My elementary school years in Brooklyn and Levittown coincided with an educational movement against memorization. It's not that proponents didn't want children to be able to instantly rattle-off "81" to the question "what's 9x9" or unflaggingly produce "Trenton" when pressed to name New Jersey's capital. It's that they feared memorization of numbers, places, statistics and dates might become the extent of a student's knowledge; that pupils would be endowed with quickly forgotten date rather than concepts and critical thinking skills.
This idea is not without merit. After all, schools are supposed to graduate educated persons, not train game show contestants. (I recollect most of my questions in high school, for example, being answered with "don't worry, that won't be on the Regents"). However - and I'll speak here only with respect to history - without a strong chronological foundation, events and conceptions run the risk of being taken out-of-context and dominated by apocryphal narratives. We need to memorize historical dates before we can truly grasp more abstract historical concepts and theories that require the aforementioned critical thinking skills. Dates like October 14, 1066 or December 7, 1941 should leap off the page and instantly resonate with us.
There are three dates every Levittowner should know because each of them came to initiate an important phase in the evolution of our community. They are as follows:
February 12, 1664.
- It was on this date that Essex-born Captain John Seaman (1615-1695) sat down with Takapausha and other representatives of the Massapequan and Merrick Indians along what's now Wantagh Avenue and probably at or near present-day Cherrywood Shopping Center, and acquired the thousands of acres of land called the Jerusalem Purchase. Arriving on the Winthrop Fleet to Massachusetts in 1630, Seaman worked his way up to become a captain in the colonial militia during the conflict between the Pequots and the Wampanoags and their English allies. He later moved to Long Island, became one of twenty proprietors of the original 1643 Hempstead Purchase and converted to Quakerism. His Jerusalem Purchase encompassed most of Wantagh, Seaford, and south-eastern Levittown and, on this last account, he is thusly the first white man to settle in the future suburban community although his house was a few hundred feet south of Southern State Parkway. Seaman also actively promoted the settlement of Quaker families seeking religious freedom into our area - including the Hicks family.
March 1, 1837.
- On this date, Quaker businessman, prominent abolitionist and LIRR president Valentine Hicks (1782-1850) oversaw the arrival of the first locomotive - the John Bull - onto a stretch of open meadow of the Hempstead Plains just south of his Jericho home at the Maine Maid Inn. With a means to efficiently transport people, crops, livestock, and farming implements well away form the coastline, Hicks actualized his dream of creating the settlement that now bears his name. But this Founding Father of Hicksville began selling land to German businessmen and land speculators who opened the way for the influx of potato farming families to established themselves on lands south of the railroad; lands collectively known as Island Trees - the fields upon which Levitt & Sons would erect not merely thousands of homes but an entire suburban landscape.
October 1, 1947.
- After four months of non-stop building, Levitt & Sons first one thousand families moved into their new Cape Cod homes. It was a day of streets packed with automobiles, moving vans, hectic adults, excited children getting to know new friends and classmates, and - somewhere in the distance - the endless sounds of construction. History records the first family to be Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bladykus who, surrounded by a sea of reporters, moved into Job Site No. 1 at what's now 67 North Bellmore Rd. A typical young post-WWII housewife back then, Mrs. Bladykus passed away on November 9, 2009 in Stuart, Florida at the age of eighty-eight.
Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org.