It was Long Island’s most dynamic decade, flooded with change. The dam burst at the Nassau-Queens border, pouring out torrents of new people, housing developments, and freshly-paved ribbons of roadway. In the 1950s, Long Island seemed destined for years of limitless suburban boom.
The great eastward stampede out of New York City transformed Long Island from a sleepy strip of sandy shoreline and potato farms to a bustling region with more people than 18 entire states. The national media breathlessly hyped the building crews and new ranch houses. Time magazine called it “Alice-in-Wonderland change…the wilds of Long Island are fast becoming citified,” and housing developments were springing up so fast that “local census takers lost count.”
Industry surged with the swelling suburbs. Almost one million new Nassau-Suffolk residents came to work in the aviation and defense industry. Thousands more headed for the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a new postwar research center, or to hundreds of small businesses and factories emerging near every parkway and expressway exit.
It was exciting, it was pioneering, and it was utterly chaotic. “We grew too fast,” groaned the head of a Nassau County social agency in 1958. Many agreed. Calls for regional planning became louder over the decade. But as bulldozers scraped away farm fields and leafy trees, suburban development stayed irresistible and unstoppable. “Mr. and Mrs. Newcomer move out here to find fresh air, a yard for the kids to play in and the pleasant vistas of suburban living,” wrote one reporter. “In their numbers, they threaten to destroy the very benefits they seek.”
Did you move to Long Island from elsewhere? When? What drew you here and what makes you stay? What, if anything do you miss about "home?"
Written by Joshua Ruff, a curator at the Long Island Museum.