Throughout the post-WWII years, it became something of a truism that the average Levittowner was from somewhere else. Brooklyn and the Bronx had been the more common, albeit hardly exclusive, points-of-origin. Elliot Willensky's nostalgic When Brooklyn Was the World ends with a fellow from 1950's Canarsie, Flatbush, or Park Slope packing up the car to go check out the new homes "out on the Island" as they used to say. "For most of us", Willensky observed, "that's how Brooklyn ended".
How long Levittown remained peopled by folks from away is difficult to say because the Baby Boom quickly created a native-born population. Indeed, between 1947 and 1957, St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church celebrated an astonishing 7,345 baptisms.
Very few things in Levittown in the 1950's were actually of Levittown origin. Before Levitt & Sons imported truck-loads of top soil to seed our lawns and plant the development's trees and shrubs, the ground was composed of a gravely, sandy loam; the yellow-orange grit transported by streams from glaciers melting 'round and about Jericho Turnpike some 15,000 years ago. Changes in soil chemistry, hydrology, and drainage patterns, coupled with the introduction of invasive weeds - all wrought by suburban development - explains why our vacant lots today don't support the carpets of birdsfoot violent and tangles of prickly pear cactus that was hitherto ubiquitous in the Island Trees/Jerusalem area.
The blue-gray slates Levitt & Sons employed to create the original front walkway is a metamorphic form of shale not indigenous to this neighborhood. And most of the lumber in our Cape Cods and Ranch houses is Douglas fir from the Blue Lake region of northern California where Levitt & Sons owned a lumbering operation; the timbers hewn together with nails from several points-of-origin including, oddly enough, a factory in Poland. Much of the turf mixture and the crabgrass, dandelions, and English plantain is not of the Hempstead Plains' natural flora any more than our tulips, daffodils, and marigolds in the garden. The venerable potato, grown by the Indians and known as "sagaponak" in Algonquin became our area's principal cash crop after the 1850's but, though cultivated here for centuries by the First Nations, is not native to this corner of North America.
Occasionally I chance upon objects that are from away but serve to remind one of our extraordinary history. I've, for instance, a softball-sized hunk of granite with regions of feldspar and flecks of biotite mica and quartz I excavated in my backyard sometime in the early 1970's along with a small sample of gneiss. These igneous rocks are not part of Long Island's geology but, as I found them less than 100 feet from the site of the old Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, they - and a sample of petrified wood recently show me at the Hicksville Gregory Museum - were likely part of the roadbed fill used by William K. Vanderbilt to support his concrete-and-macadam road with its steel mesh reinforcement. The latter materials came from the Hassam Paving Company of Worcester, Massachusetts.
I also possess a rusted railroad spike I discovered years ago along the LILCO power lines where the coal-burning locomotives of the Stewart Line chugged by as swell as a piece of anthracite found behind the East Meadow Firehouse on Newbridge Road where the Stewart Line maintained a coal depot in the 1870's. The spikes, and the rails that held them intact, I've heard, came from a mill in Westphalia, Germany and the coal is probably of Pennsylvanian origin.
In the summer of 2005, whilst entomologizing in the vacant lots behind Azalea Pool, I spied my first lizard in Levittown - an Eastern fence swift probably descended from a small colony imported into Garden City about fifty years ago. (I've since seen them in Oyster Bay). One day in 1969, to my utter delight, I spotted a monk parrot perched atop our backyard weeping willow; likely part of the shipment from South America that got loose from JFK International Airport the year before.
And in the early 1980's, I discovered a barely-alive wood turtle on Orchid Road one December day - another introduced species.. Let's not forget, too, that many of our "native" species are merely long-established immigrants: English sparrow, starling, and cabbage butterfly all arrived here in the 19th Century from Europe along with many of Levittown resident's great-grandparents. So many things and people that are found in Levittown are exotic items, indeed, and yet endow our community with its unique feeling and intimate our curious history.
Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org