Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Beginnings of the West Hempstead Fire Department - 100 Years On

Original WH Fire House, circa 1925.


The inception of the West Hempstead Fire Department began years before the adoption of it’s formal charter in 1919. Life-long West Hempstead resident Helen Duryea recalled that, in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, her father and uncle, Edwin and Frank Duryea, would organize volunteer “bucket brigades” among the local farmers to confront fire emergencies that occurred in the area.

By the end of the second decade of the Twentieth Century, a confluence of factors contributed to the formation of our Fire Department. First, the adjacent neighborhood of Lakeview had already been served since 1909 by the Lakeview Hook & Ladder Company, and West Hempstead residents looked to emulate the successes of their neighbors to the south. Second, residential subdivisions, starting with Fairlawn Park in 1906, would begin a long process whereby West Hempstead property would be converted from farmland into rows of homes upon neatly platted streets. Thereafter, fire protection in West Hempstead became a matter of safeguarding entire town blocks from destruction rather than merely saving isolated barns and farm houses. Finally, fresh from victory in Europe in WWI, scores of young, able-bodied “doughboys” would return home in the beginning of 1919 and provide a propitious pool of volunteers to join the fire department.

At the start of 1919, the Victory Chemical Engine Company was formed out of a series of meetings that were held to plan the way forward for the nascent department. On Friday, March 21, at the third meeting of the company at the home of Ed Duryea, it was reported that 36 members had already been recruited. At that same meeting, the initial officers of the Company were installed, their names comprising a veritable Who’s Who of prominent citizens of West Hempstead: Foreman William S. Stringham, who owned a general store on Hempstead Turnpike in Munson (at the current corner of Nassau Blvd.); Assistant Foreman Wallace Hill, whose day job as a foreman at the NY Telephone Company no doubt served him well in his new position; Treasurer Henry Lee, a retired Norwegian shipbuilder who lived on Chestnut Street and founded Trinity Lutheran Church, among other local achievements; President Emil Baumbach, a machinist who lived with his family on Railroad Ave (Hempstead Gardens Drive); Vice President Paul Ohrtman who had a prolific local civic career as School District 27 president, Sanitation District 6 commissioner, and Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes; and trustees Ed and Frank Duryea, well known farmers and builders in the area. Soon thereafter the group filed incorporation papers with the Town of Hempstead and the New York Secretary of State, as the Victory Chemical Engine & Hose Co. No. 1. On July 10, 1919, it was reported in the Hempstead Sentinel that the Town of Hempstead had given its consent to the charter; in the following month, the Secretary of State followed suit.


A suitable, centrally-located property upon which to build a fire house was chosen along Hempstead Turnpike on land owned by Alice Bailey. In February, 1921, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed with Mrs. Sadie Ohrtman, Mrs. Lillian Naumann, and Mrs. Barbara Baumbach as founding officers. The Auxiliary hosted barn dances, strawberry festivals, and various social events to obtain the requisite funds for the new firehouse, while their inaugural event held in April 1921, a barn dance on the grounds of Charles Botsch, brought in $700 for the cause.  Groundbreaking for the firehouse occurred soon after on May 15, 1921 and the well known local contractor Carl Mirschel was hired to build the edifice. Another barn dance, held the following year on February 7, 1922, typified the kinds of prizes that were awarded at such events: a ton of coal, a barrel of flour, a pig, and a barrel of potatoes.  The following year, on April 17, 1922, a vote held at the brand new fire house was carried for the appropriation of $5,090 for the purchase of fire apparatus and equipment, as well as a new fire alarm.

In 1927, the formation of the West Hempstead Water District had a profound effect on fire protection of the neighborhood, as water lines and hydrants were installed throughout the district. In the ensuing years, the volunteer firefighters competed in various athletic and skills competitions. The Westerners drill team went on to win numerous State Championship drill competitions, including an unprecedented "threepeat" in 1939, 1940, and 1941, as well as the National Championship in 1939. In 1952, a new modern, brick fire house was built to replace the old wooden house that had served the district for 30 years.

Many of the officers and volunteers of the West Hempstead fire department have deep roots whose families span two and sometimes even three generations of service to the district, including well known local families such as Brohm, Riesterer, and Schroeher. The Schroeher family planted roots here in the 1790s. The patriarch of the family, Louis, ran what was probably the first hotel in the area in Franklin Square. Louis’ grandson, Joseph, was a founding member of the West Hempstead Fire Dept. and his son, Keith, served as fire chief for many decades as well.

The WHCSA wishes the West Hempstead Fire Department and well deserved congratulations on this milestone. The 100th anniversary parade and celebration block party will take place on September 21, starting at the Fire House.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Lost West Hempstead WWI Monument

The following article appeared in the February 2019 edition of the WHCSA News and Views Newsletter


Image of the WH war memorial cannon that stood at the LIRR station Plaza



This past November marked the hundredth anniversary of the end of WWI, and provides an opportunity to focus upon a long lost feature on the West Hempstead Landscape, the West Hempstead WWI Memorial Monument.  The following is the story of this short lived shrine.

The driving force behind this local war memorial was the nascent American Legion Cathedral Post 1087, whose charter was presented at a Nassau County meeting six years earlier on February 24, 1933.  Cathedral Post 1087 was ably led by veterans who were also residents and businessman of West Hempstead, like their first commander John A. Palmer, who owned a meat store on Hempstead Turnpike and was also a founding member and Vice President of the WH Board of Trade, forerunner to the WH Chamber of Commerce.   In the ensuing decade, more than 100 dedicated members of this post organized local civic events in West Hempstead, such as lectures and winter festivals complete with Santa Claus appearances, which won them multiple national awards from the American Legion for the most active post in the region. In the early years of the Cathedral Post, one of its first orders of business was to address the lamentable absence of a war memorial within West Hempstead.  Other than a simple marker and flag mast to the USS Maine and veterans of the Spanish American War, located at the Church of Good Shepherd on Maple St., no other memorial to American veterans had heretofore existed in West Hempstead. (As an aside, the remaining concrete marker of this memorial still exists on the grounds of the current location of the Church of Good Shepherd on Donlon Avenue). Donations were collected and designs submitted for a worthy monument to be constructed at West Hempstead’s busiest location at the time, the WH railroad station plaza.  

Finally, on a pleasant late spring Sunday on June 4, 1939, officers and members of the Cathedral Post, along with a slew of representatives of area civic groups, gathered at the railroad station plaza to dedicate their long awaited war memorial to local veterans of World War I. The chosen design was created by a WH sculptor and Post veteran named Edwin T. Howell and consisted of a boulder upon which was a plaque, tersely inscribed with the immortal phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “That this nation might live”. Next to the monument was a 12 ft long navy gun that had seen action during WWI, mounted onto a white cement base.  Along with the many dignitaries who were there, some 2,000 participants and spectators joined the spectacle.The memorial was intended to primarily honor veterans of the Great War, which had ended only 20 years earlier and during which all members of the local American Legion post had served their country.  However, being that WWI was at the time considered the “war to end all wars”, it was decided that servicemen of all American wars were also included in the commemoration.

Those 2,000 celebrants who came home the next day to read about coverage in the Nassau Daily Review Star of the ceremony they had just attended would have also noticed a top-fold headline on the same page that blared “Military, Economic Rearmament to Continue, Nazis Say”, which describing Germany’s belligerence less than three months before they were to invade Poland.  Notwithstanding that premonition, few would have presaged that only three months later, Germany would invade Poland, setting off the tragic and costly events of World War II.

After the December 7, 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor, the US was abruptly drawn into WWII. By 1942, American resources were severely strained to support an all-out war effort that would be fought in two major theatres.  Citizens on the Home Front were asked to sacrifice whatever they could to help out the war effort. These sacrifices came in the form of mass enlistments, purchasing war bonds, planting “victory gardens” to avert food shortages, abiding by strict fuel rations and donating scrap metal, among other things.  

As WWII went into full gear, and in response to a plea by the War Department to alleviate a scrap metal shortage, members of the Cathedral Post did what they thought their deceased comrades for whom they erected the memorial would have have wanted them to do.  They made the decision to dismantle the navy cannon and donate it to the war effort as a supreme token of their patriotism. As solemn a decision that was, they took their inspiration from those timeless words of Abraham Lincoln that graced their commemoration plaque - “That this nation might live”.  At 5:00 p.m. on September 23, 1942, as the Marines were sending reinforcements to Guadalcanal and the Allies were fighting their way up the Italian Peninsula, Cathedral Post Commander Chauncey A. Rich took a blowtorch to the navy cannon to be broken down for scrap.

This Memorial Day, as we end the parade at West Hempstead’s current war monument at Echo Park, we should all celebrate the West Hempstead WWI ornamental that never had a chance to survive thanks to the patriotic spirit of our bygone members of the WH community.  


 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ode to the Last Great Estate in West Hempstead



The following essay appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of  the WHCSA News & Views newsletter

Last year’s demolition of the large estate at 764 Hempstead Avenue and subsequent subdivision provides an opportunity to reflect upon the development of West Hempstead as a residential community.  At 1.66 acres, the parcel represented the last remaining large residential tract in West Hempstead, and has given way to the erection of eight homes in its place.  Over the past three years, the process took on a certain inevitability ever since the place was sold to a developer in 2014, knowing that it was only a matter of time before proper permits were obtained to tear the structure down.  As a historian, I view this event with the sad realization that the transformation of West Hempstead from a once sprawling rural suburb into an overdeveloped neighborhood, is now complete.  This transformation began at the start of the 20th century with the development of the Fairlawn Park subdivision in 1906, and continued steadily with two notable growth spurts; one, after the West Hempstead LIRR line was electrified and the Southern Parkway was completed in 1926 and 1927, respectively; and the other, after WWII and the coming of the baby boomer generation. 

To me, the moment a suburb has been denuded of its great residential landmarks and replaced with neatly packed in 60x100 cookie cutter homes reminiscent of the green and red properties of a Monopoly board, it has lost a large part of its unique identity, and in many ways becomes indistinguishable from its neighboring megalopolis to the west. In this, I am reminded of what Allen Ginsberg once referred to as the “invisible suburbs”, having fallen prey to Molloch, the pagan god of industrialized overdevelopment.  

In my mind, the lovely home was emblematic of West Hempstead’s working class roots, a domicile that seemed roomy and comfortable but not overly ostentatious like the grand estates of Garden City; one that seemed to place greater value upon its expansive surrounding open spaces than its living quarters per se.  The style of the house, with its stucco exterior and Mediterranean roof, perhaps reflected the tastes of the two families that occupied it over the years, both of which were of Italian extraction.

The origin of the home follows the story of American upward mobility in the 1920s, when an Italian immigrant named Joseph Cavallaro and his wife Annie moved out from Brooklyn, after Joseph built up a successful business importing fruit and other goods.  He died in 1939, and Annie continued to live in the home until her passing in 1947.  The following year the home was sold to Theodore Gaeta and his wife Rose.  Gaeta was a well known restaurateur on Long Island who owned and managed a number of popular upscale eating spots across the Island. Early on, he managed the Cas-Albi Lounge and Restaurant, located inside the Mineola Hotel on 2nd street in Mineola.  In 1966, the Mineola Hotel became victim of a terrible fire and never reopened.  Thereafter Gaeta embarked upon a prolific food service career, running eateries that were well known jaunts on both the North and South shores: the Swan Bay Inn in Centerport, the Gaetway Harbour Restaurant, the West Wind Yacht Club and the Schooner Restaurant, all in Freeport, the Vernon Valley Inn in East Northport, the Gaetway North Steakhouse in Huntington, and the Gaetway South in Bay Shore.  In the mid 1960s, after being inspired by a trip to Hawaii, he opened the Polynesian themed Bali Hai Restaurant in Northport.  Ted Gaeta was reportedly a ubiquitous presence at all his establishments, and would often know and greet his regular patrons by name.  He was an active member of the Freeport Chamber of Commerce and received numerous accolades for improving the business character of the Village and was involved in numerous toy and food drives over the years.  He was well acquainted with celebrities and politicians, like Alfonse D’amato, who would frequent his restaurants.  Gaeta died in 1989 at age 92, and Rose passed away in 2000. 

There was a time, recently enough for people who are still alive to remember, when travelers could drive along Hempstead Ave. from Nassau Blvd. to Locust Street and spot perhaps a mere half dozen homes that lined the avenue.  As they would travel north, to the left was the picturesque watering hole that was Halls Pond, and on their right, they would pass the stately home of interior designer Edith Hebron at the northeast corner of Eagle Ave, which was eventually turned into the Maison Pepi/ Gum Ying restaurant before it was knocked down and replaced by a CVS.  (In that instance, the words of the Joni Mitchell song seem all too appropriate: “Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got til its gone, They paved paradise And put up a parking lot”).  Further up on the right was they would pass the Cavallaro/ Gaeta home and then the large Norwood Villa Hotel at the corner of Oak(ford) St.  Another 200 yards and they would see the Alexander Nelson estate at Elm st, and across the street from there they would find the Collins estate.   With the demise of 764 Hempstead Ave, an irreplaceable piece of old West Hempstead has died along with it, and signaled the close an era when our neighborhood was once characterized by country homes and open spaces.

  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

In Memory of Police Officer Matthew Giglio, Forty One Years after His Murder



The following essay appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of the WCHSA New & Views newsletter

NCPD Officer Matthew Giglio

The recent deaths of two individuals with a local connection provide an opportunity to revisit the somber history of a cop shooting in West Hempstead whose effect still carries strong reverberations, despite the long passage of time. The shooting occurred on October 7, 1975 and took the life of NCPD Officer Matthew Giglio, after a courageous two month struggle for his life at Mercy Hospital. This past August 4, Giglio’s killer, John MacKenzie, died in prison after an apparent suicide, while serving a 25 years to life sentence. And more recently, our friend and resident of nearby Malverne, NYPD Detective Steven MacDonald, himself a victim of a 1986 shooting while on duty, passed away on January 10.

There are few residents of West Hempstead who have resided here long enough to remember the only cop killing to have occurred in our hamlet. Indeed, most people walk right past the scene of the crime, right in the center of town along Hempstead Avenue, with nary a clue as to what transpired there. The following is a synopsis of the incident.

Since 1948, the row of shops at the corner of Hempstead Ave and Locust St. have occupied a prominent place on West Hempstead’s landscape.



One of these stores, Filnord’s Pharmacy at 492 Hempstead Ave, was the site of WH’s first permanent post office. The 1960s saw the popular Tony’s Delicatessen as the occupant at 486 Hempstead. By  1971, Tony’s gave way to a boutique clothing store called Thelma J’s, the kind of which was more common back in those days but rarely seen today. It was outside this boutique where the shooting occurred. On October 4th, MacKenzie and his accomplice, Colleen Irby, cased out Thelma J’s in the guise of customers, when MacKenzie asked to use the bathroom in the back of the store which contained a window facing the rear of the building. On a typical cool early morning of October 7th, 1975, two Nassau County patrol officers responded to a burglary at Thelma J’s, where it was reported that hundreds of articles of clothing were stolen. At 2:30am, the two officers on the scene questioned Irby, who was sitting in a car at the back of the store and called for backup, whereafter Officer Giglio, working as a police EMT, promptly arrived at the scene. Upon arrival, Giglio spotted MacKenzie exiting the front of the store when MacKenzie fired his gun, striking Giglio in the abdomen. The two officers rushed to Giglio’s aid and drove him to Mercy Hospital in his own ambulance. At the hospital doctors made the bleak discovery that the bullet had hemorrhaged Giglio’s aorta.

Back at the scene, hundreds of police officers, as well as two police helicopters, descended upon West Hempstead and started a massive manhunt for the shooter. At 10:00am, officers found MacKenzie hiding out in a nearby garage and located the weapon nearby as well. At the hospital, Giglio underwent eight hours of surgery and received 35 pints of blood in a desperate attempt to save his life. In the first few days, Giglio was able to communicate by scribbling simple messages on a piece of paper, but then he slipped into a coma, never to recover. As weeks passed, Giglio developed an infection in his leg, which required an amputation. All the while, his comrades and family members kept a bedside vigil, praying that he might rally. Local churches and synagogues also held special prayer services for Giglio until he took his final breath after a seventy day battle, on December 16th.

Matthew Giglio was born in 1940 in Brooklyn. One might say he was a typical Italian kid who tore up the stick ball circuit on the Borough Park streets where he grew up, and savored the victory of the Dodgers’ World Series win when he was 15 years old. Giglio moved out to Long Island and chose his calling as a police officer, like his father who was a patrolman for the NYPD. Giglio was in his eleventh year of service, and lived in Valley Stream with his wife and three children in 1975. Nassau County later honored Officer Giglio by dedicating the Matthew F. Gilgio Memorial Plaza at intersection of Corona Avenue and Dutch Broadway, not far from where Giglio lived and a few blocks from the 5th Precinct headquarters where he was based. In July 1976, MacKenzie was put on trial and convicted with 1st degree murder and given a 25 years to life sentence. Four years later, the NY Court of Appeals vacated his sentence and a retrial was ordered after the US Supreme Court affirmed the decision, after it was established that MacKenzie’s confession was improperly obtained. The case established guidance for police officers that is in use to this day, that if the suspect immediately requests a lawyer, then any subsequent confession cannot be entered as evidence, unless in the presence of the suspect’s legal counsel. In any event, the case was retried and once again MacKenzie was convicted and sentenced, making him eligible for parole in 2000.

Every two years since then, MacKenzie’s parole hearing has stirred up the passions of politicians and police benevolent groups, urging that his parole be denied. MacKenzie had exhibited remorse for the killing but always maintained that he didn’t know that Giglio was a cop, and he couldn’t remember details of the incident because he was on drugs. After his last denial in June 2016, Mackenzie gave in to despair and committed suicide in his cell on August 4.

A couple years ago I had the privilege of meeting Detective Steven MacDonald after he and his wife Patty graciously offered to drive me home from Manhattan. During that ride, Mr. MacDonald gave me a copy of a book that he wrote where he outlined his remarkable journey toward ultimately forgiving his shooter and finding peace in his life. My brief encounter with Steve and his book left a deep impression on me and caused me to bring new meaning to my understanding of human strength and courage.

The confluence of MacKenzie’s and MacDonald’s deaths this past year, together with this past Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on January 9th, one day before MacDonald’s passing, gives us all cause to be grateful for the lives of our loved ones and those tasked to protect them.

May the memories of Officers Giglio and MacDonald be for a blessing.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tanglewood Preserve - Site of First Revolutionary War Skirmish on Long Island

The following essay appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of the West Hempstead Community Support Association newsletter, News & Views


Image result for tanglewood preserve
A view of the pond at Tanglewood Preserve, Nassau County


Some time ago, while browsing through some of the West Hempstead Historical Society website’s growing collection of local historical material, I came across an item regarding a little known Revolutionary War incident that took place just down the road in present day Lakeview, at the current site of Tanglewood Preserve. The episode became known as the Skirmish at Hempstead Swamp. While the incident in and of itself was a relatively minor one, I decided to find out some background about it and was surprised to learn that it actually represents the first action during the American Revolution that involved bloodshed on Long Island between the warring parties.


There are scant details of the event. One of the only sources we have about it comes from a book published in 1844 entitled Revolutionary Incidents in Queens County, by Henry Onderdonk Jr.

Here is some brief background about it.


In colonial times, Pine Stream used to run free and clear from Hempstead Plains down through modern day West Hempstead, where it formed a series of ponds and swampland all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean. Part of that tributary, Tanglewood Preserve was once a swamp that sat just north of Smith’s Pond, known in those days as DeMott’s pond, named after Michael DeMott and his son Anthony, who ran a mill at the southern end of the pond, where the water crosses Merrick Road in Rockville Centre. In fact, the name Tanglewood bears an echo of testimony to the swamp that once enveloped the property.

Throughout the South Shore of Long Island, there was heavy loyalist sentiment among residents in the leadup to the American Revolution. Parenthetically, this was the apparent reason for the Break-off of the Town of North Hempstead, whose residents were frustrated by their southern neighbors’ loyalty to King George III, from the greater Town of Hempstead.

According to George Combes, historian for the TOH in the 1940s, many South Shore residents were initially sympathetic to the Patriot cause, particularly after British troops landed in Boston in 1775. But a series of actions perceived to be too aggressive on the part of the Patriots, including a raid upon Long Island by the New Jersey militia in April of 1776, crystallized sentiment in the area solidly for the British.


In July of 1776, around the time of our Nation’s independence and a full month before General Howe’s troops arrived in New York, some loyalists had tried to subvert the cause of independence by attempting to poison George Washington by planting Paris green into his soup. The attempt failed because it made the soup taste terrible, but it certainly got the attention of our founding father. It was determined that the scheme had been hatched by loyalists from Long Island and so Washington promptly dispatched troops to Hempstead to arrest the perpetrators. The loyalists were warned in advance of these troops’ arrival and so they packed provisions and took shelter in the swamps south of Hempstead village. The DeMotts were also loyalists and they agreed to hang a white sheet in the window of their mill as a signal to warn the fugitives of the troops’ impending arrival. Onderdonk Jr. recounts the episode as it occurred on the third Saturday of July, 1776:


“...a party of Whig soldiers went to Hempstead Swamp at the head of DeMott's mill pond to take
up some Tories who were hiding there. ... A party of nine of them in two sedge boats were concealed in the swamp at the head of the mill pond. Stephen Rider climbed an oak tree to reconnoiter, when a ball whistled by his head. He saw the smoke whence it came and, a loaded gun being handed him, he fired, and the ball passed through the body of George Smith.” The Tories were then cornered and soon after surrendered. They were then rounded up and taken in chains to a jail in Jamaica but were soon freed after the British had occupied Long Island. George Smith was badly wounded in the shoulder, but was treated by a local physician named Dr. Searing, and recovered from his wound. 

By then the Revolutionary War was well on its way, but most of the famous battles would be fought in other parts of the country, while for the most part, Queens (Nassau) County quietly remained under British occupation.


Although the event could hardly be considered a major action in the annals of the Revolutionary War, given the impetus for its occurrence and the fact that it saw the first blood spilled on Long Island soil in the War for Independence, in my opinion, consideration should be given to add the site to the list of New York State Revolutionary War Trail Sites of Long Island.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Brief History of 472 Hempstead Avenue - the Cong. Anshei Shalom Building

The following article appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of the WHCSA's News and Views newsletter
The following paragraphs chronicle the history of 472 (formerly 318) Hempstead Ave., the subject of the accompanying photo.  We begin the story in 1911, when Violet Hutcheson, daughter of Aubrey G Hutcheson, was entered into marriage with Walton McClelland Blackford, a native of Hempstead village.  Aubrey Hutcheson was a very wealthy fruit importer whose name was ubiquitous at Washington Market, New York City’s most important wholesale produce market located in Tribeca.  In 1890, he purchased a 100 acre country seat in West Hempstead on land that later became known as the Presidential Section, along the west side of Hempstead Avenue.

Hutcheson had nine children in all.  In 1913, Hutcheson built three homes across the street for three of his children, Ralph E. Hutcheson, Howard B. Hutcheson, and Violet Blackford, shortly after her marriage.  Two of these homes, those of Howard, where China Connection is currently located, and Violet, the current site of Congregation Anshei Shalom, still survive.  In a sordid postscript to the original occupant of 318 Hempstead Ave., Walton Blackford remarried in 1923 whereafter he moved to Springfield, MA where he worked as a paper company executive.  In May 1948 at the age of 61, he suffered a severe cerebral hemorrhage that left him paralyzed and one month later, his wife plunged a carving knife into his neck in what was described a “mercy killing”.

Some time during the Great Depression, the house was converted into St. Ann’s Health Resort, a convalescent home for the aged and infirm.  In those days, such “health resorts” were common for people who were in need of extended and rehabilitative care.  The accompanying picture from a 1939 postcard, was taken from the rear of the building and shows the resort’s quaint little shaded terrace in its backyard.  (The postcard identifies that address at 318 Hempstead Ave., before the addresses were re-numbered by the US Postal Service in the late 1940s).

Just before WWII, the building once again changed hands and was sold to a newly married young physician named Eugene Jennings Jr. and his wife Susan. Born in the Bronx, Jennings saw action in the South Pacific theatre as a lieutenant in the the US Navy during WWII aboard the destroyer John W. Weeks. An alumnus of Columbia University and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, he was also an All-American Masters Swimmer on Columbia’s Swimming team and part of the US Masters Swimming Organization, the highest honor that can be achieved from the organization.
After the War, Dr. Jennings opened a medical practice in West Hempstead at his home.  Many of our older long-time residents remember Dr. Jennings as the de facto resident physician for West Hempstead back in the days when towns all over the country had such doctors to serve them.  Before the advent of urgent care and before EMS was established, Dr. Jennings’ office was the place to go locally for any medical emergencies.  As well, he was the on-site first responder for all mishaps in the general vicinity that required required medical attention, such as when two Lakeview firefighters were injured when their ladder snapped during a training exercise at the Eagle Avenue school on Oct. 31, 1948.  Dr. Jennings faithfully served the West Hempstead community for 27 years before retiring and moving to St. Petersburg, FL in the early 1970s.   He died in 2000 at age 85, leaving a son, Eugene Thomas, two daughters, Mimsie and Leslie Ann, and many grandchildren.
In the 1980s, a young burgeoning congregation named Anshei Shalom was looking to move out of their cramped quarters on a Hempstead Avenue storefront into bigger space.  When their current address became available across the street in 1985, they purchased the home and converted the main hall of the building into its sanctuary.  In the early 2000s, the congregation was once again pressed for space and in 2005, they completed a new sanctuary in the rear of the building, while still preserving the front part of the house.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Norwood Chapel - First Church in West Hempstead

The article below appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of the WHCSA News & Views newsletter.
From the 1906 Belcher Hyde map of West Hempstead.  Woods (Halls) Pond is in the middle of the image and the Norwood Chapel, just to the north, is labeled

The following is a brief history of the first church in West Hempstead, the Norwood Chapel.  

As with so many early communities in the United States, the one feature that gave our neighborhood its unique identity and distinguished it from being a mere loose collection of farms and homes was the establishment of a community church.  The church was much more than merely a house of worship.  It served as a central meeting house for neighbors and was where all important social and civic gatherings would take place.

Until the 1880s, farmers and residents of the area the would come to be known as West Hempstead were served by the various parishes located in Hempstead Village.  Beginning in 1885, a series of meetings were held in the old District 17 schoolhouse on John St (Nassau Blvd.) for the purpose of establishing a local church.  The meetings were well received and well attended.  Shortly thereafter, an organization called the Young People’s Christian Association was created, with James H. Rhodes voted as president and Henry H. DuBois as vice president.  James Rhodes was a member of the prominent Rhodes family who owned a large farm along the east side of Woodfield Road that comprised most of what became known as Hempstead Gardens. Henry DuBois was a well known grocer who ran a store on Hempstead Ave. near the current location of Exit 17 of the SSP.  

In 1886, it was decided that the YPCA would start a fundraising campaign to build a church edifice, but a debate ensued as to where this building would be located.  Two factions emerged from this debate, each favoring either of the two tiny local commercial districts that existed in our area at the time, Washington Square and Norwood.  (Washington Square was located at the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike and Nassau Blvd, and Norwood was located at the south end of Halls Pond).  A vote was taken and the Washington Square faction overwhelmingly won out with 60 out of a total of 72 votes cast.  However, after Hempstead Town Supervisor Martin V. Wood agreed to donate some of his land at the north end of Wood’s (Halls) Pond for the project, it was decided that the church would be built there.  (The exact location was along Hempstead Avenue, opposite the intersection with Oak(ford) St.)

Fundraising continued for the next couple years, and in 1890, the church was built.  Opening exercises were held on Sunday, February 2.  By then, James Rhodes had moved to New Jersey and Henry DuBois took over as president.  The new non-denominational church, named Norwood Chapel, was a tremendous source of pride for the community, as the funds and actual construction of the building were almost exclusively the results of local efforts.

In 1892, the building was enlarged to accommodate a Sunday School.  For the ensuing decade, the pastorship of the church was given to a roving group of guest preachers who were invited to address the congregation.  It’s worthy to note that at times some local women also took turns to preach, including Viola DuBois (Henry H DuBois’ daughter and Josie Hull, daughter of John P Hull, a local carpenter who lived across the street from the chapel).  By 1898, it seems that Rev. Joseph McCoun from Floral Park became the regular preacher for the next number of years.

The chapel also became the default location for social and civic activity in WH. Before the Chestnut Street schoolhouse was built in 1912, it was literally the only viable public place of assembly in West Hempstead.  In fact, it was was where School District 27 was conceived and voted for.  The chapel played host to the civic meetings of the West Hempstead, Lakeview and Hempstead Gardens Association and WH gas and lighting district was also formed from a series of meetings there.

Some time in the late 1910s, the Norwood Chapel disbanded and West Hempstead was once again left without a church, until the establishment of the Church of the Good Shepherd in 1925.  The Church of the Good Shepherd currently resides in its second location on Donlon Ave. after it moved from its original location on Maple Street in Hempstead Gardens.  (The original building burned down in the 1960s, however, the WH Historical Society has a nice photo of the original church in its archives.) Thereafter, in a very short period, WH gained three more churches in short succession.  Starting with Union Gospel Tabernacle on Morton Ave. in 1926 (currently a Haitian church); Trinity Lutheran Church in 1927, and St. Thomas the Apostle in 1931.