In 2012, Howard Kroplick was named town historian for the Town of North Hempstead. Now, two years later, he has published a pictorial history of the town, including several historical accounts of Floral Park, simply titled North Hempstead, a volume brought out by Arcadia Publishing as part of its extensive Images of America series.
“As town historian, it was the logical thing to write such a book,” Kroplick said. “This is the first published book on the town.” The volume, he added, is “long overdue” and also a publication that coincides with the 400th anniversary of the town’s discovery by the Dutch explorer, Adriaen Block.
The 127-page volume has a generous selection of photos chronicling the history of the town from Native American times to the original Dutch and English settlers and its steady evolution to one of the 100 “Best Places to Live in America.”
The text and photos also recall the town’s encounters with American history, including its divided loyalties during the Revolutionary War, its contribution to both aviation history and American culture, as a residence and source of inspiration to artists as different as William Cullen Bryant, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Philip Sousa, George M. Cohan and Groucho Marx.
Even though Dutch settlers founded North Hempstead for the new world, the more powerful British eventually wrested control of Long Island and in 1664, adopted “Duke’s Laws” which formed the framework for local government. Within a century, the 13 colonies, including New York, would rebel against British rule. Only eight weeks after the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Long Island, a major skirmish, took place throughout the New York area with the British troops, under Gen. William Howe, using their superior numbers to drive the Continental Army forces, under Gen. George Washington to evacuate their holdings in New York City. And so, Long Island remained under British occupation until the end of the war, even though major spy rings were in operation throughout the island, including one by the Onderdonck family, whose residence later became the George Washington Manor restaurant in downtown Roslyn.
Soon, North Hempstead began acquiring its own identity. In 1784, it became a separate town within Queens County. Over 100 years later, North Hempstead, along with Hempstead and Oyster Bay, all seceded from Queens County, forming Nassau County. That entity came into being on April 27, 1898 following what Kroplick calls a “bitter battle in Albany.”
By the early 1890s, North Hempstead was now home to the North Shore “Gold Coast,” an area that had the highest concentration of wealthy during the heyday of the Gilded Age. That helped to set the tone for Nassau County in the early part of the 20th century as a place that was home of spectacular mansions and estates, plus such sports for the wealthy as polo, fox hunting and golf.
By then, North Hempstead was also home to the Vanderbilt Cup Races, automobile-racing contests which drew residents from all walks of life throughout the New York City area. This is a subject that Kroplick also knows well as he is also the author of Vanderbilt Cup Races and The Long Island Motor Parkway, both published by Arcadia.
The evolution of North Hempstead also includes its economy. From its beginnings, the
town was home to many prosperous commercial oyster farms. As with the rest of the early America, North Hempstead was also home to numerous family farms, which in addition to sustenance farming also raised horses for transportation and sheep for wool. The largest advance in industry came in the 19th century, when sand mining companies began cultivating sand and gravel that had stood in the North Hempstead soil for centuries. All this was key to the ongoing growth of New York City.
“Between 1865 and 1989, more than 200 million tons of sand were shipped from Port Washington to New York City to make concrete for skyscrapers, subway tunnels, foundations and sidewalks,” Kroplick wrote in his extensive introduction. “An estimated 90 percent of all the concrete used to build New York City came from these sandpits.”
Meanwhile, North Hempstead plunged forward, with trains and roads being constructed and Long Island becoming a launching place for two great moments in aviation history: Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight from Roosevelt Field to Paris and a 1939 commercial passenger transatlantic flight from Port Washington to Lisbon, the first such passenger flight in history.
Meanwhile, the mass production of automobiles and the construction of highways altered Long Island history forever. In the post-World War II era, it made its transition from a rural area, dominated by farming and occasional mansions, to suburbia. But some of the old ways may yet make a comeback. In 1966, pollution caused Hempstead Harbor to be closed for shellfishing, once a major occupation in the town. However, by 2011, all that had changed.
“With the elimination of many industrial uses around the harbor and water-quality improvement efforts,” Kroplick observed, “the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation…opened 2,520 acres of outer Hempstead Harbor as a shellfish area.”
Kroplick said that all proceeds of the book will go to various charities in the Town of North Hempstead.