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125 Years of Nassau County

Nassau County Turns 125: Celebrating a Legacy of Community and Innovation

This year, we’re celebrating a major milestone: Nassau County’s 125th anniversary – and this is the perfect time to dive into the county’s centuries-old history, vibrant culture, and community spirit that defines the county. With a history as dynamic as the landscape—from stunning beaches to bustling town downtowns — Nassau County invites residents and visitors to explore its past and present through a warm and welcoming lens.

Pre-125: Nassau County's Early Beginnings

The area’s history goes back 500 years – centuries before Nassau County was designated. In 1524, Giovanni de Verrazano became the first known European to sail past Long Island’s south shore. More than a century later, Long Island was claimed by the Dutch as part of New Netherland. In 1648, Robert Williams of Hempstead purchased a significant piece of land from the Native Americans, which now is Hicksville, and parts of Jericho, Plainview, Syosset, and Woodbury.

The area again changed hands in 1664 when the English won New Netherland from the Dutch.

During the Revolutionary War, Nassau County was a hotbed of activity and strategic importance, primarily due to its location close to New York City and the Long Island Sound. The region was under British control for most of the war after the American Army was defeated at the Battle of Long Island in August 1776. After this, the area – centered around present-day Oyster Bay – became a base for British troops and a safe haven for loyalists. This occupation led to significant hardship for the local patriot population, who were often subjected to raids and requisitions by British forces.

The Culper Spy Ring, one of the most famous espionage operations of the war, operated within and around the area. While primarily based in Setauket, Suffolk County, their activities extended into what is now Nassau County, gathering intelligence on British troop movements and plans, which was crucial for General George Washington’s strategic decisions.

Also central to the war was Raynham Hall, which British troops used as their headquarters. Patriot Samuel Townsend owned the home, which is now a popular museum.

Even though Townsend was arrested early in the war for his support of the Patriots, his son, Robert, remained active as an undercover agent for General Washington using the code name “Culper, Jr.” With the aid of his sister, Sally, he reportedly secured information that led to the exposure of Benedict Arnold’s plot to defect to the British and turn over West Point to their control.

The Journey from 1899

While central to the Revolutionary War, Nassau County’s “official” story began in 1899. What started as a piece of Queens County became its county, reflecting the distinct character of its communities. This separation was more than administrative. It was the birth of a new chapter that would see the county evolve from rural landscapes to a model of suburban living – and influencing the American dream.

The 20th century was a transformative period for Nassau County. Railroads and cars quickly turned the county into a haven for those people looking for suburban tranquility, away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. Picture the historical elegance of Garden City or the pioneering spirit of Levittown — each community tells a story of innovation, dreams, and the pursuit of a better life.

More Than a Century in the Making

Today, Nassau County is a mosaic of cultures, each adding its unique brushstroke to its broad canvas. The influence of New York City, just a short trip away, enriches the cultural and economic vitality of the county. From the academic halls of Hofstra University to the artistic corridors of the Nassau County Museum of Art, there’s a wealth of knowledge and creativity to explore.

As we celebrate the 125th anniversary, Nassau County is more than just a place to learn about history. It’s a place to experience it firsthand. Here are a few ways to get into the spirit:

Old Westbury Gardens
Wander through the enchanting grounds of this early 20th-century estate, a perfect blend of nature and history.

The Cradle of Aviation Museum
Explore Nassau County’s pivotal role in aviation history and its impact on American space exploration.

Old Bethpage Village Restoration
Experience life in the 19th century at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, where history comes alive with authentic buildings, craft demonstrations, and interactive tours that celebrate Long Island’s rich heritage.

Sands Point’s Preserve
Discover the opulence of the Gilded Age at Sands Point, where sprawling estates and stunning waterfront views transport visitors to a time of unparalleled luxury on Long Island’s Gold Coast.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Step into the world of Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill, the “Summer White House” and beloved home of the 26th President of the United States. Here, the beauty of nature meets the legacy of leadership.

Eisenhower Park
Enjoy a day out in one of the country’s largest public spaces, offering a range of activities from sports to concerts, especially during the anniversary celebrations.

For the foodies, Nassau County’s dining scene is as diverse as its history. Enjoy a meal at:

Peter Luger Steak House in Great Neck offers a slice of New York’s famed steak tradition. The original Williamsburg restaurant opened in 1887 and was followed by a Long Island outpost in the 1960s. 

Rothmann’s Steakhouse in East Norwich opened in 1907 and was a favorite of long-time resident President Theodore Roosevelt. 

The Milleridge Inn in Jericho’s history can be traced back to 1672 when Mary Willets built a two-room house on this site. Now, the Inn serves hearty American fare in a fireplace-adorned Colonial home surrounded by a small village of shops.

Embracing the Future

Nassau County’s 125th anniversary is not just about looking back but also forward. It’s about building on the legacy of community, resilience, and innovation. As we celebrate, let’s remember the journey that brought us here and the path ahead.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a culinary enthusiast, Nassau County welcomes you to join in the celebration. Here’s to embracing the past, enjoying the present, and inspiring the future.

Happy 125th, Nassau County, and here’s to many more.

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