Village History Reflects Its Growth & Stability
The date: July 15,1893. The place: Atheneum Hall. The vote: 139 in favor, 79 opposed. With that, the citizens of Rockville Centre, Queens County, State of New York, took the first step toward the home rule and self-determination. Even before its citizenry took the momentous step of approving incorporation, Rockville Centre was a thriving south shore community. From its roots as a village for the Reckouackie Indians, to its Revolutionary War persona as a hotbed of Toryism, the town prospered and grew significantly and by 1870 the local press was urging a home rule referendum.
By the dawn of the 19th century the town had six mills serving the needs of the region’s farmers and miners. In 1849 resident Robert Pettit petitioned the United States Post Office for permission to open a post office in his general store. He chose the name “Rockville Centre” and the town’s first post office was established putting Rockville Centre officially “on the map”. It quickly became the site of aggressive real estate development, because of its easy accessibility from New York City. The arrival of the railroad in 1867 heralded the entry of Rockville Centre into the modern era. It was now possible to get into New York City faster and more frequently than had ever been possible by stage coach.
The arrival of the railroad in 1867 heralded the entry of Rockville Centre into the modern era. It was now possible to get into New York City faster and more frequently than had ever been possible by stage coach on the Jamaica Plain Road or by sailing ship from East Rockaway.
Even before its establishment as a municipality, Rockville Centre enjoyed diverse services, including a volunteer fire company founded in 1875, a public library opened in 1882, and the south shore’s first high school, opened in 1892. The growth of the region, and the importance of Rockville Centre to the area’s economy is highlighted by the founding of the Bank of Rockville Centre in 1891, the first commercial bank on Long Island’s south shore. Banking was a growth industry in the Village and Rockville Centre had earned a reputation as a leading financial center for the island.
Following ratification of the home rule referendum, the first Village elections were held on August 19, 1893, and John Lyon was elected Village President. In 1925, during the tenure of Charles Richmond, this title was officially changed to “Mayor”.
The first water and electric utilities building on the south side of Maple Avenue was constructed on land obtained by the Village from Captain Edwin Wallace. Water service started in 1895, and the electric generating plant began operations at that site in 1898. The original steam generator used to pump Village water is on display at the utilities complex on Maple Avenue. The foresight of the Village’s founding fathers is revealed most clearly by their establishment of a municipal electric power plant, in 1898. Originally designed to power street lights, and operated only in the evening hours, the plant, still located on Maple Avenue, is one of three municipal electric utilities on Long Island. Rockville Centre’s Electric Light and Power provides residential and commercial customers at rates substantially below any other electric utility in the region.
In 1929, the first large apartment block was constructed, at the corner of North Village and Hempstead Avenues, where the Tudor Apartments still remain. There were two movie theaters; one of them, the Fantasy, still is open at the same location today. Various bank buildings from that era still dot the Village landscape.
By its 40th anniversary in 1933, the Village had six fire companies and 33 police officers. The diversity in the style and the beauty of architecture at that time earned Rockville Centre the name “The Village of Homes.” Interestingly, the commute to New York City, at that time, was 37 minutes, about the same as it is today!
The growth of suburbia following the Second World War brought growth to Rockville Centre, too, and by the mid l950’s, Village residents could boast of a year-round recreation facility. The success of this municipal service led to the building of the John Anderson Recreation Center in 1962 and the extension of services to the Martin Luther King Community Centre in 1981.