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Valley Stream history includes moniker 'Skunks Misery'

The first telephone in Valley Stream was installed

The first telephone in Valley Stream was installed in 1896 in Joseph Felton's Grocery and Seed Store at Central Avenue and Merrick Road. Credit: Handout

There was a time in Valley Stream’s history when old-fashioned businesses were the legs of the community and hotels and famous roadhouses took center stage. Entertainers from New York City once beckoned passersby with song and dance and airplane pilots flew in and out of its airfield.

“I think that Valley Stream was really hopping, especially in the 1920s,” said Carol McKenna, 65, who was appointed village historian in 1996. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we had speakeasies.”

Before it was named Valley Stream, the community was referred to as “the land between Near Rockaway and Jamaica.” But oddly enough, settlers nicknamed sections, “Fosters Meadow,” “Hungry Harbor,” “Tigertown,” “Cookie Hill” and “Skunks Misery.”

The northwest section was named “Fosters Meadow” because of its farmland; the southwest section called “Hungry Harbor” because of the starving squatters and the northwest named “Tigertown.” When hotels took up Rockaway Avenue that name became “Rum Junction.”

The northern section was also named “Cookie Hill” because of its racy reputation and another section was called “Skunks Misery” because it processed manure.

Valley Stream was established in 1843 and incorporated in 1925. The first families to settle in the area came from England, Scotland, Sweden and Germany.

“In the 1840s and on, they came here and opened up general stores and maintained farms,” said McKenna, who has lived in the village since 1984. “Valley Stream was a farming community and that continued through the 1800s and early 1900s. Then all of a sudden, there was a need for housing and so a lot of development started in the 1920s.”

Robert Pagan, who emigrated from Scotland with his wife Ellen and settled in “Fosters Meadow,” in the late 1830s, is known for coming up with the community’s official name, which was formally accepted by the post office in 1840.

“It was a topographically decision on his part,” said McKenna. “He looked to the north and it was hilly and noticed we had a lot of water, so he came up with the name Valley Stream.” He also built a colonial home to settle in, which is now named the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration, a historic landmark, museum and meeting space.

The first train from Valley Stream to Far Rockaway put the community on the map. After the Civil War, the first railroad station in Valley Stream was built in the early 1870s on Rockaway Avenue at Third Street.

The railroad brought more business to Rockaway Avenue and Merrick Road. Businesses such as Lang’s Drygoods and Shoe Store, Norwood’s General Store, Ben Siegman’s Meat Market and Edward Miller’s Paint Store filled the streets.

The first school district in Valley Stream was District 13, a two-room house built in 1891. Today, there are four school districts in the village, serving thousands of children.

Valley Stream was not without its celebrities. During the roaring ’20s, there were two famous roadhouses; Hoffman’s and the Pavillon Royal, where American singer Rudy Vallée and Canadian-American bandleader Guy Lombardo got their start.

In the mid- to late- 1900s, the area began to change with the times. Different ethnic groups began moving in and smaller businesses crumbled, or moved from the area.

“It’s gone from basically a caucasian community to an influx of Hispanics, African-Americans and people from other islands,” McKenna said. “I believe that they came for the same reason others did, for security and a good education for their children.”

Curtiss Field opened in 1929 and became the largest commercial airport on Long Island, with more than 800 planes flying in and out of the field daily. But by 1933, the depression caused activities to cease and the field to close. Decades later, the airfield was turned into Green Acres Mall.

“Curtiss Airfield was a take-off point for a lot of famous fliers like Jimmy Doolittle, Amelia Earhart and the Flying 99s,” McKenna said. “At one time, it was the busiest airfield in New York. Some days, they had acrobats, people that would stand on the wings of airplanes. It must have been a very interesting time.”

For lifelong residents and new families, their reasons for living in Valley Stream may include its close proximity to New York City, hometown feel or education system.

For McKenna, it’s the sense of security she gets walking the sidewalks, knowing that her son received the best education and the proximity to the city that makes her appreciative.

“As far as I’m concerned, Valley Stream is it,” she said. “Do I sound like I love this place? Yes, I do. It’s taken me in and it’s given me a sense of security. Yes, I grew up in Brooklyn, but this is my adopted hometown. I love Valley Stream and everybody else should, too.”

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