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Malverne Village Hall
99 Church Street
Malverne, N.Y. 11565
516-599-1200

The History of Malverne

Geological Beginnings

The true history of Malverne goes back further than anyone knows. Located on the south shore of Long Island , our village has quite possibly existed for millions of years.

More than 10,000 years ago, much of Long Island was covered by glaciers. When the ice began to melt, it formed lakes, brooks, ponds, and streams. The glaciers also transported millions of tons of sand and gravel towards the oceans, building up what is now our south shore. Malverne rests upon this bed of sand and gravel.

Our water supply comes from a vast underground basin which extends beneath much of Long Island and runs two thousand feet deep in some places. With its proximity to the south shore, Malverne’s water table is higher than in more northerly villages, and many residents can remember the once vigorously rushing brooks and ponds that occasionally overflowed their banks. The area where Hempstead Avenue and Franklin Avenue meet was once known as "Grassy Pond" and was a popular spot for ice skating during the winter.

Malverne is ideally situated, only 45 minutes from the heart of New York City, and within ten minutes of some of the world’s most beautiful white sand beaches. We also enjoy the temperate Long Island climate – warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than nearby cities and suburbs.

Settlement

Malverne is located on what was once the tribal territory of the Rockaway Indians, whose lands extended over a good part of present-day Queens and Nassau. The Rockaways were known for their skill in making wampum from shells. Wampum was used as a form of monetary exchanges as well as for jewelry. Older residents of Malverne have found arrow heads, pottery and other Native American relics, reminding us of our village’s first inhabitants.

Historical evidence suggests that Malverne’s first white settlers began to arrive in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many of Malverne’s older homes were built during this period and some of the familiar streets of Malverne derived their names from early families like the Cornwells, the Riders, the Wicks, the Nostrands, and others.

The Early Community

While many original settlers of Long Island were attracted to fishing industries, Malverne’s excellent location attracted farmers. With our many brooks, streams, and reservoirs, the land was fertile and offered easy irrigation. The high water table also caused its share of problems; during the construction of homes, many sites had to be pumped for days before a foundation could be laid. Even after homes were built, some homeowners experienced flooded basements during rainy weather.

In addition to farming, there were a number of other businesses in Malverne, including a wheelwright shop, a grist mill, several general stores, a greenhouse, a small hotel and a tavern.

In 1870, the Hempstead and Rockaway Railroad connected Valley Stream with Hempstead. Where the railroad crossed Franklin Avenue (then known as Grassy Pond) was a station called Bridgeport. Nearby was a company which transported manure in flatcars to be sold as fertilizer to the farmers. The smell, especially during the hot summer months, led to the site being nicknamed "Skunk’s Misery." Contrary to popular belief, Skunk’s Misery was never the name of Malverne.

The railroad had problems from the beginning. A few years after it started running, an engine blew up at the Hempstead station and killed a man. In 1875, flooding from spring rains caused an accident and killed an engineer and two others. The railroad never recovered from the lawsuits following the accident and was virtually abandoned.

In 1895, the New York Bay Extension Railroad Company began to run a line through Malverne, which was later joined to other railroads to become part of the Long Island Railroad. But the line was unprofitable and discontinued in 1910. In 1911, the railroad began running a battery driven trolley from Valley Stream to Hempstead. This trolley had a comic-book like appearance and became affectionately known as "the dinky." The dinky was Malverne’s only source of railroad transportation until 1926.

Malverne Gets its Name

During the early 20th century, migration accelerated from the crowded city into the suburbs of Queens and outlying areas. In 1911, the Amsterdam Development and Land Company purchased its first parcel of land in Malverne – the Lindner farm – and Malverne began its transformation from rural village to suburban community.

The Amsterdam Company was financed in part by the president of the Eimer and Amed Chemical Company. Its manager, Alfred H. Wagg, built the first home in the new development at the corner of Norwood and Hempstead Avenues. The second home built was for Ernest Childs, an executive of the chemical company.

Together, Wagg and Childs contributed to the naming of our village in 1913. Previously, Malverne had been known as Norwood, a name shared by several Norwoods in New York State, leading to frequent misdelivery of mail. When Wagg, Childs and others met to decide on a new name, Lynmouth was selected and later rejected because of its similarity to nearby Lynbrook. Childs was originally from England and knew of a town called Malvern, known for its green spaces and yearly George Bernard Shaw festival. He offered its name and the suggestion was accepted.

The name, Malvern, comes from the Old English and means "green mall" or "green park." (The British pronunciation sounds like "Mall-vrn." Our pronunciation sounds more like the Latin prefix "Mal" which means "bad.")

There were several other Malverns in the world. The largest is a suburb of Melbourne, Australia (in fact, "Melbourne" might also be an adaptation of "Malvern.") In the United States, there are Malverns in Alabama , Pennsylvania, Virginia and Arkansas. Only our Malverne, however, is spelled with the final "e" – and how we got that "e" is a mystery which has never been solved.

Incorporation and Growth

The development of Malverne posed many challenges for residents – the need for street paving, water supply, street lighting, mail service, zoning laws. Unfortunately, World War I intruded and further development was put on hold. Coal shortages, a major flu epidemic and the general anxiety of wartime contributed to the difficulties the village faced then.

After the war, development accelerated again. A key issue was whether or not to incorporate. The issue was decided in October of 1920, although official documents list the date of incorporation as April 13, 1921.

As Malverne’s new officials worked to provide the village with services – police, fire, sanitation, roads, improved utilities – some residents protested the increased taxes while others resented the new ordinances and procedures which they felt were encroaching upon their freedom. The friction led those who had earlier opposed incorporation to vote in favor of disincorporating. The majority of the voters remained in favor of incorporation, however. Malverne had survived its first political crisis.

The Depression Years

In 1929, the collapse of the stock market and the ensuing Great Depression stalled the rapid development that had been taking place in Malverne. Unemployment skyrocketed and many homeowners were unable to pay their taxes. Throughout Long Island, villages teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, services were slashed and homeowners were forced into foreclosure.

Malverne, however, was fortunate to have elected Hamilton Gaddis as mayor. Gaddis implemented several measures to keep Malverne afloat. Among them was an increase in the valuation of property owned by the Long Island Railroad and the utility companies, which effectively increased their taxes. Gaddis also reduced Village operational costs without drastically altering service. Finally, Gaddis worked out an installment plan for homeowners who owed back taxes.

Malverne survived the Depression and by 1937 its faith in its mayor was rewarded when Gaddis announced that the tax rate would be decreased by 25 percent. In addition to steering the village through the Depression, the Gaddis administration successfully fought to keep a coal company from setting up business in Malverne. This set a precedent against over-industrialization which has helped Malverne to retain its lovely, small-town atmosphere.

When the depression ended, Malverne again began to grow. By 1940, Malverne’s population was large enough to qualify the village for "first class" status, with added responsibilities to the village administration, and also the right to increase the salaries of the Mayor and trustees (the administration chose not to take advantage of this right.)

Malverne had also developed a thriving artistic community, with several Broadway actors taking up residence in the village. Their influence was felt in the many shows that were staged in Malverne. Malverne also was known for its annual art show, where professionals and amateurs from Nassau and Suffolk exhibited their work.

In 1941, the United States entered World War II. Malvernites pitched in and did their share for the war effort. Malverne also sent 707 of its young men off to war. Twenty-two of them did not return. Dr. Howard T. Herber, the superintendent of School District 12, in 1948 dedicated a pipe organ to honor all those who served, and as a memorial to those who gave their lives.

With the end of the war, Malverne again turned its attention to continuing improvement of the growing village. When Malverne celebrated its 25 th anniversary, New York ’s Governor Thomas E. Dewey called Malverne "one of the best-governed communities in the state."

By the early 1950’s, Malverne had 8,500 residents. Frank Britton Wenzel, mayor from 1951 to 1955, took a strong interest in moving the Library from its makeshift facilities into its own building. By 1954, Wenzel’s dream was realized, and nearly 1,000 people attended the dedication of the new Library.

During those same post-war years, the village experienced a renewed commitment to improving facilities. Among those improvements were upgraded equipment for the fire department and DPW, the erection of the Village Hall and beautifying of Malverne’s parks. The village also stepped up recreation and youth activities with a summer recreation program and winter ice skating facilities.

The people of Malverne continued to demonstrate community spirit throughout the next several decades. In the late 1960’s, the holiday lighting of Malverne began, with civic groups, the merchant’s association and volunteers pitching in to celebrate the holiday season by decorating around the train station and along Hempstead Avenue.

The Thomas Driscoll administration (1970-74) encouraged and supported the activities of local service clubs and volunteers, whether it was a beautification project at Westwood Park, or a special recognition to the recently formed Malverne Volunteer Ambulance Corps., or the Malverne Environmental Council, which was begun in the early 1970’s to promote recycling and other earth-friendly practices.

It was also during this period that the village celebrated its 50 th anniversary. In tribute to the neighborly feeling that had always existed in Malverne, the celebration included an interfaith service at the Presbyterian Church, at which representatives of the seven religious groups of the community presented the histories of their congregations and asked for blessings for the village.

There were numerous parades, dances, ceremonies and other activities to commemorate Malverne’s anniversary year, which was closed, as it began, with an ecumenical service.

Malvernites came together again during the 1970’s to celebrate the country’s bicentennial year, and what a celebration it was! Helen Driscoll, wife of the mayor, headed a committee that oversaw a year of parades (including the largest parade in Malverne history), ceremonies, essay and poster contests, the first Malverne country fair, dances, theatrical and chorale presentations, block parties and an ecumenical Thanksgiving service. Today, the Thanksgiving service is an annual Malverne institution.

Amid all of the hoopla of 1976, residents found time to open their hearts for Billy McNally, a local boy who was injured in an accident, by raising $17,000 through a year-long barrage of cake sales, car washes, dances and garage sales.

Through the end of the decade and into the 1980’s, Malverne’s rapid growth began to slow. The village had grown rapidly over the previous decades, yet Malverne was still a small village with a stable population and a growing number of senior citizens.

Stewart Morrow presided as mayor of the village during these years. After 12 years, he stepped down in 1986, and Louis Cocchi, deputy mayor, was sworn in to fill his unexpired term.

The recession of the early 1980’s had made itself felt in the village, and projects such as road construction were put off until the deterioration became a major bone of contention for more than one Malverne mayoral administration.

Ultimately, the issue led to the birth of a new political party in Malverne, the Hometown Pride Party. In 1987, Louis Cocchi ran for mayor as the Independent Party’s candidate, but for the first time in 63 years, the Independent Party was defeated.

Additionally, Malverne had its first female mayor in Catherine Hunt, who served the village through 1991. Mayor Hunt had been a co-founder of the civic association, and was involved in a number of beautification projects in the village, including the restoration of the Malverne railroad station in the mid-1980’s. Ironically, the road construction issue, which led to the formation of the Home Town Pride Party, ultimately split the party, and the Taxpayer’s Party was born.

In addition to a bitter election, 1987 saw the stock market crash, while property values bottomed out and a long recession took hold. It was not until 1993-94 that the job market began to recover and property values began to rise again, albeit not at the dizzying rates of the 1980’s. As a result, Mayor Hennessey, who was elected as the Taxpayer Party candidate in 1991, kept a tight rein of finances, successfully steering Malverne through the recession with a combination of fiscal restraint and savvy administration.

It is the spirit that we celebrate – the spirit that helps Malverne retain its small-town charm. In an era when people throughout our nation yearn for community, we are fortunate to live in Malverne. We love our village, and it shows.

Special thanks to the author of this article, Donna Kraus.

Reprinted from Malverne’s 75 th Anniversary Commemorative Journal


Malverne Village Hall
Clock and Fountain
Malverne Fire Department
Historical House

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