A look at the history of Levittown from historian Paul Manton.
Out of the open, wind-swept,
horizon-to-horizon grasslands of the Hempstead Plains, a line was
"And from thence uppone a Est line to the end of the plaine
bounded with wodes one the ese" is how the May 20, 1648 treaty between
Robert Williams and Pugnipan of the Matinecock defined what half a
decade hence became the Hempstead/Oyster Bay township line and,
consequently, in an unimagined future three centuries thereafter, the
border between Hicksville and Levittown.
But any sense of boundary
between the two entities is of recent vintage. A 1925 aeroview map shows
a bustling Hicksville of stores, small factories (pickles,
gold-beating, soap-making), houses of worship, and private residences
huddled around a railroad depot out of Petticoat Junction; a
hamlet with its own playhouse, bowling lanes, courthouse, and
recently-erected central high school peopled by families living in the
same neighborhood as their great grandparents.
A community no longer
entirely agricultural - the scattered potato and cucumber farms betwixt
patches of undeveloped land notwithstanding - but not as yet suburban in
spite of a number of small housing developments east of Bethpage Road,
along Nevada Road, and between Kingston Avenue and Elmira Street.
Indeed, except for the latter - called Nassau Gardens before 1930 -
little resided south of Old Country Road but the 1860 burying ground and
a few scattered farms dotting an area vaguely called Island Trees.
All that changed after WWII,
leaving people in the 1950's and 60's to contemplate the bifurcations
that were evident in the architecture and plot sizes even as the
mass-produced, circuit-board landscape of the Levitt Development crossed
Williams' and Pugnipan's "Est line to the end of the plaine" to merge
with the triangle and patchwork of the older community.
Billy Joel grew
up in this borderland locals called "the Levittown section of
Hicksville" by those endeavoring to comprehend the chimera; the place
where Norman Rockwell's small town working class America intersected
with the emerging Leave it to Beaver blue collar suburbia. The difference was not simply real estate. In the August 13, 1999 issue of The Levittown Tribune,
Michael Larkin noted that in the 1950's, Levittown "was composed mostly
of people attracted to the Island from the city by attractive low-cost
housing, whereas many Hicksville locals had been rooted in Hicksville
Having worked and lived in
both communities - as a Hicksville resident for 14 years and as a
Levittown resident for 29 years, and having been active in
civic organizations in both, I've often sensed the distinction. Amongst
older residents, Hicksville nostalgia is for the days "when all this was
still farms" or at least for the days before the tracks were elevated
and the railroad station relocated to the Newbridge Road crossing and
the west side of Broadway demolished.
In Levittown the nostalgia is
grounded in the post-War sense of having found the American Dream with
the "old neighborhood" in Brooklyn or the Bronx standing in for what
immigrant families used to call "the old country."
This bifurcation is
augmented by ethnic considerations with Hicksville having a large
Central American and South Asian immigrant population as well as more
Still, in the residential streets of both is a
common sense of suburbia even if it's come to mean something different
than what it meant in the 1950's when everyone knew, or seemed to know,
everyone else's name on the block. And still, too, like Billy Joel, I
can't help but see myself as both a Levittowner and a Hicksvillite.
Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org.
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