National Geographic : 1951 Mar
Long Island Outgrows the Country A dozen or more small Algonquian tribes were scattered the length of the island. In 1609 they accepted the first foreign intrusion without much fuss; Henry Hudson with a score of men landed, tradition says, on what became known as Coney Island. But Hudson, the Englishman sailing for the Dutch East India Company, didn't linger; he had set his heart on finding a short passage to India.* For the next 25 years the Indians had Long Island to themselves. Then came Dutch, closely followed by English settlers. Euro pean intervention thinned out the aborigines. Smallpox spread with fatal results. Fifty years after the first settlers arrived, histories tell us, a third of the native population had died; by 1761 red men had virtually vanished from large parts of the island. Today only one real reminder of the Indian survives: his place names. Villages, towns, coves, bays, hills, roads, and streams still carry them. Seventeenth-century colonization continued. Around their original holding at Breuckelen, now Brooklyn, Dutch settled in the west; English mostly in the east. International jealousy over land and its government kept the two colonies in a constant squabble. Finally, in 1674, England won complete con trol of the island. During the next 100 years, the island en joyed relative peace and the homey task of domesticating itself. Farms expanded; vil lages sprang up; small industries increased; roads took shape; news traveled faster. The American Revolution split the island folk. The Battle of Long Island, initial en gagement in the campaign of 1776, took place at Brooklyn. Well-trained troops led by England's General Howe forced outnumbered Americans under George Washington to re treat across the East River. And the British remained for the duration of the war. Link with the World-and the Future Now look at Long Island in 1951, but quickly, before what you see today becomes obsolete tomorrow. "Only permanent thing around here is the temporary aspect of it all," said an executive of Long Island's newest airport. "And the only monotonous thing about it is the con stant change." To illustrate, he spent part of a morning and a whole afternoon showing me one of the world's largest commercial air terminals. Al though far from finished, New York Interna tional Airport in southern Queens has already begun to steal La Guardia's thunder as New York's busiest flying field (pages 290, 291). International Airport, formerly known as Idlewild, covers a reclaimed area equal to all of Manhattan from 42d Street to the Battery, or about 4,900 acres. We saw 10 miles of runways and three gigantic hangars, each with a floor the size of a football field. Of the many administrative buildings now there, most will be replaced by more adequate, up-to-date permanent structures. By 1960 this airport plans to handle about 700 plane movements a day. And the vast terminal area will become a city within a city, having everything that designation implies. Levittown Leaps onto the Map From the air International Airport looks even more impressive; but nothing I saw during a flight over the whole island im pressed me as much as Levittown-an out standing example of mass home production. Up from the potato fields of a few years ago rises "rural" Long Island's largest com munity, new home of 50,000 persons. Here, in the heart of Nassau County, stand 14,000 houses built by Levitt and Sons, Inc. Here is the epitome of suburban growth-more than a new place name on the map (page 294). Picture a parking lot a hundred times bigger than the biggest you've ever seen, and fill it with identical small cars. That's vaguely what Levittown from the air looked like to me. Down on the ground a friend guided me through and around endless regiments of homes, as uniform and numerous as tents of a vast army. We passed six swimming pools, playgrounds, school, and shopping centers. With its intensive landscaping program, "Levittown is destined to be one of the garden spots of America," says a sign there. Except for exterior color, one house looks like the next; but each is home to a family. In front of most we found baby carriages and tricycles; children's clothes hung from back yard lines. Levittown encourages youth, especially young war veterans and their families; it makes real the ex-GI's dream of a home of his own. At the office where house sales take place across a long counter, I watched a veteran slap down a thick wad of green bills. While he filled out application to purchase, a clerk counted the deposit. The bundle of cash con tained 80 one-dollar bills and four fives. In July, 1950, this veteran bought a house * See "Spin Your Globe to Long Island," by Frederick Simpich, and "Henry Hudson, Magnificent Failure," by Frederick G. Vosburgh, both in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for April, 1939.