Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Branch gets its Name (Part II)

Early Long Island was linked by Indian trails, which existed long before European settlers moved to the area.  In the Five Towns area,  Broadway and Rockaway Turnpike follow those routes.  When the railroad laid track through the Long Island communities, many areas were named for the families who had owned the land. In the southern part of the Town of Hempstead Foster's Meadow, Pearsall's Corners, Jennings Corners, Brower's Point and Hewletts were the first names of the communities of and near the Rockaway Peninsula (click for map).

Throughout the United States, the birth of the railroads saw a boom in railroad stocks and real estate values as railroads made long distance commutation a reality.  As early as 1855 brothers Alfred, George and Newbold Lawrence invested in large tracts of farmland in the area called Rockaway Neck.  I n 1870, when the Lawrence brothers donated land for the South Side Rail Road station, the name was changed officially to Lawrence. Their planned resort community grew around the station and, after the establishment of the Rockaway Hunt Club in 1884, attracted many of its members.

In 1869, Thomas and Samuel Marsh, who made their fortune in the grain business, bought most of the farmland between Woodsburgh and the property held by the Lawrence Brothers to the West. The land they donated to the railroad became the Ocean Point station. When a post office was established on the grounds of the Rockaway Hunt Club, it was given the name of Cedarhurst, for the grove of cedars which surrounded it.

In the 1870s, Samuel Wood began to purchase property for the development of an exclusive vacation community. He named the community Woodsburgh, after his family. Wood opened the Woodsburgh Pavilion, a luxury hotel on Woodsburgh Boulevard and Broadway and attracted wealthy vacationers to the resort by the bay. Thirty years later, Robert Burton bought the Wood properties from Samuel Wood's heirs. He then proceeded to demolish most of the existing structures and create his vision of a modern, affluent residential community. When a post office was established, the authorities rejected the name of Woodsburgh as being too similar to Woodbury, another Long Island community. "Woodmere" was chosen as an alternative. This evidently was no longer a problem in 1912, when the incorporated village of Woodsburgh was created.

The South Side Rail Road, an early competitor subsequently absorbed by the Long Island Rail Road, established the rights to cross existing property lines and to establish stations. Land speculators like Samuel Wood, the Lawrence brothers and the Marsh brothers donated land for railway stations in the hope of attracting potential investors to the area.

When the railroad came to the area known as Hewletts, they established a station and, for about three months in 1869, it was named Cedar Grove. In October 1869, the name Hewletts appeared on the Rockaway Branch timetable and remained until the 1890's when it was replaced by the name "Fenhurst." A "fen" is a term for a marsh or a swamp, and local residents were unhappy with that connotation. In 1893, Augustus J. Hewlett, a descendent of George Hewlett, who established 17th Century settlement, donated land to build a station, with the codicil that the Hewlett name be re-established.

The 1870 station house still functions as the Hewlett station. The oldest of the LIRR's station houses and the only one to be erected by a predecessor of the LIRR, it has been restored and renovated and retains much of its original charm.

Inwood, which shares its name with a neighborhood in northern Manhattan, was originally known as North West Point. A fishing community from its early Nineteenth Century origins, it was name for its location on the Rockaway Peninsula. As the population expanded after the Civil War, the area became known as Westville. In 1888, when it was decided to apply for a post office, Westville suffered the same fate as Woodsburgh -- another community had taken the name. The residents then decided on "Inwood," and so it is known today.

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