Historians who want to preserve a 106-year-old bridge that stood above the historic old Motor Parkway recall the sweeping changes that thoroughfare brought to Long Island: the privately financed road allowed early car owners and racers to zip -- well, sort of -- from Queens to Lake Ronkonkoma.
Essentially, something as thrilling as what "space flight" is today had come to the Island, recalled local historian Walter Gosden: "Almost like Star Wars." Gosden and others who love the history of the old parkway hope the bridge, in Manhasset Hills, will survive under a North Hempstead plan to have it landmarked.
At the turn of the century, Long Island was crisscrossed with dirt roads that were traveled by horse and buggy and the few cars of the day. William K. Vanderbilt Jr. financed the Long Island Motor Parkway for Vanderbilt Cup auto races. The entire stretch was completed in 1926.
Back then, there were few rules of the road, and a driver's death in the 1910 race ended the Vanderbilt Cup races there.
Though ownership of what is known as the Old Courthouse Road bridge is unclear, town officials worry it is unprotected and could be demolished.
"It's amazingly intact," North Hempstead Town Historian Howard Kroplick said. "It needs some loving and care."
Just eight of the 65 bridges built above the parkway, which ran 44 miles between Queens and Lake Ronkonkoma, remain. The rest are long gone.
Other intact bridges are at Old Bethpage Village Restoration and in Melville. The others are in Queens.
The parkway closed in 1938 as plans for the Northern and Southern State parkways developed.
Gosden, a member of the Long Island Motor Parkway Preservation Society, said the parkway, with poured concrete, was "totally unheard of anywhere in the country. It helped establish the economy."
Nassau County officials last year introduced plans to make a section of the parkway in East Meadow a trail for hiking and riding bicycles. The final 13-mile stretch of the parkway is now Route 67 in Suffolk County.
While graffiti covers much of the inside of the Manhasset Hills bridge, clear is the year "1909," etched twice onto each side of the concrete walls.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said if the bridge is preserved, the town will pursue grants to renovate it.
If landmark status is granted, the bridge would become North Hempstead's 18th landmarked site or district. Other landmarks include the Schumacher House, a 1700s farmhouse in New Hyde Park, and Shelter Rock, Long Island's largest boulder.
Hazel Kaufman-Pachtman, 92, of New Hyde Park, has advocated its preservation to Kroplick and Bosworth.
Adding a landmark designation brings a "very pretty addition" to the town, she said, recalling trips with her son to the bridge when he was a boy.
For Bosworth, seeing the bridge is "like pulling back the weeds from an old civilization and finding it hidden away on an old busy road."