America’s first highway (and friends) are following me around
It was something of a personal awakening when a certain Americarna was shown on cable tv’s Velocity a couple of years ago. I found myself watching the history of America’s first highway, the Long Island Motor Parkway. All of a sudden the scenery in the background looked very familiar. Real local. The next road scenes were startlingly familiar because I was driving on them almost daily.
The gentleman helping Ray Evernham to learn the history of the Motor Parkway and the Vanderbilt Cup was Howard Kroplick. It turns out he is quite an interesting person unto himself. More about that later. Proceeding to tell his tale, Kroplick describes how the Motor Parkway became entangled with the famed early Vanderbilt Cup races. Parts of the Parkway became parts of the race course. Turns out the course ran on Jericho Turnpike two blocks from my home in Mineola and the finish line was just before my favorite 7eleven a little further down the road.
A website dedicated to the Long Island Motor Parkway
Turns out Mr Kroplick is the Historian for the Town of Hempstead, NY. His website (below) details much about the Motor Parkway and the Vanderbilt Cup races, including maps and much historical/modern update photography. This is where I digress. Some of the historical photos were of overpasses that also looked strangely familiar to me. One seemed to be exactly like a bridge I always passed under in my daily commute to NYC (left). It seemed very narrow above with narrow lanes below through which I passed. That bridge was totally out of place. It had no obvious need to be there.
The overpass was part of the Motor Parkway and is now a bike path. Other familiar arched brick overpasses appeared in the photos. I traced their location to Queens’ Alley Pond Park using one of the maps on the site. It turns out that I ran on the Highway for my high school track team (very) briefly. Later I would discover that cars were far more fun, faster, and were kinder to my knees.
The cars of the day must have been very narrow as the roadway through Alley Pond Park (now a bike path) is seriously narrow with one lane in either direction. I can only imagine how many accidents there must have been with the earliest cars and drivers on this narrow early highway. It makes a fine bike path though.
Seriously, I’m not paranoid (much)
Growing up in a nearby Queens neighborhood, it turns out that I was parking on the Motor Parkway every day. It ran right past my front door into a gated field to the left and ran straight out into that same Alley Pond Park mentioned above. Out the front door and to the right for a few blocks, I had been playing outfield on the local ball field as a “yoot”. At least I didn’t get run over because it too existed on the path of the former Motor Parkway. Continue on that path and it wends its way on roads commonly traveled by myself, roads that traced the path that formed the Parkway as well.
Later on, I moved to another part of Long Island, East Meadow. Driving past the local Eisenhower Park, I noticed historical signs marking the path of the Motor Parkway (right). Photos on Mr. Kroplick’s site showed roads and bridges in East Meadow as part of the Motor Parkway. These roads were just minutes from my place.
It gets a little weirder.
I had taken up biking, and to avoid riding on roads packed with cars, I decided to ride on bike paths only. The one I loved to ride on ran alongside and parallel to the Bethpage Motor Parkway. And yes, that road was part of the old Motor Parkway too.
About Mr. Kroplick and the “Black Beast”
After seeing him on Americarna, I drove down to where his shop is. It’s a quaint building that contains garages housing his car collection. One of the cars in the collection is called the “ALCO Black Beast”. It’s one of the oldest surviving Indy 500 cars in existence along with the Marmon Wasp. Mr. Kroplick regularly exercises the car at events, including the annual Garden City Easter Parade and a hillclimb for vintage cars that occurs in Port Washington, NY. He also was invited to run the car at Indianapolis for the Indy 500 Centennial. He didn’t drive, choosing to let someone more skilled take the wheel around the famous track. That someone was Emerson Fittipaldi (right).
ALCO stands for American Locomotive Company. The Black Beast was built there in the early 20th century. Many varied companies built early motorcars and ALCO had moved their locomotive assembly to Syracuse NY from Providence, Rhode Island. That left space for a car factory in Providence. The car company ceased operations in 1913 but the signage still stands. A large painted assembly plant sign is fully visible from Atwells Avenue, the heart of Rhode Island’s Italian district. An illuminated sign (left) also resides above the building and is visible from Interstate 95, right across the highway from the Providence Place mall.
Guess where I live now. That’s right, Rhode Island. I’m about 20 minutes from Providence.
And my daughter works in the ALCO building.
So I guess I’m not paranoid, just a little weirded out by the coincidences.
To find out more about Long Island’s Motor Parkway and the Vanderbilt Cup races, go to Mr. Kroplick’s comprehensive website. Or pick up one of Mr. Kroplick’s books on the subject. The Long Island Motor Parkway and Vanderbilt Cup Races of Long Island are two fascinating books and quick reads. Even though you’re probably not as spooked as I am, you’ll find them interesting anyhow.
Image at top courtesy NY Times
All other images courtesy Howard Kroplick