If you ask most people what they know about Massapequa, they might mention it being the home of Sunrise Home, a place where the Baldwins and Jerry Seinfeld grew up or where you’d find the All American Hamburger Drive-In. But most people might not know that this area full of swamps and streams attracted early settlement by a Native American tribe know as the Marsapeags who lived in the “Place of Many Waters.” Or that famous big game hunter Frank Buck constructed a zoo in East Massapequa that featured giraffes, big cats, elephants, reptiles, zebras, antelopes and an area called Monkey Mountain, home to several hundred primates. All these aspects of this South Shore community point to there being far more to this hamlet that can be found in the southern part of the Town of Oyster Bay.
If anyone is in a position to assert this it is George Kirchmann, a 20-year trustee of the Massapequa Historical Society and the author of The Massapequas: Two Thousand Years of History. A member of Nassau County Historical Society and the Seaford Historical Society, Kirchmann spent the good part of a year pulling together material from historical society archives and numerous articles he’d penned for the organization’s newsletter and the Massapequa Observer. As far as he was concerned, publishing this kind of historical overview was long overdue.
“I was talking to some of the people in the Massapequa Historical Society and we agreed that there really is no book that deals with Massapequa’s history,” he recalled. “There was a pamphlet that was published about 50 years ago, but its hopelessly out of date now. Several people said we should really write a book about Massapequa’s history—and then they looked at me. I figured I’d do it. I spent a fair amount of time getting material together from other things I had written. I also talked to a number of trustees and got some other ideas and insights.”
A Bronx native who grew up in the Norwood section of The Bronx around Gun Hill Road, Kirchmann attended Cardinal Hayes High School and received his BA in history from Washington, D.C.’s Catholic University. He later earned a PhD in history from the City University of New York. Having moved to Massapequa Park in the early ‘90s with his wife and fellow Bronx native along with their four children (“The neighborhood is better and the schools are much better”), Kirchmann was looking for some kind of historical activity to get involved with when he stumbled across the Massapequa Historical Society. With two decades in with the historical society, along with the wealth of academic bona fides he has under his belt, writing The Massapequas was a labor of love that was more about organizing what he had versus having to do any kind of extensive research.
“I think the single biggest challenge was winnowing down a lot of the information,” he said. “There’s plenty of information and stuff that’s been done out there over the years and we have a pretty good archive in one of the buildings over at the Historical Society. We have a lot of information from people that grew up and knew this area. I really had to put it together and decide what kind of book I wanted to write. I didn’t want to write something that was heavily academic and maybe 300 or 400 pages and would probably be too daunting for a lot of people to deal with. I had to do something that is accurate, formally correct and looked like a history book, but wasn’t so overwhelming that people wouldn’t want to take a look at it. I think I came up with something that’s pretty handy. People who have read it have said that they liked how I put everything together in a pretty nice package.”
The Massapequas starts out with the area’s Native American nuances from the whaling they did in the area to archival tools found as recently as 1969. From there, Kirchmann coves the different families that came in to settle the area, starting with brothers John, Richard and Henry Townsend, of which the latter sibling gained partial ownership of the property that became Massapequa following the signing of a 1658 treaty. But no family’s influence loomed larger than that of the Floyd-Jones clan, starting with Thomas Jones, who came to North America in 1692, who married John Townsend’s daughter Freelove and later lived in one of the first homes erected in the Massapequas. For Kirchmann, the sway the Floyd-Jones brood had over the area was a major reason why it was one of the last community’s to be developed.
“It was settled much later than other communities because nobody wanted to live here,” Kirchmann explained. “There really wasn’t anything here except a lot of streams, brooks and a swampy area. I think that is something that’s usually surprising. Also, for many years, it was the domain the Floyd-Jones family. They owned mansions all along Merrick Road and there weren’t many other people living there except for them and their servants. Someone once asked me what was so unique about the Massapequas versus the other bedroom communities of New York. I said the history is very unique because it was really one family’s empire for so many years.”
Kirchmann does a thorough job tracing the evolution of different religious sects in the area (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish), retail and a post-World War II boom that saw school enrollment go from 501 students in 1945 to 15,564 by 1968. Along the way, landmarks like the Wagon Wheel Restaurant, the Fitzmaurice Flying Field and Panchard’s Hotel came and went. With all this rich information packed in one book, Kirchmann is grateful to learn that it’s being used to educate a younger generation that might be unaware of their community’s background.
“I recently spoke with a curriculum developer for the high school and he’s interested in using the book to bring more local history back into the [classroom],” he said. “That was very good to hear because I hope the book would spur interest in local as well as broader history.”
The Massapequas: Two Thousand Years of History is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, through the Massapequa Historical History or at Tim’s Florist and Yours To Treasure, both located on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park.