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A Look Back

Central Homes and the Fish Family Farm

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The original planned development in the Woodland area was Section 3 of O.L. Schwencke's Hempstead Lawns at Lenox Avenue, Noble Street, and Irving Place, carved out of Anna W. Willis's lands. As was typical with early 20th century projects, few lots were developed. Several families built homes and used adjacent lots for large lawns or gardens. Beginning in 1953, these empty spaces were built up by August H. Ihlefeld as Lenox Estates. Homes cost $12,490 and featured knotty pine cabinets and super-modern Formica work surfaces. Like other developments in the neighborhood, the Cape Cod houses were designed by Alwin Cassens, Jr., well-known architect of small single-family homes. He was the author of Ranch Homes for Today (1953), which has been regarded as a significant contribution to American mid-century modern design. Stock plans for the homes, complete with period-appropriate descriptions like Honey of a Rambler, When You Settle Down, Ranch House Step-Saver, Overall Comfort, Meet Today's High Standards, With a Homey Effect, and Shipshape and Expandable, could be purchased by developers. Mr. Cassens is the namesake of the Carnegie Mellon University Memorial Fund in Architecture.

The largest early development on the west side of Newbridge Avenue was East Hempstead Park by Powers East Hempstead, Inc. As the name suggest, this was the large farm of John Powers and family (who formerly had properties along Newbridge Road). After it was sold and subdivided in 1928, a numbered street system was established (First through Ninth streets, perpendicular with Powers Avenue). Seemingly due to confusion with the numbered grid developing a few blocks northeast, East Hempstead Park streets adopted new names in 1933.

One of the largest builders in East Meadow was Central Developing Corporation, which previously built up much of Valley Stream. The name Central Homes is derived from Central Avenue in that village. In East Meadow, David Weisbarth and his son-in-law Irving M. Newman bought large tracts of land from long-established farming families and quickly transformed the orchards and fields into suburban sprawl. Sections 1-3 were the original 1950 and 1951 Central Manor homes designed by architect Alwin Cassens, Jr. The $11,790 Beaumont model featured automatic kitchen equipment; the smaller $10,690 Arkansas model featured an expansion attic. Unlike Levitt houses built at the same time, Central Homes incorporated basements. Model houses were built at North Jerusalem Road and Wilson Avenue. Like other early 1950s developments in East Meadow, Central Homes highlighted G.I. Bill benefits: veterans could buy the homes with no down payment. Weisbarth and Newman built Central Manor Stores adjacent to the homes, and Nassau County built "New" North Jerusalem Road between the homes and the stores. (Ennabrock Road is the original North Jerusalem Road.) The county also built a larger-than-typical storm basin north of the new road, at the location of a former pond on the Raymond Fish farm.

Central Homes Section 4, built 1951, and Section 5, built 1953, were larger $16,500 split-level homes (Cynthia Dr., Andrea Rd., Chaladay and Harvey lanes). The northern part of the property, lands formerly of Samuel Seabury, was undeveloped as originally planned and sold to the East Meadow U.F.S.D. for the erection of the future Woodland Junior High School. Section 6 was built across North Jerusalem Road, on an extension of Jackson Place in North Bellmore in 1954. These brick and stone homes were sold with the most modern Hotpoint kitchen appliances, a direct appeal to postwar women. Section 7, at Bellmore Avenue and Newman Road behind the old Seaman homestead, was marketed as Midlawn Development by David Weisbarth and Irving, Al, and Louis Newman in 1956 and 1957. Midlawn featured brick split-level houses costing $21,990 and $23,990, which was quite expensive for the time. The builders of Central Homes expanded their empire even further in 1956 and 1957 when Irving Newman, Hy Berchansky, Stanley Grogstein constructed $19,990 homes in Cynron Estates at Cynron and Karen lanes. Under Noble Homes, Inc., David's father Jacob Weisbarth built Midland Gardens in the Midland Drive and Meadow Lane area in 1953. Like Central Homes, the $11,750 and $12,990 models had washing machines and expansion attics. Veterans could purchase homes with favorable terms – a 5% down payment. Midland Gardens had been the former Frawlick property and the home of the Melvin Family in the 19th century.

The vast majority of homes built in East Meadow in the 1950s were planned and constructed by Jews. For families moving to East Meadow from Brooklyn and Queens, the existence of a Conservative synagogue within walking distance was a major draw. Therefore, several of the East Meadow developers of the Baby Boom era made sure to provide such a service for their current – and prospective – customers. Jacob's son George (David's brother) founded East Meadow Jewish Center. As a result, several neighborhoods in East Meadow became predominantly Jewish.

The lands on which Central Homes (sections 1-5) and Wenwood Oaks developments were built was the sizable Fish property, which also consisted of apple and peach orchards. Samuel Doty Fish (1832-1884) and his wife Elizabeth Emily (1838-1912) lived on the 100-acre North Jerusalem Road property prior to the Civil War. Fish was involved with the Queens County Game Protective Association (run by Joshua Barnum). The Protective Association formed in 1887 with the purpose of "enforcing the game laws of the State, to preserve land, and to stock the preserves with birds." In 1889, the organization populated East Meadow area with quail brought from Tennessee. Samuel Doty Fish appears to be the descendant of Samuel Doty (1743-1823) and Catherine Baldwin (1745-1823), who moved to the area during the American Revolution. Doty's ancestry, and that of the Sprague Family with whom they married, can be traced all the way to the Mayflower and Plymouth Plantation.

Samuel and Elizabeth Fish's son George (1859-1946) and his wife Martha J. (1860-1953) raised several children on the farm after the Civil War. One of their sons, Raymond George Fish (1888-1970), married Mary Elizabeth Williams (1885-1958) and brought up his children on the same property. Both he and his son, Raymond George Fish, Jr., served in leadership positions in church and school matters. Like many of their neighbors, the Fishes became truck farmers. Amelia Fish (1803-1989) lived on Hempstead-Bethpage Turnpike (at the current hospital) with William and John, her children, and their families. William's son Elbert Buchanan Fish (1840-1927), who oversaw local roads, owned the property until it was sold and incorporated into the Hempstead Farm. In 1867, Elbert escaped certain injury when his horse was startled by a train at the Hempstead Long Island Rail Road station. Elbert was dragged half a mile before his carriage smashed into another vehicle filled with bricks. He landed under the broken wagon, was dragged even further, and – somewhat miraculously – eventually stopped his horse. The Fishes of Hempstead Turnpike were likely cousins of the Fishes of North Jerusalem Road and of their neighbors, the Doty family.

This column continues next week with further exploration of the Woodland area. 

© Scott Eckers

Dr. Scott Eckers is the author of East Meadow (in Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series). He is a trustee on the East Meadow Board of Education and serves as a school administrator. He is also an entertainer and recording artist.