Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hempstead Gardens LIRR Station

The above photo looks northeastward showing the Hempstead Gardens LIRR station some time after the platform and station house was moved 350ft to the north in December 1933.  Before that time, the station was located south of Chestnut St. and the crossing at Chestnut, the only one for nearly a mile north or south, made a precarious single lane "elbow route" from one side to the other where motorists and pedestrians had to navigate a dangerous sharp turn across the tracks.  (Keep in mind that until 1956, the LIRR also ran freight service along the WH line with no stops or slowdowns at the passenger stations). For years, residents and civic groups petitioned the LIRR to fix the crossing, particularly for the benefit of school children who walked to and from the Chestnut St. School, and the WH Fire Dept. who could barely manage to fit their fire apparatus through the bend that was a mere 12ft wide.  These petitions fell on deaf ears at the LIRR until August 1933 when the Public Service Commission ordered the railroad company to fix the crossing in the interest of public safety.  The LIRR made an additional improvement by building the new station so that Railroad Avenue (now called Hempstead Gardens Drive) would be unobstructed, whereas the previous station jutted out into the street.

In the ensuing years, the LIRR's improvement did little to increase safety.  In fact, the direct, unguarded crossing made the situation much worse. The site became the scene of some fatal and near fatal collisions.  Among them:
  •  In November 1941, James Moores' vehicle was struck by an oncoming train and burst into flames when it hit the third rail.  A brave bystander rescued Moores from the inferno before his car was reduced to a charred skeletal heap. (Following the accident, when a reporter from the LI Star Journal questioned the LIRR about the dangerous conditions at Chestnut St, which lacked any gates, lights or warning bells, an LIRR spokesman assured him that Chestnut was a "protected crossing".  When probed further about what features qualified Chestnut as a "protected crossing", the spokesman pointed out with a straight face that there was a sign there that read "Watch out for the train".)
  • In March 1942, Christoph Koenig's milk truck was struck by an eastbound train.  (The driver escaped unhurt).
  • Most tragic of all, on the night of Jan. 14, 1947, a train struck the car of a 21 year-old WWII Navy veteran and WH resident named Richard Stanley and his fiance Jane Alford, killing him instantly and critically injuring the young woman.  The couple was to be married that March.  A day later, Alford too succumbed to her injuries and died at Meadowbrook Hospital.
In 1956, there was a proposal to eliminate the Hempstead Gardens station altogether, but at an LIRR meeting on Jan. 9 of that year, residents voted overwhelmingly against the proposal. (197 against vs. 67 for).

It wasn't until March 1966 when the LIRR finally got around to installing automatic crossing gates at Chestnut St.  Below is a photo of the Hempstead Gardens Station as it looked on Jan. 1, 1972 (Photo taken by Dave Keller at roughly the same angle as the above photo), with Hempstead Gardens Drive running behind it. (The street was officially renamed Hempstead Gardens Dr. by the TOH board on Jan 4, 1955).

The photo shows a station that was built at ground level, 22 months before the LIRR raised the platform five feet to accommodate their new "metropolitan trains".  The WH line was the last of all the LIRR branches to continue using the old MU trains (shown in the picture), where passengers had to navigate a flight of stairs to board and disembark their train.

Below is a "now" shot of the two photos above, (photo courtesy of Jeremiah Cox, a.k.a the Subway Nut).

Notice the white three story home at 347 Hempstead Gardens Dr. built in 1908, is visible in all three photos.


Mike Z said...

We lived at 507 Chestnut Street from 1950 thru 1965. Remember that White house, owner when I was there named the "Thorns".

Jacob said...

Thanks for the info, Mike. The white house to the north of it (also built in 1908 and visible in the bottom photo) was owned for some time by the Easa family. Brothers Jack and Easa Easa were life-long residents of WH and were attorneys who served on the TOH zoning board for many years.