The Baldwin Historical Society, in collaboration with the Baldwin Public Library, hosted a Zoom meeting on Jan. 7 to explore the history of Baldwin.
Marialisa Ar-nold, of the Baldwin Public Library, introduced Karen Montalbano, of the historical society, who presented the program, “A Brief History of Baldwin.” It is one of more to come.
“We will be having programs that the Baldwin Historical Society will be offering on behalf of the library on a monthly basis,” Arnold said. “It will be the third Thursday of the month, and each month will have a different theme.”
Baldwin’s history can be traced back to the 1600s, Montalbano said, adding that the first inhabitants were Native Americans — the Lenape and Meroke tribes.
The area of Baldwin Harbor was originally called Hick’s Neck, after John Hicks, an Englishman who was a freeholder of the Town of Hempstead, she continued.
A gristmill was set up in the 1680s, helping draw the first settlers to the area, who took advantage of the water for fishing, clamming and oystering, and the fertile land for farming.
The industry in the area, Montalbano explained, included wooling, or the manufacturing of cloth to make clothing, and harvesting the plentiful and rich salt marshes that were used to feed the animals in the winter. Clamming and fishing were major in Baldwin, too.
“A road from the mill toward the bay became what we now know as Milburn Avenue,” she said. “Grand Avenue started as a footpath called Hick’s Neck Road from Hempstead Village heading toward south Baldwin. It was also used to drive cattle and sheep to the Hempstead Plains where they grazed from the spring through the fall.”
Montalbano showed old photographs of the original roadways, including Merrick Road, which was originally a toll road called the Jamaica Merrick Plank Road. It was the only east-west route along the South Shore until Sunrise Highway was built in 1927.
“You see Sunrise Highway in about 1930, shortly after it was built,” Montalbano said, referring to the photo. “You can see how it was narrower. You can see how the old cars just parked any which way and they parked on a diagonal.”
Additionally, the South Side Railroad was built in 1866 and the railroad station was built in 1868. The railroad turned what took hours by boat or carriage on the Jamaica Merrick Plank Road into a 45-minute ride to Manhattan, “which is still the same time today, when you think about it, and on what is now called the Long Island Rail Road,” Montalbano said.
Up to that time, the fastest way to move people and goods to Manhattan and elsewhere was by boat. Ships docked at Lott’s Landing on Milburn Creek just north of Atlantic Avenue, and by the 1830s, it was a major shipping area.
But the maritime history of Baldwin also included a disaster. The wreck of the Barque Mexico happened in January 1837, when 130 Irish immigrants were lost when the ship wrecked off Baldwin’s southern coast. Only three people were rescued.
Montalbano also discussed the original schools built in the area as well as some notable people who grew their families in Baldwin.
“What ended the fishing and clamming industry in Baldwin?” asked Elle Kapito.
And while she said she didn’t know for certain, Montalbano said over time, the industry died out because of loss of land due to housing developments being built and people aging and not being able to pull up enough to sustain themselves.
The new presentation series, Montalbano said, gives residents a chance to learn about Baldwin’s rich history and share pride in the community.
“The irony is, although we’re all confined and we’re at home watching this and talking and stuff,” Arnold said, “it enabled us as a larger group to get together and really learn something all together in one compact moment.”