A look at the history of Levittown from historian Paul Manton.
highly probably, although not 100 percent verifiable, that Frederich Rowehl
(1854-1908) was the first person to be born in what became Levittown after
January 1, 1948; first to see the light of day on his parent's farm which sat
on Wantagh Avenue abutting to the north of the property of the German Methodist
Episcopal Church (now called St. John's of Jerusalem) which was created when he
was two years old.
our area witnessed its first European settlement in 1666 two years after Capt.
John Seaman purchased what became south-eastern Levittown and parts of Wantagh
and Seaford from Takapausha of the Massapequan. But all those pioneer
homesteads were located in what could be considered Wantagh today and,
consequently, that's where their progeny were born.
whilst the Massapequan Indians were here long before the arrival of the
English, they left no birth certificates to attest to live births in our
community. It's reasonable to assume, too, that all but a handful of births
occurred in local hospitals after 1947.
1968, when I moved to Levittown, there were about 30 kids under the age of 15 in
just 21 households on my block and six over 15 who were still in high school.
Not surprisingly, the Baby Boom peaked that year as reflected in the public
school facilities: District Five had 11 elementary schools, 3 junior high
schools, and 3 senior high schools. The district's 38 enrolled pupils in 1947 mushroomed
into 11,170 by 1950 and the following Autumn, some 1,200 kindergartners alone.
explosive growth of this generation of Levittowners is evident in church
records from St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church: there were 7,345 baptisms
between 1947 and 1957 or about two a day. Given that Levittown in the 1950's
and 60's was about a third Catholic, a third Protestant, and a third Jewish, we
can estimate - allowing for the same degree of fecundity - that the first
decade of the town's existence as a suburban entity saw some 22,000 births.
Levittown had become not merely the
quintessential example of the socioeconomic paradigm shift towards middle and
working class suburbia - hitherto the suburbs had been more limited in scope
and more upscale in social status - but a symbol of the Baby Boom as well with
wags calling it "Fertile Acres" and "Rabbittown" and being
"in a family way" as pregnant women's condition was dubbed back then,
was called "the Levittown look".
Levittown in the 1950's and 60's, as Rudyard Kipling described the British in
the 1880's, was a people "speaking the English tongue with a high birth
rate and low murder rate living quietly under laws which are neither bought nor
sold". Community life had become entirely youth-oriented and the local
funeral business's clientele in those years consisted largely of the parents
and grandparents of veterans and their wives who stayed behind in "the old
neighborhood" when the GI's purchased homes from Mr. Levitt.
In the 1950's, William Manchester observed in The Glory and the Dream
(1974), "the number of U.S. mothers
who had given birth to three or more children had doubled in twenty years. The
increase was most spectacular among college women; they were abandoning careers
to bear four, five, and six children. The percentage of females in the American
collage population (35%) was lower than in any European country and smaller
than its pre-War figure (40%)". The U.S. had entered a period in its
history not merely of unparalleled economic expansion but unprecedented natural
population increase as well. Newcomers to the American Dream were arriving not
via steam ship but via the maturity ward and the first stop was not Ellis
Island but a house in Levittown.
Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding
communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org
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