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Middle Country Road

   

There has been much to complain about with the condition of our roads, especially the Middle Country Road. As they say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Middle Country road at onetime was little more than a foot path used by the local Indians. In 1704it received the designation of “The King’s Highway” and extended from Fulton Ferry in Brooklyn to to East Hampton. The road linked cow path sand Indian trails into a highway. As Brookhaven was settled, town trustees paid to have the road widened, so that it could accommodate wagons and stagecoaches. A trip to New York city by wagon usually tooktwo and a half days each way.

Taking care of dirt roads was a huge undertaking and Highway Commissioners were appointed to handle stretches of roads in the local communities.

When heavy rains and constant use resulted in ruts and washing away of the surfaces, a team of horses would be used to hone in the road as dirt was replaced.In August 1914 a local paper reported “Last Sunday there passed through here by actual count 102 automobiles, 5 bicycles, 3 motorcycles, 18wagons and carriages and 25 people.”

When cars began to appear on the roadways, the results were disastrous. At Artist Lake a passing auto so spooked a horse drawn carriage that the frightened horse bolted throwing the occupants from the carriage.

A story in the 1929edition of the Port Jeff Echo recounts how Justice of the Peace Frederick Marchant of Yaphank was given a knotty problem. John Van Bohlen of Brooklyn reported that while driving his car on the Middle Country Road he ran into and killed a stray cow, badly damaging his radiator. Van Bohen wanted to collect damages from the cow’s owner John Nowoski, of Middle Island, who, on the other hand wanted damages from Van Bohlen for killing his cow.

Driving a car on these dirt roads amounted to taking your life in your own hands. The ruts often caught the tire of the auto, either flipping it, sending it into the gullies on the side of the road, or worse, sending you into the trees.For the number of cars using the road the amount of accidents and deaths were staggering. From 1928 to 1929 there were 12 fatalities on the Middle Country Road in our area.

There was a huge clamor for the town to improve the roadways, making them safer.

Highway Commissioners began using a mix of gravel and loam, which was leveled out. Then the town then sent trucks to spray oil on the surface and gravel was quickly added to the oil. After it had hardened sand was applied to take up the excess oil. The oil also kept the road from becoming too dusty. Sand piles were left on the sides of the roads for when oil was reapplied.

Even with these efforts the roads remained dangerous. In 1927 the state provided funds for a concrete highway and local residents rejoiced. While building this new road there were attempts to straighten out Middle Country Road. From Coram through Middle Island the Old Middle Country Road was straightened out.

The most dangerous part of the road was at Artist Lake, where the roadway followed the contour of the lake. After a number of fatal car accidents the road at that section was moved north attempting to takeout the curve. Although the highway was moved, the original highway can be seen east of the entrance to Lake Pointe.

While the new concrete highway was heralded, it created many problems. People felt“safer” with the concrete and speeding increased. The intersection of Middle Country Road and the Middle Island, Yaphank Road saw as many as 4accidents a day. The intersection resembled a demolition derby at Riverhead Raceway.

Local residents demanded a light be placed at the corner. The Long Island Lighting Company (yes they were around even then), refused to do it as the expenditure of extending the electric lines was not profitable with the small number of residents living in our area. In 1935 the line was finally extended, and electric came to the area.

Residents constantly complained about the East Hillin Middle Island (From Wal-Mart past the library and up the hill to Key Foods). Icy conditions made it impossible for the cars of the time to goup the hills and caused others to slide off the roadway. In spite of these dangerous conditions, the speeding continued. Even a future President, John F. Kennedy was pulled over for speeding and was given a ticket across from where the Longwood Public Library is located.

A story in the 1930 Port Jeff Echo gave an example of rural justice.

”Court was held on the roadside Monday afternoon for Robert Stanton of Ozone Park, who was accused of reckless driving. He was traveling at a high rate of speed and forced a car driven by Sheriff John Davis and his passenger Judge Frederick Marchant, both of Yaphank, forcing their car off the road. An angry Davis gave chase and overtook the high powered car. Stanton was charged with reckless driving. The defendant pleading guilty, $10 fine was paid, the roadside court was adjourned, and both cars continued on.”

So what has changed in 300 years of travel on the Middle Country Road?

Except for turning lanes, the road is still a single lane road in each direction. These roads which handled a population of 1000 local residents in 1930, now accommodate a population of nearly 60,000residents.

What hasn’t changed is that the roads are still terrible, and people still drive too fast.

1900
Middle Country Road, Middle Island, 1906. Picture taken by Lewis Ritch, who had just seen the first auto on the road. The auto is in the gully kicking up dust. If you look carefully you can make out figures in the car.

horses
Teams of horses were used to drag a plow to even out damaged roads. This team of horses was used for that and for moving houses. This picture was taken in Middle Island after they had been used to move a house from Bluepoint to Middle Island.

25
Pictures of Middle Country Road as it was being widened and prepared for the addition of a concrete surface. The tall pine tree above the truck is where the Kogel property is located across from the library. Picture taken by Albert Bayles.

shovel

Steam shovel at work widening Middle Country road. Picture by Albert Bayles.


112

Steam shovel at work widening Middle Country road. Picture by Albert Bayles.


oldmc
East entrance to the Old Middle Country Road.

west
West entrance/exit to Old Middle Country Road.

coram
OldMiddle Country Road in Coram. The road went past Coram Pond, crossed Rte. 112 and continued on the road behind Friendly's . Road was straightened out in 1928.

1928
The original 1928 highway, just east of the entrance to Lake Pointe(opposite K -Mart) You can only imagine the curve it took around the lake. Looking east.

westhill
 Looking west at the original highway from the gas station at the top of the hill. (opposite entrance to Coventry Manor)

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