Vestiges of Fosters Meadow trace us back to German Farming Community

[Via Fosters Meadow Heritage Center]

“After seeking employment in the city and saving enough to buy land, many of these immigrants moved to the countryside. The story of German immigrants setting out to the West via wagon, stagecoach or boat and barge up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal is well known. Many German farming communities in Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota got their start from those who passed through Kleindeutschland [or ‘Little Germany’]. What is less known is the story of those immigrants who took their stake and a similar dream and headed east to Long Island with a final destination within a one day wagon trip from Manhattan. One such destination was Fosters Meadow.

Fosters Meadow was an area in the western tail of the Hempstead Plains. It encompassed the present day village of Elmont, with parts of North Valley Stream, Rosedale, Laurelton and Springfield, and included land in both the Towns of Hempstead and Jamaica. It had been a pastureland and farming community since the 17th century when two brothers, Thomas and Christopher Foster, purchased the large tract of land. In 1850, families bearing well-established English and Dutch family names such as Hendrickson, Van Nostrand, Baylis and Wright were living there. At that time, there were few German born farmers in the area – only Joseph Roeckel on the Merrick & Jamaica Plank Road, but over the next fifty years, Fosters Meadow became a community with a distinctly German flavor.

It is easy to understand why the area was attractive to farmers at that time. Turnpikes and toll roads called plank roads were laid out during the middle of the nineteenth century. Large planks of wood were laid on a graded roadbed in order to make travel faster and more efficient than on muddy and rutted dirt roads. The New York Legislature had passed a law in 1847 authorizing the construction of plank roads, and 1850 saw the beginning of construction of the Jamaica and Brooklyn Plank Road. The unofficial northern and southern boundary for Fosters Meadow were the Hempstead and Jamaica Plank Road and the Merrick and Jamaica Plank Road. These roads opened during the decade of the 1850’s and provided access to the road to Brooklyn. By leaving his farm in the evening, stopping once to water the horses, a farmer with a sturdy market wagon and a strong team of horses could make the fifteen mile trip from Fosters Meadow to the produce markets at the foot of Fulton Street in the City of Brooklyn, arriving at the market before dawn in plenty of time to meet the buyers.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Fosters Meadow changed from more of a German community to more of a German-American one. Hoffman and Hermann dropped the last “n” from their names. Johann, Andreas and Wilhelm became John, Andrew and William. Some names changed totally: Johann Marz became John March, and Franz Becker became Frank Baker. Even the name of the village changed. In 1882, an application was made to the Post Office Department to establish an office in the newly renamed village of Elmont. However, the names Fosters Meadow and Elmont would be used interchangeably for the next twenty years. But the presence and influence of the German language, taught at St. Boniface School and used in the church services, remained strong.”

-Excerpt from Long Island Forum, “Fosters Meadow: The Origins and Transformation of a German Farming Community,” by Paul W. Hoffman (Summer 2001). [Courtesy of Fosters Meadow Heritage Center and Franklin Square Historical Society.]

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