33° Good Afternoon
33° Good Afternoon

Vintage cars take spin through history of Long Island Motor Parkway

Joe Golini, of Ronkonkoma, takes a picture of

Joe Golini, of Ronkonkoma, takes a picture of one of Vintage cars at Islip beach in Lake Ronkonkoma Sunday morning on April 26, 2015, as his son Valentino, 6, looks on. Credit: James Carbone

After driving the old Long Island Motor Parkway in his maroon Model A Ford and wearing a 1930s tweed suit and matching cap, Peter Osmanski took his seat at a celebratory picnic, a cigar wedged between his fingers.

He was one of about 70 drivers who retraced the old route on Sunday to remember the parkway that stretched from Queens to Lake Ronkonkoma and was among the first major U.S. roadways.

The engines of century-old cars hummed amid a day of pretending, for which even a toll was collected as charity. History had altered the course and some traditions, so the experience was not quite the same a century later: Local police were escorts (the parkway closed in 1938 and is now a hodgepodge of local streets), and the popular inn by the lake, Petit Trianon, burned down in 1958.

Many in the group began at Cunningham Park in Queens at 8 a.m. They arrived at Lake Ronkonkoma about three hours later, arranging their cars on the grass by the lake. "Seeing the whole line of cars -- it's breathtaking," Osmanski said.

Historians say the parkway, built by William K. Vanderbilt Jr. in 1908, tied the Island together. It was home to the first Vanderbilt cup races and inspired future highways.

At Lake Ronkonkoma, the end point, riders would relax or stay at the inn -- moments of leisure wistfully emulated Sunday.

"People used to do this sort of thing," said Osmanski, 56, of Smithtown, who works for an insurance company. "Have a picnic, enjoy the great outdoors . . . people don't do a lot of that nowadays."

The event, organized by the Lake Ronkonkoma Heritage Association, was the fifth annual "Sunday Ride." Organizers dedicated a site near where the inn stood as Ronkonkoma's 10th landmark, said Ellyn Okvist, president of the Lake Ronkonkoma Heritage Association.

Funds raised were donated to the Arthur Lopez Memorial to honor the Nassau police officer killed in 2012.

"For many, the first exposure to Long Island was going on the Motor Parkway and coming to Lake Ronkonkoma to enjoy the day," said Howard Kroplick, a local historian advocating for the parkway's renovation.

Travelers would "go to the inn, have a nice dinner, go swimming, do a little boating, and then hop in the car and go back."

Seeing the old cars, for some, was a powerful reminder of the past. Okvist's grandfather helped Vanderbilt park cars here in the highway's earliest days. "I'm honored that I'm here, somewhere my own family was."

Jo Molinari, in her 1946 Willys Jeep, remembered World War II, when Army Jeeps drove soldiers to and from MacArthur Field. That "surplus" Jeep -- among many given to farmers after the war and which her late husband purchased in 2005 -- led the end of the procession. Bearing a U.S. flag, it is now used in parades.

Many of those soldiers "did not come back," she said. "That always stuck in my mind."


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