Valley Stream is a picturesque town with a rich and vibrant history. From its humble beginnings as a small farming village to the bustling town it is today, this town has a long and fascinating story to tell. As we look back at the history of this Long Island town, we can trace its evolution and the many influences that have left their mark on it.
Pre-Settlement History: The Lenape Indians
The first inhabitants of the land that would become Valley Stream were the Lenape Indians. Originating in the Philadelphia area, the Lenape people expanded northwood and became one of the most numerous and widely distributed Native American tribes in North America.
The name Lenape comes from the word “Lenni-Lenape” which means, “the real people”. They lived in the coastal regions, prairies, and deciduous forests of the mid-Atlantic coast and were semi-nomadic people who created permanent settlements.
Notably, the Lenapes were one of the few Native American tribes who farmed their land which included corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. They also hunted for wild game and fished in the nearby rivers and streams.
Early Settlement: The Dutch Arrive
In 1636, the first Dutch settlers arrived in the town of Hempstead, where Valley Stream is located. The settlers came from the Netherlands and hoped to create a new life for themselves in the New World.
The Dutch named their new settlement after the village of Hoog-Hegrexten in the Netherlands. The settlement was called “Hegestadt” which means “high goat town” in English. They were granted permission to settle in the land by English Governor John Winthrop. The town of Hempstead was named one of the original townships when the county of Queens was created in 1683. It was later divided into four smaller towns: North Hempstead, Hempstead, South Hempstead, and Valley Stream. Valley Stream was named after the stream that flows through the town.
Industrialization: A Transformation of the Landscape
As the industrial revolution took root in the United States, Valley Stream transformed from a rural farming town to an industrialized center of commerce. The town was a major producer of clothing, textiles, and railroad equipment.
Manufacturing companies such as the Mackay-Washburn Company (the world’s largest manufacturer of men’s underwear), the Meadowbrook Textile Mills, and the A. W. Stevens Manufacturing Company (the largest manufacturer of men’s shirts in the world) provided employment for thousands of residents.
The construction of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in the mid-19th century contributed to the town’s growth and progress. The LIRR’s construction was funded by the federal government and was a major project at the time. The LIRR was built to connect the main steamboat docks of New York City with the rest of Long Island and made Valley Stream more accessible which subsequently allowed the town to expand and thrive.
Social Movements: Valley Stream’s Role in the Civil Rights Movement
The town of Valley Stream has a long history of activism and social movements regarding discrimination in the town. In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in the town of Hempstead, where Valley Stream is located.
The public had little knowledge of the NAACP until they made headlines in the 1950s onto the 1960s, when the town was the focus of many social movements, including protests by the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
The town was a strategic location for civil rights demonstrations because it was close to New York City. Activists could easily travel to and from the city to organize protests and spread the word about their causes.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Valley Stream was the site of several important rallies. In 1957, CORE members demonstrated against discrimination in public accommodations by staging sit-ins at restaurants and other public places. In 1961, CORE members staged another sit-in at a hotel in Hempstead. The local NAACP chapter was also very active. In 1956, they staged a sit-in at a public library to protest the segregation of books by race, and in 1959, NAACP members protested against the discrimination of black students in the public school system by staging a sit-in at the school board offices.
The Last Century: Valley Stream’s Growth and Expansion
As the town continued to thrive and grow, a new town was created in 1947 and Valley Stream was split into two: the town of Hempstead and the town of Valley Stream. Valley Stream was the larger and more prosperous of the two towns and the decision was made to rename it Hempstead.
In 1956, the town of Hempstead annexed the small village of Franklin Square and parts of neighboring Queens County. It was now a bustling city with a population of over 100,000 people. The growth and expansion of Hempstead did not end there.
In the 1990s, the town added another 20,000 residents after it annexed a large portion of North Woodmere. The city of Hempstead is now the most populated city on Long Island with a population of over half a million people. Hempstead is the commercial, cultural, and economic center of Long Island. It is home to many attractions and landmarks, including the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Long Island Museum of American Art, and the New York Health & Racquet Club.
From the Lenape Indians who were the first to inhabit the land to the arrival of the Dutch settlers in the 1600s, the town has a story to tell. As we look back at the history of Valley Stream, we can trace its evolution and the many influences that have left their mark on the town.
From its early days as a rural farming village to its industrial and commercial growth during the 20th century, Valley Stream has experienced a unique journey through time, and thanks to brave organizations as the NAACP, CORE, and other civil rights groups, the unfortunate past of discrimination is behind us, never to return, as is with all of Long Island.
Today, Valley Stream is a well established vibrant community that welcomes all. If you come to Long Island to visit or look for a place to settle, you may want to include Valley Stream as one of your stops.