Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Branch Gets its Name

When the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad Company was incorporated in 1832, Long Island was sparsely populated farmland and forest. The occasional settlements were connected by dirt trails originally cut through the woodlands and over the plains by generations of Native Americans and the settlers who came after. Horses and stage coaches were the main forms of long-distance transportation during the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries. Many people either walked or stayed home.

Stage coach routes stopped at Jennings Corners (Broadway and Rockaway Turnpike in today's Lawrence) and at the Weyant General Store and post office (pictured above*-- located near the Broadway and Franklin Avenue intersection in today's Hewlett) on the route from Far Rockaway to Hempstead. Individual settlements were known by family names (Hewletts, Jennings Corners) or by identifying land elements (North West Point, Ocean Point, Hewlett Neck, Rockaway Neck). The area between Far Rockaway and Near Rockaway (named for their proximity or distance from Hempstead village) was simply known as the Rockaway Peninsula or the Rockaways.

The Long Island Rail Road, which was incorporated in 1834, expanded the Brooklyn and Jamaica line and began a route which was intended to connect New York and Boston. The track was to stretch to Greenport, where a ferry would connect with Stonington, Connecticut. Passengers would then continue on by rail to Providence and Boston. In 1844, when the route was completed, trains completed what had previously been a three-day journey from Brooklyn to Greenport in less than five hours!
In September 1860, the South Side Rail Road was established to bring rail transport to Long Island's South Shore. During the Civil War years, an uncertain financial climate forced several delays in the company's establishment. With the war's end in 1865 stocks and bonds were offered for public sale and the building of a south shore rail route from Brooklyn to Patchogue began.

The beaches of Far Rockaway had attracted summer vacationers since the 1830's. The end of the war brought a renewed interest in the area and the directors of the South Side Rail Road saw an opportunity to provide transporation to the area. The Far Rockaway Branch Rail Road was incorporated in July 1869, connecting Valley Stream with Far Rockaway. As a result, the Long Island Rail Road offered a competiing line with the founding of the New York and Rockaway Railroad Company in 1870, to provide service between Jamaica and Far Rockaway.

*from the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library Local History collection
Railroad illustrations courtesy of Art Huneke at ArrtsArchives.com

Further information:
Web sites
Online Databases (requires H-WPL library card login)

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