LONG ISLAND, located in the Atlantic Ocean, constitutes the easternmost point of New York State. The island is 118 miles long and 12 to 23 miles wide and splits into two peninsulas at its ends. The northern peninsula ends at Orient Point, and the southern peninsula ends at Montauk Point. At 1,723 square miles, it is the fourth largest island of the United States and the largest outside of Hawaii and Alaska.
Delaware and Montauk Indians inhabited Long Island. European settlement began with the Plymouth Company, and the title was conveyed to William Alexander of Great Britain in 1635. Nonetheless the island became a part of the Dutch West India Company, which established numerous settlements, including Bruekelen (now Brooklyn). English settlers continued to arrive and founded communities such as Southampton, Hempstead, and Flushing. In 1650 New Netherland and the New England Confederation entered into the Treaty of Hartford, which drew a demarcation line on Long Island, giving the Dutch the western end and the British the part east of Oyster Bay.
In this unsettled period of European colonization, control of Long Island continued to shift. In 1664 the island became part of the lands Charles II gave to James, duke of York, who later became King James II. The British militarily defeated the Dutch, who ceded New Amsterdam to the British. New Amsterdam became a part of Yorkshire, with the local administrative seat of the territory located in Hempstead. In 1683 Long Island was subdivided into administrative units called "counties," including Kings, Queens, and Suffolk Counties. The county-level politics and administration of New York and Long Island remained powerful into the twenty-first century.
Both the patriots and the Loyalists hotly contested Long Island during the American Revolution. The island's strategic location and its function as a wood and food supply point made it the target of frequent raids by both military units and privateers. Indeed the Battle of Long Island was the first battle of the 1776 Revolutionary War campaign.
The evolution of Long Island as a commercial center after independence centered on its proximity to New York City, which emerged as a major metropolitan area. In 1844 the Long Island Railroad was completed, giving New York efficient access to the industries of Long Island, including farming, whaling, oystering, and fishing. Bridges and highways, in particular the Long Island Expressway, accelerated the growth and transformation of Long Island.
The manufacture of electrical equipment and aircraft made Long Island an important industrial center. After World War II many of the communities close to New York City experienced rapid residential growth. At that time Long Island became the site of an experiment in suburban housing, identical, inexpensively constructed single-family, stand-alone homes. William J. Levitt started these developments and between 1947 and 1951 constructed 17,447 houses in Levittown. These inexpensive family homes, affordable to middle-class Americans, began a national trend that eventually became synonymous with suburban "sprawl."
As New York City grew, important infrastructures, such as La Guardia and Kennedy International Airports, were built on the western tip of Long Island. Coney Island, Jones Beach, and Fire Island near New York City became popular summer destinations. Fire Island was one of the first communities in the United States associated with homosexual community life. On the far east end the Hamptons (Southampton and East Hampton) became synonymous with wealth and summer mansions. Southampton is the venue of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (1925). Long Island achieved a significant place in American popular culture.
Bookbinder, Bernie, and Harvey Weber. Long Island: People and Places, Past and Present. New York: Abrams, 1998.
Newsday Staff. "Long Island Our Story." Newsday, 1998. http://www.lihistory.com/
Long Island (island, United States)
Long Island (1990 pop. 6,861,454), 1,723 sq mi (4,463 sq km), 118 mi (190 km) long, and from 12 to 20 mi (19–32 km) wide, SE N.Y.; fourth largest island of the United States and the largest outside Alaska and Hawaii. It is separated from Staten Island by the Narrows, from Manhattan and the Bronx by the East River, and from Connecticut by the Long Island Sound; on the south is the Atlantic Ocean. Long Island comprises four counties—Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk; Kings (coextensive with Brooklyn) and Queens are part of New York City.
Eastern Long Island has two flukelike peninsulas that are separated by Peconic Bay. The northern fluke, terminating in Orient Point, follows part of the Harbor Hill moraine, a hilly ridge that extends west along N Long Island to the Narrows and was deposited by melting ice during the last stage of the Pleistocene period. The southern fluke, terminating in Montauk Point, follows the Ronkonkoma moraine, a somewhat older morainal ridge that extends west to join the Harbor Hill moraine at Lake Success. Low, wooded hills, capped by glacial deposits lie north of the moraines and contrast with a broad, low-lying outwash plain to the south; the highest point on the island is c.400 ft (120 m) above sea level. Long beaches, backed by dunes and shallow lagoons, fringe the south shore; the north shore has low cliffs and is deeply indented by bays.
With no large streams, water supply is limited and is obtained from groundwater or from reservoirs on the mainland. Large recharge basins catch surplus rainwater to replenish underground supplies, and strict conservation measures have been imposed to prevent further contamination of groundwater from sewage disposal and detergents and from encroachment by seawater.
Both the Dutch and the English established farming, whaling, and fishing settlements on Long Island, but it remained sparsely settled until railroads, bridges, and highways provided easy access to New York City. The Long Island Expressway is particularly high-trafficked. Industrial and residential growth occurred rapidly after World War II, and in the 1970s and 80s development further intensified. Farming has declined in importance and changed in nature over time in E Long Island; fields of potatoes have been replaced in part by housing developments and by wine grapes and other more lucrative crops. Sand and gravel are quarried from the island's glacial deposits. Sport and commercial fishing is important on the south and east coasts. The south shore, a popular recreational area, includes Fire Island National Seashore, Robert Moses and Jones Beach state parks, Coney Island, and parts of Gateway National Recreation Area. The Hamptons are an affluent residential and beach community.
La Guardia and John F. Kennedy International airports are on W Long Island; the Brookhaven National Laboratory is in the east. Among the many higher-education institutions are the State Univ. of New York campuses at Stony Brook and Westbury, Long Island Univ., Adelphi Univ., Hofstra Univ., and branches of New York City universities.
In 1995 a state law was signed resolving the highly contentious issue of development of the 100,000-acre (40,500-hectare) Pine Barrens on E Long Island. A forest preserve was established, with a core of 52,500 acres (21,260 hectares) in which development would cease or be severely limited and a surrounding area in which development would be regulated and assisted. In 1997 an agreement was reached to preserve the remains of a 400-year-old fort built by Cutchogue Indians.
See B. Bookbinder, Long Island (1983); M. Tucker, ed., Long Island Writers & Writings (1985).