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Arcadia Publishing

Historian pens new book on local amusement parks of yesteryear

Actors, including local resident Jane Owen playing the notorious outlaw Belle Starr, pose in front of the bank at Dodge City in Patchogue. Photo from the Eaton family

Living in Suffolk County, we’ve all heard of Splish Splash, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Dave and Buster’s, Boomers, Adventureland and the Long Island Game Farm. But how many of us have ever heard of Frontier City, Fairytown USA, Dodge City or Turner’s Amusement Park?

Photo from The History Press
Photo from The History Press

Historian Marisa L. Berman’s latest book, “Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories” (The History Press) takes us on a nostalgic journey to explore the kiddie parks of Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk that are now just a distant memory. According to Berman, this book is “a celebration of the amusement parks that Long Islanders have loved and unfortunately have lost. … [It] will tell the story of Long Island through the memories of its children.”

Berman’s first book centered on Nunley’s Amusement Park in Baldwin, which she often visited as a child. At book signings, according to her second book’s introduction, many people would mention other parks on Long Island that they had fond memories of and she “quickly realized that there were many more stories that needed to be told.”

The author reached out to sources on Facebook and received many photographs, stories and memorabilia from people who had visited these parks. After much research and numerous interviews, the book finally came together.

All of the 33 amusement parks featured in the book opened in the 1940s and ‘50s, with the exception of Playland Park in Freeport, which opened in 1924 and closed in 1931. Berman attributes this to the many veterans who moved east from the city to Long Island to raise their families after World War II and the need to “entertain the masses.”

Each park is described in vivid detail, from inception to closing, from admission prices to rides, including what is in that location today — almost always a shopping mall or store. The wonderful black-and-white photographs, 80 in all, pull everything together.

Many of the kiddie parks featured a petting zoo, carnival rides and a train, but each had its own special niche. In our neck of the woods, there were western-themed parks like Dodge City in Patchogue, on the corner of Sunrise Highway and Waverly Avenue, and Frontier City in Amityville, on Route 110, complete with a bank, jail, cemetery, general store and sheriff’s office.

Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA
Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA

Fairytown USA in Middle Island, which was located across from Artist Lake on Middle Country Road, consisted of a storybook-inspired village and sections with themes like Planet Mars and Mother Goose. Farther west, Lollipop Farm in Syosset had a miniature train that carried children around the four-acre farm. The train miraculously survived, stored in pieces in a barn, and was recently lovingly restored by the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association.

The majority of the defunct parks’ artifacts, however, have been lost forever. Mostly family-owned and operated, Berman attributes the parks’ demise to the decline of the baby boom in the mid-1960s.

By the end of the book, Berman will have the reader yearning for a simpler and more innocent time, “a time when there was nothing better than your parents bringing you to your park so you could play and just enjoy being a kid.”

Todd Berkun, founder of the Facebook page “Long Island and NYC Places That Are No More,” sums it up perfectly in the foreword: “Whether you spent time in these parks growing up or live on the Island now and have wondered about their glorious past, this book is for you. As a testament to an era of great fun and enjoyment on the Island, this work describes a vibrant and important part of Long Island’s history.”

“Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories,” $21.99, is available at local retailers and online bookstores. It is also available through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press by calling 888-313-2665 or by visiting www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Book launch to be held at annual members reception

The front cover of Stephanie Gress’s new book. Image from Vanderbilt Museum

Stephanie Gress knows more about the history of William K. Vanderbilt II than most people. As director of curatorial affairs for the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum for eight years¸ she is the steward of Mr. Vanderbilt’s legacy, his estate, mansion and museum collections.

Using that extensive knowledge and a trove of rare photographs from the Vanderbilt archives, Gress created a richly illustrated book, Eagle’s Nest: The William K. Vanderbilt II Estate. Its cover photo, from the Vanderbilt Museum archives, is by the noted New York City photographer Drix Duryea. The picture shows the bell tower and one wing of the mansion in the late 1920s, before the Memorial Wing enclosed the courtyard.

The book was published June 1, by Arcadia Publishing in South Carolina, the leading local-history publisher in the United States. The Vanderbilt will celebrate the book’s official launch at its annual Members Reception on Sunday, June 28.

Gress noted that the release of the book is well-timed, as the development of the Eagle’s Nest estate is in its centennial decade: “This book tells readers about the Vanderbilt family, why Mr. Vanderbilt came here and built the estate, how the place changed over the years based on changes in his life, and how we use it today.”

Vanderbilt, known as Willie K., purchased the first parcel of what would become 43 acres for his Northport Bay waterfront estate in 1910, and hired the eminent New York City architectural firm of Warren & Wetmore to design and build it. The firm had designed Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroad. Cornelius was William’s great-grandfather.

Eagle’s Nest is the easternmost Gold Coast mansion on Long Island’s affluent North Shore. From 1910 to 1944, the palatial, 24-room, Spanish-Revival mansion was Willie K.’s summer hideaway. There he hosted intimate gatherings of Vanderbilt family members and close friends — including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, legendary golfer Sam Snead, and the Tiffanys.

“Mr. Vanderbilt embarked on many of his legendary world voyages from Eagle’s Nest,” Gress said, “along with a 50-person crew and a few, fortunate invited passengers.” During his travels, she said, he collected natural-history and marine specimens and ethnographic artifacts from around the globe.

With the help of scientists and experts from the America Museum of Natural History, he created exhibits in the galleries at the estate to showcase his collections.  Mr. Vanderbilt died in 1944. His wife Rosamund continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1947.  Vanderbilt’s will bequeathed his estate and museum to Suffolk County. In 1950, it was opened to the public as the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Much to the credit of Willie K., Eagle’s Nest continues to fulfill his intended mission,” Gress wrote in the conclusion of the book. “Visitors from all over the world come to see one of the few remaining Long Island Gold Coast estates with its original furnishings. His collections remain on display and they continue to fascinate and entertain.”

Eagle’s Nest is available for purchase on the Arcadia Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, in the Vanderbilt Museum Gift Shop and in local bookstores.

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