The Dutch claimed the land now called Port Washington, but did not use it. Nevertheless they ejected settlers from Massachusetts in 1640. These early settlers moved on to Southhampton. The peaceful Matinecock Indians lived on Long Island but used Port Washington only as an occasional summer village. Eighteen English families rowed across Long Island Sound from the Stamford area seeking religious freedom in 1643. This group was a Bible believing people who had apparently struggled with the New England Puritans, possibly over the matter of church government. This group got along with both the Dutch and the Indians but settled in the Hempstead area. They fenced off Port Washington and it became a grazing area for cows. Thus it acquired the name “Cow Neck.”
a new name
The first permanent resident did not come until 1674 and Port Washington began to develop as a quiet agricultural community. In 1693 a grist mill opened. In 1748 the community hired its first school teacher. They built a little red school house, approximately 25 foot square, near the mill pond in 1757. This building also became the community center for various activities.
In 1775 the Port Washington community supported the American Revolution in contrast to the loyalists in southern Nassau county. Port Washington residents apparently spied for General Washington. “Cow Neck” was thus renamed Port Washington in 1857.
The 19th Century
Two hundred people lived in Port Washington in 1830. Many raised hay for the New York City horses. Shell fishing also was profitable. New York City was just a short boat trip away and a larger industry, the mining of sand, developed in Port Washington in 1865. Barges brought the sand to Manhattan. There it became concrete for the great construction projects required of the growing city of New York. The population continued to grow so that by 1882, there were 1,200 people living in Port Washington.
In 1898 the Long Island Railroad came and provided convenient transportation to the city. Port Washington became a summer resort and home for the rich and sometimes famous. Such well known people as John Philip Sousa, Sinclair Lewis, William Harriman, and William Randolph Hearst were residents. Some developed the expensive estates that would receive the name “The Gold Coast Mansions.” The final population increase came after World War II when the population increased to approximately 30,000 people, a number that has remained fairly constant for the last 50 years.
Although The Society of Friends (Quakers) held services as early as 1702, there was no established church in the area for some time. Until 1859 people who desired Christian services, either met in homes, or traveled to Roslyn or other areas to congregate with like-minded believers. They also made occasional use of the “Little Red School House.”
In 1858, Christians sponsored “Revival Meetings” in the school house. At this time, historians speak of the New York Revival of 1858, 1859, that affected people around the world. In that one room school house, 30 people professed a conversion experience during those revival meetings. This affected the whole community of Port Washington and the community decided to construct a building for the sole use of evangelical groups. They moved the school house a short distance and in its place, in 1859, built First Church (also referred to as The Free Church, Union Free Church, Union Free Chapel, The First Free Church of Manhasset and other names). This building was not a church but churches used it for their services.
In 1859 the Baptists used First Church in the morning and the Methodists used it in the afternoon on a fairly regular basis. The Baptists organized in 1863 as First Baptist Church (Forerunner of The Bible Church). The Methodists built their own building in 1871 and First Baptist had the dominant use of the First Church building. The first Pastor was W. Palmer in 1873.
They built their own building at 10 Carlton Avenue in 1890.
In 1920 they built a parsonage. Many of Port Washington’s influential people met in that early church including the Bayleses, the Birds, the Deckers, and the Joneses.
During the years 1922-1934, the Reverend Donald S. McAlpine pastored the church. He also served as President of the Chamber of Commerce for many years. Pastor McAlpine was the first man to stay for a significant period of time. Other pastors followed: Will D. McCurdy (’34-’42); Merle B. Isenburg (’42-’47); Claude Peters (’47-’54); Jesse J. Starr (’55-’63); William J. Hampton (’64-’77); Dennis J. Ireland (’78-’81); John Mike Thomas (1982-2011); John Brackbill (2011-2018) and Kevin Vigneault (2018-).
During the leadership of Pastor Hampton the people rallied to build the current church building here at 35 Campus Drive and later purchased a new parsonage.
In 1983 the congregation changed the name of the church to The Bible Church of Port Washington. The church has always been self-governing and independent of any denomination. The community had become largely Roman Catholic and Jewish. The church thought that the new name would provide less of a barrier to any desiring to learn the facts and truths of the Bible. It seeks to lovingly reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religious and non-religious backgrounds.
The Church has maintained a belief in the fundamentals of the faith since its beginning. It still believes that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. It believes that Jesus Christ was God become man. It believes that He paid the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross, and rising from the dead on the third day. It believes that Christians have a responsibility to share the gospel that Jesus is the only hope for salvation, from an eternity in hell, and for an eternal home in heaven. It believes that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth.
The congregation has changed over the years but it is still like its forbears seeking religious freedom to study and practice what the Bible says. It could still meet at the First Church building (if it had continued) for it remains evangelical in holding to the same conversion experiences of that 1858 revival. Change is nice but so is consistency. The Bible Church continues in the stand of its forebears.