Memory Lane



Arthur E. Premm & Family

The names Edward J. Bosti, Helen B. Duffield, John Pearl, Edith Slocum and Arthur Premm are familiar to many Connetquot residents, because they were individuals who devoted much of their lives to education and community service.  They were honored by having schools named after them.  Several months ago, we spoke to Lorraine Mays, who told us of her fond memories of John Pearl, a teacher and principal, after whom an elementary school on Smithtown Avenue in Bohemia is named.  Recently we sat down with Steve Birkeland, who grew up in Oakdale.  He talked about Arthur Premm, mentioning that he was a well-respected auto mechanic who also served many years on the board of education.  In the course of our research, we discovered that there were two individuals in Oakdale named Arthur E. Premm (father and son), and that the school in Oakdale on Montauk Highway is actually named after both of them. (1)  Each served for many years on the Oakdale-Bohemia School Board and devoted significant time to other community organizations.  They are also notable in that their family genealogy is entwined in the history of Oakdale.  Although we promise not to present a genealogy case study, we do feel it would be of interest to delve somewhat into the Premm family history in order to explain why they came to Oakdale and how generations of the family contributed to the community.

The Premm family

Before settling in Oakdale, the family of Peter Jacob Premm lived in Dorset, England.  Arthur Edward Premm was born 2 January 1879 to Peter Jacob and Elizabeth Rebecca Premm. (2)  The couple had already had a son (Frederick James) born in 1876. (3)  Peter Premm was a gardener who “obtained a position of preeminence … and had charge of many of the most notable estates of the Old and New World.”(4)  He had even been employed by the famous gardens of Versailles in France.  In September 1889, W. K. Vanderbilt brought Peter to the United States to be the gardener for his Idle Hour estate in Oakdale.(5)  His wife Elizabeth and sons Arthur and Frederick, who died as a child on the Idle Hour estate, immigrated along with him.  (6)  Although Peter Premm lived for a time on the Idle Hour estate, he also had a house at the corner of Greeley Avenue and Brook Street in Sayville. (7)

Peter’s son, Arthur, also worked on the Idle Hour estate as a foreman and married Mary MacMurray on September 3, 1902 in St. Mark’s Church in Islip, and the couple resided close to his parents in Sayville. (8) They had two daughters before their son Arthur Jr. was born on January 12, 1915, but Mary MacMurray Premm died just four hours after giving birth to her son. (9)  After his wife’s death, Arthur moved his children onto the Idle Hour Estate. (10)

When William K. Vanderbilt died in 1920, his son Harold inherited the Idle Hour, but the mortgage and taxes became too much of a burden for him. The property was placed for sale in the early 1920s. (11) By 1925 the Premm family (Peter, Arthur Sr., and grandchildren) had moved to Bay Shore and were in the automotive garage and gas station business, (12) and for about a year (1930-31) Arthur Premm Sr., was also the Oakdale postmaster. (13)  The Oakdale Post Office was conveniently next door to his gas station, which was near the train station in Oakdale.  Arthur Jr. went to elementary school in Bay Shore and later the Mount Hermon School in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, from which he was graduated in 1936. (14)  He attended Rutgers University, but withdrew after his father died in 1938. (15)  Some time before his death Arthur Sr. had remarried, and he left a sizable portion of his property to the second wife.  However, he did bequeath to his son the gas station and some property in Oakdale. (16)

Arthur Edward Premm, Sr., was an Oakdale-Bohemia School Board member from 1918 to 1936, and his son followed his footsteps as a board member from 1942 until his death in 1965.  Arthur Jr. was involved in many community organizations including the Community Ambulance, which he founded.  In 1965, the school district honored father and son by naming the Montauk Highway School in Oakdale after them.  Arthur E. Premm Jr., died a few months later at the age of 49. (17)  For years on the anniversary of Mr. Premm’s death, his family and fellow Oakdale-Bohemia Board of Education member, Barney Stejskal, would commemorate the death by placing an “in memoriam” notice in the Suffolk County News, as a gesture by his family and friends to show that he was remembered and missed for years after his death.

Listen to our interview with Steve Birkeland about his memories of Oakdale, including of his determination to enroll in what was then called the Oakdale Public School, and also of his memories of Arthur E. Premm Jr., after whom the school would later be named. (18)

1. “Premm Prep.” Suffolk County News, August 19, 1965., accessed March 9, 2015.
2. England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.
3. Ibid.
4. American Biography: A New Cyclopedia. Vol. 53. New York: Published under the Direction of the American Historical Society, 1934. 373.
5. Ibid.
6. Arthur Premm’s naturalization states his date of arrival as September 15, 1889. U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
7.  U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
8. “Obituary.” Suffolk County News, January 14, 1915., accessed March 10, 2015.
9. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
10. Arthur Premm.” Suffolk County News, December 2, 1965., accessed March 12, 2015.
11. “Vanderbilt Sues Idle Hour Buyers.” New York Times, December 12, 1923., accessed March 12, 2015.
12. New York, State Census, 1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
13. U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Also, Grace Premm (who was the wife of Arthur Jr.) is listed as Oakdale Postmistress for 1944.
14. U.S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
15. “Arthur Premm.” Suffolk County News, December 2, 1965., accessed March 12, 2015.
15. Ibid.
16.  ”$31,000 Premm Estate Is Bequeathed to FamilySuffolk County News, April 15, 1938., accessed March 12, 2015.
17. “Arthur Premm.” Suffolk County News, December 2, 1965., accessed March 12, 2015.
18.  First known as Oakdale Public School and later Montauk Highway School before being renamed Arthur E. Premm. “Arthur Premm.” Suffolk County News, December 2, 1965., accessed March 12, 2015.

Steve Birkeland Interview