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West Hempstead's Wonder Years: Residents Travel Back in Time

High school student Chris McAvoy and the West Hempstead Historical Society led residents on a tour of their hometown's history.

Time for a West Hempstead pop quiz.

  1. Do you know how West Hempstead got its name?
  2. Do you know how much settlers paid for the property that would become West Hempstead?
  3. What famous poet taught at one of the community's first schoolhouses?
  4. How much did it cost to run the West Hempstead school district over a century ago? (See answers below.)

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, it’s time to take a trip back in time.

The West Hempstead Historical Society,  with the help of high school student Chris McAvoy, led residents on a special tour through the community's past on March 3 at the library.

The presentation, titled “West Hempstead: Then and Now,” included stories, photos and old video of key moments in the neighborhood's history.

Historical Society President John Shaud began the evening by sharing newly found information regarding West Hempstead’s intricate history.

“More people want to know about us out of state than locally,” he said.  For this one meeting alone, the society was contacted by several individuals from Suffolk County  to as far away as Utah who had helped shape West Hempstead.

He then turned the floor over to West Hempstead resident and high school student Chris McAvoy, who presented a project tracing important historical events in the community's history.

For instance, he said through research he learned that the original 64,000 acre property on the Hempstead Plains was purchased for a mere $100.  (George Washington visited the Hempstead Plains and was convinced it was a barren, worthless piece of land). 

Over the years, West Hempstead has been visited by some of history’s great leaders, including Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, and Walt Whitman, he said.

McAvoy completed the presentation with film from 1928, documenting students leaving school to wave to the very first electric train to pass through West Hempstead station.  Boy scout troop #240, which is still active in the community today, was visible in the background of the film. Another clip showed the Lakeview Fire Department softball game and a Sunday at Trinity Church.

"Why is there no sound?" asked curious Girl Scouts in attendance, whose eyes were glued to the demonstration about their town's past.

"They didn't have sound with their movies back then," answered one mother.

"Wow..." they all gasped.

Topping the multimedia presentation, McAvoy presented “Then and Now” photographs of various buildings around West Hempstead.

The West Hempstead Historical Society meets every third Wednesday at the West Hempstead Public Library at 11am.  New members are always welcome.

Answers to the quiz:

  1. West Hempstead got its name from the Long Island Railroad.  The station was first called “West of Hempstead”, and eventually became the name of the town.
  2. Settlers paid $100 for the land that is now West Hempstead.
  3. Poet Walt Whitman taught in West Hempstead.
  4. The original school budget was $5,568 annually (a far cry from the multi-million dollar budget being debated today).
Bob Rabey April 02, 2011 at 07:31 AM
I had no idea West Hempstead even had a historical society! I think this is great! I grew up in the presidential section of West Hempstead that boarders what we all know today as Echo Park. Does anyone remember what Echo Park was before it became Echo Park? It was a thickly wooded area known to be a bird santuary. It had a natural stream running through it, with water so pure watercrest would grow. (for watercrest to grow, the water must be 99% pure) This area was bulldozed to make way for two baseball fields, and later turned into what we see today. But, what of that natural stream? It STILL runs today under McKinley Street in the drainage system. If you go to the intersection of Harding Ave. and McKinley St. there are sewer caps, where if you stand quietly you can hear the stream running through it. I presented a proposal to have this water diverted toward Hall's Pond, instead of what feeds the pond now. (street run off) At that time, no one cared.
Ken M. May 11, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Nixon came through on Hempstead Turnpike for the '68 election campaign and shook hands... one of which was mine at age 12. They stopped at the Turnpike and Westminster by Klein's and boy was there a crowd. LBJ and RFK, in the vehicle, came down the same Turnpike, but westbound and didn't stop just waved, I think sometime between '67 and '68 I think.

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