One of Great Neck’s long hidden treasures, and one with national significance, is again drawing interest from Town of North Hempstead officials due to the unassuming efforts of a 91-year-old long-time resident.
Hazel Kaufman-Pachtman, supported by her husband, Sheldon, has taken it upon herself to launch a modest campaign to have parts of the historic Long Island Motor Parkway turned into a combination bike path, walkway and public park.
“I always took my son, Richard, to show him the parkway when he was a little boy,” said Kaufman-Pachtman. “We loved to go there and we’ve never forgotten it.” She has lived in the same New Hyde Park home since 1949 and sent both of her children to Great Neck schools.
The former toll road, which stretches over 44 miles from Queens to Lake Ronkonkoma, was the first road built exclusively for automobiles in the United States, and opened in 1908. Financier William K. Vanderbilt, who lived in Lake Success on his Deepdale estate, had it constructed to facilitate automobile racing, so it is perhaps better known as the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway. It was taken over by the state in 1938, in lieu of taxes, after the toll-free Northern State Parkway replaced it in popularity.
The Kaufman-Pachtmans are reaching out to officials, nonprofits, and anyone else who might help. Supervisor Judi Bosworth “expressed interest” Hazel said. But most knowledgeable contact so far is Howard Kroplick, town historian, who co-wrote The Long Island Motor Parkway with Al Velocci and also authored a book solely devoted to Vanderbilt Cup auto races. Kroplick offered to take the couple on a tour of parts of the parkway last week and provided a wealth of related materials, including Nassau County’s recently commissioned Vision Plan for The Motor Parkway Trail. The plan includes a proposal to revitalize a stretch of the road that runs from Lake Success east through North Hills to Manhasset Hills, the same two-and-a-half mile stretch of parkway that the Kaufman-Pachtmans wish to focus on.
“This has been in the works since 2006 to convert as much of the land as possible as a bike path,” Kroplick said. “They can’t possibly connect everything from Lake Success to the end of Nassau County because some of it is on private property.”
Standing on a well-preserved section of roadway just below the tennis courts at South Middle with the Kaufman-Pachtmans, he added, “This is a beautiful section of the path and this is a good example of what the bike path could be throughout Nassau County.”
The 16-foot wide parkway begins in Lake Success on the eastern side of Lakeville Road just below the tennis courts on the Great Neck South Middle School campus and continues past the athletic field complex. Locked gates block entry to the Vanderbilt from Lakeville Road.
The many who pass by those gates regularly have very little idea what’s behind them and that the private modern house just north of those gates at 351 Lakeville is also of historical significance. Incorporated into the back of that house is the Great Neck Lodge. As the Vanderbilt was a toll road, the Lodge was built as a combination toll booth/toll-taker residence at the western end. The Queens section was a later addition.
Kroplick would love to at least put a historical marker on that road that runs through school property. “Kids have been walking on it for a long time and they don’t even know what it is,” he said. “They should know that it’s a piece of history. It’s the site of the first road ever built in the United States just for automobiles.”
Kaufman-Pachtman hopes to incorporate her association with Project Independence in achieving her goal. Both she and her husband have been members of the advisory board since the town organization’s inception. Project Independence supports and assists residents over 60 who wish to remain in their homes and “age in place,” and Hazel said Director Robin Tovell-Toubar expressed support for the couple’s initiative.
“Thousands of people know about the Vanderbilt,” Kroplick said, adding that his website www.vanderbiltcupraces.com gets 400 visitors a day.
“Maybe you could get them to each contribute a dollar,” Hazel Kaufman-Pachtman suggested.
“As long as something is being done that’s all right with me,” he answered, “even if small portions are done at a time.”