History of Valley Stream



 Early History of Valley Stream

Excerpted and paraphrased:

“50th Anniversary Book of Valley Stream” (1975) – Howard Ruehl 
“Valley Stream 75 Years” – Bert Keller and Carol McKenna

     As late as the 1670s, there was no community of Valley Stream.  All was farmland and woodland. The northwest corner, approaching modern-day Elmont, was known as Foster's Meadow, the main farming section between Jamaica and Rockaway. At the extreme southwest, approaching Jamaica Bay was Hungry Harbor, so called because it was the only area of farmland that possessed rich fertile land in addition to having access to the sea and was home to a settlement of hungry squatters. Hirst Dock was the only enterprise of the harbor.

     The land we now know as Valley Stream was generally referred to as "the land between Near Rockaway and Jamaica." The northeast section received the name Tigertown, and later, in the mid- 1880s, when five hotels and four residences comprised the business section of Rockaway Avenue, the area was known as Rum Junction. The northern section of the Village was known as Cookie Hill, because of its racy reputation.  A little to the northeast, was a business that processed manure into fertilizer.  It was said that during the summer months, the stench became so rank that farmers needed only to follow their noses to find the place, earning the area its moniker, Skunks Misery.

     In 1834, Robert Pagan, his wife Ellen, and their four children (Jane, Catherine, Sophia, James) emigrated from Scotland to Foster’s Meadow.  Their one-year old daughter, Agnes, died at sea. There were perhaps a score of families living in the area when Pagan and his family arrived. The Cornell and Hall families owned huge tracts of land in the northeast. The Hendricksons and Pflugs were farther west. The Mott, Elderd and Cammon families owned land to the north. To the southwest were the Wright, Golder, Lindner, Rasweiler and Shaw families. The Nostrand farm, adjoined by Abram Foster’s land, was located where the Rockaway Avenue shopping district is today. West of Rockaway Avenue was the land of Daniel Hewlett, and farther south were the Schreiber, Horton and Doxsey farms.

     To the extreme west, on Rosedale Road, was Remson Hendrickson’s farm. Anton Hoeffner and John Richter’s farms came a bit later. On Hungry Harbor Road, there were only two families, the Combs and Reisings. The Reiserts soon followed.

     Most of the families were branches of early Long Island settlers or had moved to the area after first living in either NYC or Brooklyn. Some emigrated from Europe. The Wrights, Combs, Halls, Fosters, Cornells and Hewletts originally came from England. The Motts came with the early Dutch settlers, some as early as 1647. The Hendricksons hailed from Sweden. Many families were of German ancestry – the Pflugs, Hoeffners, Richters and Rasweilers. The Hewletts are of Revolutionary and Colonial stock, direct descendants of Van Wyck Hewlett, whose father, Treadwell, arrived from England in 1660.

     Almost all the heads of family listed their occupation as farmers. The Wrights and Cornells were millers. The Doxseys and Golders were market-men. The only blacksmith was Golder. The Wrights were also wheelwrights (hence their surname) and innkeepers. The Motts and Combs were bay men. The Hewletts were carriage makers and carpenters.

     Ellen Pagan started the first religious services in the community. Tired of traveling the rough road to the Old Sand Hole Church in Lynbrook, and to the Fosters Meadow Methodist-Episcopolian Church (renamed St. John's Methodist Church in 1885) in Elmont, Pagan started services in her home. A Methodist minister on the Long Island circuit was secured, and the church-going population of Valley Stream met each Sunday in the living room of the Pagan’s home. Sinner’s Hope Chapel was established by the small congregation a short while later. Wheeler Avenue Elementary School’s playground is the approximate location of that church. The Grace United Methodist Church on Franklin Avenue was formed from the Sinner’s Hope congregation.

     The Pagan name was thought to sound “heathenish” (pagan) to his neighbors. They suggested he change his name. Pagan, a thrifty Scot, did not change his name, as it would have cost money to do so. His son James, however, did change the family surname to Payan.


     There were four mills in Valley Stream, all of which utilized water power to cut the famers’ timber and grind their grain. Grist mills were used to grind grains such as wheat, rye, oat and barley into flour and meal for the farmers. The miller was usually paid for his services by collecting a portion of the grain brought to the mill for grinding.

     In wintertime, Cornell’s Pond on Merrick Road supplied ice for the community. It was cut into blocks and stored in an icehouse which was also located on Merrick Road, about where the Irma Park Hotel and later, the Pavillon Royal, stood.

    Another necessary item to farmers of primitive methods was the salt hay which was harvested in abundance from the marshlands south of Hungry Harbor. Cutting hay for the cattle to eat during wintertime was a very important procedure that occurred in late summer.   From 1668, hay cutting was rigidly controlled by law on Long Island. No one was permitted to begin cutting before September first of each year, and under penalty of a fine, no one was allowed to cut more than he could carry away in a day.

      Back in the day, there was no Merrick Road. Villagers had to use Hempstead Turnpike. When Merrick Road opened in 1853, it gave the village a shift to the south. The road was planked from Jamaica to Merrick and was so narrow that when two horse teams met, it was necessary for one to turn off the road to let the other pass. Along the road were toll gates; the toll was one and three-quarter cents a mile, a total of 27 cents for the stretch. The toll gate was located on the borderline between Valley Stream and Lynbrook, at Merrick Road and Horton Avenue.

     The stagecoach from Babylon ran over Merrick Road every day. Passengers were charged one cent per mile. The coach went through Valley Stream at 8:00 a.m. and arrived in NYC at about 3:00pm. There were two stopover stations on the coach line - Tom West’s Hotel at Central Avenue and the Tally-Ho Hotel at Horton Avenue (at the toll gate).

     NYC and Brooklyn both used the ponds and streams in Valley Stream for their water supply. The first phase of the Brookly Water Works was completed in 1862, which included Cornell’s Pond (Arthur J. Hendrickson Park), Clear Stream (Arlington Park), and Watts Pond (Mill Pond/Edward Cahill Memorial Park). The Clear Stream Pumping Station was built in 1885 on the south side of modern-day Sunrise Highway, where Target stands today. The water from these ponds/reservoirs and driven wells were channeled to Brooklyn via the Ridgewood Aqueduct.

     During the 1870s, Valley Stream was a group of farm hamlets. By the early 1880s, it had progressed to the status of a village. The business center moved from its original location on Hendrickson Avenue and Henry Street (Robert Pagan’s store/post office/home) to Merrick Road and Central Avenue, where a blacksmith, butcher shop, tailor and several taverns were located. During the 1890s, bicycling was the craze and Valley Stream became a popular place for bicycle excursions. The chief attraction was two cycling tracks known as Etlick’s Oval, located on the north side of West Merrick Road and North Terrace Place. The Irma Park Hotel was located directly across the road, on the south side of Merrick Road, a popular resort for cycling enthusiasts. The hotel later became the Pavillon Royal, a popular entertainment venue in the 1920s. Tom West’s Hotel, located on the southeast corner of Merrick Road and Central Avenue, was another well-known bicycling meeting spot.

     The main section of the South Side Railroad was completed from Jamaica to Babylon in 1867. However, the train did not make a formal stop at Valley Stream. Waiting passengers had to flag down the train if they wanted to get aboard. In 1868, Electus B. Litchfield, a financer from Babylon, purchased the Brush farm, a large tract of land comprised of over 85 acres. He laid out what later became the Village of Valley Stream.

     After the Civil War, bathing became popular and a number of hotels and pavilions sprang up in the Rockaways. In 1869, the Southside Railroad built a branch to the Rockaways. The first trains from Valley Stream to the Rockaways started in July of that year. This really put Valley Stream on the map as well as the railroad timetable. Connections were not the best, and passengers had to wait for hours to connect with the train to the Rockaways. Though annoying for the passengers, the long waits were a boon for the villagers, leading to the development of hotels in the vicinity of the railroad juncture. It is said that there was a saloon on every corner – which is why the area was called Rum Junction.

     A train depot was built in 1870. Some prominent residents had offered to pay for half the cost of building it, but then reneged on their offer. The workmen rioted at the news, so the South Side Railroad paid for the station itself. The building was located on Rockaway between Third Street and Rockaway Avenue, south of the tracks. In 1876, the South Side Railroad ceased to exist and ownership passed to the Long Island Railroad.

     There were two trolleys in Valley Stream. The “Toonerville” trolley was owned and operated by the Long Island Traction Company and was in operation from 1903 to 1926. It ran from Jamaica to Freeport, and passed through Valley Stream along Jamaica Avenue. The other trolley was “The Dinkey,” a battery-driven trolley that ran north to south, from Mineola to Valley Stream. It broke down frequently. It, too, went out of business in 1926 when the Long Island Railroad electrified the line and established regular train service.


     William R. Gibson came to Valley Stream in 1922 when he purchased land from the Norumbega Real Estate Company and the Queens County Water Company. On this land, Gibson designed and built homes for many white-collar city workers who were seeking a country-type environment along with convenience, naming the community after himself. The original land comprised 500 acres on Roosevelt Avenue and the adjacent side streets. The first homes built were on Avondale, Berkeley, Cambridge, Derby and Elmwood streets. More acreage was bought in 1927, along with rows of attached residences and mews on Cochran Place and Dartmouth Street.

     In 1929, the Long Island Railroad agreed to have morning and evening stops in Gibson, if Gibson erected his own train station. He did, at a cost of $50,000. A 16-hole miniature golf course was erected directly east of the station shortly after it was built. In 1932, an indoor tennis court was built across from the station as well.

     Gibson was awarded prizes for the most beautiful and best kept gardens and lawns. He started the custom of carol-singing around a Christmas tree at the Gibson Station. In a whimsical mood, he named some of the newer streets after well-known liquors: Haig, DuBonnet, Carstairs, Gordon, and Wilson.

     In September 1946, the Gibson Civic Association was organized. The association printed the “Chatter,” a monthly publication.

Curtiss Field 

     It was in the late 1920s when the airplane was first introduced to the people of Valley Stream. In 1928, the Advance Aircraft Corp. opened a flying field for commercial and passenger service. The site was the Reisert farm, located on 270 acres. Hendrickson Bros. graded and constructed the field. Opening day included an air circus (aerial activities). The love affair with the airfield was short-lived. Dust storms, low and night flying, and the noise of roaring engines provoked much criticism from the local residents. Flying restrictions and zoning laws made running the airport very challenging, and in 1930, Curtiss Aircraft purchased the ill-fated airfield, turning it into the largest commercial airfield on Long Island. At the height of activity, over 800 planes flew in and out of the field every day. In 1929, twenty-six women, including Amelia Earhart, gathered at Curtiss Field and formed a women’s pilot organization, The Ninety-Nines. Amelia Earhart, who served as the organization’s first president, suggested the organization’s name reflect the number of original charter members,

     By 1933 the Depression had taken its toll - activities had come to a standstill and the airport was closed. The airfield was then purchased by The Columbia Aircraft Corp,a United States aircraft manufacturer. In 1941, Columbia worked closely with Grumman Aircraft, undertaking the development and production of that company's military amphibian aircraft designs, including the J2F Duck. After the completion of wartime contracts for the United States Navy, the firm's operations decreased in scale and Columbia was acquired by Commonwealth Aircraft in early 1946. Commonwealth ceased production of aircraft in March 1947.


     During the 1920s, Valley Stream experienced great growth. At that time, they were governed by the Town of Hempstead and protected by the Nassau County Sheriff and constables. Property owners paid a town tax as well as a county tax. Merrick Road, Central Avenue and Rockaway Avenue were maintained by the County of Nassau. All of the other roads in Valley Stream were owned and maintained by the Town of Hempstead. The residents, many who came from cities that were self-governed, believed that a village form of government would be best. A resolution was proposed to the residents in September of 1922. Although the proposition to incorporate won approval, it did so with only 8 votes, which was not considered a sufficient majority. After another proposal in November of that year, the resolution was drastically defeated. Finally, in 1925, the vote to incorporate won with an overwhelming majority.

Green Acres/Millbrook 

     In 1933, Clarence Stein, a town planner, and Henry Wright, an architect, conceived of building an 18,000 home community on 350 acres of flat land, formerly Curtiss Field, just east of the New York City border. The goal was to revive the building industry during the Depression and to bolster employment. It was to be modeled loosely after the 1929 development of Radburn, New Jersey, a planned suburban community. Radburn was explicitly designed with a pedestrian path system that does not cross any major roads, and is credited with designing some of the earliest cul-de-sacs in the U.S.According to Stein, the project was never built, due to government bureaucracy.

     In 1936, Irwin S. Chanin, an architectural engineer who had built NYC skyscrapers and theaters, announced plans to build Green Acres, a suburban development of 1,800 single-family homes and a large shopping center, on the very same 350-acre site included in Stein’s earlier plans.

     That October, the Architectural Record featured a two-page spread entitled “Green Acres, A Residential Park Community designed by Irwin S. Chanin.” The plan called for five through-streets and 85 private cul-de-sac lanes connected by short concrete footpaths to a general park system which would have a combined length of more than seven miles. Instead of a greenbelt surrounding the community, Chanin planned to widen and deepen the existing streams which formed natural boundaries on two sides of the site, and incorporate them into the park system.

     Of the original scheme, fewer than 400 houses, one through-street, and 20 cul-de-sacs were built prior to World War II. After the war, an additional 400 houses were built, along with an elementary school at the center of the development. The pre-war section, still known as the “Old Section,” consists of Cape Cod, Colonial, English, and French Manor home designs. In the newer section, the houses are ranches and split-levels, more typical of post-war Long Island suburban development. The cul-de-sac plan was not followed in the post-war section. There are only two points of egress to the community. Two-story garden apartments and senior housing were also built on the north side of the community by the Green Acres Mall. There is no access from the mall into the community. The mall today has been enclosed and is nearly triple the size of the original shopping center built by Chanin.




Valley Stream receives its name.  

1853  1853


Merrick Road is constructed as a plank road wide enough for one team of horses. The road extended from Jamaica to Merrick.   A toll of one cent a mile for all users of the road. A stagecoach traveled on this road going from Babylon to NC every other day.



The City of Brooklyn purchases Valley Stream ponds for its water system.



South Side Railroad opens. No formal stop in Valley Stream. Passengers waved handkerchiefs alongside the tracks to alert the train to stop.



A branch line of the South Side Railroad was opened in Far Rockaway. Valley Stream was the juncture point and appeared for the first time on the timetable.



E.B. Litchfield, land owner; and William Olmsted, architect; laid out the first streets and built the first homes off Rockaway Avenue. Valley Stream train depot built on east side of Rockaway Avenue south of the train tracks.



South Side Rail Road passed on the ownership of the rail to the Long Island Railroad.



Anton Bruns hotel (“Valley Stream Hotel”) opened as the first hotel south of Merrick Road.

1880  1880


Valley Stream begins to develop as a village.  Rockaway Avenue is a dirt road bordered by woodland.  The first shop to open was a butcher shop in the late 1880s.



Clear Stream Pumping Station built.



Valley Stream becomes a popular place for bicycle excursions.  Etlick’s Oval, two bicycle tracks, was located on West Merrick Road.



Valley Stream becomes part of Nassau County, with a population of about 800. Volunteer fire department founded.



“Toonerville Trolley,” an east/west trolley was owned and operated by the Long Island Traction Company. The line ran from Jamaica to Freeport. (Another trolley line, “The Dinky,” battery-driven, ran north-south, from Valley Stream to Mineola.)

1907  1907


“The Register” is published by J.C. Emerson, the only newspaper in the district. “The Nassau News” was also published that year by John G. Coyle. Brooklyn Avenue Elementary School is built.



Merrick Road is modernized.

1921  1921


“The Valley Stream Record” is published by E. George Williams (Ernest George Washington Williams).  Short-lived paper, soon turned over to Ed Moore, and then to A. Richard Howe, son of Wat Howe.

1922 1922


The Gibson Corporation purchased 700 acres of woodland and farmland south of the pipeline (Sunrise Highway).  The population of Valley Stream is approximately 2,500.



In 1922, local firemen bought the estate of Ezekiel Langdon for $6,300.

1923  1923


“The Outlaw” is published by Wat Howe (Henry Watterson Howe). His son A. Richard Howe eventually took over the paper and turned it into a more conventional weekly entitled “The Valley Stream Mail.” The paper was later renamed “The Valley Stream Mail and Gibson Herald.”



Clearstream Avenue School opens (District 30).

1925  1925


The Village of Valley Stream in incorporated on March 25th.  Valley Stream State Park is organized. The Valley Stream Movie Theater opens on Rockaway Avenue. The new Wheeler Avenue and Franklin (William F. Donahue) schools open. The population of Valley Stream is approximately 7,500.



Long Island Railroad displaces the Toonerville Trolley eliminated. The “Outlaw” changes its name to the “Valley Stream Mail and Gibson Herald.”



The Valley Stream section of the Southern State Parkway opens.



Rogers Airport opens along soon to be Sunrise Highway.

1929  1929


Curtiss-Wright purchases Rogers Airport and Reisert farm.   The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots, is formed. Sunrise Highway officially opens. The new Central High School opens on Fletcher Avenue.



Curtiss-Wright Airport shuts down, a casualty of the Great Depression.



Irwin Chanin, builder of NYC skyscrapers, buys Curtiss-Wright property and plans to build “Green Acres” community. Sunrise Drive-In Theater opens.



Sunrise Drive-In Theater opens on Sunrise Highway.



Green Acres community opens and Green Acres Civic Association formed.



The Village of Valley Stream acquires Firemen Field by assuming its mortgage.



The Valley Stream Mail Baseball league is founded. The first game is played in Firemen’s Field. Dr. Julius Foster, Valley Stream’s first doctor, passes away.



The Gibson Civic Association is formed.

1950 1950


Valley Stream Firemen’s Athletic Association gives the village “Firemen’s Field.” The Valley Stream Civic Association is formed. The North Central Civic Association is formed.



Corona Avenue School (James A. Dever) opens (District Thirteen).



Shaw Avenue School opens (District Thirty).



William L. Buck School opens (District Twenty-Four).



Valley Stream Memorial Junior High opens.



Howell Road (district 13), Willow Road (district 13) and Forest Road opens (District Thirty).



Harbor Road (Carbonaro) School opens (District Twenty-Four).



Band Shell and Village Hall opens on village Green. Valley Stream North and South High schools open.



Green Acres Shopping Center opens.



East End Valley Stream Civic Association formed.



The Valley Stream pool opens.



Henry Waldinger Memorial Library opens.



Franklin General Hospital opens.



“Valley Stream Mail and Gibson Herald newspaper becomes The MAILeader.”



Chamber of Commerce is formed.



Sunrise Drive-In theater is demolished and replaced with the Sunrise Multiplex Indoor Theaters.



Parkwold Civic Association of North Valley Stream is organized.



The William F. Donahue School (district 24) closes.



Chanukah menorah lit for the first time at the Valley Stream Long Island Railroad Station.



Green Acres community changes its name to Mill Brook.



Rio Movie Theater (Valley Stream Theater) on Rockaway Avenue is demolished. Unoccupied since 1982.



The MAILeader newspaper is changed to “The Record.”



Gibson Civic Association dissolves.



Population approximately 37,646.


The following articles are excellent historical resources for Valley Stream:

Robert Dibble (1866 - 1948) was born and raised in Valley Stream.  His father Marshall Dibble (1817 - 1890) married Helen Pagan, the sixth child of Robert and Helen Pagan, the town's founding family. Dibble wrote the following article for the August 16, 1928 edition of the "Nassau Daily Star." 

1928 - "The History of Valley Stream"

Alonzo Gibbs  (1915 - 1992), born in Canarsie, Brooklyn moved with his family to Valley Stream in 1921 where his father purchased a twelve acre farm from the Hendrickson family.  In 1933, the family moved to a farm in Plainedge. He attended Farmingdale High School and in 1941 he received a certificate from Columbia University on Aircraft Structural Design.

Employed by Grumman Aircraft Corp. for much of his working life, he always pursued his love of writing. He wrote many young adult novels, poetry and essays which were published over the years. His first young adult novel "The Fields Breathe Sweet," (1963) tells the story of the day-to-day life of stoic Dutch homesteaders living on Long Island during the late 1600s.  In his oral history interview with Helen Dowdeswell in February 1988, he explains that portions of the book actually describe 17th century Valley Stream. 

Gibbs and his wife Iris were co-editors of the "Long Island Forum" for 40 years. Their writings were later compiled into  books, "Harking Back" and  "Bethpage Bygones," which documents the history of the community from the time of the Bethpage Purchase by Thomas Powell on through the early 1900's.   

Gibbs wrote the following article, courtesy of the Nassau County Historical Society, for the Winter/Spring 1969 issue of the "Nassau County Historical Society Journal."  Gibbs describes everyday life in 1920s Valley Stream.                     

1920s Everyday Life in Valley Stream - Alonzo Gibbs

The following article was also written by Gibbs for the May 1968 issue of the "Long Island Forum," of which he was an editor.  Gibbs details his early school days at the original Wheeler School, which was located next to Sinners Hope Chapel, the church founded by Helen Pagan (Valley Stream's founding family).  The school was built in 1905 and closed in the spring of 1925.  The new Wheeler Avenue School, in its present day location (1 Wheeler Avenue), opened its doors in the fall of 1925.  The original school however, continued to operate as a learning institution.  In the fall of 1925 through the spring of 1929 it functioned as the first Central High School.  In the fall of 1929, the new Central High School on Fletcher Avenue opened its doors.  The 1901 building, which bore a striking resemblance to the beautiful and stately Brooklyn Avenue School, was demolished in 1930.   A very short life for such a beautiful building.

1920s Reminisces of the Original Wheeler Avenue School - Alonzo Gibbs

Alonzo Gibbs' Memories of Wheeler Avenue 


 Photo courtesy of Dorothy MacPherson


The following article appeared in the "Nassau Daily Star" on August 3, 1933:

1933 - Straggling Hamlets article in the Nassau Daily Star

1936 - Nassau County Tercentenary Pageant - presented by Genevieve Elderkin