Friday, January 22, 2010

On our way home today, Kris asked me if I wanted to see what 'Tiny Town' looks like. I had never been there even though I've lived 10 minutes away from it my whole life! It was really cool to see such narrow roads and tiny houses. A lot of the small houses have been knocked down and big ones built but the official area around the 'circle' is still quite unique. I'm so glad I FINALLY got to see it!

The Chapel which is now a home

The following is from a NY Times article on Tiny Town:
A Bite-Size Town Faces a McMansion Age October 23, 2005

NORTH MERRICK - THE houses are so small, residents say, some visitors ask whether elves and circus people live in their neighborhood, known as Tiny Town. Certain homes look more like dollhouses than residences.
Set close to the road on circular streets, some with itsy-bitsy porches and railings only two feet high, the houses -- no more than 12 feet wide and 60 feet deep, on lots 20 by 100 -- seem more fitting for an amusement park than a suburb.
But Methodists, not elves, are the reason for Tiny Town.
And development is the reason Tiny Town is in jeopardy.
The North Merrick neighborhood, which is also known as the campgrounds, sprang from annual Methodist camp meetings in the 1800's. The campgrounds were designed in concentric circles with roads as short as the length of a house, like spokes in a wheel, leading to a center clearing where a large open structure on wooden posts was established as the tabernacle. Around the circle, tents were pitched and eventually cottages were built.
A plaque in the small triangular park at the intersection of Kingsley, Peck and Fletcher Avenues attests to the neighborhood's history: the annual camp meetings were held from 1869 to the early 1920's. The Long Island Camp Meeting Association, made up largely of Brooklyn and Queens County Methodists, bought more than 60 acres in 1869 for its summer revival meetings.
The area was chosen for its shady woods, access to water and proximity to the newly completed Southside Railroad, whose trains started running from Jamaica to Babylon in 1867 and stopped in Merrick daily. Horse-drawn wagons carried visitors the mile from the Merrick station to the open-air Methodist assembly.
In 1873 there were about a dozen cottages alongside at least 200 tents in the campgrounds; by 1900 there were about 60 houses. Today, after the sale of cottages and lots so that new houses could be built, about two dozen remain in various sizes and states. The lots vary in size and shape, partly as a result of sales over the years. Some pie-shaped lots closest to the inner circle are small while others are larger, affording the ability to subdivide.
Some of the cottages are still tiny, but many have been expanded. Some of the houses are gingerbread relics with Hansel and Gretel charm, while others have long needed care.
On Wesley Avenue, a chocolate-brown cottage features rose-pink trim on the ornamental scrollwork on the gables and eaves.
At a stone cottage on Wesley, passers-by can look through a rose-covered arbor and see the stained-glass window on the door. The interior is like that of an old railroad flat, with the living room in the front, a 2-foot-wide hallway with two 9-by-6-foot bedrooms on either side, and a bathroom and kitchen in the rear.
Lori Weiner of Select A Home Island South Realty said that a dilapidated two-story house on Abbot Avenue sold for $247,000 this year; the new owner has done some work and has put it back on the market for $329,000.
Those cottages that have not been torn down are remnants of an era in which camp meetings were popular in America and offered pastoral settings for fiery preaching, conversions and reaffirmations of faith.
As many as 10,000 people a day attended the Methodist camp meetings here. ''Each train is bringing in more candidates for salvation,'' said an article on Aug. 10, 1875, in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Visiting ministers and itinerant preachers conducted the services, which lasted 10 days, according to The New York Times in August 1870; the families stayed the summer.
''There will be a splendid chance for the boys and girls to go a-huckleberrying when they gather here,'' The Times reported on Aug. 6, 1873. ''The country for miles near the grove is thick with the berries, nice and ripe and easy of access, with no one save the mosquitoes to dispute the right to them.''
Various accounts remark on such simple pleasures as the beauty of the grounds and the reprieve of cooling rains. But pleasure was not the purpose of the meetings; there were services at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Bible readings at 8:30 a.m., The Eagle said.
Those worshiping in the woods had to abide by campground rules. Cottages and tents had to be set back six feet from the street, tenants had to keep a lantern lighted at night and a bucket of water outside in case of fire. Dancing and card playing were forbidden.
The avenue names evoke the neighborhood's history: Camp, Jerusalem, Dow (Lorenzo Dow was an itinerant Methodist preacher), Peck (Jesse T. Peck was a Methodist bishop in Syracuse). Wesley, the inner circle closest to the tabernacle, was named for John Wesley, the English clergyman who founded Methodism.
Ellen Prochilo lives in one of the original cottages in the inner circle. Her house, built around 1878, was designated a home with historic merit by the Historical Society of the Merricks, and a plaque is on the house.
''I like the uniqueness of it,'' she said of the area.
Many homeowners are hesitant to pursue historical status with the Town of Hempstead, however, because of restrictions impeding exterior renovations, like the brick inlaid New York Yankees logo on the Prochilo chimney. Only two houses in the area have received historical status from the town: 4 Peck Avenue (formerly the chapel) and 2 Wesley Avenue (originally the preacher's house).
Janet and Henry Kessin bought the preacher's house in 1982 and received landmark status in 1994. The Victorian structure has the original two-story wooden clapboard house from 1870 and 10-foot windows with the original wavy glass panes. ''We like old houses,'' Mr. Kessin said.
But the old cottages are disappearing. The lots have been bought and the cottages torn down; on one lot on Gatch Avenue, a small Depression-era cottage, beyond the original circles, was razed and two large houses built. Siding, two-car garages and shiny white PVC fences are showing up in Tiny Town.
''The whole character of the neighborhood is almost gone,'' Mr. Kessin said.
''In the last three or four years the pace of developers has quickened with the incredible rise in real estate value,'' added Mr. Kessin, who said he was disappointed and not angry, acknowledging economic pressures.
In 1873, 30-by-80-foot lots leased for $5 a year. In 1972, Joe Cook bought one of the original cottages on Wesley Avenue, which had fallen into disrepair, for $10,000.
Mr. Cook estimated that he invested $10,000 in renovations, doing some of the work himself. ''The town claims it's worth $300,000 now,'' he said.

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