The above picture shows a rare front view of what was likely West Hempstead's grandest home, built in the mid 1800's for and by the planner of Garden City, John Kellum. The house was a relic that seemed to fit in more among the grandiose Gold Coast mansions of Long Island's North Shore than among its humble West Hempstead surroundings.
Kellum was a native of Hempstead and a close associate of A.T. Stewart, the founder of Garden City. It was Kellum who convinced Stewart to purchase a large swath of the Hempstead Plains for his planned village in 1869. In a posthumous writeup of Kellum after his untimely death in 1871, the Brooklyn Eagle described his house as "..if not the finest, certainly the most comfortable house in the United States...a miracle of comfort and ingenuity". The house was built upon a foundation of ten feet of sand trucked in from the seashore, to protect it from moisture. It was piped throughout for plumbing and well-water was supplied via a state-of-the-art, self regulating windmill. Every window was equipped with a burglar alarm, an innovation that was almost unheard of in the mid 19th Century. His property spanned what is known today as the Cathedral Gardens section and when the A. T. Stewart deal was finalized, he deeded land to the Town to build Rockaway Avenue through his property as the southern approach to the new village.
Kellum's daughter Hannah inherited the home along with his son-in-law, Dr. Gerrit D. Van Vranken, a physician from Saratoga. Shortly after Van Vranken moved to Hempstead in 1877, he abandoned his trained profession and founded the Nassau Lumber Company and made a fortune. (The Nassau Lumber Co. was eventually taken over by fellow Dutchman and founder of Hofstra University, William S. Hofstra). Van Vranken was a prominent citizen of Hempstead and among the positions he served was as president of the board of trustees at the M. E. Church in Hempstead and also as superintendent of their Sunday school, and a director of the Hempstead Bank. He died in 1901 and his widow, Hannah, continued to live at the estate until her passing in 1915. Her will of over $1 million showed that she was one of the richest women in the region and was one of a handful of females who attained the status of millionairess in the early 20th century.
In 1926, the entire estate was sold at a hefty sum of $8,000/acre to a developer who subdivided and built the fine residences of the Cathedral Gardens section. Realizing the value of their properties, many other landowners in West Hempstead were inspired by the Cathedral Gardens deal to sell off their farms and estates as well. Thus began the transformation of West Hempstead from a quiet farm hamlet to a booming suburban community.
Below is a contemporary photo the approximate location of the Kellum/ Van Vranken estate, looking north across Hempstead Turnpike just east of Rockaway Avenue.