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Farmingdale Between The World Wars

(Editor’s note: At the Village Pops Concert at the Farmingdale Village Green on Sunday, July 21, Deputy Mayor Patricia Christiansen, delivered this speech. The “Minute of History,” is a series of speeches delivered at the Pops Concerts throughout the summer.)

Dictionaries define nostalgia as sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with pleasant personal associations. Longtime residents of Farmingdale often recall the period between World War I and World War II with such wistfulness. It is remembered sometimes as a bucolic and a quiet time, with the rather small population of the village and with houses interspersed with stores and business offices on Main Street.

History, however, paints a somewhat more dynamic picture. The village population from 1920 to 1940 increased almost 90 percent, from about 2,000 to more than 3,500. An increasing number of these newcomers derived ancestry from southern Europe, rather than northwest Europe.

Vacant lots slowly continued to fill with new homes during the two decades, even after the Great Depression began in 1929. Following the death of estate owner Benjamin Franklin Yoakum in that same year, Bethpage State Park was created. The portion of his estate within the village was sold for individual residential development. The resulting Lenox Hills area continues to this day as one of the most attractive areas of Farmingdale.

During this period Main Street School was expanded twice, in 1922 and 1930, as the student population steadily grew. Farmingdale High School attracted secondary level students from outlying areas without high schools, especially Central Park/Bethpage. Farmingdale High School, which graduated its first senior class (two students) in 1917, had a total enrollment of 57 in 1920, rising to 538 fifteen years later. Many of the Daler traditions were established during these two decades, including varsity athletic teams, marching band, and the HI-LIFE yearbooks. Weldon E. Howitt was district principal throughout this period and on through World War II.

The congregation of St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church moved into its new church building on Conklin Street in 1926, selling the former worship site on Washington Street which is now the Bethlehem Church of God. The members of the United Methodist Church moved to its current church at Main and Grant on Easter Sunday, 1927. The original place of worship was on Main Street, at the present site of the Farmingdale Meat Market.

St. Kilian School opened in 1926, graduating its first eighth grade class in 1932. The Dominican Sisters staffed the school from the opening until the 1980s.

Two banks which opened in storefront locations in 1907 built impressive stone structures at the southwest and northwest corners of Main and Conklin Streets in this era. The First National Bank of Farmingdale built its new building in 1921; it is now the Library Café. The Bank of Farmingdale, erected in 1930, now houses the Carman, Callahan, and Ingham law firm.

The increasing level of auto traffic in the village was a major factor which led the Village Board to create the Farmingdale Village Police Department in 1925. Nassau County also formed its own law enforcement department that same year. In 1942 the Village Police merged into the Nassau County Police Department. The fairness, devotion to duty, and kindliness of the local officers to all village residents, lives on in the memories of longtime residents.

The building of a new firehouse/village hall was approved by the village voters in 1931. Opened on New Year’s Day 1932, it enabled the two fire companies, consisting of the Hook, Ladder, and Hose Company and the Water Witch Company, to be housed together. Motorized equipment was also first purchased in this era, beginning with a Mack pumper in 1921.

Delivery of mail in Farmingdale by letter-carriers began in 1927, with two routes. Up until then, postal patrons had to go to the post office to receive their mail. This change also resulted in homes and businesses being assigned numbered addresses. Today, parking and traffic issues are perennial problems. Imagine what it would be life if everyone still had to go to the post office each day!

And Farmingdale was not without its lighter side. The Strand Theater at 354 Main Street was a favorite entertainment center for films fans of all ages. When it opened in the early 1920s, the fare consisted of silent films in black-and-white, sometimes accompanied by piano music. The Strand saw the arrival of “talkies” and then Technicolor, before it was supplanted by the new Farmingdale Theater in January 1942. The manager of the Strand and the early years of the Farmingdale theaters was Sidney Jacobson, a well-known community figure. The Cara Cara Restaurant presently occupies the site where the theaters were located.

This brief synopsis of the period between the World Wars has omitted many other significant events, including the rapid growth of the aviation industry and Fairchild Field, now Republic Airport. The 1920s and 30s were a time of slow but steady change in Farmingdale. The village leaders of that time worked hard to keep the Village of Farmingdale, despite economic challenges, a safe, well-administered, and progressive community. Today, over 80 years or more lately, these are still among our highest priorities. Nostalgia for the “good old days” is understandable, but I don’t think many of us would want to trade places with those who came two or three generations before us.