Nissequogue trustees have named the village meeting hall in honor of James Donahue, 87, who has served for decades on various municipal boards and was mayor for one watershed term, from 1969 to 1973.
During those four years, village officials, who had been conducting the people’s business in their living rooms, expanded the Moriches Road country schoolhouse into the Village Hall used today. They bought 27 acres at the end of Long Beach from a sand mining company for use as a preserve, bonding out the $145,000 purchase price through the Bank of Smithtown at a time when the entire village budget was about $150,000.
And when St. James, which had provided fire protection for the tiny village for almost 50 years, threatened to raise its annual charge from $27,280 to $47,080 in 1973, Donahue found land for a firehouse and Nissequogue residents started their own fire department.
Newsday covered the development with tongue partly in cheek, noting that the volunteer firefighters of the wealthy North Shore community parked their fire trucks near a pasture for thoroughbred horses.
Nissequogue’s population, which had hovered in the hundreds since the founding of the village, in 1926, now topped 1,100. The first subdivision was laid out, and new families demanded basic services.
“This was a turning point in village history,” said current Mayor Rich Smith in an interview last week. “Jim was a transitional figure, bridging the old to the new.”
Donahue, a retired dentist who practiced 42 years at a Lake Avenue office now occupied by his son, dentist and deputy mayor James F. Donahue, got pulled into politics when the master builder Robert Moses planned a multi-lane highway from Sunken Meadow Parkway to Nicolls Road that would have put a bridge over the Nissequogue River.
“It would have gone smack through the village,” he said last week. “We formed a committee and caused enough noise, somehow or other. It didn’t happen.”
Of all the milestones in Donahue’s tenure, it was the start of the village’s own fire department that made him almost effusive. It was a test of a still young community’s ability to stand on its own.
“I didn’t sleep too good for six or eight months,” he said. “The first couple fires, I was sweating bullets.”
About 10 women joined the department, including his wife, Cynthia, who served on the ambulance. A neighbor, a retired architect, designed the firehouse. A second-hand tanker truck proved invaluable for a community largely without hydrants.
“It worked out,” he said.
He was shocked when the sign naming the meeting hall in his honor was unveiled last week, he said, the dozen or so residents and officials in attendance applauding him and his wife.
Having served the village for roughly half a century, he has no immediate plans to step down from his current post on the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“We do it because we like the place,” he said. “We love the place.”