The beginnings of Rockville Centre — and the Town of Hempstead — are now etched in stone, as a plaque commemorating history was unveiled at Mill River Park last Sunday.
About 50 residents, historians, elected officials and clergy members gathered near South Village Avenue and Riverside Road to see the plate, donated by the Phillips House and the Rockville Centre Historical Society, which describes the transfer of land from Native Americans to colonials on November 13, 1643.
But why is this important? “Because of history,” said Dr. Michael Orzano, who coordinated the plaque’s unveiling. “The creation of Hempstead occurred at this spot.” Orzano, an anesthesiologist and Native American history buff, researched the history behind Mill River with Professor Paul Van Wei, of Molloy College, and his history student Kevin Denson after a school project led them to it.
Originally, Rockville Centre was named Rechquaakie — which means “place of sand,” according to Orzano — by the Algonquins in 1643. The area was originally the home of the Rockaway Indian Village until Sagamore Tackapousha and Orasguy and Pamas of the Rockaway chieftaincy sold it to Reverend Robert Fordham and Mr. John Carmen in 1676 for a haul of metal pots, knives and some other items.
The deed recognized land extending from Hempstead Plain to Rockaway Inlet and the name was changed to Rechtkawack, as per English phonetic spelling. On April 17 of that year, Tackapousha presented a wampum belt to commemorate the sale to Richard Nicoll, the first English colonial of the New York province.
“This is where Rockville Centre started, as well as the rest of South Nassau County,” said Frank Seipp, president of the Phillips House Museum, whom helped organize the unveiling. “It’s important to preserve heritage and know where we came from.”
It wasn’t until 1893 that Rockville Centre became an incorporated village, getting its name from Robert Pettit, who opened the area’s first general store on the corner of Merrick Road and Lincoln Avenue in 1848. He named it after Reverend Mordecai Rock Smith.
“If it wasn’t for these people … there wouldn’t be a Rockville Centre,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said. He added that it wasn’t until a month ago, when he met with the coordinators of the event, that he discovered this piece of history, and he believes other residents will follow suit. “Hopefully [residents] will stop by and read [the plaque] and understand the importance of it.”
Along with Murray, in attendance were Fathers Bill Koenig and Kevin Morris, from Church of the Ascension, Pastor Scott Ressman, of the United Church of Rockville Centre, Assemblyman Brian Curran and Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito. The historical societies of East Rockaway, Lynbrook and Franklin Square also turned out for the ceremony.