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The Long Delay at Hicksville

By Sidney C. Schaer
Staff Writer

The Main Line (Newsday/Linda McKenney)

The longest delay in the annals of Long Island Rail Road occurred on a stretch of track five miles long between Hicksville and Farmingdale. It took the railroad nearly four years to travel the distance.

The delay occurred in 1837 when the railroad arrived in Hicksville and ran out of money. Its next stop had the inelegant name of Hardscrabble. As the line waited to push forward, a real estate speculator from Buffalo, Ambrose George, began purchasing land in the area. He decided that if his project were to prosper, the first thing that had to go was the area's name. Who, he wondered, would want to go to Hardscrabble? So he changed the name to the more bucolic Farmingdale.

By the time the railroad finally arrived in October, 1841, on its bumpy journey to Greenport, Farmingdale not only became the line's new Long Island terminus but what had been a tightly knit little farming community at the eastern edge of what was then Queens County was about to be transformed.

In preparation for the railroad's coming, George opened a small general store, and named one of the streets after his daughter, Elizabeth. In 1841, there were two trains a day, and the railroad also scheduled a Sunday train, much to the chagrin of some of Long Island's more Sabbath-minded residents.

Hardscrabble had become a memory. And now Farmingdale was a transportation hub. The 1841 schedule noted that stagecoaches would take passengers from the train to Islip, Babylon, Patchogue, Oyster Bay and South and West Neck.

The community also would become a key stop for the railroad, where steam locomotives could refuel and get water. And it would catch the eye of an inveterate traveler named Walt Whitman.

In an account of a trip to Greenport that appears in ``Walt Whitman's New York,'' America's most celebrated poet writes: ``At Farmingdale, anciently known under the appellation of `Hardscrabble,' you begin to come among the more popular specimens of humanity which old Long Island produces. (Though we ought not to have overlooked the goodly village of Jericho, two miles north of Hicksville - a Quaker place, with stiff old farmers, and the native spot of Elias Hicks.) Farmingdale rears its towers in the midst of `the brush' and is one of the numerous offspring of the railroad, deriving no considerable portion of its importance from the fact that the train stops here for passengers to get pie, coffee, and sandwiches.''

Whitman recognized what would be one of the LIRR's central contributions to Long Island: the building of communities.

A year after reaching Farmingdale, the railroad had moved another 13 miles eastward and created a new terminus called Suffolk Station, which eventually became the core of Central Islip. And in 1851 a group of reformers started a utopian village called Modern Times, eventually evolving into the community known today as Brentwood.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday, Inc.

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