cascone said since the beginning, Wyandanch has struggled to define itself and its borders. The Town of Babylon was established in 1872, and the area of Wyandanch was considered part of Half Hollow Hills, she said. Wyandanch has been known as North Breslau, West Deer Park and Wyandance. Just about 50 years ago, the Colonial Springs section of the community became Wheatley Heights.
Cascone said after World War I, Wyandanch became a summer destination because people from New York City were drawn to the mineral springs and Geiger Lake. But when it comes to post-World War II history, she hopes the stories will be told by the residents that lived them.
“As more people come here, the stories get more complicated,” she said about her research, both historical and anecdotal. “We’re looking to our residents to give us their perspective.”
Bostic said that in her 53 years in Wyandanch, she’s seen it all. She’s seen the “homes come and the trees leave,” she’s seen the roads paved and the local economy rise and fall.
“Over the last 10 years, there has been quite a bit of change,” she said. “But it’s an improvement.”
One thing that will stay the same, she said, is her presence. She said when the old neighborhood kids come back to visit, her house is still the first stop.
“They ask me how the neighborhood has changed and I tell them it’s very different,” she said. “But I hope that when they come back in 10 years, I’ll tell them there’s been positive change.”
Photo: The Wyandanch General Store in 1941.