Daniel Osborne on Richard Panchyk, Abandoned Long Island (Dover: America Through Time, 2019), 96 pp., $18.99
Abandoned Long Island, by Richard Panchyk concerns itself with eleven different locations in both Nassau and Suffolk County, exploring structures and transportation routes that are still present, in one way or another, but no longer in use. Some of these locales were used by the public while others were privately owned but fell into disrepair and given way to the elements, graffiti artists, and/or local citizens who used them as “hangouts.” The author himself visited these locations and took photographs to give the reader a feel of their present condition. Panchyk’s work does not necessarily examine the reasons for these various sites’ lack of use and eventual demise so much as it attempts to provide the reader with a sense of the transient, ever-changing nature of Long Island.
Several structures have recently fallen into disuse such as the Roslyn Grist Mill which operated as a “tea house” until the mid-1970s, Kings Park Psychiatric, which was operated by New York State until the mid-1990s, St. Paul’s School, at one time a prestigious institution which shuttered in 1991 (although the adjoining gymnasium and playing fields are still in use), and the Fairchild Republic factory, which remained a major employer until the late 1980s. All four facilities maintain a very prominent physical presence at their original locations. Still other abandoned buildings are much more difficult to locate. These include Chelsea Mansion and Knollwood, both located on the Muttontown Preserve in Nassau County and Welwyn, a 20th century Gold Coast mansion in Glen Cove. The latter actually still stands and is home to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Long Island. What qualifies as abandoned on this property are the remaining buildings, greenhouse, and paths that have fallen into extreme disrepair over the rest of the 204-acre preserve.
Of particular interest are two chapters that refer to Long Island transportation. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that railroads began to be used on a regular and consistent basis on Long Island. Much has been written about the now defunct Port-Jefferson – Wading River and Manorville – Eastport rail lines, but little attention has been paid to the Central Branch of the Long Island Railroad or the Central Railroad of Long Island (CRRLI) which ran from Garden City to Bethpage where it connected to what is now known as the Main Line. Panchyk devotes a chapter of his book to this particular rail line. Service along this branch ended in 1939 but during its existence, the rail line stopped at such locations as Mitchel Field, the Newsday plant, the A&P, and General Bronze Corporation, all in the Garden City area. The line’s demise was largely due to the closing of many of these businesses. Still, the author points out that many reminders of its existence remain, most notably the Clinton Road Station which is now used by the Garden City Fire Department, remnants of abandoned railroad, and spurs that are no longer used but indelibly found in roadways and paths that were used back when the line was active.
The other transportation route photographed and addressed by the author is the Long Island Motor Parkway, also known as the Vanderbilt Parkway. This storied concrete highway originally ran from Fresh Meadows in Queens to Lake Ronkonkoma in Suffolk County. Today, the original road is still in use from the Dix Hills area to the lake and is designated as Suffolk County Route 67. In keeping with the theme of the book, however, it is not the road in use but he road that has been abandoned and, in many cases paved or built over, that is of interest. Many reminders of the road exist today. The author points to sections that still have concrete and in the case of a segment off Willis Avenue in Williston Park, is still drivable although, nevertheless, abandoned. Overpasses and sections of overpasses can be seen and the author has several photos of roadway and bridge abutments on a former farm off Maxess Road and Ruland Road in Melville.
The remaining chapters concern Mitchel Field and The Source Mall, both in Nassau County. Much of Mitchel Field has been out of use since 1951 and eventually closed entirely in 1961 when it was decommissioned. Today the airfield itself has been torn up and its property serves as the home to a variety of businesses and enterprises like Roosevelt Field Mall, Nassau Community College, the Marriott Hotel, and the Nassau Coliseum. However, near Nassau Community College, one can still find a number of buildings that served as quarters and training facilities for the armed services. In 2018, the author notes, Mitchel Field was added to the National Register of Historic Places and many of these structures have been saved from further demolition.
The Mall at the Source, unlike the other places in the book, was built towards the end of the 20th Century. When it opened in 1997, it was anchored by Fortunoff department store and also housed a large Virgin megastore, Rainforest Café, Cheesecake Factory, Circuit City, and a variety of other stores and shops one would find in an enclosed mall virtually anywhere else. However, consumer tastes, buying habits, and competition from other malls (like nearby Roosevelt Field) spelled doom for this once ambitious project. After Rainforest Café closed, others began to follow suit with Fortunoff and Circuit City shuttering their doors in 2009. The mall eventually went into foreclosure and, even though a remnant of the stores remains (including the intrepid Cheesecake Factory), it remains virtually empty despite being recently sold to a development corporation.
The book is valuable to anyone who is even mildly interested in Long Island history and can even inspire certain folks to go on their own and experience this type of information firsthand. As a history book, it is a bit thin in content, opting instead for a more photographic explanation of these locations. As such it would fit in very well as a coffee table (do they still have those?) book and less as an investigative work that might provide a great deal of insight into the causes of abandonment.