Push for Oakdale train station to be a national landmark

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Built in 1895 under the auspices of William K. Vanderbilt, the Oakdale train station was meant to receive the well-heeled and well-connected pinnacle members of New York society, the kind that Wharton gossiped about.

When Dave Morrison, a train connoisseur who retired from the Long Island Rail Road, was researching for his book on trains, he wondered if Oakdale train station, with its lavish history and enduring beauty, was landmarked.

In speaking with Maryann Almes, the president of Oakdale Historical Society, it was determined that while the Oakdale train station and freight station (both of which are in current use) were registered as historical sites with the Town of Islip, neither had been designated official landmarks, a process that requires the owner of a site to apply.

Currently, there are six LIRR train stations that are nationally landmarked:  Sea Cliff, Oyster Bay, Farmingdale, East Hampton, St. James and Southampton, the majority of which are still used in everyday commuter life.

Not wanting Oakdale train station to become another casualty of railroad modernization, like the Mineola tower or the third-oldest railroad station in East Williston that was demolished unceremoniously to make way for new tracks, Almes sought help from Sarah Kautz, Preservation Long Island, who advised her to reach out to local elected officials to help with the process.

Assemblyman Jarett Gandolfo (R-7th District) and Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-8th District), the latter of which has been instrumental in advocating for another Oakdale historical site, the Idle Hour Mansion, were enthusiastic to help.

“Assemblyman Gandolfo was eager to start the ball rolling and within days of my Facebook post about designating Oakdale train station a historical landmark, was coordinating to set up a Zoom call with the appropriate LIRR representatives who could make the application,” said Almes.

“Like many of our communities on the South Shore, Oakdale has a rich and fascinating history that must be preserved. When the Oakdale Historical Society approached me about seeking historical designation for the train station, I thought it was a great initiative to work together on. I’ve had preliminary discussions with the State Historic Preservation Office and representatives from the LIRR, and my office will continue working with the Historical Society to get this done,” said Gandolfo.

The Oakdale train station, which boasts two period fireplaces, could be replaced with a modern monstrosity like the stone unit that replaced an invaluable hearth built in 1898 in Garden City.

“These [Oakdale station fireplaces] were built with the finest of people in mind to gaze upon them,” said Almes. “We can’t let it be taken away for some utilitarian purpose.”

In a previous correspondence with the LIRR, Almes said that while they recognize the historic significance of the Oakdale train station, they did not desire to have it landmarked.

Since that conversation, Almes and the Historical Society has written a letter of intent to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to be included in their annual list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

Over 300 sites have been put on this list since 1988 with less than 5 percent being lost to new construction or demolition.

In the late 19th century, Oakdale, Sayville and Bayport were at the heart of the sportsmen’s clubs of the era, with expansive and fruitful hunting and fishing that can be seen today preserved in our town and county parks.

When the wealthy elite of New York City built their awe-inspiring mansions, their families and friends could visit and escape the summer heat of Gotham.

The original Oakdale train station was a dilapidated structure and William K. Vanderbilt did not find it fitting for his high society guests to be received in.

Thus, it was transformed into a 1 ½ brick building with Richardsonian arches on the east side, English-style triple casement windows, and a porte-cochere so guests could be received in the appropriate carriage style.

After her wedding of the century, the newly betrothed couple Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough came out to Long via train and arrived at the Oakdale train station.

In 1994, a wedding, the only wedding to ever take place in a LIRR station, was held at Oakdale train station.

“Preserving our history on Long Island is almost a right of passage. We must make efforts to save and preserve the past so future generations can enjoy it and learn from it as much as we have,” said Piccirillo. 

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