Recently I was reading Will and Ariel Durant's The Age of Louis XIV and encountered a map of Europe in 1648. That's the year the Peace of Westphalia concluded the Thirty Years War and Robert Williams purchased, from Pugnipan of the Matinecock Indians, the land that encompasses Hicksville and parts of Woodbury and Syosset.
I was struck by the size of territory ruled by Poland - larger than contemporary France and Germany combined - and how insignificant Brandenburg-Prussia was then even though it would go on to create the German Empire that girdled the Continent by 1914. It's fascinating how states appear and vanish and, sometimes - like Poland, the birthplace of William Levitt's grandparents- reappear again.
Smaller settlements in our area have done this too. In the middle of the 19th Century, our area was peppered with little locally-used place-names and settlements that became completely absorbed into the suburban matrix; communities that almost became towns in their own right to dominate the map for the places we know today - Levittown, Hicksville, East Meadow - were hardly more populated or promising. Island Trees and Williamsville are good examples.
Williamsville appeared in the 1873 Cline, Beers, and Comstock map when its potential was at its zenith. Straddling the Town of Hempstead/Town of Oyster Bay line near Bethpage and Plainedge, Williamsville was a small area around the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike and Hicksville Road bounded on the east by Stewart Avenue thence southwards to Boundary Lane. It encompassed the Totten farm (now St. James Roman Catholic Church), the Ketcham farm (now the A.C. Moore shopping center), and the Vanderwater homestead (now St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital).
The name was derived from the Williams family whose spread in the 19th Century near the Stewart Avenue/Hicksville Road merge just west of 7-Eleven near Pasta Time. If it seems obscure today, and it is because Williamsville was never a legal entity with a post office, to its credit it had, in the decades after the Civil War, more going for it than the adjoining Island Trees area. Across the street from the Totten farm was the Bertrand and Plainedge hotels, and Demmerle's General Store whilst, to the north along Hempstead Turnpike was the Methodist Episcopal Church and cemetery. The cemetery, of course, is still there near the DMV and the whole Williamsville settlement would be in both the Plainedge and Island Trees school districts.
Island Trees in the 1870's had no such development - only a place-name first appearing on a 1747 deed and referring to an ancient grove of pine trees growing at Hempstead Turnpike near Jerusalem Avenue. It's nearest church, founded in 1856, was the German Methodist Episcopal on Wantagh Avenue (now St. John's of Jerusalem) but that was much closer to the Jerusalem (north Wantagh) area.
The Stewart Line of the LIRR, built in 1871, and connecting Garden City to Farmingdale, breathed life,albeit, briefly, into Island Trees and Williamsville with a stop and coal yard at Newbridge Road from 1874 and 1876 and another depot at Jerusalem Avenue which had a telegraph station. By 1876 that depot was gone and all that's left is cement foundation of the telegraph station in the empty lot where the LIPA lines run. An additional stop was along Hicksville Road across the street from the back entrance of the police station.
Williamsville was absorbed into the fast-growing Plainedge and Bethpage by the dawn of the 20th Century and Island Trees, its fortunes seemingly growing with the creation of its own school district in 1903, became part of Levittown after 1948. Here the odd paradox: whilst Island Trees benefited by the growth of Hicksville neighbor to the north, Williamsville could not compete with the growth of the old Central Park area as portions of Bethpage, Plainview, and Plainedge were called. Only when Levittown was founded, the Island Trees School District needed to grow, and businesses like Jolly Rogers Amusement Park, Bethpage Movie Theater, and McDonald's moved onto the Turnpike did the old Williamsville area become significant again although the name had long vanished from maps and collective memory.
Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org