You can thank the beavers for Bellmore.
That's right, if it weren't for the fact that those leaf-eating, dam- and lodge-building furry friends of the forest made great hats, this town may never have been.
It turns out that when Henry Hudson - an Englishman who was sailing for the Dutch - cruised up the now-Hudson River in 1609, he discovered that beavers were in abundance. At the time of his finding, according to Clarence Anspake Jr., president of the Historical Society of the Bellmores, felt hats were the rage in Europe and it turned out that beaver pelts could be treated chemically and made into the desired and stylish headgear.
This revelation was part of Anspake's well-attended lecture at Bellmore's Memorial Library last week. Soon after Hudson's return, the Dutch established New Netherland, a swath of land that stretched from as far south as the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to as far north as Connecticut.
The New Netherland area, said Anspake (who's ninth grandparents were part of the Dutch infusion into New Amsterdam back in the mid-17th century) was run as a business by the recently established Dutch West India Company. Amsterdam (a.k.a. New York City) was the heart of the operation.
Surrounded by English settlements out to the eastern end of Long Island (i.e. East Hampton, Shinnecock, Patchogue and more) and in the north to Connecticut, the Dutch looked to modern Nassau County to expand its hold on the new world.
Anspake noted, however, that it was actually an Englishman, Thomas Southard, who was the first non-native inhabitant in Bellmore. Southard, an English-born farmer, petitioned the Dutch in 1654 for a 214-acre parcel of land on what is now Bellmore. It was granted, Anspake told the attentive audience, because Southard agreed to live under the Dutch law that presided here at the time. This town's first resident's original house, located at 891 Bellmore Rd., still stands today on a 65 x 100 plot of land and, according to the Town of Hempstead Web site, 11 generations of the Southard family have occupied the dwelling.
Sadly, by 1664 the English armed forces put a stranglehold on New Amsterdam and the overmatched Dutch settlers, effectively ending the country's economic-based influx into New York and, in turn, Bellmore.
But as Anspake said that the Dutch really got the "short shrift" here, they're influence can still be seen around town today. Take for instance the words tulip, stoop, sleigh, waffles, cole slaw, and more all can be traced back to the days the Dutch ruled. In addition, nearby areas such as Boswijck (Bushwick), Breuklen (Brooklyn), and of course, 'tLange Eylandt (Long Island), are all named courtesy of the Dutch. Don Kaestner, a five-year member of the Historical Society, said it's great that these lectures take place.
"It [ensures] the history doesn't get lost," he added.
Anspake pointed out to the crowd all of the street names, highways and buildings that still reflect New York (and particularly Bellmore's Dutch roots), and he concluded, "They're still here."
For more information on the Historical Society of the Bellmores call 785-2593 or write P.O. Box 912, Bellmore, NY 11710.