Bethpage History

Nassau County Museum/L.I. Studies Institute
Thomas Powell, the founder of Bethpage.

Several Native American groups were involved with the Bethpage area prior to its settlement by Quakers. The Massapequa, Secatog and Matinecock all roamed the area and had some claim to it.

Thomas Powell, a devout Quaker, originally owned land in Huntington. In 1695 he bought the land from the Massapequa, Secatog and Matinecock people. He paid 140 sterling pounds.

Powell called his land Bethpage (which means "house of figs") because it was in between Jericho and Jerusalem, just like in Israel. Jerusalem is now called Wantagh and Island Trees. Because most pioneers were not very good spellers, Bethphage was spelled Bethpage, leaving out the second "H" and established the spelling we use today.

Powell originally built himself a house on a street now known as Hempstead Turnpike. After his fifteen children grew up, Thomas built himself a new house on Merritt Road and gave his original house to his son and his new wife. Unfortunately, that house was destroyed in 1931.

Thomas Powell, Sr. explored more and more of his land. In time he found the area called "Rim of the Woods" and arranged to buy it from the Indians who lived there. This land is where most of modern day Bethpage is today. Powell divided up this land between his kids.

He also gave one third of all his Bethpage lands to an apprentice he once had, named Whitson. This started the break-up of the family ownership of Bethpage, especially after Powell died on December 28, 1721.

Bethpage as Central Park

Even though Thomas Powell named his land Bethpage, the people who eventually moved here in the 1850's pressured the village to change its name to Central Park. Land speculators, people who moved here and bought land just so they can sell it to other people, thought that by naming the village Central Park more people would want to move here. They thought of this name before the park in New York City was made and they officially changed it in 1857.

The name was eventually changed back in 1936 to Bethpage because of the complaints made by the villagers. Four hundred and thirty-five people signed a petition to have the name changed and they listed the reasons why they wanted it changed. One reason listed was that mail was always being sent to nearby towns like Central Islip, Center Port, and Center Moriches. Some things were even sent to the actual park in New York City! And since the park is only thirty miles away from the village, mapmakers actually left the town off the map at times. Some people also felt that the name Central Park had no historical background and they preferred the original name given by the original owner.

Bethpage Schools

When people think of Bethpage, they think of the present, what Bethpage looks like today. However, rarely do they consider the wonderful and interesting history that goes into the building and formation of the town of Bethpage.

Later residents of the Bethpage area went to school at the Bedelltown School built at the corner of Broadway and Plainview Roads in 1858. Children did not have to go to school then and indeed many did not. The second Bedelltown School was built on property that would now be the Bethpage High School football field. This one room building was built in the 1890's. (Press the button below to see a picture of this school house). It was an improvement upon the first because it had heating and a well for water. Also it was on higher ground and did not flood as much as the original school. In 1912 the much larger Powell Avenue school was built on the current site of the Bethpage Public Library (which was built in 1963 and remodeled in 1995).

In 1950, the Broadway School (now the John F. Kennedy Middle School) was constructed on land that in earlier years was used for farming. This first served as the high school and junior high school. Prior to this time, students attended Farmingdale High School, and at an even earlier date, attended school in Mineola. The "baby boom" (the large number of babies born after World War II) created a need for more schools in the community. The following schools were built: Pine Avenue (1954), Central Boulevard School (1955-56), and Kramer Lane School (1957) Bloomingdale School (1959) Bethpage High School (1959) Charles Campagne (1962). The Kramer Lane and Charles Campagne schools are named after former members of the Bethpage Board of Education. The Bloomingdale School was closed in 1972 and the Pine Avenue School was closed in 1980. In addition to the public schools, St. Martin of Tours, a Roman Catholic school was opened in the 1950's. It has since been renamed the Lasalle Regional Academy.

Religious Bethpage

Bethpage is the home of several houses of worship. The first house of worship to be built in Bethpage was the Methodist Episcopal Church founded by Joshua Powell in 1835. There were several Quaker meeting houses in the area. Up until the early 1900's, Methodists and Quakers dominated the lands. A large number of Irish and Italians came to Bethpage and brought Catholicism. St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic church on Central Avenue was opened in 1924. In 1922, St. Paul's Lutheran Church opened. The current Bethpage Assembly of God church was built in 1957. In 1957, the Bethpage Jewish Community Center was built. Finally, around 1974, a Hellenic Orthodox Church named St. Isidoros was opened.

Bethpage and the Railroad

In 1850, the first railroad station was built and named "Jerusalem Station". Originally, a combination freight and passenger structure was built and used as a railroad. In 1884, the Long Island Railroad extended through Bethpage and it was named Central Park Station. During this time, Bethpage was known as Central Park. Many businesses opened up around the station in the heart or center of town. The railroad brought Bethpage to the attention of land buyers. They bought land all around the tracks and began building homes. The rapid transportation system of the railroad turned Bethpage into a modern town.

Bethpage is a quiet little community with a great history. It has an excellent school system. Bethpage has many wonderful community organizations that work to maintain the high quality of life enjoyed by the residents. Its history is associated with Quaker beginnings, but its more modern history is associated with aviation and space. (See the Aviation and Space section for more details about the Grumman Corporation).

More Bethpage Pictures

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