Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Wilcox Bungalow in Hempstead Gardens

The following article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of the West Hempstead Community Support Association newsletter.

In 1910 the famed book publisher Frank Nelson Doubleday relocated his successful publishing house from Manhattan to the small Long Island village of Garden City. The move brought Doubleday's firm closer to his Long Island roots and was in line with his company philosophy that emphasized the joys of country living, a philosophy emblemized by its flagship publication - the twice-monthly magazine called Country Life in America. A move from Manhattan out to the country for an employer of over 600 workers was not without risks, however, as Doubleday would have to make due with a talent pool on Long Island that was considerably smaller than that of the region's great metropolis. So, to help attract area talent, Doubleday created a work environment that was at the cutting edge for a company in the early 20th century. The grounds were neatly manicured and decorated with ornate gardens with flora and fauna from all over the world. A completely separate railroad station was built for the location (which still exists today as Country Life Press). The campus came equipped with a baseball diamond, tennis courts and lawn bowling greens. A registered nurse was stationed on site and a doctor and dentist was on call to service employees.

With all these amenities, its no surprise why so many existing Doubleday employees opted to stay on and relocate with their company. For many of these employees, the hunt was on to find affordable housing in the area. The grandiose estates of Garden City village were out of reach to all but the most affluent of them. It was estimated that choice lots in Garden City commanded between $5,000- $10,000 an acre. So, many set their sights to the south where properties were much more affordable, in the small, up and coming residential neighborhoods of West Hempstead and Hempstead Gardens. One such employee was a 36 year-old proof reader named Robert H. Wilcox, who moved out with his wife and son from Hasbrouk Heights, N.J. At first, Wilcox rented one of the homes on Hempstead Avenue owned by the Hutcheson family, near the current location of the Chestnut Street School. In 1912, he purchased a two acre plot of land for $1,600 that was tucked away in the northeast corner of Hempstead Gardens. The location at the time was strikingly rural and was nestled in a forested area called Parson's Woods (the area would later be developed as the Hempstead Golf & Country Club. Aside from the recently platted street (Cedar St.), little else existed in the way of infrastructure improvements for the property. The gas and lighting district would not come for another couple years. It would be over a decade before the water district was formed. There was no sewer line on the street. To access to the property one had to traverse a dangerous railroad crossing of the LIRR's West Hempstead branch. As such, a hand-pumped water-well was built to provide the water supply. A sceptic tank was installed to handle the sewage. The house was piped for gas, in anticipation of the day that the gas district would come on line. Floor plans for the bungalow was a modest 36 X 36 ft with an excavated cellar as well as a loft. Wilcox began construction in August, 1912 and with blazing speed, completed the home and moved in by October 1st. Total construction costs for the bungalow came to $3,200, a relative bargain that would translate to a little over $70,000 in today’s dollars.

Together with the indefatigable E.J. Jennings, Wilcox successfully petitioned the LIRR to deed land adjacent along the rail line so that Railroad Ave. (later named Hempstead Gardens Drive) could be built.

Over the years the home has served its owners well and stood the test of time. It can still be seen albeit with minor alterations at 555 Cedar St.


Anonymous said...

If you check Mynassauproperty.com, it says this house was built in 1908, and that it's a two-family dwelling.

Jacob said...


Thanks for your interest. I have found many inaccuracies in reseaching dates at mynassauproperty.com, and this just seems to be another example. The basis for most of the facts in my post is an article written by Robert H. Wilcox in Country Life in America magazine where he dates the house 1912, and a comparison between the two photos makes it pretty clear that it is the same house.

Ian Stovall said...

I lived across the street from '60 to '75. This was indeed a 2 family rental property thru that time period. it was owned by an older gentleman from Birch St. Most of the property was wooded, there was the remains of an out building that had burned down overgrown toward the northwest. Looks like at least 5 homes were built on the land since then.

gerry said...

I was an owner of that house and I too was told it was built in 1908. I lived there from 1982-2000. I bought the house from a local builder who broke up the land and indeed built 5 new homes on the original site.