Village Historian

Carol Nowakowski


The Origins of New Hyde Park

Hyde Park, as this area was formerly called, is one of the oldest and most historic settlements in the United States. The first settlers were Dutch and English. The Dutch came first to New York, then called New Amsterdam, shortly after 1624. The English crossed Long Island Sound in 1644 to the Town of Hempstead of which this area was a part.

The original records kept by these settlers of their Town meeting are preserved in the office of the Town Clerk of The Town of North Hempstead. They are among the oldest records of local government in America.

Thomas Dongan, Royal Colonial Governor of New York in 1683, lived here on a large estate, Success Pond, now known as Lake Success and Lakeville Road. The Towns of Hempstead and Flushing granted the property to him. Governor Dongan is credited with devising the County system of governmental division for New York.

His estate, Dongan Manor, came into the ownership of George Clarke, Secretary of the Province. Clarke’s wife, Anne Hyde, had grown up on her family estate in England called “Hyde Hall,” and Clark renamed Dongan Estate “Hyde Park,” perpetuating Mrs. Clarke’s family name.

More than three hundred years ago, shortly after the English gained dominion from the Dutch over a vast area including Long Island, Richard Nicolls, Governor of the Province of New York, chose the open grounds of the Salisbury Plain to establish a racecourse. A “first” in the colonies, the course was called Newmarket and was located just to the south of the present New Hyde Park Rail Road Station. Many of the participants and spectators may well have traveled the ancient road we call Jericho Turnpike.

Instituted originally as an annual event, with a silver cup awarded to the winner, the purpose of racing competition was ostensibly “to improve the breed.” (Later historians reflected that this lofty assertion continued to be used to justify the practice of horse racing.) A porringer, dated 1668, is reputed to have been the prize at one of these first contests at Newmarket, and is the earliest piece of dated silver still in existence, which was made in the colonies.

Waves of immigrants arrived in America and many came to labor on the farms of Long Island. They worked, saved, and raised families. Most were deeply religious.

The first New Hyde Park settlers were of English and Dutch descent, followed by the Germans, Irish, Polish and Italians. In the 1900’s Jewish families came to this area.

Thus, we have an amalgam of ethnic backgrounds in our community.

With improved farming methods, the plains became excellent farming territory. Jericho Turnpike opened as a plank toll road to New York City for carrying produce to the market. The Long Island Railroad came through New Hyde Park in 1837, but for years there was nothing to justify a station there. In the mid-nineteenth century, Irish and German immigrants began to buy farms in the area. Anton Herkomer, a weaver, operated his looms at the northeast comer of Miller’s Lane and the Long Island Railroad. This was within the limits of the Incorporated Village of New Hyde Park, as later constituted. At that time, the Village had only four houses on the Turnpike, plus a scattering of farms in the open fields.

At the end of the Civil War, two young immigrants from Seilsheim, Germany, John C. Christ and Philip J. Miller arrived in New York to make their fortunes. Miller was a coppersmith and Christ a machinist.

Anton Herkomer had to go to New York to have special parts made for his looms and he discovered that Christ could make them perfectly. Anton Herkomer convinced him to leave the shop where he worked and move to New Hyde Park. Christ & Miller both came out to New Hyde Park, but not just to make parts.

Within a short time, Christ opened a store and hotel along the Turnpike and attracted trade from peddlers, school teachers, cattle buyers, and lawyers having business at the Queens Court House about two miles east of here, located near Herricks Road.

Miller was responsible for New Hyde Park’s first Civic Improvement Program. He planted maples and other species along Millers Lane, Ingraham Lane, and New Hyde Park Road. Many of them still stand. They were followed by thousands of additional trees in the 1920’s, transforming barren land into a community of beautiful shade trees.

The Millers and the Christs were jointly responsible for the community’s present name, John C. Christ and Philip J. Miller applied for the establishment of a Post Office here in 1871, asking that it be called Hyde Park. To show the need for it, both men and a number of their friends wrote letters and cards to themselves. The Post Office Department admitted that the volume was impressive, but it balked at the name Hyde Park. This name had already been assigned to Hyde Park in Dutchess County, later the birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt. New Hyde Park was chosen instead, and the office opened at Jericho Turnpike and Millers Lane.

At the turn of the century the American scene was rapidly changing. Use of electricity and telephones was growing. Great changes came in transportation with the development of the automobile, bus, truck, electric train and trolley. The population was expanding. Immigrants were admitted in great numbers and families were large. Improved transportation permitted the more affluent New Yorker to live in the country and work in the city. Thus, the commuter was born. Jericho Turnpike was paved and widened to accommodate heavier traffic. A trolley line, then buses, used Jericho Turnpike and connected the city line through New Hyde Park to Mineola and Hempstead. Water and gas mains were installed. House pumps and dug wells disappeared.

The late New York State Supreme Court Justice, Marcus G. Christ, was a lifelong resident of New Hyde Park, and a direct descendent of John C. Christ. When Justice Christ graduated from New Hyde Park grammar school in 1912, his class had six members. He rode the trolley line to Hempstead via Mineola to Hempstead High School. Although the High School served more than a half dozen communities, there were only 22 students in his 1917 graduating class. Justice Christ recalled that the trolley line, which ran along the north side of Jericho Turnpike, lasted only from 1907 to the 1920’s, when autos and buses drove it out of business. He remembers that whenever the trolley company cleared heavy snow from its tracks, competing bus lines drove right down the trolley tracks to avoid getting stuck in the drifts.

Developers were becoming interested in building residences on the farmlands north of Jericho Turnpike. Many new homes were established. It soon became evident that changes would be necessary to adjust to the growing population. There were no paved sidewalks in the area, no garbage collection, inadequate zoning and building codes, insufficient police protection, no established recreational areas, any local court or locally controlled licensing. Two town boards, one in Manhasset and one in Hempstead, neither having any members from New Hyde Park, governed this area. Mass housing developments came along in the 1920’s, with Lakeville Estates extending east from Lakeville Road to Ingraham Lane, north of the Turnpike. In1924, 140 new homes were erected and 450 acres of farmland were cut into real estate developments. Houses built in the 1920’s declined to $4,000 or less during the depression.