January 30, 2011

Windy Levittown NY and the Hempstead Plains, a history lesson

click on photos to enlarge

By Frank Barning

Walking to school in Levittown in the winter was often an unpleasant experience because of the chilling wind. I often encountered the same phenomenon while attending Hofstra, walking from my car to a classroom building, or between classes.

Much of Levittown and Hofstra are situated on the Hempstead Plains. According to Wikipedia, "The Hempstead Plains is a region of central Long Island in New York State in what is now Nassau County. It was once an open expanse of native grassland estimated to once extend to about 60,000 acres. It was separated from the North Shore of Long Island by the Harbor Hill Morraine, later approximately the route of Route 25.

"The modern Hempstead Turnpike approximately traces the separation of the plain from the South Shore of Long Island. The east-west extent was from somewhat west of the modern Queens, New York City border to slightly beyond the Suffolk County border.

"The township of Hempstead, now America's most populous civil township, was first settled by Europeans around 1644. Although the settlers were from the English colony of Connecticut, a patent was issued by Dutch New Amsterdam after the settlers had purchased land from the local Native Americans. The town may have been named for either Hemel Hempstead, England or the city of Heemstede in North Holland.

"In early US history, the Hempstead Plains region was cited as one of the few natural prairies east of the Allegheny Mountains. Long Island historians George Dade and Frank Strand wrote that it was created by an outwash of glacial sediment more than ten thousand years ago. The result was vast, flat open land."

The Barning family moved to the prairie of Nassau County, Levittown, in late 1954 and it was a few years before dad installed an air conditioner. We suffered through many hot, sticky summer nights but that was somewhat alleviated when a "breezeway" was installed between our house and garage.

We had an oversized corner lot, at the intersection of Hyacinth Road and Primrose Lane, not far from Newbridge Road. The breezeway featured Florida window (jalousies) that could be cranked open to allows the zephyrs from the Hempstead Plains to provide nature's air conditioning. Quite often I slept on a couch out there, plus is was a fine place to entertain friends Bob Castro, John Koehler and Mal Karman when we played a baseball board game called APBA.

The attached photo, from 2009, shows the breezeway at 10 Hyacinth Road. The house was sold by my parents more than 40 years ago, but is still providing a cool Hempstead Plains zephyr to its owners.

According to Wikipedia, "The last remaining few acres of untouched Hempstead Plains ground are thought to exist near Nassau Community College and in Eisenhower Park. The plains stretched east to the Suffolk County border. There are several acres of plains remaining in Plainview. The existing area was originally slated to be an extension of the Bethpage State Parkway, the proposed extension never came to be and the land was never developed."


Kathy said...

Frank, thank you for this discussion of "The Hempstead Plain". When I learned of it several year ago, suddenly several place names made sense, like East MEADOW (where, apparently a piece of the Hempstead Plain has been kept pristine at Eisenhower Park - thanks for the photo!); also: PLAINedge, and PLAINview. I always thought these last two names made no sense - "Where's the Plain?" I would say - only houses and cars in view. I also learned that the name "Island Trees" was also related to the Hempstead Plain. Apparently there actually was an "Island of Trees" in the middle of the plain.

Anonymous said...

from Marti Welch

great history lesson and something I didn't know. Wonder why no windmills have be installed to assist LIPA.

Jim Urban said...

The "hot, sticky summer nights" were made entirely tolerable by the Azalea Rd. swimming pool

Anonymous said...

Another name from that era is "Island Trees," as there was a spot that was literally an island of trees in a vast plain of grass.

Ernie (born here and still here!)