A half hour to the east of my home in Queens is the suburban community of West Hempstead. With some of my friends priced out of the city when seeking houses, this was their village of choice. Like many towns, it has its own waterway with a history, hidden behind backyards in some spots, and widening into a pond that is the centerpiece of the community.
Halls Pond is the premier public space in West Hempstead, where the water of Pine Stream gathers in a beautiful 11-acre park.
Where it Flows
Depending on the map, the intermittent stream flowing into Halls Pond appears as Pine Brook, Pine Stream, and Mill River. For the purposes of this blog, I will refer to it by the name most commonly used prior to the arrival of suburbanization. West Hempstead lies on the gently sloping coastal plain of southern Long Island, where all streams flow south towards the ocean. The village lies to the south of the Hempstead Plain, the once-vast grassland in the island’s center.
Looking at old maps of the Town of Hempstead, Pine Stream appeared at Hempstead Turnpike, just south of today’s Cherry Valley Golf Club and Adelphi University. On this 1897 topographical map, the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike and Nassau Boulevard was known as Munson. For reference, I colored the Queens-Nassau border in orange and highlighted Hempstead Avenue. On the extreme southwest is Simonson Creek, I which I’ve previously written about. To its east are Valley Stream, Pine Stream, Schodack Brook, Hempstead Reservoir, and Millburn Creek. At the time, there were very few people living between Hempstead and Jamaica. It was all open farmland.
At the Source
To the north of Hempstead Turnpike on Cherry Valley Avenue, there is a public works storage yard. Often, public utilities such as salt storage, depots and garages used by local governments stand at sites once used for pumping stations, as I’ve found with the Kissena Park DOT storage yard. This superblock also includes the Cherry Valley Ballfields and the Cherry Valley Marketplace.
If the arch at the Marketplace’s parking entrance looks vaguely familiar to 1964 World’s Fair aficionados, that’s because this arch was one of many that stood at Flushing Meadows, holding announcements and directions to attractions. Following the fair’s closing, many of its objects were dispersed throughout the country. This fairgrounds “diaspora” includes light fixtures in the Pocono Mountains, a giant rubber tire in Allen Park, Michigan; and much more.
Among the Presidents
The streambed appears on the surface at Chesman Street, one block to the south of Hempstead Turnpike. It is a concrete channel that has water only when it rains. In contrast to the postwar suburbs on Long Island, West Hempstead’s streets were laid out in the 1920s in a grid pattern familiar to city dwellers.
Because of Pine Stream, many of the east-west streets between Munson Avenue and South Cherry Valley Avenue have midblock dead-ends at this culvert. Above is Coolidge Street, interrupted by Pine Stream. This section of West Hempstead puts a few presidents on the map: Adams, Madison, Jackson, Tyler, Garfield, McKinley, Roosevelt, Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge. The presidents appear in no particular order, with other street names running among and between them.
At Bell Street, there are signs on the fence noting that the stream is protected by Nassau County. At Echo Park the stream is barely noticeable as it flows past the parking lot, pool complex and baseball field.
Towards Halls Pond
Beyond Echo Park, Pine Stream’s course widens a bit as it passes behind dozens of backyards. On an early February morning, the riverbed is dry, comprising of sand and rocks.
The riverbed could make for an ideal hiking trail through West Hempstead, but I don’t think that local homeowners would be pleased to see the public peering into their yards. I should remind readers that the riverbed is Nassau County property and trespassing is expressly forbidden.
Halls Pond Park
The Central Park of West Hempstead is on the southern side of the village, matching the famous Manhattan park with its arch bridge, pond, gazebo, playground, and lawns. the 5.5-acre Halls Pond is the centerpiece of the park. it is millpond built in the 19th century on the property of Hempstead Town Supervisor Martin V. Wood. The lovely arch bridge over the pond is reminiscent of Gapstow Bridge in Central Park, among other parks that I’ve written about.
The West Hempstead Historical Society tells the story of how Wood’s Pond earned its present name:
Wood willed the property to his daughter and son-in-law, William S. and Jeanette Hall. Their son, Martin V. W. Hall, president of the Hempstead Bank, became the eventual owner. In the 1920’s, the Halls’ beautiful Mansard style home across the street was sold to Charles S. and Eva Wall (Eva was the granddaughter of President John Tyler) and thereafter, it seems, the pond became known as Walls Pond. In the 50’s the home fell vacant and eventually burned down.
Toward the end of that decade, Nassau County began buying up the pond and surrounding land to create a new park. By that time, the Wood/ Hall sole surviving heir, Martin Hall’s son Bruce, had moved to Syosset while one of Wall’s sons, Charles Jr., remained local. When the County dedicated the park in 1961, they chose the name Halls Pond.
Sometimes Halls Pond exceeds its normal water limit. At the inflow point, there is a weir built to keep the pond’s excess water from flowing upstream and threatening people’s backyards.
A similar weir was constructed at the outflow point, where water descends into a tunnel running beneath Hempstead Avenue. For my children, the highlight of Halls Pond Park is the playground on its northeastern corner. As a city dweller, I’ve had my prejudices about the suburbs, assuming that they lack for parks as everyone has a backyard with a swing set.
The beautiful playground at Halls Pond Park demonstrates that wherever people live, there is a natural need for parks and playgrounds as gathering places. Toddlers are perhaps he most social of us, and even when they do not directly interact with their peers, they appreciate their presence.
Beyond Halls Pond
On the southern side of Hempstead Avenue, Pine Stream reappears in a channel abutting a McDonald’s parking lot. When so many urban franchises of this storied fast-food giant are taking on a post-modern appearance, the sloping roof and freestanding golden arches are a throwback to an earlier time in McDonald’s history. This reminds me that last year, there was a fictionalized account of the restaurant’s history, starring Michael Keaton. If I had to change anything about this outpost of McDonald’s, it would be a redesign of the parking lot to allow for benches and tables along the brook.
The stream is crossed by the Southern State Parkway and the LIRR West Hempstead Branch, flowing tightly between properties and beneath roadways as it enters the village of Malverne. In the decades preceding the arrival of tract housing, Pine Stream had three more ponds where it was dammed. Pines Pond was located where there is now Bob Whelan Field, a village-owned pair of baseball diamonds.
To the south of Pinebrook Avenue, it expanded into La Count Pond, which was filled in favor of Malverne Senior High School. The school’s vast field includes space for baseball, football, soccer, running track, and tennis courts. Although the village is a “Union Free School District,” the term has nothing to do with collective bargaining. The faculty here is unionized.
The final pond where Pine Stream was dammed was Smith Pond, located within the Tanglewood Preserve in the village of Rockville Centre. The preserve is home to the Center for Science Teaching and Learning, a nonprofit with a mission to promote science education for children. After Tanglewood Preserve, the stream flows beneath Peninsula Boulevard into Smith Pond inside Rev. Morgan Days Park, which also receives its water from Hempstead Creek. The pond is heavily covered with lilies, appearing as a green field from the air.
The combined streams flow out of the pond through an underground culvert, reemerging on the southern side of Sunrise Highway. From this point, it appears on maps as Mill River, a tidal inlet of Hewlett Bay.
Parks and boat docks line the channel as it widens into the bay. It is shielded from the ocean by Long Beach Island, with East Rockaway Inlet and Jones Inlet leading the way into its open waters.
In the News:
CityLab reports on the transformation of Freshkills Park on Staten Island from landfill to parkland.
Bronx Times reports on the upcoming reconstruction of Shoelace Park on the Bronx River.