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A Minute of Farmingdale History - July 24, 2009

Village Pops Concert - Sunday, July 19

The Trolley Era In Farmingdale, 1909 - 1919

 One hundred summers ago Farmingdale had a huge celebration and parade to welcome the inauguration of the Cross-Island Trolley Line. The date was Aug. 25, 1909, a truly exciting day for the residents of the village. In the morning our state assemblyman spoke at a civic ceremony; in the afternoon a baseball game was played between sandlotters from Farmingdale and Ridgewood, followed by a Vaudeville show in the auditorium of the old Nazareth Trade School. The day ended with a community ball held by the firemen.

The Cross-Island Trolley Line ran between Halesite and Amityville. It was largely a single-track operation, with a dozen or so sidings for passing. The line ran south on Broad Hollow Road from Huntington, west on Conklin Street to Main Street, then south on Main Street on its way to Amityville. It connected with three LIRR lines: Huntington on the Port Jefferson branch, Farmingdale on the Main Line, and Amityville on the Babylon/Montauk branch. The trolley helped to break the isolation of Farmingdale, then a small village surrounded by many farms.

Rather than dwelling on details on the Cross-Island Line, I would like to share some Farmingdale history, which took place during the 10 years the trolley service operated, 1909 to 1919.

In 1909 Adam Heiselmann opened the Farmingdale Opera House at the corner of Main and Richard Streets, the current location of Avanti Furniture. This auditorium housed Vaudeville shows and local productions in its six years, but there is no record of it ever staging an opera! The building was converted into a factory in 1915 and razed by fire in 1923.

The 1910 census counted 1567 village residents, about 17 percent of our current population.

The sterling reputation of the Farmingdale Fire Department was well known a century ago just as it is now. Farmingdale had the honor of hosting the southern New York or “downstate” firemen’s convention and parade in 1911.

In 1911-1912 the original Main Street School, a four-room wooden structure built in 1874, was razed. Its replacement was a brick building on the same site. In later years as Main Street School expanded, this section was known as the “south wing.”

In 1913 the Board of Education began formation of a high school, as educational expectations were reaching beyond an eighth grade schooling. The first ninth grade class was formed in September, 1913. Yes, some of the students came by trolley, and some came by train!

In 1916 members of the Farmingdale Fire Department converted a “Locomobile” car into a small hose truck. It represented the first motorized equipment for the department. (It was five years later, 1921, when a Mack pumper with solid rubber tires and a chain drive, became the first purchased fire truck).

The first Farmingdale High School commencement took place in June 1917 with two graduates completing twelfth grade.

The United States participated in the Great War, which we now know as World War I, from April 1917 to November 1918. Farmingdale answered the call with 86 men, four of whom made the supreme sacrifice. The names of all 86 are inscribed on the World War I memorial on the Village Green.

In the 1920 census, the Village of Farmingdale had 2091 residents, a gain of 524 persons from the 1910 census. Home building was concentrated on streets near the central business district, reflecting the need of people to live close to their shops, offices, schools and churches in this pre-auto era. The brick row-houses on Washington and Columbia Streets which were built in this period are an illustration of this.

Service on the Cross-Island Trolley Line ended on Sept. 23, 1919 with much less fanfare than its opening. But for 10 years the trolleys helped Farmingdale residents to have mobility in an era when automobiles were expensive, uncommon and undependable. The trolleys also help to provide another chapter in Farmingdale’s history.

(Editor’s Note: Minute of Farmingdale History is a series of lectures about local history being presented at the Farmingdale Village Pops concert series on the Village Green, on Wednesday evenings, throughout the summer. This installment was featured at the July 19 concert.)