In the fall of 1643, Robert Fordham and John Carman crossed Long Island Sound by rowboat to negotiate with the local Indians for a tract of land upon which to establish a new community or "town spot". Representatives of the Marsapeague (Massapequa), Mericock (Merrick), Matinecock and Rekowake (Rockaway) tribes met with the two men at a site slightly west of the current Denton Green in Hempstead Village. Tackapousha who was the sachem (chief) of the Marsapeague was the spokesman for the other tribes. The Indians sold approximately 64,000 acres (260 km²), the present day towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead, for items worth less than $100 in today's market.
This transaction is depicted in a mural in Hempstead Village Hall, reproduced from a poster commemorating the 300th anniversary of Hempstead.
In the spring of 1644, thirty to forty families left Stamford, Connecticut, crossed Long Island Sound, landed in Hempstead Harbor and eventually made their way to the present site of the village of Hempstead where they began their settlement. Subsequent trips across the Sound brought more settlers who prepared a fort here for their mutual protection. These original Hempstead settlers were Puritans in search of a place where they could more freely express their particular brand of Protestantism. The settling of Hempstead marked the beginnings of the oldest English settlement in what is now Nassau County. They established a Presbyterian church here. Today that Church is the oldest continually active Presbyterian congregation in the nation. By 1843, as written in a history compiled by Benjamin F. Thompson and published in that year, Hempstead Village had 200 dwellings, 1,400 residents, was connected to New York City by a Turnpike and a railroad, had dry soil, excellent water and pure air and was in short, the principal place of mercantile and mechanical business in this part of the country. The village of Hempstead was incorporated on May 6, 1853, becoming the first community in Queens County (Nassau County did not exist as a separate county until 1899) to do so.
Regarding the origin of the name "Hempstead", Hempstead founder John Carman was born in 1606 in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England, on ancestral land recorded in the 2nd historic census of England (under Edward the First), the Rotuli Hundredorum (Hundred Rolls) AD 1273 as being owned by his direct ancestor Henry Carman. These same properties were on record continuously as being owned by Henry's descendants, through John Carman of 1606. John's wife Florence and her father, Rev. Robert Fordham, were from Surrey, England. Another theory regarding the origin of the name 'Hempstead' is that it is derived from the Dutch town of 'Heemstede' in the Netherlands, as this was an area many Dutch settlers of New Netherland originated from. Several of Hempstead's original fifty patentees had Dutch surnames. In 1664, the new settlement adopted the Duke's Laws, an austere set of laws that became the basis upon which the laws of many colonies were to be founded. For a time, Hempstead became known as "Old Blue," as a result of the "Blue Laws".
As the years passed, the population of Hempstead increased, as did its importance and prestige. In 1703, St. George's Church received a silver communion service from England's Queen Anne. George Washington and other prominent leaders of the Revolution often stayed in Hempstead. Right after he became President, George Washington made a tour of Long Island, stopping overnight at Sammis Tavern here (Nehemiah Sammis's 1683 Inn). Hempstead can boast of its share of celebrities. Eleanor Roosevelt lived here for a time as did Lionel Barrymore. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, actually spent her summers here during her teen years. Her family had a summer estate in Hempstead. Peter Cooper, inventor and politician, was a Hempstead resident. He married a local girl and settled here during the mid-19th century. Cooper invented the steam locomotive and ran for President on the "Greenback" ticket. Charles A. Lindbergh, arguably the world's most famous aviator, spent quite a bit of time in Hempstead both before and after his epic solo flight from nearby Roosevelt Field to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France on May 20, 1927. While living here, Christopher Morley was so enamored with the place that on the three hundredth anniversary of its founding wrote a beautiful essay in tribute. His first novel, Parnassus on Wheels, was written on a kitchen table at his Oak Street, Hempstead home in 1917. In 1704 the first stage coach on Long Island stopped to water its horses here.
During the American Revolution, Hempstead was a center of British sympathizers or Tories, as they were known. The British attempted to occupy Hempstead after the Battle of Long Island and used St. George's as a headquarters as well as a place to worship. Judge Thomas Jones faulted a lax peace treaty for forcing the evacuation of the loyalists.
In March 1898, Camp Black was formed on the Hempstead Plains (roughly the shared location of Hempstead and Garden City), in support of the impending Spanish-American War. Camp Black was bounded on the north by Old Country Road, on the west by Clinton Road, and on the south by the Central Line rail. Camp Black was opened on April 29, 1898 as a training facility and a point of embarkation for troops.
In the 19th century Hempstead became increasingly important as a trading center for Long Island. In 1853 it became the first self-governing incorporated village. Many prominent families such as the Vanderbilts and the Belmonts built homes here, making Hempstead a center of Long Island society. Hempstead merchants established routes out to outlying farms, and served as a distribution point for many firms. Wagons would leave Hempstead loaded with tobacco, candy and cigarettes and return in a week to restock. Bakeries covered routes from Baldwin to Far Rockaway daily. Butchers ran routes to Seaford, Elmont, Valley Stream, Wantagh, East Meadow, Creedmoor, East Rockaway and Christian Hook. Drugs, medicines, perfumes, extracts, aprons, children's coats and dresses and men's clothes were peddled about the country by Hempstead merchants. People came from all sections of Queens to purchase stoves, and there were few places outside Hempstead where stoves could be purchased. Hempstead was Nassau County's shopping center for more than two centuries. Hempstead has historically been the center of commercial activity for the eastern counties of Long Island. In Nassau County, all major county roads emanate from this village. It is indeed the "Hub" of Nassau County. During the 18th and 19th centuries, all stage coaches en route to eastern Long Island from Brooklyn passed through Hempstead. Today, twenty six bus routes and three interstate buses leave from the village every day. In addition, the Hempstead Branch of the Long Island Railroad has its terminal here. At one time, there were three railroad companies with terminals within the village.
Early Long Islanders made their living in agriculture or from the sea. Hempstead, with its central location, became the marketplace for the outlying rural farming communities. It was a natural progression, as the surrounding areas developed from small farms into today's suburbia, that Hempstead Village would remain as the marketplace. Chain department stores such as Arnold Constable and Abraham & Straus called Hempstead home for many years. Hempstead's Abraham & Straus was the largest grossing suburban department store in the country during the late 1960s. Hempstead was Nassau's retail center during the 1940s through the 1960s. The advent of regional shopping malls such as the one at nearby Roosevelt Field, the demise of nearby Mitchel Air Force Base in 1961 as well as the changing demographics put the retail trade in the village into a downward spiral that it was unable to recover from during the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s. Recent years have seen the redevelopment of the village as a government center as well as business center. There are more government employees from all levels of government in the village than there are in the county seat in Mineola. The population rises during the day to almost 200,000 from a normal census of 50,000.
Hempstead has developed over the past three hundred and fifty years into the most populous village in the state of New York, with a population in excess of 50,000 people. It is also the seat of government for the town of Hempstead, the largest minor civil division in the nation with over seven hundred thousand people. Hempstead is just as urban (at least with regard to population density and activity) as any major city. In stark contrast to the surrounding villages in the town and county, it is more densely populated than many American cities with exception to New York City, Mount Vernon, New York, Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, San Francisco, California, and Jersey City and Paterson, New Jersey.
Retailers, after a plethora of businesses left the Village in the 1980s and early 1990s, notably retail giant, Abraham & Straus, were once again developing interest in the village due to the aggressive revitalization efforts of former Mayor James Garner, who served from 1989 to 2005, and former Community Development Agency Commissioner, Glen Spiritis, who served under Garner's administration. Specifically, two large tracts of retail property have recently undergone redevelopment. The former Times Squares Stores (or TSS) property on Peninsula Boulevard and Franklin Street has been redeveloped as Hempstead Village Commons, a retail center including Pep Boys and Staples. The former Abraham & Straus department store on has recently undergone demolition and been replaced by a large retail development consisting of Home Depot, Old Navy, Stop & Shop and many other smaller establishments. A considerable infusion of state and federal funding as well as private investment have enabled the replacement of blighted storefronts, complete commercial building rehabilitations and the development of affordable housing for the local population. The replacement of the 1913 Long Island Railroad Hempstead Terminal with a modern facility was completed in 2002 and a four-story, 112 unit building for senior housing, with retail on the ground level was completed at Main and West Columbia Streets in January 1998. Thirty two units of affordable townhouses known as Patterson Mews at Henry Street and Baldwin Road was completed and fully occupied in 1997.
In 1989, Hempstead residents elected James A. Garner (R) as their mayor. He was the first Black or African-American mayor ever elected to office in New York state and he served for four consecutive terms. The first African American male judge, Lance Clarke, was elected in 2001. Currently, Wayne Hall, a former Village of Hempstead trustee, serves as mayor. He was elected to office in 2005.
Hempstead consists of several areas or neighborhoods that are distinct in character. Some enclaves have a reputation of being the source of crime, some are known to be populated by indingent residents, others consist of middle income residents and homeowners, while others boast stately homes with relatively little incidence of criminal acitivity. Originally, there were two known sides of town, "The Heights" (Hempstead Heights) and "The Hills" (Hempstead Hills). Hempstead Heights is the area east of Clinton St and west of Westbury Blvd. Over the years, several new regions, or "turfs" have informally been established, including "Terrace" (also known as "TA" or Terrace Ave.), "Parkside", "Trackside" and "Midway","D-Block".
In recent years, there has been concern regarding ongoing gang activity in certain neighborhoods, notably the "Heights". Hempstead was also one of the first Long Island communities that had to deal with the Salvadoran gang, MS-13 or "La Mara Salvatrucha". The continual intra-violence this gang has exhibited has led to the formation of their arch-rivals, "SWP" or "Salvadorans with Pride".
There are over fifty religious institutions located in the village of Hempstead. They include a vast range of denominations, including, Roman Catholic,(Eastern Catholic) Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptist, Lutheran and other Christian churches, a Hindu temple, a Sikh Gurudwara, a Korean temple, a Hebrew Congregation and a host of smaller congregations.
History of Hempstead Village by James B. York (his email address is Bruhah@aol.com)
History of St. George's Episcopal Church, Hempstead, Nassau, New York: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George%27s_Episcopal_Church_%28Hempstead,_New_York%29