Written by Stephen Rushmore
Published in The Rancher, September 1990
Sitting with stately splendor on the west side of Roslyn Road between Snapdragon Lane and the Parkway is the sole remnant of Rushmore Farms, the predecessor of much of the Roslyn Country Club. Rushmore Farms once extended from Powerhouse Road (Long Island Expressway) south along the railroad to I.U. Willets Road and then over to Roslyn Road. Today, Steve and Judy Rushmore still live on this family land which dates back to 1845.
The Rushmores’ long heritage on Long Island extends back to 1658 when Thomas Rushmore came here from Wales to settle along with four Englishmen and three Dutch men. They made an alliance with five Long Island Indian Tribes for land and agreed to accept the Governor of New Netherlands as their protector.
Thomas Rushmore, a Quaker, married Martha Hicks in Hempstead in 1659 and started a farm situated in Old Westbury on high ground near the Intersection of Old Westbury Road and Whitney Lane. Their son continued farming after Thomas died in 1682.
During the next five generations, the Quaker farming traditions were carried on. The Rushmore farm in Old Westbury was oriented toward dairy production, serving as a milk shed for New York City and Brooklyn. When the Long Island Rail Road was extended from Mineola to Oyster Bay, the Rushmores decided to sell their Old Westbury farm and moved to Roslyn Heights to be near the railroad so milk could be shipped easily to market.
In 1845, Thomas and Jane Rushmore bought 150 acres of land and built a large, 21 room farm house on the west side of Roslyn Road just south of where the Parkway now runs. In addition, they erected a barn for 40 cows along with two hay barns, a horse barn, carriage house, corn crib, Ice house and two buildings for farm equipment.
The dairy operation continued until the late 1800’s when it became unprofitable because of increasing land values and labor costs in addition to competition from new modern dairy farms in upstate New York. To correct this economic decline, the hayfields and pasture land were converted to potato, sweet corn and root crops which were carried by horse and market wagon to the Wallabout Public Market in Brooklyn.
The original Thomas Rushmore farm house of 1845 was always maintained in immaculate condition. In the early 1900’s the Rushmores took pride in sporting one of Long Island’s first indoor bathrooms, complete with running water. According to family lore, when the decision was made to bring one of the “common virtues” of life from “outdoors” to “indoors,” Adelaide Rushmore could not be persuaded to give up one of her 21 rooms for this purpose. In order to house all of the necessary bathroom fixtures (including a “WC” with an overhead tank) an appendage was built on the north side of the second floor over a first floor porch. Being exposed on five sides with no insulation, the bathroom was Impossible to heat on cold nights. Following their marriage In 1932, Leon, Jr and Carly Rushmore moved into the farm house which had been vacant for five years. Leon cut removable sections in the wooden floor of the bathroom so hot towels could be applied to the lead pipes on sub-zero mornings to start the water flowing. Some nights, with the steam radiator going at full capacity, the room temperature would reach only 40 degrees! The entire house was equally energy inefficient. During a cold winter, more than 20 tons of coal had to be shoveled by hand into the basement furnace.
In 1905, Leon Rushmore married Mary Seaman and constructed the white farm house which still stands on Roslyn Road. Under his direction, Rushmore Farms became an integral member of the local community.
During the 1920‘s, a real estate boom took place in western Nassau County. Many new housing developments sprung up. Overnight, Williston Park came into existence with hundred of new houses selling for less than $10,000.00. Nassau County was becoming the bedroom for New York City.
All this growth meant increased land values and increased property taxes. A farmer in Nassau County could no longer make a living raising vegetables to sell at market. During the depression, more than 75% of the farms in the area had to declare bankruptcy. Farm land in the Hicksville-Levittown area sold for $100.00 per acre.
With the rapidly increasing population during the 1930’s and 1940’s, the demand for farm fresh vegetables spiraled. Witnessing this economic phenomenon, Leon Rushmore and his sons – Leon, Jr. and Robert- decided that the farm could be saved if vegetables could be sold at retail directly to the public.
During high school and college vacations, Leon, Jr., in partnership with his father, built and operated three farm stands. They were known as Rushmore Farms and were located at the perimeter of the farm on Roslyn Road and Powerhouse Road and also at Willis Avenue and Powerhouse Road (land leased from LILCO). By selling vegetables directly from the field to the customer at retail (as much as 10 times the wholesale prices but still slightly below super market prices) meant the farm was able to survive and produce sufficient income for the operators.
In time, over 80% of the vegetable production was sold directly to consumers and additional land in the neighborhood was leased to raise sweet corn. Competition was negligible because only a few farms survived the depression.
Sweet corn was the big seller. On a typical August weekend, over 15,000 ears of corn would be picked and sold. A workforce of over 40 harvested and marketed the produce at the height of the season.
As World War II drew to a close, the demand for new homes sky rocketed with the influx of returning Gl’s. ‘Levitt & Sons,’ who had built housing developments in Rockville Centre and Manhasset during the 30’s and 40’s moved into high-gear to satisfy this demand. Although building materials were in short supply, Levitt came up with innovative methods of construction including labor saving assembly line type techniques.
The estate of Stephen T. Rushmore, who held the title to Rushmore Farms, began to sell off parcels of land to Levitt & Sons starting with East Park, North Park and then South Park. Negotiations for the sale of Rushmore Farms was carried out in a friendly, business like manner with the purchase of land handled by Abraham Levitt, the father, together with a broker in Jamaica. In 1949, the remaining 20 acres was conveyed to Levitt. This became the north end of the “S Section” of the Roslyn Country Club.
When all of the Rushmore Farms had been acquired, as a gesture of good will, Abraham Levitt personally delivered to Leon A. Rushmore a bottle of 25 year old Scotch. Leon did not drink but he kept the Scotch until his death as a memento of their amicable relationship.
Rushmore Farms, except for 2 acres owned by Leon A. Rushmore for his residence, came to an end. In the spring of 1949, the farm equipment was sold at public auction and the original farm house and all the barns were demolished to make way for five houses on Shepherd Lane.
Before Leon A. Rushmore passed away he gave to his grandsons, Stephen and Robert, land on Shepherd Lane to build their homes. Robert built a contemporary style house that matched the surrounding development. Stephen built a replica (albeit somewhat smaller and warmer ) of the original farm house. Stephen, who is the great, great, grandson of Thomas Rushmore is still living on the Rushmore land.
♦Appreciation is extended to my father, Leon A. Rushmore, Jr. of Flower Hill who is the Rushmore family historian and provided the heritage material for this article.