Thursday, May 10, 2012



The Village of Thomaston

Pictures of Our Past

At first there were farms

                                                                         Apple trees                         

Cherry trees


These photos are from the records of the Great Neck Improvement Co. which developed much of the area now known as the Village of Thomaston.

                         The Great Neck Villa Development

By 1914,  brothers Paul and Louis Shields owners of the Great Neck Villa Company had designed the winding streets of the northeast section of our village.  The brothers were 19 and 22 years old at the time.   The view in this advertisement for Great Neck Villa is from the corner of Schenck Avenue and Sheffield Road.  the Shields Brothers used post cards for advertising and build model homes to attract buyers to their development.

Another view of Sheffield Road from the corner of Schenck Avenue (formerly known as Manhasset Avenue)

The same view in 2012.  The entrances to the Villa development were each designated by a pair of matching pillars.  The pillar on the left, which had deteriorated significantly, was carefully repaired by the Village recently.  (photo by Peter Mattson)

On the 1914 map, all streets were named Villa Road. 


Another advertising postcard for the Villa section.  On the reverse,  26 Windsor is written in pencil


Two beautiful craftsman style houses on Windsor Road, essentially unchanged in 2015


 View of the same two houses from an unpaved Shoreward Drive

 Shields & Co. was so proud of their Villa development that they created three advertising postcard views of the homes on Windsor Road. 

The white house which can been seen between the pillars marking  the entrance to the Villa development at Lincoln Road is the home Groucho Marx purchased for his family in 1926.  1909 is carved into the pillar on the left.                           
In a biography of his father, Groucho's son Arthur, wrote,  possibly with some exaggeration,  "Our house overlooked hundreds of acres of deep forest rich with birch and oak trees, unpolluted ponds and streams, and all sort of wild flora...there was also an abundance of rabbits, squirrel, frogs, owls, and snakes, everything necessary to make life interesting for a boy."

                                                       A gentleman's home

Described  by the developer as a gentleman's home, this house faces Avalon Park, in the Great Neck Hills Development. It had all the latest improvements -- solid oak beams, arched ceilings, ornamental plaster, and a mahogany floor in the living room.   Built in 1927, it was probably the first house in the development.

The Great neck Improvement Company considered the Avalon development the finest small development in Great Neck and wrote that "It was planned with the most scientific protective restrictions man had been able to devise."  Land was set aside for a park and tennis courts.


Wet basements anyone?

Schenck Avenue east of Sheffield Road, looking north.  On a 1914 map, the owner of this property was named Maurice.


A country club for Great Neck Hills

A cottage at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Susquehanna Ave. was purchased to serve as a county club for the Great Neck Hills Development.  According to the New York Times, May 23, 1909,  it was being remodeled into a handsome clubhouse.  A bowling alley was being built, and an adjoining plot was leased for tennis courts


Another view showing the sign which would attract commuters who would be arriving directly from the City when the East River tunnel opened in 1910.


Great Neck Hills 1914.

The Great Neck Improvement Co. was very proud of its new development

Roads were being cleared


The Schenck farmhouse was part of the property purchased by the Great Neck Improvement Co.   The house was relocated to the north side of Schenck Avenue in the first block off Middle Neck Road.  A symbol of the old faming community, it was razed in 1949 and replaced by an apartment building. 

.This postcard view of Hill Park Avenue in the Great Neck Hills development is postmarked 1912.  The houses on the left have been replaced by apartment buildings.

A view of the new Great Neck Hills development from the intersection of Middle Neck Road and the residential street now named Schenck Avenue.  Postcards in this style were published between 1907 and 1915.

TThis advertising postcard for Great Neck Hills shows two houses on Manhasset Ave., now Schenck Ave.  Both houses remain, one with recent additions.  The road appears to be unpaved.  The New York Times reported on May 23, 1909 that Manhasset Avenue is being widened  to 70 feet and will become one of the handsomest boulevards in this section of the island.

The message on this postcard was written in 1909 by the owner of "our new home" at 14 Hill Park Avenue in the Great Neck Hills development.  It appears to be identical to the house at 140 Hillpark Ave., which now has both porches enclosed by glass.  In  1931, according to the New York Times, Mrs. Rachel Schloss leased the residence of Mrs. Emma L. B. Love at 140 Hillpark Ave., Great Neck Hills.  (This postcard was recently donated to the Local History Collection of the Great Neck Library by the Great Neck Historical Society.)

Side view of a Tudor style home in Great Neck Hills at 225 Schenck Ave.  In 1947 The blue cyantotype image is from the files of the Great Neck Improvement Co

And along the turnpike

You could pay a toll of a penny or two to drive your wagon or your auto from Great Neck to Roslyn.  This tollhouse stood at the corner of Schenck Ave. and the Flushing North Hempstead Turnpike, now known as Northern Blvd. (Town of North Hempstead photo collection)

In 1906 you could have been a spectator at the Vanderbilt Cup auto race on the North Hempstead Turnpike at Spinney Hill. In the early years, this competition, run on local roads on Long Island, caused many accidents. Later, Vanderbilt constructed a private raceway, part of which may still be seen in Lake Success.  (Town of North Hempstead Collection)

 A dangerous curve in the Vanderbilt Cup race course on North Hempstead Turnpike at Spinney Hill.


There were beautiful homes along the turnpike.  The New York Times described pleasant drives by auto along the north shore from Great Neck to Roslyn.  This photo shows the home of Mary Gregory.  Much later it served for many years as the North Shore Steak House.  It was replaced in 2012 by an office building on stilts with parking below.  Photo donated to the Great Neck Library by Gerald Gregory

Electrical contractor Louis Gregory's shop on North Hempstead Turnpike. Photo donated to Great Neck Library by Gerald Gregory

Four Doncourt brothers pose in front of their furnishings store on the north side of Northern Blvd. as it turns down toward Manhasset Valley.  Their father, Alfred, operated a mill in Manhasset Valley.  Daughters of August Doncourt, who lived in a large home on the Boulevard adjacent to the Methodist church,  remembered carts laden with produce on the Boulevard, on their way to the City.    Extra horses were needed on the steep hill.

The impressive Doncourt family home stood next to the Methodist Church parish house on the North Hempstead Turnpike.

  This mill in Manhasset Valley may have been owned by Alfred Doncourt.  The postcard on which this photograph appears was postmarked in 1907.

This is the stream in Manhasset Valley which drove the mill wheel

The North Shore Steak House, Mary Gregory's home as it appeared in 1981.


A home on North Hempstead Turnpike which later became a restaurant with various names. This postcard, mailed in 1940, shows its appearance as The Hidden House.  Later it became Maude Craig's, and then Strawberry's.  It burned in 1984.

Another beautiful home along the Turnpike?  According to Carlyle Shreeve Smith, whose family owned property on Susquehanna Ave. since 1883, this is Benjamin Wood's house, which originally faced the Turnpike .  Wood, a colorful figure, was an editor and owner of the New York Daily News. and an anti-Lincoln, proslavery congressman during the Civil War.  According to Smith,  this beautiful Victorian era house was moved  to its present location on Susquehanna Ave. 
1976 photo by Leila Mattson

Benjamin Wood 

Benjamin Wood's annual July 4 picnics were very popular.  This view of the carriage house and barn appeared in Leslie's  Weekly July 21, 1860.  In 1869, Wood's extensive property, described as having choice trees and shrubs growing luxuriously in the gardens,  was advertised at auction.  It is likely that Joseph Spinney bought it to build his Methodist Church.

The Methodist church, built in 1872 with assistance from Joseph S. Spinney, stood proudly on the highest spot on the Turnpike.  The church building burned in 1948 and was  replaced by a brick structure. 


Sunday school building under restoration in 2010.
Photo by Linda Cohen

Spinney's Sunday School building beautifully restored in 2012 by the Congregation of the Korean United Methodist Church   Photo by Peter Mattson

On September 14, 2016 the Great Neck Historical Society awarded a plaque to the Korean United Methodist Church for a successful restoration of the Sunday School building.  This charming building, constructed in the Victorian gothic revival style, is the last remaining 19th century building along Northern Blvd. in Great Neck.

This beech tree, described by an arborist as the most magnificent and significant tree on the site,  stood at the southeast corner of the church property was and was estimated to be over 200 years old.  A storm in March 2017 destroyed a large limb.  The beech tree and a Norway maple on the  southwest corner of the property were cut down on March 30, 2017.


Houses begin to appear on Susquehanna Ave.

House built by Thomas Shreeve in 1886, now known as 114 Susquehanna Ave.   Barn and carriage house behind are part of  the Benjamin Wood property.  Photo donated by Carlyle Shreeve Smith to Great Neck Library

Thomas Shreeve livery service at 114 Susquehanna, 1898.  Photo donated by Carlyle Shreeve Smith to Great Neck Library

Carlyle Shreeve Smith's mother, nee Lulu Allen, behind 114 Susquehanna in 1915.   In the distance is Ben Wood's house on Susquehanna Ave.  Photo donated by Carlyle Shreeve Smith to Great Neck Library

A. J. McGee house on Susquehanna between Spruce and Linden Streets

Two new houseson Susquehanna Ave.  in the Great Neck Hills Development c.1910

Carriage house on the McGee property

The Knickerbocker Icehouse was built at 173 Susquehanna Ave in the late 1920's.  By the 1960's the building housed a discount store.   After the structure was razed, part of the property became a park.   Photo by Leila Mattson 1976

In 1980, the Great Neck Park District created Thomaston Park in the former parking lot of the Methodist church and a portion of the former icehouse property.  The park was designed by architect Ronald Goodman  Photo by Peter Mattson 2012

Apartments arrive

In April 1929, the Great Neck News announced that two massive new elevator apartment houses,

Great Neck Towers and Great Neck Terrace, located at 2 and 4 Spruce Street in the Hills section, were open for inspection. The top apartments, well over 300 feet above sea level, have views of Manhasset Bay and the Long Island Sound . Separate quarters for maids and chauffeurs were provided. The roof was used for airplane spotting during World War II.
The sign at the lower left indicates that this is an advertising postcard for the buildings.
(Alice Kasten postcard collection)


An advertisement in the Great Neck News 1929


After a period of overcrowding in the 1960s, the apartment building at 4 Spruce Street burned while it was awaiting renovation, and it was demolished.  The remaining building at 2 Spruce Street was renamed Croyden House.. 
 (1976 photo by Leila Mattson)

    An early photo of the apartment building in the Belgrave development  west of Middle Neck Road.

    Early view of Belgrave Motors on Middle Neck Road.  During World War II the building served as a light manufacturing plant.  It is now a Ford dealership.

The LIRR was here since 1891

 1910 view of the Grace Avenue bridge which was built in 1891.  It was replaced in 1926 and again
  in 2015-16.

This how Groucho Marx described the bridge to the Great Neck News in 1926.
"What a bridge it is.  It swings it palsied span o’er the Long Island Railroad with all the steadiness of an octogenarian crossing Times Square in a blizzard.  Architecturally it is reminiscent of the horror period of American art—a period that gave us deer on lawns, corsets for women, and copper bathtubs.  Bridges are like men—the more insignificant they are, the more noise they make. "

Auto accident 1926 near Grace Ave. bridge

A Long Island Rail Road train, powered by a steam engine, travels from Thomaston over Manhasset valley on this 80-foot-high bridge.  With this bridge train service was extended to Port Washington.

Undated winter view from the railroad trestle which was constructed across Manhasset Bay in 1889.  The view is looking south, with Thomaston hill on the right.

An accident occurred during construction of the viaduct.  The brakes failed just as a supply train approached the western abutment of the viaduct.   This would have been very near the site of the current Village Hall which was built about 73 years later.

For many years, the railroad station in Great Neck was called the Thomaston Station, a name given to the area by W. R. Grace. In 1930 the station area was incorporated as Great Neck Plaza. The founding fathers of Thomaston chose to continue the name when our Village was incorporated a year later. The photo above is a view of the new station opening in 1925.


In 1922 Harnaby Ardmore purchased 22 acres near the railroad tracks from the Grace Real Estate Co. to  build 55 homes.  An advertisement in the New York Times shows a model home.

Our village hall

1931: Thomaston was the last village on the peninsula to be incorporated. For many years meetings were held in the fire house on Prospect Street and records were stored in the homes of village clerks.

1971:  The Thomaston Village Hall, constructed of natural colored split-face concrete block, was designed by Great Neck architects Blum & Nerzig.  On September 9, 2015 Village officials renamed the building the Robert Stern Village Hall in honor of the former mayor.

On October 16, 2014, Newsday reported that Bob Stern has retired as Thomaston mayor, 18 years after he first ran for office when he was annoyed about a plan to remove village sidewalks and the impact that could have on his granddaughter, a young tricycle rider.  Stern said he was most proud of his efforts to reduce the size and cost of government for residents of the Village.

*Photographs, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of the Local History Collection of the Great Neck Library.

Village of Thomaston
100 East Shore Road
Great Neck, NY  11023