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Yaphank during the depression years


YAPHANK
The Depression Years
written by,
Gustave Neuss
March, 2001


Yaphank in this time period was primarily a farming community. Good times or bad, working of farms was a must. Prices for farm produce was variable as they were controlled by supply and demand Farmers were insured of constant employment home grown food and an uncertain ready money supply determined by the whims of Nature and the market value of the crops. Farm families usually had a sufficient number of members to plant, cultivate and harvest. At harvest time when shorthanded, outside help would be hired. I, during those years, helped with picking peppers, potatoes, lima beans, etc. and assembled crates for cauliflower. Others did the same. It was a job.

The few young people who graduated from high school [Patchogue] had no local job options. Most left town for work in the New York metropolitan area and in some instances to obtain further education if it could be afforded. My brother, Bill, paid for his education at Pratt Institute and at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute by working days and attending classes at night. It took several years to get his degree.

Adults, other than farmers, included some building trade craftsmen. These were carpenters, painters, electricians and masons. Work for trades people was scarce as there was little construction, either new or remodeling. Some small jobs at the time included home additions at Old Field and Belle Terre, the addition of sound equipment booths at the Rialto theater at Patchogue and the redecking of the bridge over the Long Island railroad on what is now Sills Road. At this time the old octagon shaped school was moved from its original site to a new location a short distance to the east on the south side of Main Street. This was converted into the Yaphank Fire District's first firehouse. The school was replaced by a new two-room structure at the old site. This was one major new construction project. Leslie Marchant, a Yaphank building contractor, I believe, erected this new school. He would have used local craftspersons where possible.

One other building project was the erection of the Van Rector residence. This is a Sears, Roebuck home. It arrived in town by railroad in pieces, all of which were individually numbered. The barn east of the Stroud house was used for storage of the parts of the house. The assembly of this building was done by only three people, James Scott, Harold Powers and Gus Neuss.

Brookhaven Township, in which Yaphank is located, is the largest township in New York State. At this time period it contained about one thousand miles of highways for which the township had maintenance responsibility. The township was divided into several areas to provide local road servicing. Yaphank was one of these districts. The township highway superintendent was an elected official. Harold Davis of Coram was the superintendent in the early 1930's. Adam Scesny was the local foreman. As help was needed for pothole repair, road resurfacing, roadside drainage improvement, snow removal or other related work Scesny would put local unemployed people to work as necessary. With a change in highway superintendents in the mid-thirties Scesny was replaced by one of the Lewin family.

In the 1920's the first concrete highway paving was completed. This provided hard pavement for Yaphank Avenue, Main Street and Middle Island Road from the entrance of the County Farm to the Shannon residence. In 1931 the Edward Hughes Company from Nassau County had the contract to pave Middle Island Road from the Shannon start to north of Middle Country Road in Middle Island. This project did hire local young people for common labor jobs at fifty cents an hour. Work consisted of sub-grade preparation, form setting, placing of reinforcing steel, burlapping and wetting down the finished concrete and form removal after the concrete had set. Most difficult of the work was the puddling of the concrete as it was dropped from the bucket of the paver. Another job, hard on the hands, was the emptying of bags of portland cement at the batching plant. Final work was the grading of shoulders and embankments.

In 1932, a contract was let to Johnson, Drake and Piper to pave with concrete the unfinished portion of Yaphank Avenue from the County Farm to South Country Road in Brookhaven. Local young people were hired for the common labor jobs as mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Another project employing local young people was the refurbishing of the Long Island Railroad Bridge over the Carmens River. The Cement Gun Company of Allentown, Pa. was the contractor. This brick arch bridge was originally built in 1848. Work included the sandblasting of all the original masonry and then coating the entire brick masonry surface with an inch and one half of a cement, sand and water mixture known as "Gunite". After this was completed, two reinforced concrete slabs were poured. After curing these were slid into place, one under the north rail and one under the south rail. I am preparing a detailed description of this project separately.

W. R. Grace owned a sizeable piece of ground at Manorville, N.Y. Grace decided to enclose the property with a seven foot high chain link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. Several of us Yaphank natives worked on the erection of at least six miles of this private estate enclosure.

In order to get the unemployed, primarily young people, doing useful work the Civilian Conservation Corp was authorized in 1933 by the Federal administration. Its purpose was to place those in need primarily in forest locations to establish fire trails, clean out underbrush and in general make wooded areas safer and more favorable for tree growth. Former Camp Upton was selected as a site for a CCC operation in the Yaphank area. As the barracks and other buildings at the camp had been razed at the end of World War One to accommodate the new CCC personnel new barracks, mess hall and latrine facilities were required. Box car loads of building material were brought in to the former army camp and a rush program of building erection was undertaken. Many local Yaphank trades people and laborers were put to work. The WWI sanitary sewer piping was located and utilized for waste disposal. Upon completion of the construction an all Negro CCC battalion was moved in to rehabilitate the old Camp Upton reservation. When the CCC group left in the late 1930's, the vacated buildings were used by the Maryland National Guard.

In 1935 the Federal government established the Work Progress Administration, later known as the Work Projects Administration. This agency was set up to provide useful employment to those unemployed and those who were work capable who were on welfare. The majority of the work provided was in new construction and in building rehabilitation. Projects included the four golf courses and the polo field at Bethpage State Park, the comprehensive storm drainage system for Nassau County, a sewage disposal plant complete with sanitary sewer lines for the Village of Greenport The curbs and gutters and sidewalks in Yaphank today were a WPA project. Federal money paid for most of the material and labor costs. Sponsors paid for engineering and equipment rental. Some of our local people were employed by this program on projects not limited to Yaphank but countywide.

There was little in the way of permanent employment, however you will note from the foregoing that the Yaphank area was not without gainful employment if one chose to work.

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