Fifty years ago, Freeport was a hamlet of perhaps five hundred souls. Today it is the largest incorporated village in the State and claims a population of at least 15,000.
Until 1650 Freeport was the home of the Merikoke Indians who hunted in the forests which have been replaced by streets and stores. Indian relics have been found at Kissing Bridge, north of Seaman Avenue, where the natives are supposed to have had a large encampment. The entire country was known to the early settlers as Great South Woods. In 1795, Jacob Bedell built a large frame house where Main Street and Randall Avenue cross. It was the first departure from the log cabins of the first settlers. A transfer of property on Washburn’s Neck was recorded in 1680.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century the village was christened Raynortown, due to the fact that the Raynor family predominated among the inhabitants. Trading vessels were able to slip in throught Jones’ Inlet and land goods without paying duty, making it a Free Port. Hence the modern name. Merrick Road follow the original Indian trail across the island, and it is the main artery of travel. As late as 1800 it was the only important street in Freeport. Main Street was laid out about that time at right angles to the road. Lanes were cut from one farm to another and the street system grew. In 1924, the village had more than ninety miles of streets.
The stage coach came with wealth, with its snapping whips and clarion call of the horn. In 1868, the old Southside Railroad was laid out. In 1905, the Long Island Traction Company began to run cars from Mineola to the city limits. Good roads were demanded at the same time to meet the bicycle travel. All the arteries of Long Island were thronged with riders in gaudy costumes. Bicycle clubs from New York or Brooklyn passed through Freeport on a pleasant Sunday or holiday, two hundred strong, and even in larger flocks.
Tally-hos were common sights as they thundered through Freeport every day on their way to famous inns along the main highway. Freeport had famous horsemen and horses in those days, but they were all supplanted by the automobile. They pass a given point at the rate of thirty a minute.
The first residents received their mail at Merrick. There was a combined general store, civic association and post office, all kept by Joseph Smith from 1840 until 1858. His son, Carman, inherited the office, and remained postmaster until 1873, when Freeport became a separate office.
It has had seven postmasters, including the present, Sylvester P. Shea. A free delivery was introduced in 1907. The post office has grown until larger quarters are demanded by the expanding business.
The following was sent to me by the gracious people at the reference desk at the Freeport Library.
Freeport As It Was
by Clinton E. Metz
Earliest Houses of Worship
Before any religious organization had a building here, METHODISTS attended classes in private homes where they heard itinerant preachers. In 1833, under William B. Raynor, as leader, they bought a small wooden store on the west side of Hempstead-Babylon Turnpike south of Seaman Ave. Noah Bigelow, resident preacher, dedicated the Sand Hill Church which was used for 25 years. The congregation moved their building to Main Street north of Merrick Road. In 1858, near the same Main Street location they purchased land about 400 feet north of Merrick Road and elected five trustees to take a deed for the site. A new church was completed the next year. To accommodate increasing membership the first portion of today's United Methodist Church on Pine Street just west of Church Street was erected in 1891, followed soon after by a newly constructed parsonage.
Presbyterians first used the original schoolhouse, Main and Church Streets, on Sunday afternoons in the late 1830s, when the Rev. Sylvester Woodbridge of Christ Church in Hempstead preached. In 1840 a group of residents decided to start a mission Hempstead's Presbyterian Chruch, using a building on Main Street's east side at about where Sunrise Highway now runs through. When this proved inadequate they replaced it with a third church home on the northwest corner of Main Street and Merrick Road. Across the street stood a hotel or tavern where on Sundays there were noisy festivities, carriage parties and the start or finish of horse races. When in 1859 Methodists opened a church on 100 feet or so north, each of the two groups disturbed the other with the sound of its hymns and organ. In 1860 the Presbyterians moved to a church on Raynor Street (now Church Street) remaining there until 1964 when a larger site on South Ocean Ave. was acquired.
The Rev. Thomas Birdsall, the first pastor, was converted in 1813 in a class by Parker Baldwin.
William B. Raynor enjoys the distinction of being the "Father of Methodism" in Freeport, although Willett Raynor held classes in his home before the church was organized.
In 1858, the congregation moved to Main Street near Merrick Road and in 1891 to the present site on Pine Street, when the church was dedicated in July, 1891, free of debt. The Rev. W. E. Thompson is the present minister, and the church has made extensive improvements including a handsome new organ. The Methodist Episcopal Men’s Club, led by James A. Sutphin is the largest organization of its kind on Long Island. The church is one of the largest in the village.
In 1839, the Presbyterians started worshipping in the little old Main Street school when the preacher came clattering down the road in a buggy drawn by a white horse. In 1840, a church was erected on Main Street. The Rev. F. Merrill was the first preacher to come to Freeport and stay and he made a great success of his work. In 1860 the Presbyterians built on their present site on Church Street, and the Rev. C. L. Oswald presides over a growing and prosperous congregation.
The Church of the Transfiguration came into being a little over thirty years ago when the worshippers met in the Opera House on Main Street. The present church was built in 1894. In 1914, the present rector, Reginald H. Scott, came to Freeport. At present the church is adding to its property and in time a handsome brick edifice will be erected.
The first Baptist Church was organized in 1890 when the congregation met in a hall. In 1904, ground was broken on Grove Street and the building completed the same year.
Various ministers served the church with success. The Rev. Stanley Roberts who made church history was drowned after he had been in Freeport for two years. At the present time the Rev. Erwin Dennett is the pastor.
Christmas Day, 1897, was the birthday of the Catholic church in Freeport, at the home of William Dougherty on Merrick Road. The parish grew by leaps and bounds. In 1903, the Rev. Charles Logue came to Freeport and he gave the best of his life to his people. In 1911, the church which is the most handsome of all in Freeport, was built at a cost of $85,000. Father Logue saw the success of his labors and gave way under the strain, dying in 1914. The present priest, the Rev. John O'Toole, took charge and made a wonderful success of his work.
Lutheranism had its birth in Freeport in 1909 when seventeen interested persons met in a hall on Brooklyn Avenue and later in the year the church was organized.
In 1918, the Rev. Carl Miller came to Freeport and has seen his efforts crowned with success. A portable church was erected on North Main Street and in 1921 it was moved to Randell Avenue and Grove Street on property purchased by the church. Plans have been completed for the erection of a large building on the same site.
In the colored section of Freeport are a Methodist and Presbyterian church, and on West Dean Street a church was erected whose members represent a sort of unified protestantism.
About three years ago the Hebrew Congregation of Freeport dedicated a handsome temple of Broadway, one of the most flourishing churches in the village. The Rev. Joseph Sarachek is the present Rabbi, and the church has grown to generous proportions.
Freeport is rich in fraternal organizations and every one in the village belongs to two or more. Each organization has its women's auxiliaries that aid materially in the work of the order. Among the best known are : B. P. O. E.; K of C.; K.K.K.; J. O. U. A. M.; I. O. O. F; Modern Woodmen; Masons; O. E. S.; U. T. C.; and others.
Freeport boasts many places of amusement, among them being "Playland," a Coney Island in miniature, the Freeport Theatre, a half a million dollar moving picture and vaudeville house erected a little more than a year ago; Plaza Danceland, a sumptuous ballroom with beautiful appointments.
The Lights Club with a membership of well known actors and actresses, and the South Shore Yacht Club furnishes waterfront fun in the summer time.
Three miles from Freeport Point is Point Lookout, a playground on the ocean front owned by the Town of Hempstead and reached by ferries.
The Crystal Lake and the Freeport Hotels are the foremost.
The Freeport Bank, at 23-25 Main Street, the pioneer bank in Freeport, was chartered by the Sate Banking Department on February 18, 1892. The bank opened for business on March 5, 1892, at 24 South Main Street, with a capitol of $30,000, with officers as follows: John J. Randell, president;
William Foreman, vice-president; William S. Hall, cashier; Harvey B. Smith, assistant cashier. William Foreman served as president until his death, at which time Chauncey T. Sprague was elected vice-president, serving until his death, when D. Wesley Pine, the present vice-president, was elected.
The original building is now occupied by E. Vernon Colyer, as a jewelry store, opposite the present building, which was built in 1905, and was one of the first modern bank buildings on Long Island.
The bank depended entirely on the oyster industry for support at the start, and it was some time before much headway was made.
The First National Bank of Freeport opened its doors Monday, June 12, 1905, and at the close of business on that day the total deposits were $6,000, the total number of patrons fifteen. There were but two employees, Mrs. Ida B. Powell, bookkeeper, and Samuel Raynor, teller under the supervision of the president, Roswell Davis, who devoted his entire time for a number of years to upbuilding the bank's accounts. Mr. Davis still remains president, but the number of employees has increased to ten-William F. Kraft, Jr., cashier; G. Edwin Heming, assistant cashier; L. Bruton Cassin, paying teller; Emil Frenger, receiving teller; Mrs. Mary D. Raynor, general bookkeeper; Miss Katherine Golden, stenographer; Miss Florence Noon, bookkeeper; Anthony Savona, bookkeeper; Arthur Hoffman, vault custodian, and Oscar Blaile, Christmas Fund teller.
Next the History of the Freeport School District.