Gibbs

Alonzo Gibbs  (1915 - 1992), born in Canarsie, Brooklyn moved with his family to Valley Stream in 1921 where his father purchased a twelve acre farm from the Hendrickson family.  In 1933, the family moved to a farm in Plainedge. He attended Farmingdale High School and in 1941 he received a certificate from Columbia University on Aircraft Structural Design.

Employed by Grumman Aircraft Corp. for much of his working life, he always pursued his love of writing. He wrote many young adult novels, poetry and essays which were published over the years. His first young adult novel "The Fields Breathe Sweet," (1963) tells the story of the day-to-day life of stoic Dutch homesteaders living on Long Island during the late 1600s.  In his oral history interview with Helen Dowdeswell in February 1988, he explains that portions of the book actually describe 17th century Valley Stream. 

Gibbs and his wife Iris were co-editors of the "Long Island Forum" for 40 years. Their writings were later compiled into  books, "Harking Back" and  "Bethpage Bygones," which documents the history of the community from the time of the Bethpage Purchase by Thomas Powell on through the early 1900's.   


The following article was written by Gibbs for the May 1968 issue of the "Long Island Forum," of which he was an editor.  Gibbs details his early school days at the original Wheeler School, which was located next to Sinners Hope Chapel, the church founded by Helen Pagan (Valley Stream's founding family).  The school was built in 1905 and closed in the spring of 1925.  The new Wheeler Avenue School, in its present day location (1 Wheeler Avenue), opened its doors in the fall of 1925.  The original school however, continued to operate as a learning institution.  In the fall of 1925 through the spring of 1929 it functioned as the first Central High School.  In the fall of 1929, the new Central High School on Fletcher Avenue opened its doors.  The 1901 building, which bore a striking resemblance to the beautiful and stately Brooklyn Avenue School, was demolished in 1930.   A very short life for such a beautiful building.

1968 - Wheeler Avenue School Memories

 

 Photo courtesy of Dorothy MacPherson

Gibbs wrote the following article, courtesy of the Nassau County Historical Society, was written for the Winter/Spring 1969 issue of the "Nassau County Historical Society Journal."  Gibbs describes everyday life in 1920s Valley Stream.                     

1969 - Profile of a Long Island Town


Alonzo Gibbs and his classmate John Olsen, went to the original Wheeler Avenue School (pictured above) and to Central High School.  John was named after his father, John ("Ole") Olsen, who together with Harold ("Chic") Johnson, formed the vaudeville act "Olsen and Johnson" in 1913.  Olsen and Johnson were involved in radio, the Broadway stage, motion pictures and television. Their shows were noted for their crazy blackout gags and orchestrated mayhem ("anything can happen, and it probably will"). In 1938 their most famous concept, Hellzapoppin', had become a show-business success.  Vaudeville was common in Freeport, Baldwin, and Malverne in the 1920's and 1930s.

In 1933, Alonzo's Central High School Junior Prom featured vaudevillians hand-picked by Olsen and Johnson. One of them was a tall good-looking young man of about twenty-five, who was none other than Fred MacMurray.  MacMurray had a small orchestra called the "California Collegians,"  and he played that night accompanied on vocals by Charlie Chaplin's former wife Lita Grey.  After the prom, the entertainers headed to "Enoch Light's Showplace" on Merrick Road, just west of Lynbrook.  Alonzo, and friends were permitted to tag along.

The article below was featured in the February 1976 edition of the Long Island Forum.

February 1976 - "Stars of the Summer Night" (Long Island Forum)

Olsen and Johnson


A thoughtful, sentimental piece about growing up on Shadybrook Farm (the old Hendrickson homestead that was built circa 1865), on Hendrickson Avenue and Fletcher Avenue.  Mr. Gibbs describes 1920s life in Valley Stream and writes about when his farm burned down (as did many other farms in the community at that time).

February 1979 - "Good-Bye, Good-Bye to Everything! (Long Island Forum)


Alonzo Gibbs' boyhood memories of selling produce, roadside, at Shadybrook Farm, his family's homestead on Hendrickson Avenue in the nineteen-twenties.

1984 - The Road Trade (Long Island Forum)