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Boom Town USA: Long Island in the 1950s

Suburban expansion on Long Island began in the 1950s, and continues today.

It was Long Island’s most dynamic decade, flooded with change.  The dam burst at the Nassau-Queens border, pouring out torrents of new people, housing developments, and freshly-paved ribbons of roadway.  In the 1950s, Long Island seemed destined for years of limitless suburban boom.

The great eastward stampede out of New York City transformed Long Island from a sleepy strip of sandy shoreline and potato farms to a bustling region with more people than 18 entire states. The national media breathlessly hyped the building crews and new ranch houses. Time magazine called it “Alice-in-Wonderland change…the wilds of Long Island are fast becoming citified,” and housing developments were springing up so fast that “local census takers lost count.” 

Industry surged with the swelling suburbs.  Almost one million new Nassau-Suffolk residents came to work in the aviation and defense industry.  Thousands more headed for the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a new postwar research center, or to hundreds of small businesses and factories emerging near every parkway and expressway exit. 

It was exciting, it was pioneering, and it was utterly chaotic.  “We grew too fast,” groaned the head of a Nassau County social agency in 1958.  Many agreed.  Calls for regional planning became louder over the decade.  But as bulldozers scraped away farm fields and leafy trees, suburban development stayed irresistible and unstoppable.  “Mr. and Mrs. Newcomer move out here to find fresh air, a yard for the kids to play in and the pleasant vistas of suburban living,” wrote one reporter.  “In their numbers, they threaten to destroy the very benefits they seek.”

Did you move to Long Island from elsewhere?  When?  What drew you here and what makes you stay?  What, if anything do you miss about "home?"

Written by Joshua Ruff, a curator at the Long Island Museum.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Vito December 11, 2012 at 04:43 PM
People have been beating the "everyone is leaving" drum since I bought my first home here in the 1960's. If this theory was correct I'd be living in a ghost town. Instead just the opposite is true.
phil jacobson December 15, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Who remembers ennis"s ice cream parlor in sound beach, on echo ave, early 1950,s we all hung out there, also hunts next to theater 3, those were the good old days,phil jacobson.
denny chung December 17, 2012 at 11:16 PM
weather too much and high taxs and gasolines.
michael mirra January 10, 2013 at 01:19 AM
I was 8 years old when my family moved to Old Betpage in 1954. We came from Brooklyn. My subdivision was alone & the nearest shopping was downtown Bethpage & Farmingdale. We had milk trucks & bread trucks delivering food a couple of times a week. We were bussed into Bethpage for school & the Bethpage kids were farm kids in overalls. These kids brought livestock to scholl sometimes. We played in a large dirt area adjacent to the develpoment known as 'the pit'. Years later, a development grew out of the pit & we had our own school built & the town was amazed at the exhorbatent price of building the school of about 1 million $. Most of our Fathers commuted to the City in order to make a living wage. My relatives thought they were traveling to the country when they came to visit. My Aunt Hellen was amazed that there were fields with Cows & Chickens running free. I moved out in 1972. The week after I moved there was a new Nassau Colliseum built & I was upset because it opened with a Led Zeplin Concert that I would miss. They had just built the Smithhaven Mall. It was the first two story mall I ever saw. We used to drive there as young adults to see what was left of rural long Island. There was an explosion of construction going on out there at that time.
Hugh McAllister April 03, 2013 at 10:39 PM
I spent my first 10 years in Massapequa, leving in early February, 1964. I have early recollections of many things (like the knife sharpener who made his rounds sharpening kitchen knives and John the Good Humor truck driver). I remember a restaurant that overlooked the water, but I was too young to recall where it was. The name, I think was Serro's. Does anyone remember it? I also recall a place we called The Beach Club." The summer that remains in my memory was the year "Yellow Polka Dot Bilini" was on the charts. Older kids routinely pulled in buckets of Blue Snappers on the piers (in August I think) and cleaned them for neighborhood distribution. Does anyone share these memories? Hugh McAllister

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