If the village of Old Westbury was the mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast, then Westbury was the gatekeeper’s cottage. Westbury was a beautiful small village with a rich history to go with it if you took the time to look for it. When starting on the northern end of Post Avenue, you are at the Quaker Meeting House. The Quakers were founders of Westbury and played an important part in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. A little bit further south on this tree lined street is the Northern State Parkway that was designed by Robert Moses in order to bring New York City’s upper class to Long Island to enjoy its beaches and parks. When you stood nearby and closed your eyes you could mistake the roar of the cars for the sound of a fast running river.
Just beyond the parkway stands Westbury’s Junior High School. When my mother, uncle and aunt went there it was both the junior and senior high schools. When I attended both buildings were the junior high school. The elementary school I attended stood in front of it. Just past the school is the old library building. It is now the senior citizen center. The new library is a couple blocks east and many of my school projects while in high school and college were researched there. Next door is the only children’s library in the country. As a child I spent many a youthful summer afternoon inside its red brick walls checking out books for an afternoon’s reading. I could travel there alone and my parents never had to worry about where I was.
Further south on Post Avenue stood Westbury’s three auto dealerships, Dowling Chrysler, Chapman Chevrolet and Knipfing Ford. I can still remember every September watching the delivery trucks bringing in the new model year cars covered in canvas so no one would know what they looked like before their scheduled appearance. I remember autumn Friday nights with the scent of burning leaves, cool breezes and new cars on the showroom floors. I was too young to drive, but I had opinions on the looks of each new model.
My grandparents’ house and the family moving business were located right behind Dowling’s. Everyday on the way home I would stop there to have coffee and a snack with my grandmother and see what moving jobs my uncle, grandfather and father were on that day. Westbury was graced with a movie theater whose ceiling envied those of the Sistine Chapel. It was a magnificent edifice where many a Saturday matinee was watched.
On Friday nights when I walked down town, my grandfather’s haberdasher would stop me and take me into his store to shut the lights off. It was the Sabbath for Mr. Brown and his wife, and being Orthodox Jews they weren’t allowed to deal with any part of their business.
Along Post Avenue were grocery stores of the major chains that served all of Long Island. They employed older men who had been employees for many years and knew their regular customers. They were always dressed in white shirts and ties with long white aprons to keep them clean. The man that stocked the refrigerated cabinets always wore a white cotton coat to protect himself from the cold. Each of the stores had the old time cash registers, with the cashier pushing buttons to ring up each item and bagged groceries in large brown paper bags.
Westbury had more than its share of old time drug stores and ice cream parlors. All of them had long marble ice cream counters with cushioned swivel seats where you could enjoy sundaes or ice cream sodas that satisfied your hunger and thirst. Westbury had and still has a volunteer fire department on Maple Avenue. Every year the Memorial Day parade began at and eventually ended back at the firehouse. Memorial wreaths were presented at each cemetery and war memorial.
When I lived at my grandparent’s house my uncle lived there too. He was a volunteer fireman and when the alarm would sound he would rush to the firehouse. I would lock the door and hide the skeleton key so he couldn’t leave without me. I would quickly get my shoes and jacket on while he hollered for the key, and when I was dressed, I gave him the key so we both could go to the firehouse. The fire department has now grown to two firehouses and more trucks it still possesses the pungent smell of smoke from fires past that has found a home in the lengths of hose on each truck and the turnout gear of the firemen.
On Maple Avenue east of Post Avenue stands a small church that was Redeemer Lutheran Church. My grandparents were charter members of the church and literally helped build it. They were also caretakers of the church when it was in its infancy. My grandfather got all the beautiful dark wood paneling that made up the interior walls from one of the mansions in Old Westbury that was being demolished. My grandfather brought the paneling to the church in a horse van and his friend Mr. Bosch, the carpenter, cut each piece to size to fit in the church.
Westbury had small nightclubs and restaurants where the citizens would gather on Friday nights for a night on the town. I still remember seeing signs on one of the clubs advertising the appearance of musical greats like Dave Brubeck and others.
A little bit further south is the Long Island Railroad Station. Westbury was one of the bedroom communities that supplied its population as workers in New York City. Dashing Dans as commuters were called ran to catch their daily trains. The good old Long Island Railroad was the easiest and fastest way into New York City.
On Post Avenue near the railroad station still stands a large pine tree in the middle of the road on a traffic island. Every year the tree was decorated with lights at Christmas time. When the tree was lit up with multi colored lights you knew Christmas would soon be there.
The village ends just a little bit past the train station with St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church and Holy Rood Cemetery. St. Brigid’s is quite an inspiring building. It always reminded me of St Patrick’s Cathedral and maybe even Notre Dame. Its gothic appearance and all the statuary of saints scared me as a child. Holy Rood Cemetery was always well maintained and always looked so peaceful and pleasant with its large maple trees casting cool shade in the summer and vibrant red and yellow leaves in the fall. .
There is the saying “you can never go home again”. Westbury is not my home anymore, but I still like to take trips down memory lane and reminisce about the good times I had there.
….photos taken from Facebook.