3/22/2020 1 Comment
A Brief History of the Massapequas
The area labelled Massapequa today was occupied for several thousand years by Native American tribes and didn’t have its first European settler until 1696, rather late in the settlement period. In that year, Thomas Jones, former soldier in King James II’s army and former privateer, was given 6,000 acres of land by his father-in-law Thomas Townsend, and moved here from Oyster Bay with his wife Freelove. He built a brick house somewhere south of Massapequa Lake and lived there until his death in 1713. He was, at various times, Ranger General, Sheriff, Tax Collector, Major in the Queens County Militia, and Chief Warden of the Episcopal Church, and operated a whaling station at today’s Jones Beach. He had seven children, some of whom remained in the area and built homes along today’s Merrick Road.
The first large Jones estate was Tryon Hall, built in 1770 by Thomas’s son David. It was occupied briefly by his son, also Thomas, a Tory Judge who was arrested three times during the American Revolution and forced to leave the New York colony and seek sanctuary in England. His niece Arabella and her husband Richard Floyd inherited the building and its property by agreeing to change their last name to Floyd-Jones. Most of the Joneses moved up to Cold Spring Harbor and became wealthy and influential business people there. The Floyd-Joneses stayed in the Massapequas and built many large estates along Merrick Road, such as Massapequa Manor, east of Massapequa Lake, Holland House, where St. Rose of Lima stands today, and Sewan, the site of Massapequa High School. They became the controlling family in the Massapequas until well into the twentieth century.
Elbert Floyd-Jones, eager to have a convenient place of worship for his fellow Episcopalian family members, oversaw construction of Grace Church in 1844. It became the center of family worship for many years and gradually attracted other wealthy landowners, such as Cornelius Van De Water and James Meinell. The area also attracted other settlers after the American Civil War: Germans who settled in today’s Massapequa Park and farmers who bought or rented small plots of land in northwest Massapequa on either side of Hicksville Road. The area also attracted vacationers from New York City, who were drawn by its rustic charm and could reach it easily after construction of the South Side Railway in 1867. They came to hike, fish, hunt and later to swim in South Oyster Bay. The area was eventually home to fifteen hotels, including the Massapequa Hotel (1880 – 1914), known for its elegance and its proximity to Billy’s Beach, where Ocean Avenue runs to the Bay.
Significant change to the area’s rustic character was threatened by Queens Land and Title Company’s attempt to create a city of 20,000 residents before World War I, located west of the Massapequa Preserve and north of Broadway. The area was also altered by efforts of the Brady, Cryan and Colleran real estate firm, who attempted to fill the area that is today Massapequa Park with private houses. Both efforts were unsuccessful through a combination of shady business practices and the depression of the 1930s. Enormous change had to wait for the end of World War II, when the Massapequas became what they are today, a community of private homes served by two major roads, a railroad and several business centers.
The population of the Massapequas (the area that includes Massapequa, North Massapequa, East Massapequa and Massapequa Park) was about 3,000 in 1945. That number exploded to over 40,000 by the end of the twentieth century. Pent-up demand for private houses, coming from World War II veterans and New York City dwellers, led to the destruction of the mansions owned by Floyd-Jones family members and their replacement by private houses in developments such as Harbor Green, Biltmore Estates and Nassau Shores. German hotels and restaurants along Front Street were replaced by the Village of Massapequa Park, created in 1931. The farms in northwest Massapequa also disappeared, replaced by houses built throughout the area’s winding and irregular roads. The influx of residents forced the construction of schools, churches, libraries, movie theaters, parks, post offices, firehouses, restaurants, stores and later shopping centers, obliterating almost all vacant land in the Massapequas. The area we know today bears little resemblance to what was here until 1945, but stands as a vibrant and proud example of the suburbanization of the United States, the most obvious feature of our recent social history.