Growing Up In The Parks Of Great Neck

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The old covered well at Allenwood with the duck pond in the background7

Working on the Great Neck North Class of ’67 50th Reunion Committee this past spring brought me back to Great Neck for the first time in years. As the committee planned a picnic, sporting events and hiking for our classmates, I reacquainted myself with the parks that played such an important role in my early life and remain, thankfully, largely unchanged.

By the time I moved to Great Neck in 1951 at the age of two, I already had a special relationship with parks. As an infant, my parents took me in my stroller to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The earliest story about me tells of the time a marching band passed close by my carriage in that park; I slept soundly through the blare of horns and the beat of a big bass drum.

My family’s first Great Neck home was an apartment on Schenck Avenue, just off Middle Neck Road, not far from Allenwood Park. I clearly remember, as a young child, dashing through the park’s entrance for a few spins on the orange and blue foot-propelled merry-go-round that waited at the bottom of the entry hill. The small duck pond in the northeast corner of the park was another attraction I would never miss. But the focus of my attention at Allenwood soon turned to a 12-foot round, 5-foot tall stone-encrusted cement-topped structure that still stands near its center; it was an old well capped by the town when the land was purchased in 1929. This object fascinated me—as it still does—and it was not long before I had memorized the configuration of stones around it in order to find the best ones for climbing. I was probably not much older than 5 or 6 years old when I was finally able to climb up to the top, relishing for a few minutes one of my first private achievements of physical prowess.

A Sunday afternoon at Steppingstone

As a young boy, I could not participate effectively in many sports due, in large part, to extremely poor eyesight that was not properly diagnosed nor corrected until third grade. But when we moved to Ramsey Road in the Baker Hill section of town, Little League baseball at Memorial Field nonetheless became part of my life. Even with glasses, I was never very good as a batter, but I recall standing in right field and praying that a fly ball would not be hit out to me. The fear of not seeing it well, probably missing it and thereby disappointing the entire team, took away much of my enjoyment of the game.

Seurat’s painting of La Grande Jatte is reminiscent of Steppingstone

In the early 1960s, my family moved for a final time to Cow Lane in Kings Point, where we still have a home. During my last summers in Great Neck, I was fortunate to take sailing lessons at Steppingstone Park. Steppingstone is the most beautiful park I have ever seen. Its location on Long Island Sound always reminds me of Georges Seurat’s most famous pointillist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (1884). Mastering a 13-foot Sunfish alone at age 15 or 16 on the Sound, just offshore at Steppingstone, is the crowning achievement of my brief sporting career. And remembering sunsets I watched from the water remains one of my greatest pleasures.

Threatening skies over sunfish on the Sound

Of course, before I left Great Neck for college, I also took many hikes through Kings Point Park, Great Neck’s largest. I actually enjoyed getting lost amidst its 175-plus wooded acres and then finding my way out after crossing a series of small bridges and following little-trodden paths.

This year, from spring through early summer, I took photos of the sites and changing foliage in Great Neck’s parks in order to preserve my memories. But whenever I return in the future, I am sure to stop by the covered well in Allenwood and spend some time watching the boats sail off Steppingstone.

Richard J. Gerber is a collectible book dealer who resides in Lake Peekskill, about an hour north of New York City. He can be contacted through his website, www.rmgerberbooks.com.

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