Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Rasweiler Farm in Dogwood

The 1949 photo above is of a West Hempstead farmer named George Rasweiler who, along with his brothers, ran a large farm in the Dogwood section of WH & Malverne. They inherited the farm from their father John Jacob Rasweiler who immigrated from Germany. The photo most likely looks north, with Dogwood Ave along the right side of the image and it was part of a feature article in the New York Times about how some Long Island farmers were unaffected by a severe drought that plagued farmers in 1949. These farmers, the Rasweilers included, learned how to tap into Long Island's seemingly boundless water table by installing hydraulic well-water pumps on their property which fed into their spray pipes.

The Rasweiler family literally planted roots straddling three local communities - West Hempstead, Malverne and Franklin Square. When Robert Moses laid out the meandering route for the Southern State Parkway through south shore farmland in 1927, most farmers accepted the state's offer for compensation; but not the Rasweilers. In The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro's seminal book on the life of Robert Moses and the alleged strong-arm tactics he used to accomplish his massive civil works projects, the author relates a fascinating account of the confrontation he had with the Rasweilers. As retold by one of John Jacob's sons, Phillip, the family had just spent enormous effort clearing a part of their property to make it suitable for farming, when along came Moses and his men with his proposal for a highway through that property and threatening a defiant John Jacob with eminent domain. A subsequent visit by state surveyors ended up with John Jacob chasing them off his farm with a shotgun. The Southern State was eventually built, effectively splitting the Rasweiler farm in two.

The Rasweilers farmed in WH for another 23 years before selling their land, along with four other local farm owners, to developer Emil Morton in 1950. Morton then went on to build a massive 700-home, post-war development along Dogwood Ave., which also included the shopping center below that still serves as the major business cluster for the Dogwood section of WH and Morton neighborhood of Franklin Square (Best Yet is now the anchor supermarket where Food Fair is shown in the picture) .

The Rasweiler farm was developed as Dogwood Park and the photo below, taken at the corner of Willow Ave., approximates the scene depicted at the top of this blog post.
The Rasweiler legacy in WH & Franklin Square includes the name of Rasweiler Blvd. and their old hundred year-old farm house, which still stands at the corner of their namesake street and Dogwood Ave, shown below.
A couple months ago, Warren Rasweiler, a life-long resident of Malverne and a member of the Malverne Volunteer Fire Dept. for an astonishing 71 years, passed away at age 89. He was, I believe, a grandson of John Jacob Rasweiler. May his memory be for a blessing.

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