Stewart Manor residents gathered on March 16 to celebrate their...

Stewart Manor residents gathered on March 16 to celebrate their referendum win 40 years ago that saved the village's country club and pool. (March 16, 2011)

Today they might be dubbed “The Real Housewives of Stewart Manor.” Forty years ago, however, a group of five young mothers who revived the Stewart Manor Community Association in an effort to save the Stewart Manor Country Club and pool became affectionately known as the “Little Orphan Annies.”

On March 16, 1971, this ad hoc committee — chairwoman Ann Castagna, Eileen Crean, Jean Gunning, Anne Murray and Jeanne Perrine –- succeeded in overturning a twice-defeated referendum, giving the Village of Stewart Manor the go-ahead to buy the Stewart Manor Country Club and surrounding property from a builder, whose intent was to demolish the club and pool.

“That night was so exciting. We came [to the SMCC to celebrate after the vote],” said Crean of the 1971 victory. To commemorate the 40th anniversary, Crean gathered a dozen of the people responsible for the historic “yes” vote at the country club on March 16.

Up until 1971, the pool, country club and surrounding land were privately owned. In 1970, the owner opted to sell the property to a builder who planned to demolish the pool and country club and build new homes. A referendum was put before the Board of Trustees for the village to purchase the property. Professionals were hired to run the campaign to pass the referendum, but to no avail. In May 1970, residents voted against it.

“My husband came home and said, ‘Don’t worry about the pool. The men are going to take it over,’” said Crean. Indeed, the men appointed block captains and ran their own campaign for a second go-round at a “yes” vote. In October 1970, however, that referendum was voted down. The property was sold to the builder.

But Castagna – who went on to become mayor of Stewart Manor – wouldn’t give up. She called a meeting at her home for those who wanted to save the SMCC and pool.

Crean, Gunning, Murray and Perrine showed up that day and reactivated the defunct Stewart Manor Community Association to try for a third referendum. Each of the five moms recruited 14 workers to visit 10 homes each. They got 600 signatures on a petition for what would be the final referendum.

Armed with the slogan “This Land Is Our Land” and images of Little Orphan Annie on  posters, the committee ran a tireless campaign. At the village election on March 16, 1971, the Little Orphan Annies won, with 646 “yes” votes to 537 “no” votes.

The builder knew about the first two referendums and agreed to sell the property to the village -- all but the land between Salisbury Avenue and the LIRR (between Elton Road and Dover Parkway) -- if the third referendum was passed. The builder built six new homes on the land he kept, which is why they're different from most of the other Dutch Colonial-style homes in the village that were built in the 1920s.

Photo: Stewart Manor residents gathered on March 16 to celebrate their referendum win 40 years ago that saved the village's country club and pool.