Thursday, 02 January 2014 00:00
The very first function ever assigned to our local governments was to take care of those who were least able to take care of themselves. The Dutch laid it down as a condition to stop chasing away the English who kept popping up in what is now Nassau County. More than 150 years before there was a public school system, there were official systems in place for keeping widows, orphaned children, the injured, the insane and the drunk from starvation.
Since the very year that Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer, the Town of Oyster Bay, North Hempstead and later the City of Glen Cove have been served by an institution that was once unique in this state and possibly in the United States. The Jones Fund still exists today, and many readers remember that until 1973, its trustees were nominated by the political parties and elected on the same tickets as town officials.
The 1836 will of Samuel Jones bequeathed $30,000 for the support of the poor of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead. The extensive Jones clan has the most colorful history of any old Long Island family. There are tales of piracy, kidnapping and even possible buried treasure, and hordes of Joneses have served as elected officials over the centuries.
It’s hard to keep track of the Joneses, and many sources identify the wrong Samuel Jones as the fund founder. The Jones Fund Jones was a great-grandson of Major Thomas Jones, for whom the inlet and the beach are named.
The townsfolk were unsure of Samuel’s precise intentions, and the town meetings sent a committee to Albany to ask the legislature to help sort it out. In 1838, a special law set up the system that remained in place deep into the 20th century.
The Jones Fund for the Support of the Poor grew mainly through earned interest and bequests. A board of five trustees was elected every two years, three elected by the voters of Oyster Bay (and Glen Cove) and two by voters of North Hempstead. The precise formula would be adjusted several times, but basically the towns split the cost of hiring a manager and a matron, and would make up any shortage of funds at the end of the year in proportion to the number of residents from each town.
For some 70 years, the Jones Fund operated the Jones Institute, a house and farm in Brookville, which was replaced by a larger house on 25 acres on John Street in Hicksville. Typically, there were between 50 and 75 men and women at the Jones Institute at any one time. Those who could, worked on the farm in a dignified manner, which provided most of the annual operating expenses. The Fund owned, operated and sold a network of farms in all four Long Island counties, including a 230-acre farm off Round Swap Road in Bethpage between 1885 and 1911. The Institute was sold in controversy in 1980, due to high maintenance costs. Today, the Fund operates Jones Manor on the Sound, an assisted living facility serving 46 adults in Bayville.
The elected trusteeships were often used by the parties to put their best foot forward and sometimes to experiment.
In 1959, Robert L. Cox of Great Neck, a Democrat, became the first African-American ever nominated for public office in Nassau County when he was picked for one of the North Hempstead slots. In 1965, out of 195 candidates for office in this county, a record number of 16 women were nominated, and nine of them were candidates for the Jones Fund. In 1967, Grey Mason, longtime editor and co-owner of Community Newspapers, a predecessor of this newspaper chain, became the first non-judicial candidate to be cross-endorsed by both Nassau Democrats and Republicans when he ran for Trustee.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org