The History of Melville, New York
Melville, NY is a hamlet on Long Island that sits on the Suffolk County side of the border of Suffolk and Nassau Counties. Melville is also a US Census Designated Place (CDP) which essentially means it has various characteristics that resemble a city, but it lacks incorporation or its own municipal government. Melville is part of the Town of Huntington.
Melville is now an area bustling with business, industries, tourist attractions, and families. Like many places on Long Island, it certainly didn’t start that way. Melville has a long, rich history which is part of what attracts its thousands of visitors, businesses, and residents.
From Sunsquams to Melville
Thirteen Native American tribes initially populated long Island. Melville was called Sunsquams by the Native Americans who lived there. More and more English settlers arrived, and by the 1600s, they renamed the area Samuel Ketcham’s Valley. Samuel Ketcham was the oldest son of Edward Ketcham and his wife’s eight children. The family settled on Long Island and were some of its earliest non-Native residents.
The name became Sweet Hollow at some point in history until 1854, when it became Melville. There is much controversy surrounding the origin of its current name. Some cite the abundance of wild honey and bees in the area as the reason behind both names: Sweet Hollow and Melville. “Mel” or “Millis” means honey in Latin. There is a large contingent of people who think Melville was named after Herman Melville, New York native and author of Moby Dick.
Melville Began as Farmland
Much of Melville was farmland well into the 20th century. What is now Route 110, Old Country Road, and even the Long Island Expressway were fields of crops and animals. At least 80% of the produce grown on Long Island farms were potatoes, and you could find potato fields all across the Island. Potato farming on Long Island began with Martin and Anna Wesnofske, who arrived here from Poland in the 1800s. It became a family legacy and included their grandson Remi, who had his own potato farm in Melville.
The town installed a trolley line in 1909 to run through Huntington, with one of its major fare zones being Duryea Farm in Melville. Local farmers complained that the trolley’s noise was scaring their animals and disrupting their work. A decade later, the trolley was shut down due to the farmers’ protests. Eventually, buses replaced the trolley, and Long Island residents began using cars.
Business Takes Hold in Melville
Two of Long Island’s major roadways, the LIE and Northern State Parkway, pass directly through Melville with exits right near Route 110, Melville’s central corridor. The roads were completed between 1965 and 1972 and changed Melville and the rest of Long Island forever. Its location along these roads made Melville an attractive business center for all types of commercial activities. It is now widely considered one of Long Island’s primary business “hubs.”
What were once potato farms are now a slew of large corporate headquarters as well as smaller businesses. Retail shops, movie theaters, restaurants, an airport, a SUNY College, an amusement park, hotels, and a mall have replaced nearly all of Melville’s farmland.
Melville Clings to Some of its Roots
Melville retains much of its history through the remaining farms in the area, which give people an escape from the surrounding commercialization and a reminder of simpler times.
There are still a few Melville farms that attract visitors and residents from across Long Island. These farms are both large and small and offer people a chance to purchase locally grown plants and produce and fresh baked goods. They also offer all sorts of seasonal activities and events.
You can also find history in some of the street names in Melville. Sweet Hollow Road, Ketcham Place, and Sunsquam Elementary School all remind locals of Melville’s colorful past.