Heritage: Town’s fascinating links to the Big Apple

Derek and Janet Townsend in Hempstead, New York, in 1993 and the historic St George's Church stands in the centre of the original Village of Hempstead
Derek and Janet Townsend in Hempstead, New York, in 1993 and the historic St George's Church stands in the centre of the original Village of Hempstead

We might be twinned with a German town, but not many people know about Hemel Hempstead’s links to New York.

Hemel Hempstead is twinned with the German town of Neu Isenberg and a delightful concert was recently held in St John’s Church incorporating the singers from Germany called ‘Melodia’, with the Dacorum Community Choir and the Dacorum Youth Orchestra.

But how many people in Hemel Hempstead know of the twinning with the American ‘sister’ town of Hempstead?

The first real estate transaction in Hempstead took place on 13 December 1643.

Tackapousha, the ‘sachem’ or chief, together with other Native Americans of the Massapequa, Merrick and Rockaway tribes, conveyed to the Rev.

Robert Fordham and John Carman all the 64,000 acres of land that comprised the township of Hempstead. The tribesmen received trinkets worth barely £100 in exchange.

John Carman was born in Hemel Hempstead in 1606 and his wife Florence’s father, the Rev. Robert Fordham, came from Surrey. They were Puritans, seeking a new life with greater religious freedom in this distant part of the world. The Presbyterian Church they established is the oldest continually active community in America.

The township expanded and became an important agricultural and trading centre. It was part of the Dutch-controlled New Netherlands, but is now part of Nassau County.

George Washington and other Revolutionary leaders often stayed in Hempstead, although it was a centre for British sympathisers during the American Revolution.

Since those early days, the ‘village’ of Hempstead has grown into a sizeable settlement on Long Island, New York. Councillor Derek Townsend represented Dacorum Borough Council at the town’s 350 Years’ Celebrations in 1993.

He and his wife Janet were regally entertained and took part in many functions, including a motorcade through the town with local dignitaries. Someone in the crowd was heard to remark “Is that our prospective Mayor? I’d vote for him!”

The Long Island Railroad connects the town to Manhattan and it is a popular commuter town, like its English counterpart. In the 19th century many prominent families, such as the Vanderbilts and the Belmonts, had homes there and Eleanor Roosevelt spent her summers there as a teenager. Today, Hempsteadians are very proud of their University and the historic St George’s Church.

The artefacts pictured here were donated recently to Dacorum Heritage Trust by Derek Townsend, who is now retired from his Council duties.

A copy of an illustration of that first land transaction in Hempstead hangs in the Mayor’s Parlour in the Civic Centre in Hemel Hempstead as well as in Hempstead Village Hall.

It would be fascinating to discover more about those early settlers and whether any of their ancestors still live in Hemel Hempstead.