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Commack History: Shopping Center Stands on the Site of a Former Airfield

Commack was once the home of an army airfield.

On the northeast corner of Larkfield Road and Jericho Turnpike stands the Home Depot shopping center. Nowadays the site is filled with local shoppers, but from 1918 to 1919 it was home to an aerial squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service.

According to a July 31, 1918 The New York Times article, Brindley Field opened in Commack and was named after a Major Oscar A. Brindley who died in an aircraft accident over Dayton, Ohio.

Smithtown historian Brad Harris was fortunate to have interviewed Henry Shea about Brindley for past history articles in the Smithtown News and the commemorative booklet Commack…a beautiful  place: Commack Public Education, 100 Years -- 1899-1999. Shea was a long-time Commack resident who lived across from Brindley field when he was a child.

According to Harris, the airfield existed on 90 acres of land belonging to a William H. Randall. The farmer’s home was turned into field headquarters and outer buildings were used for storage of trucks, cars and aircraft parts.

Within a couple of months, a flying field, 20 long barracks, mess halls and five steel hangars appeared. Brindley was home to approximately a thousand men as well as DH4 and Curtiss Jenny Trainer planes.

On Aug. 16, 1918, Harris said during mock air combat, two soldiers from Brindley died when the wing of their Jenny crumbled. The plane crash occurred on Havemeyer Lane just east of Oakley Place.

The area was affected by having an airfield nearby. Harris said Shea told him that Commack establishments within five miles of Brindley couldn’t sell alcohol. Also, the arrival of the airfield brought electricity to the local area since Brindley needed power lines.

The men were welcomed by Commack residents with open arms who would throw events to make them feel more at home. In the Dec. 20, 1918 edition of the Long Islander it was reported that the local women in charge of the canteen would keep in touch with any of the sick soldiers whether they were at the airfield or the hospital in Hempstead.

The women of the canteen also served the soldiers that didn’t leave on furlough during Christmas for free. It was reported in the Long Islander on January 3, 1919 that the canteen received help from the community to accomplish this including one farm that donated 13 dozen eggs.

When the field was closed in 1919 a few months after World War I ended, Harris said the land was returned to Randall. The military buildings were either destroyed or sold to make homes.

After Randall sold the farm, it changed hands a couple of times before a fire broke out in 1943. The fire destroyed most of the structures on the property except for the house that was later knocked down in 1951.

For decades Modell’s Sporting Goods has been located at the spot and through the years Home Depot and other retailers have opened in the shopping center. A small cemetery of the Burr family survived the activities of the airfield and can still be found in the parking lot.

Today a historical marker placed by the small cemetery is the only evidence left of Brindley Field in Commack.

CommackMom July 01, 2011 at 01:58 AM
Interesting article Rita!
Rita J. Egan July 01, 2011 at 12:42 PM
Thanks for reading!
Jay September 14, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Back then, Modell's was a full service department store that sold everything from fine jewelry to puppies & snakes. The store also had a large snack bar, small indoor movie theatre and mini amusement section, with rides and games, and complete food store. Your groceries were sent outside via a rollercoaster style conveyor belt, where you could pull up with your car & load your purchases right in. It was great for the parents & kids!! Miss it!
Deborah Perham June 29, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Wonderful article. I love learning about our town's history. If you'd like to read more about Commack past and present, join Facebook group "We Are Commack Proud." I'm developing a plan to start recording the history of Commack's second hundred years! I'll keep everyone posted (through the FB group) as it evolves so whoever would like to be included will have the opportunity to have their memories archived.

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