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.
Wanted to alert you to this article about how Climate Change is affecting Michigan’s Huron River:
I can’t see any e-mail for you directly.
Thanks. Try to keep comments germane to the topic.
Sergey: This is a really nice discussion of “Pine Stream,” which enters or borders on West Hempstead, Lakeview, Malverne, Lynbrook, and Rockville Centre. Thanks for doing it.
Pine Stream is known today as Pine BROOK — and no longer by the older name that you used, Pine Stream. Indeed, the eponymous Pinebrook Avenue bridges it in Lakeview. The “Pine” in the name comes from the Pine family, who, back in the 1800s, had a sizable piece of land on the east bank of the stream, just north of Lakeview Avenue. Mrs. Pine ran a school on the property. The name of the now-filled-in Pine Pond, which you mentioned, also came from the Pine family.
You wrote that the small pond in Tanglewood that is fed by Pine Brook is named Smith Pond. This is incorrect. I do not know the name of that lovely, small pond in Tanglewood, but Smith Pond is the much larger, but mostly hidden pond just south, between Peninsula Blvd. and Merrick Road, on the east side of Ocean Avenue. Smith Pond is the former mill pond of Rockville Centre’s founding DeMott family in the 1700s, and later of the Smiths.
Smith Pond is fed not only by Pine Brook but by a stronger, longer stream from the eastern watershed of the Mill River. The flow is through three ponds, a lake and two connecting streams that run south from the Garden City border, through Hempstead Village, down the entire length of Hempstead Lake State Park’s main lake and smaller ponds, and then along a stream in Rockville Center that, like Pine Brook, directly feeds Smith Pond. There is no name for that eastern waterway that feeds the Mill River tidal estuary, but by convention Mill River’s larger tributary — which is NOT Pine Brook — should bear the name all the way back to its source. Thus the stream, ponds and lake running from Garden City south to Smith Pond logically should all be considered part of the Mill River.
Before the ponds and lakes were impounded, first as mill ponds, and later as a fresh water reservoir system for NYC, the eastern watershed stream was called the “Rockaway Stream,” because it extended to “Near Rockaway” (the prior name of Lynbrook + Rockville Centre, before 1840). In 1840 the Rockaway Stream had six mill ponds and mills along it. Pine Stream (to use the old name) had three.
Lynbrook Village Historian
You’ve packed a lot of history into your comment. At some point, I will follow the course of Mill River from Hempstead down to the bay.
The easterly stream that enters Smith’s Pond in Rockville Centre was shown on an old Brooklyn Water Works map as HORSE BROOK. I believe it originates close to South Garden City upon Franklin Avenue and makes it’s way along Peninsula Blvd where it empties into the northern tip of Hempstead Lake. The final section leaves the south end of South Pond and then into Smith’s Pond.
Horse Brook was an alternative name for Mill River in downtown Hempstead.
“There is another peculiarity in the surface of this remarkable plain, to which the eye of the traveler may be directed. In passing from the east to the west, (on its southern border this peculiarity is most discernible,) about once in a mile or more frequently as you proceed west, you come to a manifest depression in the surface, with a considerably elevated embankment on the west. These valleys, if they may be so called, appear to proceed from the middle of the plain, constanly growing deeper towards the south: and the conviction seems irresistible that they were formed by a torrent of retiring water. They all run nearly parallel with each other, their uniform course being a little to the west of south; and what is not the least remarkable, is, that almost every one of these valley is the source of permanent brooks, some of which proceed from a considerable distance up the plain, and furnish numerous mill seats on the south side of the island”
From “A History of Long Island: From its first Settlement by Europeans to the Year 1845…” By Nathanial Scudder Prime.
This describes the appearance of Pine Brook (and many other south flowing LI streams) and its historic source from the melting glaciers that reached the central spine of LI
It is fascinating to do the detective work involved in recreating the original terrain and paths of some of these streams (see Mr. Prime’s observations above). I grew up on Cherry Valley Road in West Hempstead and played in the corridor of woods that contained Pines Brook. In the early to mid 50s it ran clear and strong in its natural winding stream bed. Hydrologists Ive tallked to say a vicious mid 50s drought and the sewering of Nassau County lowered the water table to the point that the base flow of Pines Brook dried up. By that time a developer was building houses in that corridor of woods and the county had straightened out and concreted Pines Brook to make it little more than a drainage ditch that ran when it rained. To me this represents an environmental tragedy, indicative of much that went on in Long Island.
I have remained interested in the history and evolution of Pines Brook and have recently seen clear water flow out from under the Chessman Street tunnel south of Hempstead Turnpike even during dry summertime weather. This leads me to believe that the water table may have recovered a bit leading to periodic flows through the underground portion of the stream. Although maps dont show it, I believe Pines Brook originated within the present Cherry Valley Golf course or even further north near Garden City’s original water supply, dug in the 1880s, near 11th Street. I would love to work with a hydrologist to investigate and possibly document the historic origin and course.
From earliest times continuing to the present the historic Pines Brook represents the boundry line between two different school districts and it is possible that Walt Whitman wandered its banks and woods while teaching at nearby Trimming Square in the spring of 1840, The stream was a prime example of the natural forces that formed Long Island.
I’ve been trying to book a speaking date at West Hempstead Library and haven’t heard back. Can you help me out?
Richard Ehrlich [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Richard is a member of the historical society and has expressed an interest in Pines Brook. I went to one meeting recently (I live in northwest NJ) and talked about the creek and my amateur sleuthing.
I’d be interested in hearing you speak about WH. Let me know when!
I spoke to the WH Historical Society. We’re aiming for Spring, TBD. I called the library but they never got back to me.
I grew up a block away from Pine Stream on Roy Street. We moved there in 1960 when I was 4. I didn’t know it had a name until the 8th grade when we examined the USGS maps of the area in school. It was a source of endless fun. Two or three times a week, round 4PM , the sluice gates would open at the public works sending torrent of water down the stream. When we first moved there Hall’s Pond was just a mud hole. I think they started construction there around 1963.
I grew up on Munson just south of Roy Street, our house was built in the 30s so you probably would know it well — it had an orchard or garden on the south side that was sold to build another house but we had a walk way that connected to the other side of the property. We played often through the 90s in “the creek” as we called it – there was a sort of stone outcropping that I always felt was like a turret or castle (young minds) right off Lee Court along the creek. Loved reading more about my childhood play area.