This story originally ran on Feb. 22, 1998 as part of "Long Island: Our Story."
Beginnings: "Great Water Land" was what the first inhabitants, the Massapequan Indians, called the place. When white settlers arrived, conflict ensued. In 1653, Capt. John Underhill, an Englishman working for the Dutch, led troops in an attack on a peaceful community of Indians at a site believed to be near the intersection of what is now the only Indian "battle" on Long Island.
Famous Family: Soon after the massacre, a Quaker family from Connecticut, the Townsends, who had been prevented from settling in New Netherlands because of their religion, bought land from the Massapequan sachem, Tackapousha. John Townsend gave the land to his daughter, Freelove, and her husband, Thomas Jones, who were the first white settlers in the area in 1696. Jones and his wife owned 6,000 acres, including, he decided, the sandbar that is now named after him: Jones Beach. Jones had seven children, including David, who in 1770, when he was 71, built Massapequa's first mansion, Tyron Hall, later called Fort Neck House, on what is now Merrick Road between Cartwright Boulevard and Beverly Street. It burned down in the 1930s. Thomas Jones died in 1713 and is buried in the Floyd-Jones Cemetery behind the Old Grace Church on Merrick Road.
Turning Points: Massapequa served as a resort in the middle years of its history, particularly after the Long Island Rail Road reached the hamlet in 1867. The Vanderwater Hotel, at the corner of Hicksville and Merrick Roads, was built in 1796 and played host to notables including future President Chester A. Arthur and Civil War Gen. Joseph (Fighting Joe) Hooker. In the 1920s, Will Rogers and Annie Oakley rented houses in Masssapequa, around the time that vacant land began to be bought up by developers who turned the area into a suburban residential community. Monkey Business: In 1934, Frank Buck, who collected animals for zoos and circuses, opened Frank Buck's Jungle Camp on land that is now occupied by the Sunrise Mall. It featured lions, elephants, antelopes and a 75-foot-high "monkey mountain" inhabited by 500 rhesus monkeys. The zoo got a lot of publicity when someone left a plank across the moat that surrounded the monkey mountain and 150 of them escaped.
Claims to Fame: Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush referred to Massapequa as quintessential suburban America. It probably had something to do with the fact that their speech writer, Peggy Noonan, was from Massapequa. So are Alec Baldwin and his actor brothers, as well as Jerry Seinfeld and Ron Kovic, the Vietnam War veteran and peace activist who wrote "Born on the Fourth of July."
Where to Find More: "Illustrated History of Massapequa," published by the Massapequa Post, at the Massapequa Library.