The Five Towns
The Five Towns are communities, all within the Town of Hempstead. Prior to the 1930’s, the area was referred to as the “peninsula” or “the branch”. The term Five Towns caught on after Far Rockaway became part of New York City.
Although the region is still referred to as “The Five Towns” there are in reality more than the original five. The basic five towns located in the wetlands of southwestern Nassau County are Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Hewlett and Inwood. The area also includes some unincorporated communities and two villages, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Neck, Hewlett Harbor and Woodsburgh.
The Five Towns contain some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the metropolitan area made up of estates, contemporary palaces and smaller split-levels.
Each of the Five Towns offers something that is unique to it and therefore each has its own identity. Cedarhurst offers Central Avenue with its boutiques and unique retail offerings; Hewlett, the oldest of the Five Towns offers architectural treasures; Hewlett Bay Park presents Standford White and Marcel Breuer designed homes; Inwood offers more modest living accommodations; Woodmere is a mixture of large custom-designed homes and smaller suburban split-levels; Lawrence, perhaps the most aristocratic of the Five Towns, presents rambling, hundred-year old houses that are still called cottages because they were originally built as summer homes that people later winterized.
Hewlett was first settled in the 1750’s by a branch of the Hewlett clan led by Richard Hewlett. In the colonial days Rock Hall, now a museum was a major Lawrence plantation. Samuel Wood gave his name to Woodmere, as did Abraham Lawrence to Lawrence. The commute to Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad takes approximately 35 minutes. Each of the Five Towns has its own station.
Overall, if you are looking to live in the close proximity of New York City (20 miles) and want to be just a 45 minute railroad commute to the center of New York City, the Five Towns is the place to be.
If you are looking for one of the highest rated school districts in the Country- the Five Towns has both Hewlett-Woodmere School District (SD# 14) and Lawrence School District (SD# 15). The Five Towns is just a few minutes away from the country’s finest beaches (Atlantic Beach).
Atlantic Beach is a long narrow strip of land located right over the Atlantic Beach Bridge with the bay and the ocean as boundaries to the North and South. The village occupies the western end of a barrier island dominated by the city of Long Beach. Until about 100 years ago, the island existed first as a sandbar, which then grew into an extension of the barrier island. Stephen Petit created the modern Atlantic Beach during the 1920’s, dredging tons of sand from the bottom of Reynolds Channel. By 1929, there was a bridge to the rest of Long Island and a handful of year-round homes. Following the depression, Atlantic Beach has been restored as a quiet resort anchored by a permanent community of several hundred residents. The secluded clubs of Atlantic Beach were attractive to the rich and powerful. Ethel Barrymore and several Vanderbilt family members spent summers there, and the former Atlantic Beach Club was one of New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker’s favorite hangouts. Atlantic Beach was incorporated in 1962, while the neighboring areas of East Atlantic Beach and Atlantic Beach has a unique oceanfront playground of beach clubs that stretches for over a few miles. Students attend public school in the Lawrence Public School System (SD#15).
The Village of Cedarhurst was once inhabited by Indians, farmers and slaves or tenants in an area that is now Lawrence. It was built in 1767. The entire Five Towns area was occupied by British troops during the Revolution and was a Tory stronghold. After the arrival of rail service in 1869, the area gained popularity, mostly via the Rockaway Hunting Club, built in Cedarhurst in 1878. At the time, the area was part of Queens, becoming part of the new Nassau County in 1899. The hunting club, now located in Lawrence, covered almost the entire community of 1.5 square miles, was noted for fox hunting, steeplechase and polo. During the early 1800s, the Five Towns only school was in Cedarhurst. Now SD#15 covers Atlantic Beach, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood and part of Woodmere. The first library in the Five Towns, the private Peninsula Community Library, opened in Cedarhurst in 1930. In 1884 when the post office was built, the area was renamed Cedarhurst because of the huge groves of cedar on the land. It was incorporated in 1910. Cedarhurst has its own identity – The village has earned a reputation as a commercial hub of the Five Towns, with many fine shops. Central Avenue, where the fashion conscious can find women’s and men’s shops that offer far more than a suburban shopping center.The village park is often referred to as the area’s cultural-recreational center, offering periodic fairs, carnivals and musical programs.
In its early years, because it was the section of the Rockaway peninsula closest to Hempstead, it was called Near Rockaway. English settlers bought the land. In 1688, Joseph Haviland built a tidewater gristmill and a nearby bakery to supply farmers and tradesmen with bread. It was the first public oven in New York State. Townspeople could bake their own for 3 cents a loaf. The Old Grist Mill, a community’s place to gather for two centuries, was moved in 1963 to Memorial Park, where it is now a museum.
East Rockaway produced some of Long Island’s staunchest Loyalists, including Col. Richard T. Hewlett. Two of the worst shipwrecks on Long Island occurred in the winter of 1836. Villagers buried 193 victims of the two disasters in the Sandhole Cemetery and raised money to erect a monument on the spot called Mariner’s Grave. East Rockaway was a flourishing seaport for oysters and farm produce being shipped to New York City. This lasted until 1869 when the Long Island Railroad came through, drawing business to Pearsall’s Corners, now Lynbrook. Near Rockaway got its first post office and new name in 1869. The village was incorporated in 1900. Progress has marked the course of East Rockaway’s history. Current facilities include a public beach, golf course, marina and a fine library. The high school is proud of its 99% graduation rate with 90% pursuing higher education.
Elmont’s vast fields were largely uninhabited until 1647, when Christopher and Thomas Foster were granted a large tract of land in western Hempstead, stretching from modern-day Elmont all the way to the South Shore. They called it Foster’s Meadow and used it to raise sheep and cattle. Before long, they sold off much of their holdings to other farmers who were moving out of Brooklyn and western Queens in search of more land. A popular misconception is that Elmont’s name derives from Belmont Race Track, which is located there. But residents decided to change the name from Foster’s Meadow to Elmont in 1882, more than 20 years before the track opened. The racetrack’s opening in 1905 transformed Elmont. Farms were sold to make room for houses, many of which were bought by people who worked at the track. Jacob Wollkoff developed one of the first neighborhoods for Jewish immigrants seeking to move out of the city. Businesses sprouted along Hempstead Turnpike to serve workers and visitors. For a time, Belmont Park hosted air races as well as horse races. The first international air meet ever held in the United States was at Belmont, and it included a race to the Statue of Liberty and back. The first intercity air mail service between New York and Washington, inaugurated in 1918, used Belmont Park as the New York terminal.
Hewlett, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor & Hewlett Neck
The Hewletts are made up of Hewlett, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor and Hewlett Neck.
The patriarch of the family after whom the four Hewlett communities are named was George Hewlett, who came to America in the late 1600’s from Buckinghamshire, England, and eventually owned most of the land that is now the Five Towns area of the Rockaway Peninsula. Col. Richard Hewlett, a descendant of George and one of the foremost American Tories, led various units against the Patriot Army and participated in a failed plot to kill General George Washington. He fled to Canada, but other Hewlett Descendants forged a dynasty of local leadership in education, religion, politics, the arts and business.
Hewlett proper is an unincorporated hamlet covering about one square mile. It is the site of 150 plus year old Trinity-St. John’s Church on Broadway. It is also the oldest of the Five Towns, but because it is unincorporated still falls within the jurisdiction of the Town of Hempstead. Although it is small, it has several churches and synagogues, serves as headquarters for the fourth police precinct and has a very active merchants’ association.
Hewlett Bay Park, incorporated in 1927 is an area of approximately 3 square miles, that was largely developed by Carleton Macy, who contributed to the growth of the community. Willow Pond, a bird sanctuary, is located in Hewlett Bay Park. It has luxurious waterfront properties featuring tennis courts, yachts, swimming pools and magnificent stately houses. It is also the home of George W. Hewlett High School and the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls.
Hewlett Harbor was incorporated in 1925 on what once was the private Seawane Club, composed of socially prominent and very wealthy families. In 1914 Joseph Auerbach bought most of the land that is now Hewlett Harbor and built a summer residence. While building the house, the remains of an Algonquin Indian Chief was unearthed. The Indians referred to the copper beads that were buried with him as “Sewan”. When Auerbach built a country club on his property for the enjoyment of his friends, he named it Seawane Club. The club was sold in the 1920’s and part of the land was subdivided and sold for one-family residences. No business use is permitted in the village.
Hewlett Neck was the home of the many clam diggers and oyster fisherman of the area. Woodmere Dock and the Keystone Yacht Club are in Hewlett Neck’s area. It is the smallest of the three villages. It is approximately ¾ square mile and was incorporated in 1927.
Once virgin forest rimmed by extensive marshes reaching west into Jamaica Bay, present day Inwood covers 1.6 square miles. As had been the case in several other areas of the region, the arrival of the early settlers was based upon the economy. A crew of fishermen who lived near Mott Basin first settled the Inwood area in 1817. Those who first arrived found the forested marshlands that were used by the Indians to gather oysters, clams and mussels. By the early 1800’s the first influx of new residents were observable. Those early newcomers arrived from the Town of North Hempstead and began to fish the local waters and farm the land. Inwood had excellent oyster beds and became well-known as an oyster center. Inwood’s population increased steadily after the South Side Rail Road extended a line through the Rockaways and a stop was created in 1869. The name “Inwood” was adopted around 1888 with the opening of their own post office. In the 1980’s, the Inwood Country Club was built and today it is considered to be a prominent landmark. Inwood is a center for oil terminals, manufacturing and other industries.
The Village of Lawrence has experienced many transformations throughout the years. What was once vast farmlands, and originally developed by brothers Alfred, Newbold and George Lawrence as a summer resort, is now a thriving community of over 6500 residents.
During the 1850’s, the Lawrence brothers began acquiring land to accommodate the wealthy and famous from New York City who enjoyed summers in the country. They donated a portion of the land and construction monies to the railroad that then built the present Train Station at Lawrence Avenue together with connecting roadways. The Rockaway Hunt Club was built at its present site in 1884; a hotel was built during the same year in the area known as Isle of Wight adjacent to Reynolds Channel; and the great boom in summer residents began. Within 5 years, the need for public improvements such as surfaced roadways with drainage and curbing led to the incorporation of the Village of Lawrence on September 13, 1897.
Many of the big homes originally built as summer residences still stand in what is referred to as “Back Lawrence”. Actually, the home of a former British governor of North Carolina, erected in 1767 still is the finest example of Georgian colonial architecture. Today the mansion is a museum. Rock Hall, another splendid Georgian mansion built during the same period is also maintained as a museum. It features Chippendale furniture and hand-planed walls. By 1886 there were about 100 mansions in Lawrence, but the post WWII building boom in Lawrence and Cedarhurst consumed many of the estates, as well as large tracts of woods, meadows and marshland. Most of the large estates have given way to smaller developments bringing Lawrence to where it is today.
With over 100 years of history, the Village of Lawrence has experienced many milestones. Two of the more noteworthy events were the acquisition of the Village Golf Course in 1938 and the decision to preserve the wetlands adjacent to Reynolds Channel thru the purchase of Hicks Beach in 1952.
These two decisions have had a profound effect upon the character of the Village and have enabled Lawrence to retain the countrified atmosphere the original settlers sought so many years ago.
Today, the 4.5 square mile village is a mixture of old and new architectural influences. Residents enjoy the Lawrence Village Yacht Basin, The Lawrence Village Golf Course and the sprawling and luxurious Rockaway Hunting Club has been citadel of deep-rooted, deep-pocketed American families for over 120 years.
By 1785, Lynbrook then known as Pearsall’s Corners, had grown into a small community. The houses were so widely scattered, that the pastor had to travel over an area of 300 miles on horseback to minister to his parishioners. The stagecoach was the only public mode of transportation between Brooklyn and Pearsall’s Corners until 1865, when the Long Island Railroad reached Lynbrook. Prior to the railroad, the community again began to grow in the years after 1853, when Merrick Road was covered with planks. A tollhouse stood on the road where the modern Toll Gate Court is now located. By 1885, with improved transportation, more people from Brooklyn came to live in Pearsall. In 1894, the Lynbrook Improvement Association was formed and the members switched the syllables in “Brooklyn” to form “Lynbrook”. As a result, the name Lynbrook replaced Pearsall. The village was incorporated in 1911. Today, Lynbrook is a thriving suburban village boasting a strong business community with many social services available. At the intersection of Merrick Road, Hempstead Avenue, Broadway and Atlantic Avenue, a spot referred to as “the five corners”, is where several trails that were once used by Merikoke Indians and later the colonists met. Just as it did then, Lynbrook is located at the crossroads of those same major trading routes.
Malverne, once known as Norwood, emerged from a larger area of farms. Originally the lands were heavily wooded, with several streams. That and a high water table helped form Grassy Ponds, near the current intersection of Hempstead and Franklin avenues, a popular place to ice skate. Europeans began to arrive near the beginning of the 1800s. The high water table made the land good for farming. In 1911, the Amsterdam Development and Sales Company opened a small tract of farmland that surrounded the railroad station in order to accommodate people moving out from New York City. This land was the foundation for the present village of Malverne. When the postal service asked to change the name of the area from Norwood the name Malvern was suggested. No one knows how an “e” got tacked onto the end of the name. The village incorporated in 1921. During the early 1920”s, Malverne expanded rapidly. Streets were paved, drainage systems were installed and the village population grew. The 1940 census showed that Malverne had achieved first class village status with a population of 5,203. In recent decades, Malverne has continued to grow and prosper, yet still keeping its identity of a park like suburb.
North Woodmere borders Queens and is minutes to the JFK airport. North Woodmere Park is one of the premier parks in Nassau County with lighted playing fields, 9 hole golf course, driving range, swimming pool and plenty of recreation areas for the children to play. The Bristal Assisted Living complex is a plus for those families that want to have their loved ones live near by and local shopping is just minutes away in the surrounding villages. North Woodmere was first developed in the early 50’s and is still continuously growing. It has a variety of different style homes to choose from. Ogden Elementary School is part of the Hewlett-Woodmere School District (SD#14).
The original Rockaway Indian village was in the approximate area of Rockville Centre. John Carman and Robert Fordham, representatives of a group of Englishmen in Stamford, Conn. Traveled south from Hempstead Harbor and purchased the southern half of modern-day Nassau County. Indians coexisted with the new residents, but European diseases wiped out almost the entire population in less than 50 years. The area remained largely uninhabited until 1710, when Michael DeMott constructed a dam for a mill across the stream at the southern end of what was then LongSwamp. A spot near modern-day Peninsula Boulevard became known as Near Rockaway, and by 1849 there were enough people to warrant a post office. The combination of water company activity and a new plank road to Jamaica spurred development in Rockville Centre and elsewhere on the SouthShore. Maine Avenue was named for the many sea captains who came from that state. The 1860s marked the arrival of the Wallace brothers, who shaped Rockville Centre’s development. George Wallace moved his newspaper and himself to Rockville Centre. Even before its establishment as a municipality, Rockville Centre enjoyed a volunteer fire company founded in 1875, a public library opened in 1882, and the South Shore’s first high school, which is now the town hall opened in 1892. The arrival of the railroad in 1867 greeted Rockville Centre into the modern era. Wallace introduced the idea of incorporation of the community and also introduced the bill in the legislature that established NassauCounty in 1898. The Village Green is the setting for a variety of special events for residents. The Bank of Rockville Centre, the first commercial bank operated on Long Island’s south shore was established in 1891. By 1929, Rockville Centre has earned a reputation as a leading financial center for the Island. Today, more than 10 banking institutions have branches in the Village.
In 1640, 14 years after the arrival of Dutch settlers in Manhattan, the Dutch West India Company purchased the area now knows as Valley Stream from the Rockaway Indians. There was no development in the area for the next two centuries. By 1840 there were only about 20 families who lived in the area. The northwest section of the tract was called “Foster’s Meadow.” And the business section on Rockaway Avenue was called “Rum Junction” because of its lively nightlife. The racy northern section was called “Cookie Hill,” and the section of the northwest that housed the local fertilizer plant was “Skunk’s Misery.” “Hungry Harbor,” a section that has retained its name, was home to a squatters’ community. In that same year, Robert Pagan’s general store at the corner of Henry Street and Hendrickson Avenue was the center of the town. Mr. Pagan pushed for a post office. Postal authorities approved the new station, provided it had a name that did not duplicate other places. Mr. Pagan looked at the valleys of the north and streams in the south and coined the name that stands today. Valley Stream still is the only coined the name that stands today. Valley Stream still is the only community in the United States with that name. His wife, Ellen, also played a significant role in village history. Tired of traveling to Lynbrook for religious services, she began holding services in her home. A Methodist minister was hired for periodic stops in the Pagan home and the first congregation in Valley Stream was founded. In 1853, Hempstead Turnpike was the only route that connected Valley Stream to Jamaica and New York City. The main streets in Valley Stream, which connected the community to the turnpike, were Mill Road (Corona Avenue today), Sand Street (Central Avenue), and Dutch Broadway. That year Merrick Road, a planked one-lane road came through Valley Stream, connecting the village to Merrick in the east and Jamaica in the west. With the new thoroughfare in the area, Valley Stream residents and industry began to move southward. Construction of the railroad to Far Rockaway in 1869 meant hundreds of passengers had to change trains in Valley Stream, often waiting for hours. Hotels sprang up to serve them, transforming Tigertown into what became known as Rum Junction. A branch of the railroad was constructed that connected the main line with the Rockaways. The 1890s bicycling craze prompted the construction of Etlick’s Oval, a cycling track on West Merrick Road. Hotels and bicyclists encouraged the development of a larger business district. In 1922, hundreds of homes were built to accommodate people who wanted to move out of New York City. That act did more than anything else to populate the village, which incorporated in 1925. Expansion of Sunrise Highway to six lanes accommodated the last building boom in the village.
Valley Stream State Park
Surface rights on the land within most of Valley Stream Park were given to the State by the City of New York, Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity in 1925. In 1958 the southerly area of the park, (436.6 acres) including a large fresh water lake, was sold by New York City to the Village of Valley Stream for park purposes. The park is 18 miles from Manhattan on the Southern State Parkway within the Town of Hempstead, Nassau County.
The Park is comprised of 97 acres that is a picnic facility adjacent to a highly developed residential area. In addition to the normal activity associated with general picnic use, local residents for casual recreational often use the park.
The park offers picnic areas including tables, fireplaces and grills, children’s play areas, horseshoe courts, basketball courts, bocce ball courts, ball fields, volleyball, woodland trails, refreshment stand, comfort station, park office, first-aid station, and cross-country skiing (weather permitting).
Athletic equipment (i.e.: horseshoes, basketballs, volleyballs & nets, etc.) is available at park office.
The Squirrel Nut Nature Trail, established in 1991, is a one-quarter mile loop consisting of eight stations. The Hickory Nut Trail, established in 1994, is a half –mile loop consisting of six stations. Both trails are the result of the cooperative efforts of the children, faculty and parents of School District 13 of Valley Stream and the staff of Valley Stream State Park. The trails provide an excellent opportunity to explore the various habitats that exist within the park.
The park also provides a walking course, which consists of a half-mile loop featuring fifteen stations where walkers can complete a variety of stretching and strengthening exercises. The course provides a unique outdoor exercise adventure with a focus on cardiovascular fitness, vitality and longevity for people of all ages.
-Park open year-round, Wednesday through Sunday.
-Park closed Mondays and Tuesdays, except holidays.
-Park closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
-For recreation/cultural arts/environmental programs, call (516) 669-1000 ext.247.
For group outing or youth outing applications, call (516) 669-1000 ext. 223 or call the park office at (516) 825-4128
Woodmere was acres of farmland known as Brower’s Point, named after the Brower family who had been largely responsible for its settling.
Woodmere is an unincorporated area with the largest area and population of the Five Towns. It is an unincorporated area and is therefore run by the Town of Hempstead.
The history of Woodmere dates to 1869, when Samuel Wood purchased a large section of land in order to satisfy his dream of building a town and having it named it in honor of himself. He immediately named it Woodsburgh. He developed the land into individual lots in order to sell them to millionaires to build summer homes. In 1901 he sold the balance of the lots to a New York City investor Robert L. Burton.