In 1657, Captain J. Seaman purchased 12,000 acres from the Algonquian Tribe of the Massapequa Indians. In 1658, Richard Stites and his family built their homestead in this area. Theirs was the only family farm until an English Quaker, Edmond Titus and his son, Samuel, joined them and settled in an area of Hempstead Plains known to us today as the Village of Westbury. In 1675 Henry Willis, also an English Quaker, named the area “Westbury”, after his hometown in England. Other Quaker families who were also seeking a place to freely express their religious beliefs joined the Tituses and Willises. The first Society of Friends meeting house was built in 1700. The early history of Westbury and that of the Friends are so interconnected that they are essentially the same.
These settlers, like many other landowners throughout the colonies, owned slaves. In 1775, compelled by their religious beliefs, the Quakers freed all 154 African-Americans that they had enslaved. Many of these freed men and women built their own homesteads on the open land near the sheep grazing pastures. Their new community consisted of farms and dairies. In 1834, with Quaker assistance, they and their descendants built the New Light Baptist Church. Now known as the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the building still stands on the corner of Union Ave. and Cross St.
The outbreak of the American Revolution disrupted Westbury’s tranquility. From the beginning of the war until 1783, British soldiers and German mercenaries occupied local homes, confiscated livestock and cleared the woods for troop firewood. With the close of the war, Westbury received its third group of settlers, the German Hessians, who chose not to return to their home country. Instead, they remained in what is now known as New Cassel. This name was chosen after the section of Germany from which many mercenaries had come.
By 1840, the Long Island Railroad had built through Westbury. In this same year, the first public school was built. The railroad made it easier for German, Italian, Irish and Polish immigrants to work Westbury s farms and in 1857, St. Brigid’s Parish was founded.
At the same time more African-American families came to the area via the Underground Railroad. For some, Westbury was only one stop on the way to Canada, but several stayed in this area after being harbored in secret rooms in the homes of the Quakers. In the years after the Civil War, until near the turn of the century, the few stores that comprised the small village around the railroad depot, were mainly black owned.
The Village moved from its agricultural setting in the late 19th century when the very wealthy began to settle and build mansions. This area is now known as Old Westbury. Post Avenue soon became a commerce center to serve the surrounding estates. Various estate workers began to move in as well. Streets were mapped out and constructed. Post Avenue received electricity in 1902 and in 1914 a water company was founded.
From the 1850 s to the 1900 s, Westbury’s population and ethnic diversity began to rise as many people of Irish, Italian and Polish origins continued to settle.
In response to a rumor that northern Westbury planned to incorporate, thereby leaving the southern part without a name, residents collected enough petitions for third class incorporation in 1932. The Village included Grantsville, the section south of Union Avenue around A.M.E. Zion church, but did not take in New Cassel since the few families that lived there thought it would only unnecessarily increase their taxes.
In 1938, the Northern State Parkway was constructed and in 1940, Roosevelt Raceway. In 1941, the Second World War began. Westbury sent 1,400 persons to serve our country. This was 20% of the community’s population, making it the highest percentage of any comparable community in the United States.
In the mid 1950’s, Westbury virtually ran out of undeveloped land and with it came the end of the building boom. In 1940, Westbury listed its population at 4,525. By 1960, Westbury’s population had grown to 14,757, according to the census data for that year. Many Caribbean and Latin American families began to settle during this time and in the decades that followed.
As the birth rate declined, people married at a later age and the high cost of buying a home prevented many people from assuming a mortgage in the 1970’s, Westbury again underwent change. Today, the Village’s population remains over 14,000 and is rich with ethnic and racial diversity. The Village of Westbury is indeed a unique place to live and is truly a community for all people, a Community For All Seasons.