Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mayfair Avenue and St. Giles the Cripple

Previously we noted that WH attorney Francis B. Taylor had purchased a piece of property from John T. Hanna along Hempstead Turnpike in 1889. The following year, Hanna and Taylor petitioned the Town Highway Dept. to open up a road that bordered their property, that would run north-south between Hempstead Turnpike and First Avenue in Garden City. This road would become known as Mayfair Avenue. At that time, the only approach to Garden City from West Hempstead was Rockaway Ave (Cherry Valley Ave came in from the southwest). The Garden City Company vehemently opposed the opening of this road, ostensibly for two reasons: 1) It would detract from the exclusivity of the Village to have another road lead into town. 2) Hanna & Taylor's motives were to subdivide the northern sections of their property for new residences. The Garden City Co did not want to have a competing residential development so close to their village.

As it turned out, the Highway Dept. sided with Hanna & Taylor and Mayfair Avenue was built.

In 1891, shortly after the Mayfair petition was approved, an Episcopalian nun named Sister Sarah founded a hospital for children in Brooklyn called St. Giles the Cripple. The hospital was unique in that it not only provided medical services to children, but also social and educational services as well. The hospital filled a real need and quickly got off the ground and was now left with one problem. During the summer when people fled Brooklyn en masse for the country or for the beach, the St. Giles children had to endure stifling conditions of their stuffy quarters and tar-baked play yards. As a result, the children circulated and signed a petition that was presented to the trustees, asking for a summer home in the country where they could escape the city heat. The trustees quickly raised the requisite funds to purchase a home and began looking for a suitable location. The old Queens County Courthouse in Garden City Park was briefly considered, but having been built in 1786 and not used since 1872, the building was beyond repair. Ironically, the courthouse burned down soon after St. Giles rejected the site for their summer home.

In January 1903, a four acre site was chosen in West Hempstead at the north end of Mayfair Ave. and the Taylor estate, bordering Garden City. An airy country house already existed on the property and the Brooklyn Eagle declared that "a prettier spot for a summer home could not have been selected". Transfer of title took place on May 1 of that year and the building was dedicated on Saturday, May 30 with a tall, 18 ft. 'wayside cross' erected on the front lawn (the scene pictured below taken from the Brooklyn Eagle).



The hospital brought in cows and chickens and planted a garden, affording the young residents an enriched country experience during their stay at the Long Island facility. The campus eventually added a separate boys' dormitory, a schoolhouse and a surgical pavilion (seen below).



Eventually, St. Giles' 'summer annex' was utilized year round. During the 20s through the 50s, St. Giles played a major role in treating children suffering from polio. During that time, they claim to have ran the second largest outpatient clinic among all of the children’s orthopaedic hospitals in America.

By 1960, a polio vaccine had been discovered leading to a dramatic drop in the number of cases involving polio. By 1973, St. Giles sold off the West Hempstead property and soon after, in 1978, the Brooklyn Hospital closed for good. The organization still continues, however, as a charitable foundation with an endowment of over $26 million.

As for the West Hempstead property, the land was subdivided and developed as a quaint little cul-de-sac called Berryhill Court. Despite the hospital's relatively recent demise, there no longer seems to be any remnant of its existence. (The 'now' photo below taken from Google Maps approximate to the location of the St Giles , albeit further back from the street).

8 comments:

Bill said...

You mention Berryhill Ct as being located on what was the grounds of Giles. Garden Pl is also over the grounds. I grew up on the dead end side of St. Paul's place and the closed end of the street had a fence with the Giles property on the other side. That section was no longer cared for when I lived there, but we used to play there. We were told that the hospital at that time (the 60's) had just one or two patients in it, though I can't vouch for the accuracy of that.

Jacob said...

Bill:

You are right about Garden Place since the hospital campus covered such a large area.

It's interesting to consider why all those cross-streets between the Cathedral Gardens and Mayfair sections (except for Groton) were deliberately designed not to go through given that both sections are in unincorporated WH. Did Cathedral Gardens want to preserve the exclusivity of their development?

The Cathedral Gardens Civic President once told me about the Town's effort many years ago to break though at least some of those streets and the neighbors' successful campaign to prevent them from doing so.

Bill said...

It was my understanding that the limited connectivity was to discourage drag racing, which would be consistent with the curves in Groton. I recall that the owner of the Mobil station (at least 1 or 2 owners before it became self-serve) down on the corner of Westminster and Hempstead Turnpike used to use the straight Westminster to test cars he was working on for racing.

I haven't heard the Cathedral Gardens name in a long time. While we were there, we understood that nothing happened in the Cathedral Gardens area without the approval of Monsignor Smith, from St. Thomas Church (his picture still hung in one of the first floor hallways of Mercy Hospital the last time I was there). Perhaps he was against letting the roads go through, too.

Bill said...

Since this blog is based on west Hempstead history, you may find this entry intersting: http://schmittnet.com/wordpress/bilsch/2007/12/32/

Jacob said...

Bill:

That's a nice xmas story. My kids get a thrill every winter when the Santa fire truck rolls around (and we don't even celebrate xmas -lol).

Dora said...

I moved with my family to Garden Place in 1969 and St. Giles was a quiet beautiful spot until they knocked it down for the houses. Thank you for these posts.

Anonymous said...

So i happen to live on the corner of Mayfair and Berryhill, and to be honest sometimes at night i do hear childrens voices and i have seen paranormal activity in the house. It seems crazy actually seeing there was a hospital here

Anonymous said...

I was one of the children that was here in the late 40's with POLIO.
I remember it being a wonderful facility for the children. The staff, therapists, nurses & doctors who treated me is the reason I have been able to lead an almost normal life up to now. Thank you ST. GILES