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A Minute of History - Reflecting on Prospect Street at 100

(At the Village Pops Concert at the Village Green on June 30, Ms. Rubenstein delivered this speech, the “Minute of History,” one in a series of speeches delivered at the Pops Concerts throughout the summer.)

Growing up on Prospect Street in the 1950s and ’60s was a slice of Norman Rockwell, and a summer’s evening was spent playing ball, or tag, or catching fireflies until dusk turned to dark. It all started 100 years ago in 1910, just six years after the Village of Farmingdale was incorporated as Prospect Street was carved out. This spacious boulevard didn’t just add to the streets of a burgeoning village, but shaped a neighborhood that served as a foundation for much of the village’s growth and economic stability. This was the neighborhood I grew up in and returned to in adulthood, and I was asked to share not only some of the village’s history on Prospect Street, but some of my own growing up there.

Prospect Street was mapped with visions of prosperity, a tribute to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and Prospect Avenue reflecting a gracious setting for German settlers who traveled east to our growing burg for opportunity.  Prospect Street was first settled by Bernard Weiden, whose home with the gracious front porch stands to this day on the corner of Prospect Street and, the aptly named, Weiden Street. The Prospect Street neighborhood also claims Bernard Street, two blocks away, also named for Mr. Weiden.

As the neighborhood streets were mapped, a place of honor was allocated for Joseph Doud who served on the first provisional village board from August 1904 to March 1905 when he was elected village president, equivalent to today’s position of mayor. Doud Street, which lies between Weiden and Bernard Streets, is home to our current Mayor Starkie and Deputy Mayor Cheryl Parisi.

Then, and to this day, Prospect Street is tied to the Main Street central business district, beginning at the Village Hall and Village Green and extending west. This neighborhood was home to so many key figures in the village history, leadership, economic development and daily life. The Prospect Street neighborhood was early on, home to village merchants who enjoyed an easy walk to Main Street and a daily relationship with their customers who were their neighbors.

As you would walk down Prospect, Charles Squires lived with his wife Virginia in the charming fieldstone home just west of Main Street and the village parking. He served on the squad of village police officers who reported directly to the village mayor until 1941, and then became a Nassau County Police officer when the village’s force was merged into the county’s. Not only was Sergeant Squires a familiar and imposing figure, straddling his heavy police motorcycle patrolling our village, he imbued more than a little fear in the children in the neighborhood throughout my childhood. However, Virginia was a caring lunch lady who served the neighborhood children on the daily lunch line at Main Street School.

There were many merchants who lived along Prospect Street, too many to list. The senior Romanellis, who founded Romanelli’s Oil Service in Farmingdale, lived for a time just west of the Squires in the former home of the Bohlings Family.

Mr. Pietre owned a vehicle repair business near the railroad. Bill and Minnie Rathberger co-owned the Farmingdale Laundry on Broad Hollow Road with Dick and Mildred Jaisel, who then lived on Route 109, mom and dad to Deputy Mayor Parisi.

The Cinques operated an Italian-style grocery on Main Street with their two sons. The Kagan family, who lived on the corner of Prospect and Doud streets, operated Kagan’s Men’s Shop, a full service haberdashery which, throughout my childhood, clothed my dad.

Allen Weber and his family, who lived on Prospect Street, and his brother Tiny Weber, who lived on Circle Drive, both worked for their father Rudolph Weber, a former mayor of the village, at their family silk dye mill on Conklin Street, a major area employer.

The Smileys who owned the Smileys 5 & 10 lived on the street. Hardware was very important to the Prospect Street neighborhood. Beverly and Isidore Wolly who founded Wolly’s Hardware lived in the Georgian colonial on the corner of Prospect and Laurelton with son Seymour (Sy), who later took over the store. Another resident was Jessie Christie, the oldest daughter of Schmidt hardware fame.

There are some families and homes I’d like to highlight. The large fieldstone home, currently home to Jeanne Buck, was originally built and occupied by Ella and Philip Rappaport, who owned the Rappaport Pharmacy on Main Street, now home to Tallulah’s Gift Baskets. The Rappaports original home was located at the far end of the neighborhood on the corner of West Street. Jeanne worked for four decades as a bank executive at Farmingdale Savings & Loan, is active in the Farmingdale Bethpage Historical Society and contributed much of the family histories to this presentation.

At the corner of Prospect Street and Circle Drive, John Gillies, an attorney and partner to Joseph Stern in private practice in the village, served in many official capacities for decades in the village, including village justice. In my childhood, the many Gillies children were particularly enterprising. On summer days, they would rent the use of oversized umbrellas under which they escorted and shielded pedestrians along their stretch of Prospect Street, which had become home to a large flock of starlings known for indiscriminate droppings on the sidewalk!

The Smith, then Ezzo, home at 131 Prospect adjoining the St. Luke’s School property was the birthplace for Elaine Ezzo. That home was part of my immediate circle of summer play and exploration with its distinctive fieldstone basement with tree trunk beams that support the house, great climbing trees and Elaine’s beautiful gardens in the yard. Elaine’s husband Nick was a long-time postal worker who delivered the mail to his neighbors in our neighborhood through all weather and seasons. I can remember now the sound his galoshes would make in rain or snow – galump, galump with buckles tinkling as he walked the route and climbed our front steps. Their daughter Mary, now Salzano, occupies Elaine’s Aunt Alice’s house - the white cottage with green shutters on Laurelton around the corner. Aunt Alice was a favorite of neighborhood children at Halloween. She’d appear at the kitchen door, holding a tray covered in an embroidered tea towel offering full sized candy bars. Quite the treat!

The Stern family, of Stern Pickleworks renown, were important in the history of the neighborhood. Stern brothers owned both houses at 121 and 124 Prospect Street.

The house at 121 was sold to the Cohen family who founded and operated John’s Bargain Stores and then subsequently to my parents, Pat and George Schriro, who raised me and my three siblings there. The residence at 124 was later donated by the Stern family to the Farmingdale Jewish Center to become the standing residence of the congregation’s rabbi and family.

The LeCaras, a robust family with eight children, lived at 101 Prospect, subsequently home of former Mayor Graff’s family. Tony LeCara was active in the Farmingdale Fire Department and was the neighborhood barber at the old fashioned shop just across from Main Street School. Jean LeCara, known to the entire neighborhood as “Grandma LeCara” delivered her most delicious Italian cookies to the entire neighborhood every Christmas and cooked a pot of her famous sauce that was so large, it covered the four burners of her stove and several strong firemen would show up with a heavy duty pickup truck to transport it the firehouse for fire house dinners. This was the same stove where she taught me to make that famous sauce and homemade pizzas.

Further down the block, just past Laurelton, Carl and May Westerman raised Jeanne Buck. They also owned the empty lot across the street from my parents’ home until the early 1970s, which served as the neighborhood play lot. A special apple tree in a small clearing in the rear corner formed a canopy for neighborhood tea parties, the tall grass was perfect for hide and seek, and when later cleared became the local ball field for summer baseball and kickball.

As previously mentioned, the Stern family played an important role in the Prospect Street neighborhood. Aaron Stern, who first arrived in 1894 and started producing pickles in the Pickleworks in 1898, was one of the first Jewish people to settle in Farmingdale. He became one of the founding members of the First Hebrew Congregation of Farmingdale in 1926. He and the other congregants, also many village merchants, would rotate to different homes and buildings in the community for prayer. In 1944, Aaron’s son, Joseph Stern, became aware of a parcel available for a private home development on the corner of Prospect and Cobb. Joe and others secured a personal loan from the First National Bank of Farmingdale and the congregation name was changed to the Farmingdale Jewish Center.  In 1968, the congregation expanded to the structure on Rt. 109, backing the Prospect Street homes.  Although the congregation merged and physically moved to the Farmingdale Wantagh Jewish Center in 2007, it remains one of the oldest continuous congregations on Long Island.

There is tremendous history and stability on Prospect Street, houses held for generations. This was reflected in neighborhood participation in village deliberations as traffic-calming measures planning began in 2006. No wonder we all sought to retain the legacy of prosperity and elegance envisioned by Bernard Weiden 100 years ago.

And if tonight, as dusk turns to dark, you were to travel down Prospect Street, there are still children playing ball, playing tag and catching fireflies on this summer night.