2009-10-21 / Columnists

A lake in Massapequa made just for Mary

By John H. Meyer

Mary’s Island is shown in the Massapequa Lake looking east. Mary’s Island is shown in the Massapequa Lake looking east. Fifty years before the Brooklyn Water Works Res­ervoir was built to the west of Brady Park and north of the Long Island Railroad tracks, the man-made lake at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Merrick Road was un­der construction. The year was 1837, and many who have followed the history of the Massapequas know that David S. Jones, a member of Massapequa’s founding family, had the Massapequa Creek that flowed from Bethpage to the Great South Bay, diverted in order to cut down trees and remove stumps and brush to create a lake for his wife.

Digging and removing the rocks and soil were hard work. It was done by enlist­ing many men with their teams of horses hitched up to scoops. The scoops were similar in appearance to a large mason’s wheelbarrow without a wheel and with the handles pointing upward. It took husky men to keep their weight over the scoop and control their team at the same time; the scoop would always be getting caught on tree roots or large stones that were left behind during the ground clearing. During the mid 1920s, my uncle Henry M. Meyer was called upon quite often to excavate for a basement or an ice house and root cellars with his team of horses. As the lake bed began to take shape, more and more soil was piled around the perimeter of the project. At the conclusion of the excavation work, the water from the dammed and diverted Massapequa Creek was allowed to flowinto the scooped-out area.

It must have taken several weeks to fill the bed to create the lake as we see it today. Jones created the island in the center and named it Mary’s Island in honor of his third wife, Mary Clinton, daughter of the former New York Governor De Witt Clinton. During those early years, while walking or riding past the lake in a horse and wag­on, the water wasn’t visible because of the huge amount of soil mounded around it to keep the water in place. Later spillways were built and the water was allowed to flow to the Great South Bay under South Post Road, known now as Merrick Road. Thelake can be seen nowadays from Merrick Road due to the many widening and re-grading projects of the busy thoroughfare.

David S. Jones and his wife lived in a large three-story columned colonial style house that once stood east of the lake, a far distance off the road. They also had a boat-shaped building supported on pilings at the lake’s east bank where the Jones’ frequently entertained their guests. The“boathouse” as it was referred to, had a large stone fireplace, kitchen area, a large dance floor and around the exterior, a deck with railings that added a nautical appear­ance. During the 1940s and 1950s, when the lake was frozen, we would skate to the rundown boathouse and to the island. We had loads of fun on the island. We would build a bonfire, toast marshmallows and, of course, “raise a little hell.” During the years that the Jones family lived in the big house, David had the lake stocked with trout. At that time, the lake was known as one of the largest trout preserves in the world. Chester Arthur, our 21st President, was among the many noted guests of the Jones’ family that fished the waters of Massapequa’s beautiful lake. Jones had many in­fluential friends; he was appointed to the Queens County Court while living in their lakeside mansion.

During the 1940s, the Richard A. Corroon family took up residence in the mansion and they named it “Mass­apequa Manor.” It was also known as the Corroon Estate by the residents of the Pequas and the lake as Corroon’s Lake. The house was vacant for a long period of time and during a heavy snowstorm on Nov. 30, 1952, the beautiful old mansion burned to the ground.

Both the reservoir and the Massapequa Lake are two places of beauty right here in the center of Massapequa, especially during the fall when the leaves are turning to pretty colors. However, during the 1970s when storm drains were installed to funnel street water to the creek and the man-made draining ponds in the Massapequa Greenbelt Preserve, pollution began to take over the lake water. During heavy rainstorms that made the water in the creek run faster and the water table rise, area septic tanks and cesspool water also drained into the ponds. By the time the overflow water reached the spillways, it was churning up and creating huge detergent and street runoff foam bubbles. At the Merrick Road spillways, many times the foam was so thick, cars would stop to be sure it would be safe to continue. During the 1980s, the lake was dredged to clean up the lake bed. During that project, a large amount of Indian artifacts were found and brought to the Indian museum at Garvey Point in Glen cove.

Now during 2008 and 2009, a huge undertaking by Nassau County is underway to filter and increase the water flow in the creek and to dredge and reed the pond beds of silt to allow water to drain back into the water table. Theproject will also help to keep the Great South Bay free from pollution. The east side of the reservoir is also being dredged to clear up sludge from the area of the lake. Theformer Brooklyn Water Works Reservoir was built in 1888, ten years before the structure of New York City and the five-borough system of gov­ernment.

Massapequa’s reservoir was already supplying Brooklynites with their drinking water. Four deep reser­voirs were constructed between Massapequa and Bald­win to the north side of the railroad tracks known then as the Brooklyn and Montauk Railroad. Construction equipment was powered by steam back in those days not like the horse and scoop method used at the Massapequa Lake project. Over the years, both lakes have taken on the appearance of a natural wonder complete with a variety of fresh water fish, water fowl and lily pads.

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