Editor’s note: This article is part of a series in which Newsday attempts to answer questions from Long Islanders about life on the Island. If there’s a question you want us to answer, send it to us here.
Whatever happened to Lollipop Farm? --asked by reader Judi Ross, of Jericho
The short answer: The popular Syosset animal attraction closed in 1967 when its owners retired, but you can still find its signature train at special events.
The long answer: Visit the intersection of Jericho Turnpike and Jackson Avenue in Syosset and you’ll find places to buy shoes, get takeout or drop off your dry cleaning.
What is a series of strip malls today used to be something much grander, a candy-colored paradise for children known as Lollipop Farm.
From 1950 to 1967, the Sweeny family owned and operated a children’s zoo — and owner Harry Sweeny insisted it be called a zoo — that drew crowds to pet lambs, feed ducks or ride the signature attraction, a small gasoline-powered train that wound through the property.
“It had a little train and it had lollipops stuck in the ground,” said Judi Ross, a Jericho resident who went with her family as a little girl in the 1950s.
Business was so good after opening, Sweeny raised admission prices to 30 cents for everyone older than 18 months, and popcorn to feed the animals was a few cents extra, Billboard Magazine reported in 1954. By one count, the farm had as many as 300 animals that required care and thousands of guests per day.
So what happened?
In 1967, after nearly two decades of running the farm, Harry and his wife Alice found new homes for their animals. They sold the property and relocated to Pennsylvania.
“After a while, I think they got tired,” said Eva Sweeny Mancuso, the couple’s daughter. “It had been a wonderful 15 years.”
Despite its abrupt closure, the farm still holds positive memories for the Sweeny family.
Mancuso, 74, of Hico, Texas, said her father got the idea in 1950, after he designed a children’s zoo for the Bronx Zoo. Both of her parents loved children, she said, and saw an opportunity to create a zoo on Long Island.
“One day, I was passing by and saw this fellow posting a sign on this property,” Sweeny told Billboard. “I bought it and here we are.”
They painted the farm’s steepled ice house with bright colors, then set about filling the zoo with creatures great and small, from ducklings and lambs to ponies and exotic birds.
Mancuso said she always loved working with the animals. She was 6 when the farm opened and spent every day there with her sister Jane, 10, and later recruited her friends to work there in high school.
It made her a lifelong lover of animals, she said. While she has fond memories of the animals, she’s never wanted to open a similar park herself. She now owns four horses on a ranch in Hico, though sometimes she wishes she had a few more animals like Lollipop Farm had.
“It’s not really a menagerie of animals anymore and I miss that,” she said.
Not all of Lollipop Farm is lost. For those who want to experience old memories, the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association acquired and refurbished the train about five years ago, said Tony Guarnaschelli, association treasurer.
The train was refurbished and installed on a new track at the John Gardiner Farm in Greenlawn, and Guarnaschelli said the train runs regularly during the summer and during special events, like its annual Pickle Festival, which attracts hundreds of riders each year.
“You gotta see the faces on these kids,” Guarnaschelli said. “We have grandparents who come and bring the grandkids and they’ll say ‘I rode this when I was little.’”