Congressman Peter King visited with members of the Oyster Bay Railroad Station Restoration Committee recently. Shown are, from the left: Roger Hahn, Town Councilman Chris Coschignano, Oyster Bay Historical Society Director Tom Kuehhas, Congressman King, James Foote, Marie Knight, John Collins, Tim Wright and seated, Dave Morrison, committee chair.
The Oyster Bay Branch of the LIRR is dotted with historic station houses, but on Dec. 10, 2004 it lost one of them. The East Williston, the third oldest station of the LIRR, was demolished. "I'm glad we saved the Oyster Bay station," said Dave Morrison, former LIRR Oyster Bay Branch line manager and chairman of the Oyster Bay Railroad Station Restoration Committee. The group recently met with Congressman Peter King who will try to obtain a grant for the group that is working toward restoring the town and state landmark.
Mr. Morrison was on hand when the line lost the East Williston station house. He was also there on Dec. 10, 1996 when Debbie Pierce sold him the last ticket purchased at the East Williston Park station. It was the last ticket sold at a manned ticket office on the Oyster Bay Branch line.
"Dave is so historic. He knows everything about railroads," said Ms. Pierce who now works for the LIRR in Jamaica. "I was the last surviving ticket clerk on the Oyster Bay branch line," she said. "It was a nice little job. It was close since I live in Sea Cliff." She explained that railroad employees bid on jobs according to their seniority, and a station like East Williston was a favored pick. She said, "I worked half a day there and then went to Mineola to work half a day doing clerical work. She arrived at East Williston at 6 a.m. and worked there until 9:30 a.m. Then she had an hour (for lunch) to get to Mineola by 10:30 a.m. and worked there until 2 p.m. We eat lunch early on the railroad.
"Now I work in Jamaica as the chief ticket seller, with a promotion, and now have 30 years and can retire soon."
She said, "East Williston was a quiet little place. It was a shame they knocked the station house down." Her one contact with the village government was when she had a leak and had to go there to find out where the shut-off valve was located.
"The Oyster Bay Branch has one of the oldest and most beautiful stations houses on Long Island," said Dave Morrison. There was a painting of the East Williston station on the cover of the Long Island Forum done for the bicentennial by Cyril A. Lewis in Feb. 1976. The Forum is a publication of the Friends of Long Island Heritage.
"The East Williston station was built in the 1880s, although no one knows the exact date; the best they guess is that it was built in the 1880s. The East Williston station was the third oldest overall on the LIRR system," said Mr. Morrison. "Hewlett is the oldest and was built in 1870, St. James is the second oldest and was built in 1873. Both those buildings are standing today.
"The third oldest was demolished on Saturday, and moving up into third place is the Rosyln station built in July 1887. Interestingly, the Oyster Bay branch has the oldest stations located on it. Sea Cliff was built in 1888 and will be the fourth, and the fifth oldest will now be Oyster Bay built 1889.
"Now, Wantagh was built in 1885, but that is no longer on the LIRR; it is in a museum and private park in Wantagh, where it was moved."
Mr. Morrison said there was no hope of saving the East Williston station house, "Everybody was doing cartwheels. The preservationists in East Williston have done everything they could and as many engineers they could get to look at the building, said 'it is dangerous and has to come down'. "I think it's a shame, I think any structure can be saved but it's a matter of money," said Mr. Morrison.
Sam Zambuto spokesperson for the LIRR said, "We originally had plans to do some improvement on the building, to rehabilitate the interior and do some exterior work. Prior to the work starting, we found significant structural problems with the building.
"The Village of East Williston commissioned their own historic engineer to inspect the building and that report confirmed the LIRR findings. The LIRR contacted the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Places (in Albany) concerning the building being structurally unsound and the recommendation that it be demolished, and that office agreed with the railroad and the village engineer's assessment on the building and agreed on the plans to demolish it," he said.
Dave Morrison was there the day the station was demolished. He said, "What a sad ending to the East Williston railroad station. It was sad to see that it came down in a cloud of dust. Even more sad was that there were so few people there to say goodbye. Besides me and a retired LIRR Ticket Clerk Barbara Seixas, there were only three locals there. No railroad buffs or railroad historians were there. Get this, the village historian wasn't even there.
"If you ask me, the project was handled wrong too. The street in front of the station is a rather quiet street, especially on a Saturday morning. It beats me why the village didn't barricade the street for the early morning demolition. The railroad had a flagman on each end of the street to stop cars whenever the bucket was dumping debris into the dump truck. It sure would have been a lot more simple and a lot safer to have blocked the street for a few hours. Oh well, it wasn't my parade!
"I guess that the bottom line as far as the railroad buffs are concerned is 'if it doesn't involve a train, they ain't interested,'" he said.
Mr. Morrison said the Village of East Williston asked the LIRR to give them the wooden roof trim and asked them to save all the old bricks and put them on fork lift palettes covered with shrink wrap, which they did. "They wouldn't even let me have a brick," he said.
"Speaking of trains, I did take a photo of the westbound 7:38 a.m. train approaching East Williston. That was the last train to pass the old station building."
Mr. Morrison added, "One thing I feel good about after experiencing today's demolition: I'm glad we saved Oyster Bay Station!"