LONG ISLAND MOTOR PARKWAY

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While making your way through the southeastern part of Flushing as you get close to Cunningham Park, you may spot the occasional white-painted overpass crossing the street. They’re not old railroad trestles or park paths…instead, they mark one of America’s very first parkways designed for automobile traffic.

 

In 1904, the auto age had arrived in Long Island and industrialist heir William Kissam Vanderbilt helped ring it in with a road race that became known as the Vanderbilt Cup Race. It was one of the very first auto races and attracted drivers from the world over.

 

The Cup Race was run in Nassau County on Jericho Turnpike, Bethpage Turnpike and Hempstead Turnpike–all now busy highways but in those days they were farm-to-market, unpaved roads.

The race attracted thousands of spectators every year despite dangerous conditions that produced occasional fatalities among its participants. In 1906, after several spectators broke through a wire fence in Mineola, a race car smashed into a crowd, killing a spectator. Vanderbilt then decided that the Cup Race needed a separate course.

 

The Motor Parkway viaduct crosses 73rd Avenue at 199th Street.

Motor Parkway historian Bob Miller leads us on a tour of the Parkway from Ronkonkoma to Queens:

After a persuasive public relations campaign, land in the middle part of Long Island from the Queens line to Lake Ronkonkoma was purchased, although enough farmers and landowners held out along the original proposed route to make the new Motor Parkway a twisting, turning route. (The Northern State and Interborough Parkways, which followed in subsequent decades, suffered from a similar malady).

Construction began in June 1908 and eventually, the first phase of the Motor Parkway was completed in 1910. The Parkway pioneered the use of overpasses and bridges to avoid intersections with previously existing roads.

Tragedy, though, was a constant companion of the Vanderbilt Cup Race, and after the 1910 tilt, in which four people were killed and twenty injured, the race was never held again on Long Island. Indianapolis, Indiana became the national capital of auto racing. Vanderbilt, though, was still in good shape because the Motor Parkway was designed as a toll road as well as a race course, and contained 12 tollbooths along its 43-mile route.

 

The Parkway was never subject to traffic jams in the early years, mainly because of its hefty freight. It cost $2 per tollbooth…a double digit amount in today’s money! Vanderbilt reduced the toll to one dollar by 1917, but that was still prohibitively high. By the 1920s, though, 150,000 vehicles used it annually. It was still the best-quality road in the area then, since the Northern and Southern State Parkways had yet to be built and Jericho and Hempstead Turnpikes were still two-lane farm roads. Vanderbilt continued to expand the Parkway westward, reaching Springfield Boulevard in 1911 and eventually, to Horace Harding Boulevard in what is now Fresh Meadows by 1926. Its final length was 45 miles.

The Depression, combined with Robert Moses‘ aggressive road building, combined to doom the Parkway. Traffic was siphoned off the narrow Motor Parkway by Moses’ superior roads. Vanderbilt turned the Parkway over to New York State in 1938 in exchange for back taxes, without having made a cent of profit. “A white elephant for the past 20 years”, Moses called it.

Though Suffolk County kept the easternmost 13 miles of the Motor Parkway for auto traffic, Nassau County has mostly used it as right of way for the Long Island Lighting Company, as it was then known. Small portions of its old route are still visible in Levittown and New Hyde Park, among other areas.

It’s the Queens portion that concerns us here, since, by pure luck, it’s mostly intact!

 

This Van Nostrand 1930 map of Queens shows the Motor Parkway’s Queens source at Horace Harding Boulevard (today’s Long Island Expressway) and Cross Island Boulevard (today’s Francis Lewis Boulevard).

The Fresh Meadow County Club is today’s Fresh Meadows Houses, while Hillside Park is now called Cunningham Park.

 

The Parkway was extended to its furthest westward length in 1926. This is on the 73rd Avenue overpass.

 

This portion of the same map shows the Motor Parkway in northeast Queens. After it was closed to traffic in 1938, Glen Oaks Village and Long Island Jewish Medical Center were built where it used to run.

I’m told, though, that the route of the Motor Parkway in Nassau County as depicted on this map is incorrect, as are the routes of may of the streets on the map. So, take the rest of the map with a few grains of salt! (For example, the road marked Motor Parkway in the upper right is actually Marcus Avenue)

Apparently wishful thinking went into the preparation of many Queens maps of the 1930s, as developers rushed in to fill empty spaces. They only got populated after World War II, however.

The Adriance farm, now the Queens Farm Museum, occupies much of he space north of the LIMP and west of Little Neck Parkway, where streets are shown on the map.

 

The old Motor Parkway is extant as a pedestrian and bike path from Cunningham Park east to Winchester Boulevard. At left it runs under Grand Central Parkway, and above, runs past Alley Pond.

 

Today, the Motor Parkway is maintained by the New York City Parks Department, which keeps the foliage trimmed and removes any fallen branches after storms.

 

The overpass over Hollis Hills Terrace was renovated in 2000.

 

 

Left, entrance at 209th Street; right, one of the parkway’s original concrete posts that carried wire that kept cars from running off the road.

 

A ‘fork in the road’: the right leads to Hollis Hills Terrace while the one at left goes over Francis Lewis Boulevard.

Only the road at left is the true LIMP.

Pressing on into Nassau County, we find remaining stretches of the Long Island Motor Parkway at intervals at New Hyde Park, Searingtown, East Williston and Mineola.

 

Old Courthouse Road is an old road that meanders through the communities of New Hyde Park and Herricks. Finally, it comes to an end north of Knolls Drive at a ruined bridge that takes it over the Long Island Motor Parkway. Above, the LIMP route looking west.

 

1909 stamp underneath the Old Courthouse Road bridge.

 

Old Courthouse Road bridge as seen from the Long Island Motor Parkway. This section of the parkway is now used to route high tension lines.

 

One of the remaining concrete posts on the bridge. At one time they held ropes that were not much protection. Auto route fencing has gone from ropes to wooden fences to aluminum over the decades.

This leg of the LIMP (sorry) was completed between 1908 and 1910.

Why is there a bridge here? Old Courthouse Road dead ends at the bridge, so why was it built over the LIMP in the first place?

There are clues. A small portion of I.U. Willets Road dead ends at New Hyde Park to the west. This part of Old Courthouse Road may have intersected it before the Northern State Parkway and, later, the Long Island Expressway were built here. But that’s a story for Forgotten Nassau County, if I ever do that website…

 

Remaining LIMP guardpost on Old Searingtown Road

Moving a bit further east, we can see a very small fragment of the LIMP is the front yard of a new house at the junction of Searingtown and Old Searingtown Roads.

Until a few years ago this was a rare section of Nassau County that had been left untouched by suburban development. That has changed in recent years, but a remnant of an old pond, Lake St. George, can still be seen in nearby Herricks Park.

 

A well-preserved portion of the LIMP can be spotted on either side of Willis Avenue a few blocks south of I.U. Willets Road and the Albertson LIRR station.

Here we are technically straddling the boundary of Searingtown and Williston Park.

My cousin, Forgotten Fan Tim King, discovers the LIMP on Willis Avenue.

 

A clutch of old LIMP guardrail posts can be encountered on busy East Williston Avenue just south of the Wheatley Hills Golf Club and east of Roslyn Road. In the golf club, we’re told, are excellent preserved stretches of the ancient track.

West of here, East Williston Avenue becomes Hillside Avenue and runs all the way west to Myrtle Avenue in Jamaica, Queens.

Tim’s father, Forgotten Fan Jim King, stands by an LIMP guardrail on East Williston Avenue. These rails do not mark the LIMP’s old path: they have been uprooted and moved here from their original position.

 

According to some sources, this building on Rudolf Road and Donna Lane, just south of Jericho Turnpike (US25) near its confluence with the Northern State and Meadowbrook Parkways, is a remaining Long Island Motor Parkway toll house.

The LIMP stopped collecting tolls years before its 1938 closure, and this house has, of course, been altered a number of times since then.

The LIMP ran in a general north-south direction east of this house. Its old right of way serves as the municipal boundary between Mineola and Carle Place.

The LIMP doglegged east further south on its meandering journey to Lake Ronkonkoma.

7/9/2000; rev 2005





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11 Responses to LONG ISLAND MOTOR PARKWAY

  1. Richard Thomas says:

    What an interesting site and film! My family lived in Port Washington when I was little (born in 1945) then moved to Farmingdale in 1949. I remember my father showing me the portions of the parkway extant near Searingtown Road and as a kid rode my bike with my friends up Round Swamp Road to where parts of the parkway were in the ’50′s. And I recall once driving the Suffolk County part just as historian Miller did, as a young man. Glad to know it is part of the National Trust along with the beautiful Merritt Parkway in CT, where I now live.

  2. Marianne Krahulec says:

    From ages 3 to 14, I lived at 170 Rudolf Road in Mineola, approximately 3 to 4 blocks from the house pictured at Rudolf and Donna Lane. I loved riding my bike on the deserted Old Motor Parkway between Mineola and Carle Place. THanks for the memory!

  3. Bill says:

    I love the Old Motor Parkway as it winds thru Alley Pond Park.
    I bicycle on it with my daughter weekly.
    I think they should have more History Markers and Plaques along the way there.
    People would love to know they are on a road that is 100 years old and was the
    first concrete road built in the United States.

  4. Don Wilson says:

    I lived at 210 st in hollis hills (1940-1945). At that time the motor parkway was called the bicycle path. We would rent bikes at springfield blvd by alley pond park and ride the “bicycle path” for miles through beautiful wooded sections. Some of the motor parkway overpasses are still here. Fun to still see it on google maps.

  5. JF Purcell says:

    Thanks for info on the LI Motor Parkway. It is fascinating. I stumbled onto an original tollhouse in Garden City on Seventh St., opposite the Train Station and the AAA Building.

  6. Cindy Schwarz says:

    We grew up in and around Lake Ronkonkoma in the 1960s. Our Mom told us the story of “Motor Parkway” but said the toll was 10 cents each way. Ooops! And from other people, I’ve heard the story of how Robert Moses “bullied the road system in New York”. So interesting a story and unique to New York’s history.

  7. Harold Sauter says:

    I rode many,many miles with my bicycle in the 1940′s on this wonderful old road The Lakeville Road exit ramp (Eastbound) was still intact and the toll lodge was in it’s original condition…has been vastly modified since. The Old Courthouse Road bridge….this went to private estates that were located just before the relatively new Northern State Parkway. Further North was Powerhouse Road which was later transformed into a section of the Long Island Expressway.
    There was an intact bridge OVER the Northern State Parkway just a few hundred feet west of New Hyde Park Rd. before the Pkw’y was widened. I used to have my lunch there! Thanks!!!!

  8. Jack says:

    I’m a Garden City resident and therefore am mostly interested in the western Nassau County aspect of the LIMP. So it appears the LIMP went in a general west-to-east direction from the present-day New Hyde Park Rd. Northern State Pkwy exit to where the old LIMP road is still visible by Willis Avenue.

    Shortly after, the road curved in a north-to-south direction so that it ran alongside present-day Northern State Pkwy and Meadowbrook Pkwy. After crossing over Old Country Rd, I believe it continued to run north-to-south in Garden City in between Russell Rd. and Pell Terrace, but this is merely speculation based on what Google Maps looks like.

    It then turned west-to-east again and crossed over Clinton Rd. (where there used to be a toll I believe), and continued onto present-day Vanderbilt Ct. in Garden City. After that there is an undeveloped sump area and then Roosevelt Field. It is unclear to me where the LIMP went from there.

  9. Thomas Fitzsimmons says:

    I Remember an Overpass in Mineola/Carle Place that cross over the LIRR in the area the of Renwal Factory Was This Part of the LIMP?”
    I Presently live in Ronkonkoma NY

  10. april says:

    Wonderfully researched article, Kevin (and contributors), with a truly revealing film hosted by preservationist Robert Miller. I have always wondered about this beautiful parkway’s path and was elated to see what remains of it, functioning or otherwise. While Moses’ plans (for the Northern State Pkwy.) certainly could not be squashed, this underscores the wastefulness of society then and now. Progress (?) always comes at a price. At least Vanderbilt could not destroy domiciles. I remember a fine LGBT dance club with Sunday tea dances (Peaches? Cheeks?) overlooking Lake Ronkonkoma, probably just off the VMP.

  11. Bart says:

    I grew up in Glen Oaks, Queens in the 60′s and 70′s. My grandfather used to take me to Alley Pond Park. I never knew as a kid that the path that we walked, and in later years I rode to the end by Cunningham Park, was actually Vanderbilt Motor Parkway. Now everything makes sense- the abrupt start/ end of the trail at Winchester Blvd at Union Tpke where the guardrail is, the concrete posts along the way and entrance ramps to the trail. Living in Glen Oaks, I lived right on the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway and never knew it. Now, I live in Suffolk and work in Melville. I get to drive along portions of the old road to work everyday. I work near one of the old underpasses. Its just amazing to see pieces of history- the US’s first superhighway. Thank you for your great video and great memories.

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