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A Look Back

Development of the Hempstead Farm Area

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Last week’s article highlighted the development between Front Street and Prospect Avenue, west of East Meadow Avenue. This column looks at the Prospect Avenue area toward Hempstead Turnpike, on the land that was largely “Hempstead Farm.” The Hempstead Farm was north of O. L. Schwencke’s Hempstead Lawns Section 4 at Newbridge (now East Meadow) Avenue, mapped in 1909. Hempstead Lawns Section 3 (Lenox and Noble streets) and Section 4 (Stuyvesant, Park, and Lenox avenues; Noble Street and Everett Place) were formerly lands of Anna Willis and family and are now home to some of the oldest homes in East Meadow.

Hempstead Farm was a large property on both sides of Hempstead Turnpike, between Front Street and Newbridge Road. In the 19th century, it was used for horse races under leadership of Thomas H. Terry, real estate and insurance agent largely responsible for acquisition of lands on which the Brooklyn Bridge was built. Though promoted by leading industrialists of the Gilded Age, the model farm was not a commercial success. In the 1880s it added a large dog breeding operation with kennels on the northwest corner of Carman Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike. Hempstead Farm concentrated heavily on breeding collies and later expanded to pointers, Great Danes, and terriers. J. Pierpont Morgan himself was active; in 1888, he purchased a famous collie named Bendigo from the operation for $1,500 for use at his own, impressive, Kragston Kennels in Highland Falls, New York.

The members of the Meadow Brook Club, which included many prominent East Meadow residents, would frequently hunt foxes on the Hempstead Farm property. Hempstead Farm [Horse] Racing Association was an outgrowth of the popularity of the nearby Meadow Brook Club and was promoted by the Queens County Agricultural Society, who felt it would add to the sport’s popularity and help the local economy. Meadow Brook Club members grew to resent the popularity of Hempstead Farm’s modern track, which was 480 feet short of a mile and included a grandstand. They felt that Hempstead Farm took away from the prestige of the Meadow Brook Club’s races. Still, the growing local popularity of polo among the “society set” contributed to the equestrian industry in East Meadow at Terry’s Hempstead Farm, Joshua W. Barnum’s Meadow Brook Farms, and the estates of Salisbury. Scores of newspaper articles detail the pony race cups and dog show medals won by Hempstead Farm. Beginning in 1893, Mr. Terry ran into financial trouble and caused the corporation to incur significant debt. His stake in the enterprise ended after he was bought out by Mr. Morgan.

After the closure of Hempstead Farm, its mortgage holders J. P. Morgan, August Belmont, Maurice Holt, and Isaac Wolf conveyed over 410 acres to Wheeler Brothers Agents, who sold the property to William Godnick, Jacob A. Freedman, Maurice Holt, and Isaac Wolff’s Meadowbrook Development Corporation. Part of the Hempstead Farm on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike was sold to J. J. Lannin. Within six months, the land south of the turnpike was subdivided. Parcel “A” was sold quickly for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was generally bound by Roosevelt (formerly Harding) Avenue, Hempstead Turnpike, Front Street, Eighth Street, and Prospect Avenue, with a small section between Fifth Street and Eighth Street on the south side of Prospect Avenue.

Parcel “A” became known as East Hempstead Gardens and was developed by the Roethlein Brothers – John and Frank. John, the firm’s leader, was past president of the Brooklyn Federation of Catholic Societies and advertised East Hempstead Gardens as a “restricted” community; that is, for sale to Christians only. Roethlein advertised proximity to a new racetrack that was to be built across Hempstead Turnpike (near today’s hospital) as well as to the Village of Hempstead. In addition to churches, schools, and the “best equipped volunteer fire department in the entire state,” the company also highlighted the Motor Parkway and nearby golf courses. Roethlein hired a small army of salesmen, and sales of 1,638 surveyed lots began with an open house on Sunday, June 13, 1926. Like other developers of the time, such as O. L. Schwencke, Roethlein Brothers provided free transportation to see the site and stressed the investment value over the homes themselves (which were all brick and sold for $7,750 and up). The firm guaranteed a profit with its “Equity Plan” that would establish a reserve fund from 40% of monthly installments and pay landowners should the property be appraised at least 15% higher within five years. Roethlein Brothers promised to return 50% of payments made if the property did not increase in value.

Though land sales were successful, very few homes were built within the first two decades and not every planned street was opened. The project established the grid of numbered streets and laid out the Prospect Avenue extension from its former terminus at Newbridge (now East Meadow) Avenue to Hempstead Turnpike in October 1926. Most of the numbered streets were still unopened by 1947.

Meadowbrook Development Corporation built on a small section of Parcel “A” between Fifth Street and Seventh street, just south of McKinley Avenue (now DeWolfe Place) in 1929, upon which the Gethsemane Church now sits.

Another early housing project resulting from the Meadowbrook Development Corporation purchase was Development Home Sites, which was built on the south side of Prospect Avenue on two irregularly-shaped parcels around McKinley and Freeman avenues and extensions of Stuyvesant and Park avenues. The developers did not continue the East Hempstead Gardens numbering system past Eighth Street but maintained the efficient grid pattern so popular before World War II. Construction began in 1932; within six years, there were many more homes built and occupied than in the East Hempstead Gardens section. Curved connections of Fifth through Eighth streets (today’s Fifth through Eighth avenues) of the earlier Hempstead Centre development provided easy access to the newer Newbridge Road School. Housing starts were scarce southwest of Devon Street, and the Oxford and Cambridge Street area was still used for farmland. A small project named Meadowbrook Villas off Front Street at Kodma Place rose in 1940.

Neither East Hempstead Gardens nor Development Home Sites would be completely built up before World War II. Large numbers of “Queen Ranch Homes” were built in eleven sections over 150 acres by Paul and Nathan Reizen in the area near Devon Street and Prospect Avenue. The Queen Ranch Homes cost $11,990 in 1952 and included attached garages and rear patios. One feature of the model was its ability to support a two-bedroom addition in its “expansion” dormered attic. A quick drive around the neighborhood shows that many homeowners eventually took advantage of this option. A 1953 development program by Ma-Lo Homes (Anthony Mastroianni and Al Louri) built on empty lots near Third Street and Lincoln Avenue with $13,490 Cape Cod homes.

The Baby Boom brought rapid development to the Prospect Avenue area, including the former Meadowbrook Development parcels. The largest, Meadowbrook Manor, was built by Louis Bright in 1947 and 1948 (note Bright Avenue). Situated just south of Hempstead Turnpike and just west of Newbridge Road, Meadowbrook Manor sought to include up to 300 homes. Buyers were enthusiastic about moving to the suburbs, and Bright’s ambitious $3,000,000 project rose quicker than expected and was expanded in 1956. On the adjoining Newbridge Road property, Herman Lazarus offered homes in his East Meadow Park Estates in 1955 for $16,990.

Colchester Estates was built in several sections on both sides of Prospect Avenue in 1950. The initial section, constructed on the former farmlands of Alphonso Fredericks, is centered upon Chester and Byrd drives. Colchester Estates South was built on a parcel of the Meadowbrook Development Corporation at Eighth, Lancaster, and Gladmore streets. Michael Lamm and Saul Seiff of Home Specialists began selling the brick homes in 1949 for $9,350. In 1966, Seiff became the president of the Long Island Builders Institute and was honored by Conservationists United of Long Island for his effort in saving trees in Suffolk County housing projects.

The sizable East Meadow Park (or Randal Homes) development was planned in 1950 by Michel Randal, formerly a Parisian architect, with ranch homes selling for $8,390 and $8,890. Residents of the 43-acre development formed a civic association but merged with the East Meadow Taxpayers Association in 1951.

Fairhaven Estates, developed by Myron and Harry Nelkin and William Krown, followed in 1952. Veterans could purchase in Fairhaven Estates for $11,990, with a down payment of $960. These “Inexpensive Luxury and Priceless Location” homes are situated on the curvy extension of Lincoln Avenue and Cole Drive and, of course, Fairhaven Road. Like other midcentury developments, advertisements stressed the “science” kitchen and ceramic bathroom in addition to a full basement and attached garage, a mainstay of the 1950s. Further down East Meadow Avenue, Harry Ringhoff sold off most of his land in 1957 to create the small Adelaide Estates, named after his wife.

In 1950, the Town of Hempstead awarded Karlson and Reed a contract for $73,536 to install additional water mains in the central part of East Meadow, largely as a result of the aforementioned housing projects. Notably, the water tower and Meadow Lawn School were built on lands ceded for public use at Franklin Avenue and Devon Street.

Check out www.eastmeadowhistory.org for a detailed map showing the location of every development in East Meadow. I developed this interactive resource over the past two months from primary sources available from the county’s vast records. 

© Scott Eckers