Thursday, May 30, 2013

Highlights of Early Horse History in West Hempstead

The following article appeared, with slight modifications, in the Summer 2013 edition of the WHCSA News & Views newsletter.

The grand opening of the revamped New York Equestrian Center on Eagle Ave provides an opportunity to highlight some of the more illustrious moments in horse-riding history in West Hempstead.  That history dates back to time when the horse was still the preferred mode of travel to get around.  Some time around 1910, the first riding school in WH was started by famed equestrian circus star Josephine DeMott Robinson on her farm on Hempstead Avenue near Johnson’s Lane.   Robinson knew a little something about riding, as she was purportedly the first woman in the world to perform backwards somersaults on a moving horse.  Robinson continued this operation until 1917 when she sold her farm and moved to Hempstead Village.

In 1922, WWI veteran Paul C. Lienhard moved to WH and opened the Lake View Riding Academy at the corner of Oak(ford) St. and Woodfield Rd.  Lienhard was a captain in US Army cavalry division and after the War, he had been working as an instructor at the US Army’s cavalry school in Ft. Riley, KS before moving east.   In the 1920s, members of the military community had increasingly viewed the use of horses in the Army as outdated and questioned their usefulness in battle when tank divisions (“mechanized cavalry”, as it was called then) were the order of the day.  Ever the horseman, Lienhard sought to prove the usefulness and durability of the cavalry by embarking on a solo cross-country horseback ride, literally cross-country, from New York to Los Angeles.  

On a warmer than usual winter day on December 13, 1927, the 37-year old Lienhard mounted an Army mare named Black Bess and left the Malverne train station for a 3,700-mile ride to the West Coast.  Twenty five days into his trip, after averaging about 42 miles a day, he paused briefly in St. Louis to talk to a United Press reporter about his expedition and continued on his way.  After 102 days on the trail, while cantering through the Arizona desert outside Yuma, Black Bess was bitten by a huge rattlesnake.  The old mare wavered but within 20 minutes, she dropped dead, 180 miles short of Lienhard’s goal.

In 1931 Lienhard moved his riding school to Mill Road (Peninsula Blvd) in Hempstead to be closer to the bridle trails that were laid down in the new Hempstead Lake State Park.  His was but one of half a dozen riding academies and stables that sprouted up along Mill Rd. in those days.   Lienhard counted among his prize students Gen. Chen Cheng,  Chief-of-staff  to Chiang Kai Shek and his representative at the UN, and two-time Academy Award winning actress Luise Rainer. (Parenthetically, Luise is still alive today and at 103 years young, she is currently the oldest surviving Oscar-winning actor).

The current stables on Eagle Ave. dates back to 1926, according to County records, shortly after the deal was announced to develop Hempstead Lake as a state park. 
In that year John Wellbrock opened the Paramount Riding Academy.  In the 1930s, ownership was turned over to Charles Heinsohn who renamed it Lakeside Riding Academy, a name that survived until about six years ago, and ran it for the next number of decades.

Aerial photo of Lakeview Riding Stables on Eagle Ave, circa 1947.  The stable houses that flank the entrance at he upper left of the photo are all that remain of the original complex.  Eagle Ave. cuts horizontally along the photo and Park Ave. runs vertically at the right of the image.

Though by WWII, the use of horses in a military capacity was all but obsolete, the cavalry would have one more opportunity to prove their efficacy in the war effort, and Lakeside Stables played a central role at the time.   In June 1942, Americans were shocked to learn of a botched Nazi infiltration at Amagansett by four German saboteurs who had swam to shore from a U-boat, a plot that would later be known as Operation Pastorius.  The incident set the entire region on edge and highlighted the need for a civilian patrol along the hundreds of miles of Long Island coastline.  On August 3, in response to a call by the Coast Guard to set up regular patrols along LI’s shores, a group of 50 expert horsemen, many of whom were WWI cavalry veterans, met at the Lakeside Stables and set up a staging area there.  These patrols were an important component in defending the Homeland from any further enemy infiltrations.

Like a candle that flickers bright before it burns out, the beginning of 1943 brought conventional transportation-by-horse into major prominence one last time, after fuel-rationing during WWII was the cause of a pleasure driving ban in the East Coast region.  Long Islanders had to get creative to get around.  So, following the lead of the Hempstead High football team, many local schools hired out horses and wagons to transport their sports teams to their games.  Theaters, restaurants and bowling alleys built hitches out in their parking lots for their horseback-riding customers.  It would be the last time that horses would be used for conventional transportation to that extent in our area, before finally giving way to motorized vehicles, and the numerous stables on LI at the time played a major role in providing horse-transportation during the WWII fuel shortage.

In 1954, Peninsula Blvd. was laid out between Hempstead and Rockville Centre and thereafter, one by one, the old stables and riding academies on the eastern side of Hempstead Lake closed down, while Lakeside on the western side remains as the only riding stables left from that bygone era.

In later years, Suzanne Benedict and Brian McTigue partnered to run the Stables, until they sold it in 2006 to the current owners, Alex Jacobson and Benjamin Haghani.  The initial plan was to redevelop the 1.2 acre site into condominiums, but after recognizing the value of the stables to the community, Jacobson and Haghani opted instead to rebuild the riding academy into a world-class facility, as the newly minted NY Equestrian Center.

The WHCSA and the West Hempstead Now and Then blog wish Mr. Jacobson best of luck and continued success in preserving one of West Hempstead and Lakeview’s prized local treasures.

1 comment:

Leslie Lim said...

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