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‘Stop the Bridge’ Inspires Exhibit at Planting Fields

Coe Hall Mansion Exhibit on ‘Robert Moses on LI 1925-1975’ Opens

Upstairs on the second floor of Coe Hall Mansion is an exhibit that local residents will want to see. Posters on the wall from the collection of Don Cotton of Bayville tell the story. They proclaim: “Stop the Bridge; The Bridge Is An Unsound Idea; The Bridge No One Wants; A Bridge Brings: More Roads, More Cars, More Pollution. No Long Island Bridge; Don’t Abridge My Life! (said a duck).”

Those words tell the story of how a group of dedicated Long Islanders stopped the “Powerbroker” Robert Moses from building his bridge to Rye. Had he gotten his way the North Shore of Long Island would have been destroyed.

Bayville Mayor Doug Watson, on seeing the exhibit at a preview on Thursday, June 16 said, “This is Bayville’s history. Last week we had a memorial ceremony for Gladys Mack who created the Bayville Museum. When this exhibit closes at the end of September we’ll run the exhibit there.” Planting Field Foundation Executive Director Henry Joyce was all for it.

“This is how I got into journalism,” said Bill Bleyer, Newsday reporter.

Like a great actor who needs a great part to set off their career, Mr. Bleyer, a Bayville resident, had the fight against the bridge to make his career. “I was at Hofstra University and writing for the Oyster Bay Guardian on how the bridge was going to destroy the north shore. I did the coverage of the Cottons, (Don and Evelyn) at rallies and working on posters. My favorite interview of all time was when I was at Hofstra. I interviewed Robert Moses. He said without the bridge, Long Island wouldn’t survive.”

Mr. Bleyer said, “Putting in the bridge would destroy the North Shore for no value given. It would create as much traffic as it diverted from other roads.”

Don and Evelyn Cotton were talking to visitors at the preview. “We’ve lived here for 45 years. That means we’re newcomers,” said Evelyn, accurately for this Island where families live where their grandparents have lived.

Mr. Cotton said the ideas for the posters were his. “The ducks were by Richard Peterson of Mill Neck.” There were ducks featured on several of the posters.

Mr. Cotton has been in a lot of good fights. “Back in the 1980s I fought Donald Trump. He wanted to put in a project next to Shea Stadium. Anyone can fight a good fight if you organize. And you can’t wait until they pour the foundations.”

Remembering the Fight

Mr. Cotton was the Democratic Club president at the time. He said, “Senator Ralph Marino had his feet to the fire. He represented the town, from the North to the South Shore. He was lukewarm on the bridge. He was a very good man and he was a good friend. I voted for him. (In his last election campaign) I knew that if George Pataki won, Ralph was in trouble. He was dumped dramatically when Mr. Pataki won. That was when he was replaced as majority leader of the senate by Joseph Bruno.

“Ralph was against the bridge but had to be quiet since 55 percent of his constituents, south of Jericho were for it.”

A Personal Issue

Listening to Mr. Cotton, was Kate Reardon of Oyster Bay. She said simply, “If the bridge went through, I would have lost my house (on Lexington Avenue).”

The bridge was to be a connection of the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, coming from Syosset, down route 106, in East Norwich, over to Lexington Avenue in Oyster Bay and across West Shore Road to Bayville.

Mr. Cotton said, “I organized the first Earth Day held in New York City in May in 1972.”

Mr. Cotton reminisced about the legislators involved in the fight. He credited accurately, Congressman Lester Wolf for coming up with the idea to donate the wetlands to the federal government. “That was a good idea,” said Mr. Cotton.

Oyster Bay Harbor was given to the National Fish and Wildlife Service and became a refuge which prevented the bridge from being built and destroying the area.

“It had become an environmental lightening rod,” said Mr. Cotton. “I erected the rod,” he said, provocatively holding up one finger.

Enjoying the exhibit were four-year residents of Mill Neck, Erik Hahn and Julia Hansen, who live on West Shore Road. Mr. Hahn said he had heard about people stopping the Bridge to Rye and wanted to come and see the exhibit for himself. He said, if it had gone through, they wouldn’t be living in the home built there by the Hepburn family in 1903. “We’ve heard rumors over the four years we’ve been living here,” he said.

Ms. Hansen is aware of the issues and said, “Because of the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge, we can’t have a dock. Billy Joel had problems with that.”

Mr. Hahn said, “Today, West Shore Road is still a country road. I’d like to see a bike path along the road linking Bayville and Oyster Bay. The two coastal villages at the end of the road, along a scenic natural route. I’d like to take my daughters, Kaija and Alette, bike riding there,” he said.

There are many people who would agree with him.

‘Robert Moses on LI 1925-1975’

Robert Moses built bridges, roadways, parks, and beaches that transformed Long Island forever. As chairman of the Long Island State Parks commission (1924-1963), he created 15 major parks and 175 miles of parkways. His work, favoring automobiles over mass transit, helped create our modern suburbs. The exhibit, “Robert Moses on LI 1925-1975,” in Coe Hall at Planting Fields Arboretum is open now through Sept 30.

Because Moses changed entire neighborhoods by building roads and bridges, and mostly managed to avoid legislative and public approvals, his vast projects remain extremely controversial. One of Moses’ last proposed bridges, in Oyster Bay, to cross the Island Sound to Rye (originally called the Bayville-Rye Bridge), was finally abandoned in 1973, with the help of vociferous local opposition.

When Bette Midler in 2004, was awarded the LI Parks Robert Moses Builder’s Award for her work with/for parks and highway cleanups, she refused unless the name was changed - which it was. She deplored the loss of some New York parks as a result of Mr. Moses’ highway designs.

The previous Robert Moses Master Builder Award recipients included Ted Turner, Charles Dolan, Martha Stewart, Oleg Cassini, Sarah Hughes and James Watson.

The exhibition traces the course of Moses’ Long Island work using original maps, documents and artifacts that highlight Moses’ extraordinary passion, vision and power in the creation of Long Island’s world-class state parks and beaches.

The exhibition is based on the Robert Moses archive, owned by the State of New York, part of which is deposited at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park. It is housed in a specially designed archive room, which was recently created as part of the renovation of the Hay Barn.

Artifacts for the exhibition have been generously lent by the Levittown Historical Society; Levittown Public Library; MTA Museum, Bridge and Tunnel Archive; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Long Island Regional Office.

The exhibition hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily at Coe Hall, admission $3.50 per person; members and children under 12 are free; $8 per car parking fee at the Park Gate.