East Rockaway, called at first Rockaway and afterwards Near Rockaway, had 2,250 inhabitants in 1922. It lies on the west side of Mill River and is on the Long Island Railroad. Until the middle of the nineteenth century it was one of the principle villages on the south side of Long Island. Shipbuilding and oyster fishing flourished. Packets ran regularly to New York with farm produce and oysters, and brough back coal, molasses and other supplies for the countryside. Its coastwise trade engaged from thirty-five to forty small trading vessels, setting out every spring and going north and south along the coast. One of these vessels, built in East Rockaway, was of 120 tons.
Travellers arrived from New York by stages. A line from East Rockaway to Pearsall's was owned by Floyd Johnson. At Pearsall's it connected with coaches from Freeport and the journey ended at Fulton Ferry. The railroad which was built to Pearsall's in 1868 changed everything.
The old mill, long a busy centre, stood on Mill River at the west end of the Atlantic Avenue bridge. Alexander Davison bought it from Losea Van Nostrand in March, 1816. An old wooden measure used to take the miller's toll-one-tenth of half a bushel-is kept in a curio by Charles Davison, great-grandson of Alexander Davison. The Davison estate sold its rights on Mill River, and the old mill was moved to a point just north of the East Rockaway railroad station, and used for storing lumber. The roof still supports the old ship weather vane placed there more than a century ago.
When the channel between Wreck Lead and Atlantic Avenue was dredged in 1903 a hugh oak was brought up from the depths of the mud, being one of many found in the bottom of a cove. About it were boulders like the rock formations of the north side of the island, showing that a great forest once grew there and was destroyed in the remote past. The old Hewlett homestead (q.v.) stands back of the spot, one of the finest landmarks of the neighborhood. It was for years a tavern, one of the many Long Island taverns which sheltered George Washington over night. The house commands a fine view of the inlet and of Main Street. It is a fine example of Colonial farmhouses, the shingles and nails being handmade.
The Denton homestead, another Colonial landmark, stands on Main Street. It has been moved back and renovated in recent years, but the old fireplaces and mantels remain, with the hand forged gate latches on the doors.
The pioneers of East Rockaway were the ancestors of many Long Island families, and their names are familiar. Alexander Davison was a miller and lumberman; Peter Hewlett was agent for the Glen Cove Insurance Company; George, Stephen and William Hewlett were farmers; James Wright kept a hotel; George Ryder was a shipbuilder and Oliver Denton was a civil engineer.
In the early days before the Government had a life saving station on Long Beach, a lifeboat was kept in Oliver Denton's dooryard ever ready for use. Denton was appointed by the Board of Underwriters to look after their interests in a shipwreck, and was rewarded sometimes with a barrel of ale. In 1836 a sailing vessel, the "Mexico," was wrecked on Long Beach and many lives were lost. The frozen bodies were buried in the Old Sand Hole Cemetery, while the money found on them was added to funds raised in the community to erect a monument. The "Bristol," a second vessel, met the same fate soon after, and both vessels are named in the inscriptions on the monument.
Oyster dredging continues, although the packets were discontinued as swifter methods of travel were introduced. New York is the principal market for oysters, although shipments are made to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Until 1869 the post office was kept by Hubbard Smith in a general store at Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue, where mail was distributed for all the surrounding villages-- Rockville Centre, Norwood
East Rockaway was the first of these communities to have a local post office. It was kept in the building where the White Cannon Inn is seen today, Richard Carman and L. D. Simons being in charge. The village was called Atlantic, but the change was of short duration, and it was learned that another place in the State bore that name.
Descendants of the first settlers still own a large part of East Rockaway. Only the upper and lower parts of the village have been developed to any extent; but the modern homes have attracted many persons from the city, and this has been more noticeable with the improvement of train service to Long Beach.
The public buildings consist of three churches, one school, three firehouses, two roadhouses, and a library.
East Rockaway was incorporated in 1900 and its first officers were: President, Floyd Johnson; Trustees, Charles Davison and Richardson Combs; Treasurer, Oliver T. Hewlett; Collector, Clarkson Smith.
Mill River, which opens into the bay, winds its way through this section, offering opportunity for small boats to run up to the docks in the little basin at high tide.
History of East Rockaway by the Nassau County Library System- East Rockaway Library.
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