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From The Bryant Room Archive

January/February 2016

The Remsen Family in Roslyn

By Myrna Sloam

Scattered throughout the greater Roslyn area are a number of streets and avenues named for persons or families who once lived here. These street names include Bryant, Skillman, Mott, Warner and Remsen. Located on the eastern side of Roslyn Village, Remsen Avenue, and the area around it, carries many reminders of a distinguished Long Island family and its many ties to the growth of the Roslyn community.


Long associated with the early settlement of Brooklyn, and later moving into Queens and Nassau County, the Remsens trace their ancestry back to Dutch emigrant Rem Jansen Vanderbeek (1617-1681) who arrived in New Amsterdam ca.1638. Settling in the Wallabout area of Brooklyn, he and his wife, Jannetje [Jenetie] Rapalje (1629-1699) had sixteen children. After the death of their father, the sons changed their last name to Remsen, which means “son of Rem.” 


The first Remsen to arrive in Roslyn was John Burtis Remsen (1817-1901), a descendant of Rem and Jannetje’s son, Jeremias (1675-1757). Married to Anne Marie Edwards (1820-1912), John B. and his family moved from their farm in Port Washington to Roslyn in 1871. In addition to farming, John B. worked as an undertaker. Sons Cornelius E. (1859-1929) and John Frederick (1862-1951) arrived in Roslyn as young boys, and would reside there for the remainder of their lives, both of them contributing to the daily life and betterment of the community. 


Cornelius E. followed in his father’s business as undertaker. Well respected in the community, he was elected Justice of the Peace and served for 14 years. He was then elected to serve 7 terms as Supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead. Active in local organizations he was a member of the Roslyn Rescue Hook & Ladder Company, and served as its Chief for 18 years. He was also director of the Bank of Hempstead Harbor and the First National Bank of Manhasset. In 1880 Cornelius married Lillian Brown (1853-1914) of New York City and they had 2 daughters, Edna and Gladys.


John F. Remsen, the younger son of John B. and Anne, began his business career in partnership with his father. They owned and operated the store, J.B. Remsen & Son, which was located in the building at 1 Tower Place, built by William Valentine. [This structure, the first brick building in Roslyn, was destroyed in a fire in 2001.] John F. also formed a partnership with his brother, Cornelius E., and around 1890 they bought the building at 1431 Old Northern Boulevard and had a harness making/leather goods store. This building still stands and is the current home of Poco Loco restaurant. The brothers added a livery stable onto property below and to the west, and a split-level addition to the south, for the undertaking business. It is also indicated that the Remsen family originally lived in the house located at 1415 Old Northern Boulevard, just south of their business property, which later became the residence of Cornelius E. and his family. 


After their partnership ended, John F. continued to operate the livery stable, and then expanded into the contracting business, making and grading roads for large estates in the area. With the coming of automobiles, John F. built the Hewlett and Remsen Garage, across the road at 1446 Old Northern Boulevard, which is today the home of Kyma restaurant. He also owned land south of the garage, where he operated a real estate business, Mott and Remsen, in the building that is now La Bottega restaurant at 1424 Old Northern Boulevard. 


In 1885 John F. married Nora H. Smith (1862-1947) of Roslyn and they had two daughters, Elsie and Helen. Staying in the same section of the Village, John F. built a house on the hill above Old Northern Boulevard. Older maps show that the house was accessible by a private drive, which later became Hillcrest Avenue, the street just south of Remsen Avenue. The area was known locally as “Remsen Hill.” Though it is not certain what year Remsen Avenue was named, it appears as such on a 1908 Sanborn map. In 1991, when the Park Ridge Housing Development was being built (and Davis Lane was created to connect Remsen Avenue to East Broadway), the Remsen house was dismantled and moved to 58 Main Street, where it was restored by the Roslyn Preservation Corporation.


A successful businessman, John F. Remsen was also active in local civic affairs. He was a member of the Roslyn School Board and served as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Roslyn Water District from its founding in 1910 until his death. He was also a founder and President of the Roslyn National Bank and Trust Company. This building survives as 1432 Old Northern Boulevard. 


It is now nearly sixty-five years since the death of John F. Remsen, the last Remsen to live in Roslyn. As we look around us today, we see again a time of change and of new construction in the Village. It is a fitting moment to look back and remember the Remsens, and their contribution to the growth and design of Roslyn.  

End Note: Although the Remsen name disappeared from Roslyn with the death of John F. in 1951, the family legacy lived on in John F. and Nora Smith Remsen’s two granddaughters. Their daughter, Helen, married William Gay in 1917. Their children, Janet Gay Hawkins and Joan Remsen Gay Kent, remained on Long Island and maintained a connection to Roslyn.  Ms. Kent was active in local civic affairs in Port Washington and served for many years as Historian for the Town of North Hempstead. She was also the author of Discovering Sands Point: Its History, Its People, Its Places, published in 2000.  Joan died in 2015. Both Joan, and her sister Janet, recognized the value of local history and were mindful of their roots in the Roslyn community. We are grateful to them for their support of the efforts of the Bryant Library Local History Collection to document and preserve the history of Roslyn for future generations.

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