Take a drive up Bellmore Road from Parkway School and glance at the street names: Rowehl Drive, Hilda Street, Granz Court. These German-influenced names are the result of land sales from a prominent farming family on East Meadow's eastern edge. The Rowehl family owned 219 acres south of Hempstead Turnpike and, for four generations, became a significant part of the local economy and culture. In 1854, Diedrich Gerhard Rowehl purchased the land from Theodore and Pauline Pietycker. Their task was to clear the thick brush that covered the entire Hempstead, or "Brushy", Plains area and make the land suitable for farming. The original homestead was constructed — and still stands — at 177 Bellmore Road.
Potatoes were king on the fields of East Meadow, Island Trees, Hicksville, and Jerusalem: the healthy crop was cultivated and used locally. The Rowehls subsisted selling potatoes and hay to places like Cooper's Field in Hempstead. Forty-eight descendants of the original settler made their homes on the property and worked in the family's farming business. The Rowehl and Granz families became notable for a large nursery that included greenhouses, barns, and a windmill for power. They were "truck farmers" and made their living off the ever-growing New York City population's need for food. The vegetables they grew were taken by horse, and later by motor vehicle, to Wallabout Market in Brooklyn for sale. A simple trip to the Brooklyn marketplace could take nine hours. Other businesses in East Meadow did the same.
By the 1890s, business was booming. The Queens County Sentinel reported in 1897 that "Messrs. Rowehl & Granz, the enterprising nurserymen, are doing a rushing business in shrubs and fruit trees . . ." The writers urged "lovers of the beautiful" to visit the family's nurseries. The following year, the paper reported that they "are busily engaged in placing trees and plants around the premises of O.H.P. Belmont." Belmont's mansion on Front Street was no small matter!
The Rowehl property was on a southern extension of the Old Westbury Road, which today is largely truncated and forms the northernmost section of Bellmore Road. Bellmore Road itself does not appear on any local maps until 1906 but was likely built by the turn of the century, as the original 219-acre homestead was divided into three lots and then again into six sections. Remarkably, all nine properties from the 19th and early 20th centuries survive to this day. One of these, the family's retirement home, was moved east when the Wantagh Parkway was built on the estate. Today, it is Dalton Funeral Home. Another, home to Charles D. Rowehl and located at 294 Bellmore Road, was purchased by the American Legion's Christian Wolf Post No. 1082. The remaining structures can be seen from the road and are easily found by looking for homes that do not conform to the 1950s property use standards . . . the buildings are at interesting angles to the road!
Margaret Reimels Divan, a descendant, has published an entire booklet dedicated to her family's local history. It can be found through local historical societies and the County Archives.
© Scott Eckers
Dr. Scott Eckers is the author of East Meadow in Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. He is Vice President of the East Meadow Board of Education as well as Social Studies Chair for the East Williston School District. Scott is also an entertainer and recording artist.