The 1950s marked the transition of Huntington from a small town to a bustling suburban center as “former GIs were out of college and married now—earning enough to buy a home. Others, who had started in Levittown, wanted bigger homes for growing families.” (From Huntington in Our Time). According to census figures, the 1950 population of Huntington was only 47,506 people, but by 1960 it had mushroomed to 126,595 people. These high levels of population growth and subsequent land subdivision created two demands: the need to preserve open space and the need to provide recreational activities for the people.
In the early 1960s the Town Of Huntington adopted a program for widespread growth of, both large and small. Many of the, “neighborhood parks in the Town of Huntington were obtained under Section 281 of the Town Law which permits the Town to take 10 percent of any subdivision that is clustered-zoned for parkland.” (Long-Islander, August 10, 1972). By the late 1960s the focus fell not just to parks, but to recreation facilities as well.
On November 20, 1961 Supervisor Jerome Ambro announced a $2.9 million “comprehensive recreation program” for the town of Huntington. Incorporated in this announcement were several facilities in Dix Hills, in fact Dix Hills received more facilities then any other area of Town.
Those facilities include a ski center & skating rink in Dix Hills, the development of Wolf Hill Park, Half Hollow Hills Park, an arboretum and park off Bagatelle Road, and additions to Dix Hills Park. The program was financed by bond issue and did not require any tax increase. The January 16, 1969 Long-Islander reported that the Dix Hills and the Half Hollow Hills civic associations have “voiced support for the program…. The Dix Hills group said that the residents of their areas felt they had been neglected in the past and needed the facilities.”
The 44-acre winter park in Dix Hills was to be located south of the Long Island Expressway and east of Half Hollow Hills Road. The “winter sports center” would have three slopes, with facilities for artificial snow, a double rope tow and ski lodge, a refrigerated ice-skating rink and another lodge (November 21, 1968 Long-Islander). The winter center would be located in what officials were calling “The Huntington Alps.”
The 50-acrew site at Half Hollow Hills Park was part of the . Forty acres of that park was to be left in its natural state and the rest would incorporate two ball fields, four tennis courts, basketball and handball areas.
Interestingly, this proposal also incorporated a piece of land at the old . A portion of the Bagatelle Nursery was to be used to create the Arboretum. “Trees from the nursery are now being used by the town and part of the area will continue to be set aside for preservation of trees and shrubs. A section of the 9-acre park will be used to house one ball field and four tennis courts and a paved pedestrian walk will be built through the treed areas for access to the playing field.” (January 16, 1969 Long-Islander).
This $2 million plan was defeated by the residents.
On September 9, 1969 the residents were being asked to vote on a scaled down proposal costing $252,310 to be spread out amongst 16 parks, 5 of which were new. The new parks included the Wolf Hill Park, discussed above, the Arboretum discussed above, and Caledonia and Otsego Park in Dix Hills. The winter park was not part of this proposal, neither was Half Hollow Park. The idea was to get a small start on bringing recreation facilities to Town residents, according to the September 4, 1969 Long-Islander.
As part of this proposal Wolf Hill Park would grow to 2 parking lots, a playground, 4 tennis courts, and 2 basketball courts, in addition to the fenced in baseball and softball fields that opened previously that summer. The former Bagatelle Nursery would be opened as a “walk-in” arboretum with a baseball field and playground. Caledonia Park would continue to serve as home to the Town tennis program and picnic area, but was to also receive a new parking lot and improved comfort station. Otsego Park would be home to two Little League baseball fields.
The program passed with priorities on building 3 new parks, and improving 2 existing ones at a cost of $255,000. This was called phase 1 of the Town’s plan at expanding recreation facilities. The Wolf Hill Park consumed the largest chunk of the money appropriated, with a total cost of $87,250. The Arboretum Park and Otsego Park were amongst the new parks to be built. Caledonia Park was shifted into phase 2 of the Town recreation facility expansion program.
On July 16, 1970 the Long-Islander reported that the work at Wolf Hill Park was almost completed, and a fall opening date was expected. Otsego Park and Arboretum Park had been graded and cleared but no further work had transpired. But a year later on July 1, 1971 the Long-Islander was able to report that, “Residents living south of the Expressway will soon have the use of the Arboretum….”
In 1972, over 32,000 residents of all ages registered for the Town’s recreation programs ranging from baseball and ballroom dancing to wrestling and yoga, according to the March 29, 1973 Long-Islander. And so in 1973, more work was scheduled on the Town’s parks, at a cost of $1 million dollars. This work included $90,000 to officially open Otsego Park in May with the construction of lighted softball, football, lacrosse, and soccer fields. $16,000 was allotted for the construction of lighted tennis courts at Wolf Hill Park. And also $50,000 for four new tennis courts and a handball court at the Arboretum Park. These neighborhood parks were all getting an upgrade, as was the Dix Hills Park, which was getting a new ice skating rink, originally proposed for a winter park in 1968. (The residents and the Town of Huntington also got it’s ski club when High Point Ski Club. See my previous article on it for more information.)
Today the Town of Huntington offers recreational activities of all kinds to all age groups. I’m sure that many of you, like me, participated in at least one as both a child and as an adult! Without the foresight of Town officials in the 1960s and 1970s this would have not been possible.