When Long Island was first settled in 1643 by colonists crossing over the Long Island Sound from Connecticut, present day East Meadow lied wholly within the Great Hempstead Plains -17,000 acres of plainsland around the frontier settlement of Hempstead. The Plains were level meadows covered with pasture grass, brush and wild flowers –and almost completely devoid of trees. In 1790 while visiting the town of Hempstead, George Washington wrote in his journal: “We left Jamaica about eight o’ clock and pursued the road to South Hempstead, passing through the south edge of the plain by that name… without a tree or shrub growing on it.” Only the western boundary of East Meadow, which is the Meadow Brook, has a fringe of trees indigenous to the Hempstead Plains. East Meadow derives its name from its relative location to the settlement at Hempstead, as well as its natural topography. In 1655 one Thomas Langdon reported at the Hempstead Town Meeting that he surveyed the “East Meadow” and found it suitable for the grazing and watering of cattle.
In 1658 the townspeople of Hempstead contracted with William Jacocks and Edward Raynor “to drive the cows to the East Meadow” for daily grazing and watering. For their services the cowherders were paid in butter, grain, and wampum to the value of 12 silver shillings weekly. The “East Meadow” as well as the rest of the Hempstead Plains, were held in common ownership by the Hempstead townspeople as a common pasture and meadowland. The Plains were most productive to the pasturing of cattle and sheep. By the late 1700’s sheep herding was a significant industry in the Hempstead Town. As many as 1,400 sheep were kept on the excellent pasturage of the East Meadow and other plainsland.
During the American Revolution, the area north of Old Country Road, North Hempstead, supported independence from England while the southern area in which East Meadow lay, opposed a break with the mother country. Because the plainsland held most of the cattle and sheep in that area, East Meadow was occupied by British military rule until the end of the war in 1783. During this period, the British army camped on what became Mitchel Field. Horses, grains and other supplies were requisitioned from East Meadow farmers. In the 1800’s, farming increased and there was a number of large estates and productive farms. The largest of these was that of Peter Crosby Barnum and Sara Ann Barnum who had their estate located on Merrick Avenue (then Barnum Avenue).
In 1814, the East Meadow School District was formed under the name “Bushy or Brushy Plains.” The first East Meadow school building was located at the corners of Front Street and East Meadow Avenue (formerly Newbridge Avenue).
In 1869 A. T. Stewart, the “Merchant Prince” of New York City and one of the wealthiest persons in the nation at that time, purchased the common lands of the Great Hempstead Plains. He paid $55 per acre for 7,170 acres, and the parcel ran from Floral Park to Bethpage, including a sizable portion of present day East Meadow.
In 1917 Joseph J. Lannin, the owner of the Garden City Hotel, built the Salisbury Golf Club, which was used primarily for the patrons of the Hotel. During the Great Depression, the owners could not meet their back taxes and in 1940 the county acquired the property for $190,000. In 1944 the Nassau County Park at Salisbury was established and in 1949 the Park was formally dedicated as a memorial to the country’s war dead. This 930 acre park is larger than New York City’s Central Park, and in 1969 its name was changed to honor President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
At the time of World War II, East Meadow was predominantly a farming community with a population of 2,000. With the post-war economic boom and the suburban development rush, East Meadow became a thriving residential community in short order. In 1951 the population in the East Meadow School District was 25,000, which more than doubled six years later. In the early 1960’s, the population peaked at approximately 60,000. The present district population is 51,000.