Long Island, home to 2.87 million New Yorkers, is the largest contiguous and most populated island belonging to the United States. It's approximately 1400 square miles are divided among Queens and Kings (Brooklyn) Boroughs, which are part of New York City, industrialized Nassau County, and more rural Suffolk County. The island sits east of Connecticut to which it was once connected. Originally home to members of the Algonquin tribal families, both Dutch and English settlers claimed the land until finally secured by the British. Today, about half the population is white with a high concentration of Italian and Jewish families. An increasing number of Hispanics have joined the other ethnic groups who call Long Island home. Once dominated by fishing and farming, today's industries include education, healthcare, social services, technology, and research including nuclear and bio-technology. A developing wine industry in Suffolk County is also significant. Transportation to and from the island includes bridges, tunnels, ferries, Kennedy, LaGuardia, and MacArthur Airports. Education is highly valued with numerous public and private institutions for all age groups including those seeking higher levels of education. Approximately half of the population is Roman Catholic. Places of interest include beautiful mansions on the "Gold Coast" of the north shore and sandy beaches on the southern coast. Long Island faces the challenges of limited housing, a declining young professional population, and increased ethnic immigration.
Long Island comprises 4 sections, Queens, Kings (Brooklyn), Nassau, and Suffolk. However, Queens and Kings are conterminous with the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and officially recognized as part of New York City proper. Locals are usually considering Nassau and Suffolk counties when they reference Long Island. Closest to the mainland, Queens occupies 112.1 square miles with an estimated population of 2 million. The 96 square mile area that is Kings/Brooklyn sits east of Queens and is home to 2.5 million New Yorkers. Nassau County's 3 townships host 1.5 million residents within its 287 square miles. On the far eastern part of the island sits the more rural, agricultural Suffolk County with 10 townships, 911 square miles, and 1.4 million residents. Both counties experienced rapid growth in the 1950s and 60s with a 29.9% increase from 1960 to 1970. The next 2 decades saw Suffolk's growth balance out Nassau's losses. By 1990, both counties experienced moderate increases (Nassau 3.7% and Suffolk 7.3%). Most recent figures indicate little statistically significant growth. The estimated population for 2008 was 2.87 million. More about the Long Island population.
The median income on Long Island is $81,420.50 with 38.3% making greater than $100,000 and 5.15% below the poverty level, and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.. With the wealth of the "Gold Coast" homes and the Five Towns on the South Shore, Nassau County boasts the 10th highest median income in the country and the 2nd highest property taxes in the United States. Suffolk County has the 25th highest median income. The median age is 39.5 years, and the population is aging at a rate of 2.5%, faster than the 1.9% national average. The young population is declining at a rate of 1.7%, again more than the national average of .6%. The overall population has been increasing slightly since 2006 with an influx of Hispanic families, of which about 75% are documented as legal immigrants.
According to 2006 statistics, 20% of the Hispanic population of New York Sate now resides in Long Island and makes up about 12.6% of the total residency. Another 5.15% is Asian, .15% is Native American, 9.1% is black, with the remaining 78.95% listed as non-Hispanic white. Of that population, 26% are Italian and 11.2% are Jewish in heritage.
Originally connected to what is now southern Connecticut, Long Island became a separate entity as tectonic activity gradually shoved adjoining land under the crust of the eastern peninsula. Rising sea levels, created by the melting of the Wisconsin glacier 60,000 years ago created the island. The glacier, in its slow march across Canada and the United States, pushed sediment in front of itself and carried debris, both of which can be found on Long Island today in mounded hills stretching from Montauk to Brooklyn and known as the Ronkonkoma Terminal Moraine.
A second glacier, created about 21,000 years ago when the earth experienced another cooling period, is responsible for the rivers and flatlands falling away to the Atlantic and a second moraine from Brooklyn Heights to Orient Point. The resulting landscape consists of a northern area with bays and harbors and forested peninsulas called "necks" that separate them. Swamps and ponds sit between irregularly-shaped hills. The northern part of the plain is slightly higher than the southern area, which is a flatter, gravelly gentle slope to the Atlantic. Sandbars, miles of white sandy beaches and inlets create the southern shoreline. There are also protected wetlands and a chain of Outer Barrier Islands. Two narrow peninsulas are formed at the eastern end, created by low ridges. The North Fork is the shorter at 28 miles, while the South Fork runs 44 miles. Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay separate the peninsulas.
Long Island sits on the eastern side of the south-east corner of the state of Connecticut. Its east and south shores face the Atlantic Ocean; Long Island Sound is on its north side; and the Narrows, East River, and New York Bay form its western boundary. At 118 miles long, 20 miles at its widest cross point, and consisting of approximately 1377 square miles, the island is just slightly smaller than Rhode Island. The physical center of the island is Manorville at 41° latitude and 73° longitude. The highest point is Jayne's Hill, Melville, at 400 feet above sea level. The 15 mile Peconic River, which runs between Riverhead and Brooklyn, is the longest river, and the total shoreline is 1,180 miles.
Long Island enjoys warm, humid summers with gentle afternoon sea breezes and average temperatures around 73°F. A freeze-free season of 180-200 days works well for island farming. The South Shore experiences an average of 35 days each year of dense fog. Winters are much colder and wet with temperatures hovering at 34°F. Snowfall averages 20-35" with occasional extreme variations as low as 10" or as high as 75." Because of its northerly location and cooler surrounding waters, Long Island rarely experiences severe hurricanes. Statistically, the island has been brushed or hit by a tropical storm about every 5.15 years and directly hit every 27.80 years. According to these calculations, the next storm is due before 2014. The tidal flooding that accompanies ocean storm surges can cause severe property damage and beach erosion to the shores facing the Atlantic. More Long Island Weather...
The earliest inhabitants of Long Island are first mentioned in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian navigator working for France, who made contact while exploring the area. The estimated 6,500 Lenape people lived in 13 communities scattered across the western part of the island. They spoke an Algonquin dialect, Munsee and seemed culturally related to Native Americans living in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Considered peaceful, they existed through hunting, fishing, farming, and paying tribute to the more threatening, war-like tribes surrounding them.
In 1609, Henry Hudson briefly visited the area while searching out a quicker route to India. Five years later, the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed around the island, mapping it in the process, and also giving it the name Long Island, based on its shape. Shortly thereafter in 1624, the Dutch West India Company sent a total of 5 ships carrying 30 families into the Manhattan area to set up a fur trading post. Two years later, in 1626, Manhattan was purchased for the equivalent of $24.00 and renamed New Amsterdam as part of a greater New Netherlands colonization effort. Settlement grew very slowly for the Dutch because of severe restrictions in the new world that were unlike the relative freedom they had experienced back home. Also, autocratic and harsh dealing with the native population resulted in frequent skirmishes and fierce all-out warfare.
During the 1630s and 40s both Dutch and British interests grew on Long Island with the Dutch establishing Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Amerfort (Flatlands) New Utrecht, and Midwout (Flatbush) on the western side as the English settled Southold, Southampton, and East Hampton on the eastern portion. Charles I insisted that the Plymouth Colony renounce its claims to this land and offered the land to the Earl of Sterling who, in turn, sold it to the New Haven and Connecticut colonies. Lion Gardiner was the first English settler to put down roots in 1637. The 1650 portion of the Treaty of Hartford actually divided the land between the Dutch and the English.
When Charles II gave the entire area to his brother James, the Duke of York, in 1664, the New Amsterdam area was included in the gift. By this time, the city had become a prosperous seaport and well-worth confiscating from the Dutch. The duke raised a fleet, and took control of the city with very little resistance offered. He re-named it New York. In 1673, the British would relinquish the area to the Dutch. However, Southold and the Hamptons refused to acquiesce and fought back. The following year the Duke of York reclaimed his property and forced the settlers to break formerly-forged bonds with Connecticut.
By 1700, Long Island had a population of 220,000, consisting mostly of farmers and those practicing trades related to agriculture. Grain, pumpkins, melons, and tobacco were the popular crops. Fishing for crabs, clams, oysters, and salt water fish was profitable as well. Baymen sailed out of Long Island's east- end towns of Montauk, the Hamptons, and Sag Harbor. The whaling industry also came into its own during the 1700s -1850s as the usefulness and value of whale oil became more recognized. Over 500 voyages were made from Sag Harbor alone between 1790 and 1870. The effects of the Industrial Revolution would eventually weaken this business.
By the mid-1700s, residents of Long Island were divided between those who still saw themselves as British and thus supported the increasingly restrictive measures being levied against the colonies by the mother country and those who resented the excessive taxes on paper, paint, tea, and glass without any recognized voice back in England. Representatives from Suffolk, Queens, and Kings counties attended the 2nd Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776.
The largest battle of the Revolution, the Battle of Long Island (1776) would be fought in the Brooklyn area. British Gen. William Howe succeeded in routing Gen. Washington's troops and driving them all the way to New Jersey. Hessians and British soldiers were quartered in Huntington and Sag Harbor for the duration of the war. The island became a hotbed for intrigue and Conn-based raids as patriots tried to uncover British plans and relay them to colonial troops. When the war concluded, many Long Island Loyalists moved away or were actually driven off the island, settling in Ontario, Canada. The Patriots were unforgiving, and some families were physically attacked and their property either confiscated or destroyed.
The 1800s was a period of rural, agricultural growth. However, once steam ferry service connected Long Island to the mainland and street cars, trolleys, and a railroad system made transportation easier, wealthy business people from the city began to clamor for the relative tranquility of the island when their workday was done. They enjoyed the rural privacy and breath-taking coastal beauty of the area. Elegant mansions and huge estates were built along what would be called the "Gold Coast" on the north shore.
In 1898, Kings (Brooklyn) and some of Queens County were consolidated into The City of Greater New York. The remaining 287 mi2 of Queens became Nassau County the following year. By the 1920s and 30s the concept of suburbanization was introduced, thanks to the work of the Levitt family who developed the concept of mass-home construction and to Robert Moses who created a network of connecting parkways, roads, and recreational spots. Returning soldiers of WWII needed housing and long Island became a model for affordable, single-family homes. Nassau County experienced the fastest growth in the nation in the 1940s and 50s. Immigrants from southern and Eastern Europe also flooded into the area, especially Irish, Italian, and Jewish families.
WWII also brought a significant aviation industry to Long Island. The Grumman Company of Bethpage produced the Hellcat, the Wildcat, and the Avenger for the war effort, while Republic Aviation of Farmingdale built over 9000 Thunderbolts. More recently energy, science, healthcare, and computer technology companies have found a home on the island. Many of the potato fields have been replaced with pumpkins and vineyards which share a similar growing season. Tourists flock to the south shore in the summers. Gallant, old estates still exist, and many are now open to the public. Recently, a new immigrant wave of Hispanic peoples has somewhat unsettled the region. Unfortunately, Long Island has not had a history of racial tolerance and today's residents may need to wrestle with creating a different identity than that which has been forged by its history.
Since both Brooklyn (Kings) and Queens are officially boroughs of New York City, they are no longer considered to be part of Long Island, even though they share the physicality. Together Queens and Brooklyn occupy 13% of the island area and 60% of its population. Each borough has a Borough President which is more a function of honorary title than actual power. Both Nassau and Suffolk counties have their own independent governments. Two cities, 2 counties, 13 towns and more than 95 villages list support 900 government entities. A County Executive leads with a County Legislature and the typical elected officers. Some of the smaller municipalities also have their own governing bodies that include an elected Town Supervisor and Town Council.
Additionally, there are 2 self-governing Native American Reservations on Long Island in Suffolk County: the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton and the Poospatuck Reservationn in Mastic. The Shinnecocks, one of the oldest self-governing tribes in the Unites States received federal recognition in 2010 which will allow them to proceed with much-coveted gaming interests. Currently 600 of the 1300 member tribe live on their Long Island Reservation. The 272 member Possepatuk tribe has not yet been federally recognized.
Find more Long Island Government information
From its initial fishing and farming roots, Long Island has also expanded into the area of modern technology. By the 1970s the fishing industry represented a $100 million dollar business for islanders. Then the effects inadequate regulation, poor management, pollution, and greed took their toll. Today smaller scale fishing is carried on from Northport and Montauk. Since parts of Long Island Sound have been cleaned, it is hoped that fish will return to this area. Whaling, once a valuable source of revenue, gave way to modern times by the late 1800s.
Farming is still important on the island although the more lucrative pumpkins and vineyards have become popular replacements for potato fields. In the late 60s and early 70s, local pioneers in the wine industry began experimenting with raising grapes on the eastern part of the island, near North Fork. By the 90s, new growers with experience and money had moved into the area and quality merlots, chardonnays, and sparkling wines were being developed. With 210-220 sunny growing days and a moderate climate over 40 wineries now work 3000 acres and grow a total of 20 different varieties with the merlot being the strong red-grape favorite.
While Queens and Brooklyn are heavily industrialized, Nassau consists more of residential suburbs and strip malls. Suffolk also has suburbs, but the county has more rural farming areas as well. With a GMP of $115 billion dollars, Long Island is one of the top 20 metropolitan areas in the United States.
From 1930-1990 the island was one of the top aviation centers in the country, particularly because of war plane production. Today companies such as Grumman, Republic, Curtiss, and Fairchild have both their factories and businesses on Long Island. LaGuardia, Kennedy, and MacArthur Airports are all located here as well.
While it is true that 20% of the residents commute to the mainland for their jobs, education, healthcare, and social assistance support 24% of the island's workforce. The Hauppauge Industrial Park, one of the largest industrial parks in the country, hosts 1300 companies and employs over 55,000. Tourism is also a recognized part of the economy with summer visitors from around the world touring old money estates and flocking to the sunshine and sand every summer.
Key to the growth and development of Long Island was the availability of easy transportation, both across the island and connecting to the mainland. Initially, steam ferries were the only choice. In 1834 the Long Island Railroad Company formed and within 2 years completed a combination water-rail line to Boston via Greenport. It connected 50 stations in Nassau County and 40 in Suffolk County. When an all- land rail line was put through to Boston via Connecticut in 1848, it immediately became more popular. Eventually the Long Island Railroad Company was bought by the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. Today the government runs it as the busiest commuter railroad in North America. Over 282,000 passengers a day ride its 728 daily trains.
In 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was built, the more famous of 9 bridges and 13 tunnels that now connect Long Island to the mainland. Two ferry services run between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport, CT and Orient Point and New London, CT. The MTA connects all 5 boroughs of NYC with Nassau, Suffolk, and other areas of greater New York City. The largest transportation system in the entire Western Hemisphere, it accommodates 2.6 billion passengers a year. MacArthur, Kennedy, and La Guardia airports also welcome travelers to Long Island.
More Long Island Transportation Information.
Education is important on Long Island, as evidenced by the higher than national average statistic of high school (89.6%) and college graduates (35.5%). Over 230 private schools offer religious, gifted, or specialty studies. The first school of higher learning on the island, Adelphi University was established in 1896. Hofstra University in Hempstead offers over 130 undergraduate programs. The New York Institute of Technology has 2 of its 3 campuses on Long Island. Other schools include the Merchant Marine Academy, Briarcliff, Dowling, Long Island University, Long Island Geologists, Marine Services Research Center, and Staller Center for the Arts. In total, there are 17 colleges offering 4-year degree programs, 8 community colleges, and 5 professional institutes. More about colleges on Long Island Colleges.
Earliest settlers brought their faith with them to Long Island. The first congregation formed an Episcopal Church, reflecting its Church of England heritage. Southold's Presbyterian congregation, established in 1640, is considered the oldest continually operating church in the nation. Quakers arrived in 1657 when their ship, bound for Boston, was blown off course. The Methodists became active in the 1780s. A branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded by former slave Richard Allen, met as a congregation from 1815-1839.
Catholics, initially unwelcome in many of the colonies, grew in numbers and acceptance during the 1830s when waves of Italian, Polish, and Irish immigrants arrived on Long Island. Today, the Diocese of Rockville Center at Saint Agnes Cathedral is the largest in the nation. The first Jewish congregation was established in Brooklyn in 1851 and the first synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, was built in 1862. Lutherans established 3 congregations during the years 1841-1847.
Today, 52% of the resident population on long Island is Roman Catholic and 7% (Suffolk) -16% (Nassau) is Jewish. Both of these figures are significantly higher than average for either New York City or the country as a whole. Only 7%-8% are traditional Protestants.
PLACES OF INTEREST
The "Gold Coast" on the northern shore of Nassau County captures the opulence and wealth of the business tycoons and financiers of the late 1800s. Private pastoral setting and incredible ocean views have attracted some of America's wealthiest families. While some of the early estates have been torn down, others have been lovingly restored and opened to the public.
Recreationists love the miles of beaches on the south shores of Long Island. Rockaways, Long Beach, Fire Island, and Jones Beach, with its 2 mile boardwalk, have amenities and recreational opportunities in addition to endless white sandy shorelines. Several state parks are available as well. Biking and hiking on well-maintained trails is another favorite pastime. Sports enthusiasts will find golf and tennis courses abundant. Restaurants of all flavors and ethnicities abound. Long Island spends an impressive $25 billion dollars each year on cultural and recreational activities to cater to the needs of its residents and visitors.
For those who appreciate lighthouses, a trip to Montauk Point Lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington in 1792 on the most eastern point of the United States is rewarding. At 100 feet in height, it is still actively used. Fire Island's lighthouse is the tallest on Long Island at 140 feet. It was built in 1858 as the first sight for ships crossing the Atlantic to America.
Old Bethpage Village offers a glimpse into the past. This living history museum has residences, a church, and barns that house craft artisans. All structures are authentic 19th century buildings. For something more modern, the EAB Plaza, formerly owned by the European-American Bank and now held by Citibank, is a unique, 15 story, twin-tower office building. A 60 foot waterfall graces the impressive tropical glass-enclosed atrium. The annual Christmas tree is a 14 ton Norway spruce that soars 90 feet into the air and is decorated with 40,000 lights. An outdoor skating rink completes the perfect Christmas picture.
Long Island faces several challenges unique to its colorful past and significant to successfully adjusting to the opportunities of the future.
Affordable housing is expensive and severely limited. Residents consider their property value to be a more-than-average part of their retirement plans. They resist any attempt to build multi-family units including apartment rentals or condominiums that would be especially attractive to singles and young couples.
Because most young college graduates and professionals are not ready for and cannot afford a single-family housing commitment, they are leaving Long Island in huge numbers causing a significant "brain drain."
Never known for exceptional racial tolerance, the influx of Hispanic residents is creating tension and stress within neighborhoods. In Suffolk County alone the Hispanic population has increased 40% since 2000. However, these new families are moving to every part of the island, eagerly accepting jobs that their young, white counterparts have turned down or vacated. It is their larger-sized families that are keeping Long Island's population figures from even more alarming decline.