With a storied past that goes back 370 years, the Town of Hempstead certainly has a rich history worthy of preservation. Today, Supervisor Kate Murray and the Hempstead Town Board voted to officially landmark the St. Matthias Church Cemetery in Wantagh and the former site of Eleanor’s Roosevelt’s childhood residence in Westbury, preventing any prospective development or alteration at the sites without the consent of the Town Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“Remembering where we came from is important as we work to chart a course for the future,” stated Murray. “I am proud to add the former site of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood home, and the historic St. Matthias Church Cemetery, to a long list of incredible landmarks here in Hempstead Town.”
St. Matthias Church Cemetery in Wantagh is the burial ground of 108 African-American residents who lived in the area, including five veterans of the Union Army during the Civil War (Charles Jackson, David C. Jackson, Edward S. Jackson, Gilbert Jackson and Morris Jackson). At the time, African Americans comprised just 10 percent of the entire Union Army. Remains were interred at the cemetery between 1862 and 1943.
The town also landmarked the former site of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood home, located at the corner of Salisbury Park Drive and Valentines Road in Westbury. A young Roosevelt lived at the home from 1888 to 1892 (it has since been demolished). In addition to serving as the First Lady from 1933 to 1945, Roosevelt was active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of Negro Women. She was also appointed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, where she helped write The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Landmark status grants protection under town law to the former site of Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood home and to the St. Matthias Church Cemetery. Regardless of ownership, any plans involving town landmarks must first be submitted to the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for review.
The Town of Hempstead has granted landmark status to dozens of historic sites. These include the take-off site of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 trans-Atlantic flight in Westbury, Curtiss Airfield in Valley Stream, the secret meeting place of the Quakers in Wantagh and many more.
“Today, the Town of Hempstead is making history by preserving history,” concluded Murray. “We know that future generations of young people will enjoy learning about the history of African Americans who lived in the Wantagh area, brave African Americans who fought during the Civil War, and the childhood home of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most famous First Ladies of all time.”