By Rita J. Egan
The 1960s may have been decades ago, but many who grew up in our town remember those days like they were yesterday.
A young child in the 60s, long-time Commack resident Doreen Murphy fondly remembers the blue collar neighborhood she grew up in. She said many residents left behind their families in the boroughs of New York City in order to find new and affordable housing. Murphy’s parents and neighbors would work together and help each other out to plant trees and develop the neighborhood.
While Murphy was too young to go to the local hangouts, she would wish she were older so she could go to places like Carmela’s for pizza with the teenagers. Murphy said Carmella’s was at the spot where Emilio’s Restaurant is now located on Jericho Turnpike. After pizza many of the kids would head down the road to the bowling alley which still stands today.
Another popular spot was the Long Island Arena located where we now find the King Kullen Plaza. Murphy said as a child she attended a rodeo, circus and wrestling match at the arena that was home to the then Long Island Ducks hockey team.
“It was such a fun place to be and on Friday nights they had ice skating when the Long Island Ducks played hockey there. All the youth of Commack went there for the weekend events. We loved it,” said Murphy.
In the Hauppauge section of Smithtown, Ronald Sage was a teenager living right off of Brooksite Drive during the 1960s. When he attended high school, he was in the building that we now know as Hauppauge Middle School. The Hauppauge High School building wasn’t built until 1968.
Sage remembers when he could walk down Route 111 and would barely see a store except for Robert Hall. The clothing store once stood where Branchinelli’s is today near Townline Road. Back then after school the teenagers would grab pizza and a soda at an Italian restaurant called Caligiuri’s Triangle located at the intersection of Routes 111 and 347.
The long-time Smithtown resident said many times during his school days he and his friends would leave the building for lunch and go to the general store that was next to Hauppauge United Methodist Church. Here the butcher would cut meat for fresh sandwiches, and Sage would buy penny candy. If he and his friends had some extra time, they would take a brisk walk to the intersection of 347 and 454 to get hamburgers at Hubie’s. The establishment was where Chemex Pool Supply is today, and for 25 cents Sage and his friends could get two hamburgers for lunch.
In the summer, Long Beach or Little Africa, now Otto Schubert Beach, was the place to be. Sage remembers the bus that would run along Brooksite Drive during the summer and stop at each of the lanes. The Smithtown bus would start about 8:00 a.m. to pick up kids to go for swimming lessons and would return about noon. The bus would then pick up people for the beach around 1:00 p.m. and would leave around 4:00 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. giving everyone a few hours of beach time.
Kenny Rogers grew up in the 60s on Brook Lane down the street from Sage and remembers running around Smithtown playing sports and hanging out as a kid. Rogers said, “I was never home.”
In the warmer weather Rogers, his brother and a couple of friends would head over to the fields by Sweetbriar Elementary School and play baseball. The Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle is located on this spot today.
Maple Avenue Park, which is now Brady Park, was a favorite spot of Rogers to play basketball and softball. He said one day he was playing ball with another local guy, and Rogers couldn’t hit one ball that he pitched. That child, John Curtis, left Smithtown to play professional baseball in the 70s and early 80s.
Living on one of the dead end streets off of Brooksite Drive meant Rogers had easy access to the Weld family property which is now Blydenburgh Park. He and his friends could spend the whole day there swimming in Stump Pond and throwing stones across the body of water. He still remembers one friend throwing a stone from the Smithtown side of the pond to the Hauppauge side.
A playground in the winter time for Rogers and his friends was Miller’s Pond where they would ice skate all day. The former Smithtown resident said he would go in the morning, walk back home for lunch and then go back and skate a few hours more before dinner. He said the pond in the winter would be rock solid, and he doesn’t remember anyone ever falling into the ice.
When it came to grabbing a bite to eat with friends, Flo’s Diner was a favorite spot for hamburgers, fries and ice cream sundaes. Rogers described the diner that was once located on the corner of Main Street and Brooksite Drive as a “neat place”. Sometimes the kids would also head over to the Howard Johnson’s that once stood where we now find Capital One Bank in the Branch Shopping Center.
Rogers who now lives in Florida with his wife Nancy said they talk about growing up on Long Island often. He sums up his younger years “as a blessing from God to be a kid on Long Island.”
Paul Micciche also has great memories of the 60s. An elementary school and then junior high school student in the decade, he grew up on Harvard Avenue surrounded by relatives who lived on the same street. Each year the area that his parents would let him wander in Smithtown expanded until he could walk between New York Avenue and Maple Avenue. He was even able to head up to Main Street as long as he stayed on the south side between the two streets.
While that may have been a small area of town, Micciche said, “We had everything we needed.”
Maple Avenue Park and Miller’s Pond were in easy walking distance for Micciche and his cousins. Every night in the summer they would play baseball or softball in the park and in the winter they would ice skate on the pond.
According to Micciche, on Main Street near the corner of New York Avenue there was the Town Hall Deli where he and his friends would buy a pack of baseball cards for five cents. Next to the deli they would visit Brown’s Music Store where instruments were sold, and Micciche said while he and his friends never bought one, they would admire them and dream of one day becoming a musician.
Slightly east of Maple Avenue on Main Street was Blue Jay Supermarket. He said for the longest time it was the place to go to buy groceries in Smithtown. In the late 60s when the Branch Shopping Center and Smith Haven Mall came along, the store fronts on the west end of Main Street began to empty out.
In the late 60s Micciche was attending junior high school in the building on New York Avenue and Main Street where the Smithtown school district’s administrative offices are today. He said at the time the local draft board was located on the southeast corner of Main Street and New York Avenue.
The draft board represented the reality of the late 60s where young men were being drafted for the Vietnam War. On his way to school in the morning Micciche would see boys lined up to sign up for the draft.
He said, “I remember mothers crying in the morning.”
But despite the realities of life, Smithtown still possessed so many great times for Micciche. He discovered his love for fishing going to Stump Pond on the Weld family’s estate. He also would bring his fishing rod over to Friede’s Riverside Inn where Paul T. Given Park is today. One day the restaurant’s chef began to yell at him and his friend as they were fishing in little streams by the river. They were surprised to find out they were catching the chef’s pet carp and goldfish.
There was also the Smithtown Drive-In which was once located on Middle County Road near the corner of Route 347. Micciche would go with his family to see a movie and remembers sitting on the hood of the car, leaning back on the windshield and enjoying the movie in the fresh air.
Micciche said, “The 60s were a good time to grow up.”
The memories of Micciche, Rogers, Sage and Murphy are only a sampling of the good times in Smithtown in the 1960s. If you were fortunate to grow up in our town during that time, leave your favorite memories in the comment section below.