Friday, 31 July 2009 00:00
The county and town population had increased two and a half times over during the 1920s, and one of the critical needs of new and expanded communities was how to deal with sewage and garbage. In 1929, the North Hempstead Town Board appointed a special commission to investigate how to deal with the growing amounts of refuse that was overflowing local dump sites and causing concerns about health and pollution. That fall, the commission recommended that most of the garbage generated within the town be collected and burned in one central location: At Searingtown, where Manhasset Avenue (later Searingtown Road) met San Juan Avenue.
The plan for a huge, $200,000 incinerator with the capacity to burn hundreds of tons of garbage a day had the support of north shore village officials and most of the town board. Very quickly, the town agreed to spend $50,000 to buy nearly 14 acres of woods on the north side of the Long Island Motor Parkway, where it curved down the big hill and ran along Lake St. George (Herricks Pond). There were only about 100 households on the streets between the parkway, Manhasset Avenue, I.U. Willets Road and Willis Avenue; there were only a dozen homes on San Juan Avenue and Evans Avenue, the two streets closest to the planned incinerator. However, the prospect of soot, ashes and odors united incredibly disparate elements of the surrounding communities in opposition.
A short stroll away from the proposed incinerator site, at the end of Herricks Road, was the new home (“Lane’s End”) of Gordon Gordon and his wife, Lucy. One of New York’s leading corporate attorneys, he became the legal advisor and official spokesman for the unincorporated neighborhoods opposed to the incinerator (Gordon Drive, located about 400 yards south of their home, was named in 1956 as part of the Herrick Knolls housing colony). Directly next to the Gordon property was the home of Ralph W. Latham. He had made a fortune in the lumber business and dedicated himself to community service. He and his wife, Imogene (a member of the Seaman and Willis families) had recently moved from Mineola, where he had been a village official, and he had just been elected the town’s Receiver of Taxes (when he stepped down from that position thirty years later, he was believed to be the longest serving town official in the state).
Not far up Searingtown Road was the massive estate of John D. Ryan, Chairman of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, then the fourth largest corporation in the world. Across the road, starting at what is now Edgemere Drive, was the estate of Nicholas Frederick Brady, Chairman of New York Edison and a director of Chrysler and other firms.
The Nassau County Citizens Committee, formed by owners of large estates to fight the proposed route of the Northern State Parkway, made the Searingtown incinerator proposal its other priority and millionaires showed up at Town Hall meetings to read fierce statements of opposition.
The planned incinerator property was just over a third of a mile from both the still-new Herricks School (the former Administration Building) and the school on Park Avenue that was still under construction. More than 500 Williston Park property owners signed petitions to town officials demanding that the site be dropped. The Villages of Williston Park, North Hills and Old Westbury joined together to hire future county District Attorney James N. Gehrig to represent their residents. At a series of jammed hearings, Gehrig and Gordon teamed up to argue against the incinerator as a threat to property values and public safety. Finally, in March 1930, facing hundreds of enraged voters at every meeting, the Town Board dropped the entire plan. The new neighborhoods of Herricks had flexed their muscles and won a major victory.