By Nancy Solomon and Cris Muia
Oakdale began as part of a royal land grant given to William Nicoll, who founded Islip Town in 1687. The name Oakdale is said to have come from a Nicoll Descendant in the mid 1800's. As Betty Kuss of the William K. Vanderbilt Historical Society wrote, "any history of Oakdale must of necessity concentrate on the former William K. Vanderbilt estate which is now Idle Hour. Certainly, it has played an important role in the development of the community." Located on the Great South Bay, it was once a symbol of America's gilded age in the late 1800's. The Vanderbilts, Conovers, Montgomerys, Cuttings and Hollings invested their capital in building South Shore mansion estates in Oakdale and the surrounding communities. They employed local residents as land and building groundskeepers. Donna Schaeffer of the Bohemia Historical society recalls how Czechoslovakians settling in Bohemia, found work as wood carvers and other building arts workers. On the west bank of the Connetequot River, directly across from Idle Hour was the "Westbrook Farms" owned by William Bayard Cutting; east of the Vanderbilt's was “Pepperidge Hall” owned by Christopher Robert and beyond this was the “Indian Head” property of Frederick Bourne. Many of these men and others were members of the Southside Sportsmen Club which may have played a role in Vanderbilt's decision to buy land and build his estate in Oakdale.
Yet before the mansions dominated Oakdale's past, it was a simple bayside community of fewer than a 1000 residents. Fishing the Great South Bay was a major industry. The Dutch baymen of West Sayville had an impact on Oakdale in terms of social, ethnic and economic matters.
In addition to the South Shore estate history, there were other important historical sites. St. John's Episcopal Church built in 1765 is the third oldest church on Long Island. In the mid -1920's Lucy Thompson, a wealthy art patron, bought the Vanderbilt Farm buildings with the idea of converting them into small houses for an artist's colony. It is said that the real Bronco Charlie- member of the Pony Express lived in one of these cottages. The post war development did not miss Oakdale and developers descended. However there were a number of history oriented people, like Kuss who did their best to salvage Oakdale's past and work towards preservation. Oakdale community residents continue to use the waters surrounding them for recreational purposes. Boating is still a major form of recreation. Many boaters keep their boats on some of the canals dug out for the Vanderbilt estates. Also they make use of the nearby Connetquot State Park with its trails and natural beauty. It was once used as the turn of the century millionaire sports club- Southside sportsmen Club and before that housed Snecedor's, a famous food and drink tavern.
Donna Schaefer (Director of the Bohemia Historical Society), in conversation with Cristina Muia, September 2004.
History of Oakdale in Newspapers. Oakdale: New York (Reference copy only)
Hogeboom, Willard L. “Oakdale: Born of a Gilded Age.” Newsday, 25 August 1996.
Morris, Tom. “Oakdale On the Gold Coast South.” In Hometown Long Island, New York: Newsday Inc. 1999.
[ return to top ]