Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The History of Garden City

The History of Garden City, New York (my hometown) by long time historian of the village, M.H. Smith, makes for border-line interesting, if not somewhat stultifying, reading.  Ms. Smith is from another time (she died in 1991 at the age of 90) and it often shows in her prose and remarks.

Garden City was a planned village created by Alexander Stewart, America’s first department store tycoon, in the years following the Civil War.  Stewart brought a large tract of the Hempstead Plains, the largest prairie east of the Mississippi.   The common yarn told about the Hempstead Plains was that at the founding of Garden City it had become a wasteland.  This simply means that after cattle pasturing and horse racing, the plains no longer had any economic use.  The result is what we have today: small patches of the plain remaining (only a few acres from the original 60,000 acres) which are being preserved by dedicated volunteers.  So, one era’s wasteland is another’s nature preserve.  Certainly nothing new in that statement.

That is simply one example.  The book is largely uncritical in its approach.  This was a book written to sing praises to the Village of Garden City, not to present genuine history.  Yet, it is the only full length history of the town.  So in lieu of doing your own private research, this book has value.

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