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.