A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN BUT
A BIGGER ONE GROWS IN MASTIC BEACH
More than once in various places on this website, I have made mention of some the special trees that were around in Mastic Beach. In fact one of the short stories that started all this in the Buzz & Pee Wee Butchie & Me section is about the tree I fell out of around 1955. That tree was only special in the fact that I didn't get killed and got a song out of it some 40 years later. What follows here is a short piece on how some of the tallest trees in Mastic got there... Trust me they didn't just grow there ... folks like August P. Belmont, Hannah N. Lawrence, Joseph F. Knapp, and Edward R. Tolfree had them brought in to spruce up (pardon the pun) their estates.
A TREE MOVES IN BROOKLYN
On Jericho Turnpike in Westbury, Long Island there well may be the oldest family owned business on the Island. It was started in 1853 by Issac Hicks. On my ride to Brookville last summer to visit the gravesite of Lawrence and Winifred Sperry, I passed by The Hicks Nursery and although its been scaled back from it's original 300 acres, it is still growing strong.
At the turn of the 19th century Issac's son Edward was teaching at the Brooklyn Polytechnical Institute. It was there that Edward designed and more importantly PATENTED, the equipment for moving BIG TREES. His timing was perfect as big trees were in big demand by owners of big estates that had big budgets for landscaping them. If you wanted some really big trees on your place there was only one place to go... HICKS! Traces of the evergreens that lined the roads to August Belmont's hunting clubs are still visible today as you travel along Southern State Parkway in Babylon and Sunrise Highway in Southaven just west of the Shirley exit. Much closer to my Mastic Beach childhood home were the big evergreens planted by the Lawrences and The Knapps. There was one just across from my front door on the corner of Elm Rd and McKinley Drive that we called the "Fire Island Tree". It was an amazing tree, you went a short distance into the woods and it stood in a clearing obviously made to plant it there where nothing else ever grew in its shadow. We needed a boost up just to reach the first branches and then it was ...do you dare go all the way up to the top? Up at the top two or three of us could "safely" sit in it's branches and look across the bay and see Fire Island and the Atlantic Ocean. The Fire Island Tree survived until the turn of the 20th century. A house sits there now. There was another one we called Fire Island Tree II. It is still there on the south side of Phyliss Drive just past the Schulz house , in the front yard of a bungalow. When the Knapps lived there it would of been on the edge of their tennis court. Other large evergreens are all around the remaining C.J. Smith / Lawrence houses on Locust and Magnolia Drives. They really stand out. I hope they stay standing out for centuries.
Early 1900's Ad from Country Life In America Magazine
(notice BIG EVERGREENS in Bold type)