The Haunting History Of Hoeffner's Corner ...by Bill Knell
Like most places in America, Long Island has slowly lost its personality and soul to any number of franchise fast food restaurants, big box stores and gated communities. For better or worse, the latest generation of kids to grow up there are unlikely to experience the kind of joining of spirit that Long Islanders of past generations enjoyed with the Island and its history. Our upwardly mobile and constantly relocating society seems bent on forbidding children from bonding with any one place the way I did with the East Meadow of forty years ago.
Before you needed a permit to go to the beach at night or had to earn a six-figure salary to qualify for Nassau County residency, Long Island was a great place to live. It was the kind of place where people worked hard, played hard, banded together for the common good and enjoyed their lives. More importantly, each town or village had a distinct personality. That personality was often defined by history, landmarks, movie theaters, local stores and schools.
Most anyone who grew up on the Long Island of the last century was well aware of their town’s local history and was often defined by where they lived. For me, East Meadow was home. That immediately labeled me as a person from mid island and identified me as a kid likely born to someone who bought a house there after World War II. Few people thought of kids like me as true natives of the Island. That status always seemed to have been reserved for those who were born and grew up on the North Shore or around the Hamptons. Despite my newbie status, I discovered and embraced the history and personality of East Meadow.
My first memories of the place are still preserved on some old color films shot by my parents. It was all about space and that‘s what you saw when my dad panned his 8mm camera 360 degrees from our property to anything else that might come into view. Ours was the first house on what had been apple orchards and farm land just a short time before. A huge apple tree that remained in our yard for many years was proof of that. I enjoyed many a delicious homemade apple pie courtesy of that tree and my mother’s love for cooking.
It was hard to believe how fast things changed. Open spaces quickly gave way to houses, schools and shops. Even as that happened, a few of the older structures that had previously helped to define the area remained. One of those structures was a place we called the old Hoeffner House. It was located near what would today be East Meadow and Prospect Avenues. Most of us called the place Hoeffner’s Corner. That’s because the guy who owned that property was named Hoeffner. He ran what looked like a construction business of some sort and always had a bunch of equipment lying around. While I didn’t know much about him, my father and many others in that business respected him and he kept his property well maintained.
The house on Hoeffner’s Corner came with a lot of history and its fair share of legends. The most famous was that George Washington had slept there during the Revolutionary War. The problem with that story was that the original structure had been built in the 1840’s. There may have been and probably was a structure there before that, but it‘s unlikely that our first President ever darkened that doorway. This turned out to be a silly notion created by children who attended a school that once sat on the property where the East Meadow Public Library now exists. Most who attended that school agree that the legend was created to annoy teachers who were often unable to confirm or refute the story, being unsure about the actual age of the building.
The Hoeffner property was at a crossroads defined by what some locals claim had been old Indian and Trapper Trails that stretched all the way from Brooklyn to the South Shore and points east. Given the location, it is certainly possible that some Revolutionary War participants made use of whatever facilities existed there at the time. The corner has always been a great location for commerce of almost any kind and would have been a terrific place for an inn or general store in the days when roads were just well defined trails.
One tradition that stayed with the crossroads was the selling of farmer’s goods. I can recall local farmers selling their goods on a dusty lot just across the street from the Hoeffner House. It was said that the makeshift farmer’s market had existed there for as long as people could remember. The location would have been perfect for the buying, selling and trading of foods and goods of all kinds.
Whether the preceding structure had been a hut, trading post or inn for weary travelers, Hoeffner’s House inherited all the real or imagined history. Not all of this history was the kind that people would be proud of. Although the structure had been an inn with rooms to rent and a bar, many believed it was frequented by and used as a hideout for smugglers. It was said that they had made good use of the facility from the time it had been built, right up until Andrew and Elizabeth Hoeffner purchased it in 1914. They ran it the Andrew Hoeffner Hotel until the 1930‘s.
It took a pool to put a temporary end to the legacy of the Hoeffner House. The Town of Hempstead decided that East Meadow needed a town pool, so out went Hoeffner, his business and the legendary house. At least that’s how I remember it. While I will admit that I really enjoyed the pool, I missed the house. I can recall walking past it many times on the way to the nearby Post Office. Its dark wood and shuttered windows gave anyone looking at Hoeffner’s House the impression that it was haunted. At the same time, it immediately stirred memories of a Long Island that came before us. That feeling was good. It provided a grounding effect and link with the past that I enjoyed.
As if to play a joke on those bent on destroying the old legends and stories associated with Hoeffner’s Corner, a large Flying Saucer was seen over that exact spot during the first year that the new town pool was open in the 1960s. Allegedly seen by hundreds in or near the pool at the time, the perfectly circular craft moved slowly over the pool as if it was following East Meadow Avenue. UFO researchers have often noted that such objects often follow ancient routes and old Indian Trails that predate modern roads. One former Town of Hempstead Public Safety Officer told me that he recalled how that the color of the water in the pool had been changed after the object flew over. He also remembered the pool being closed for a few days while the water was drained and the area thoroughly cleaned.
While I wasn’t one of the witnesses to this event, I do recall some Government types in cheap suits coming to everyone’s door the following week in my neighborhood. They were there to explain how that a secret government aircraft or project had “gotten loose” from Brookhaven National Labs and that we shouldn’t worry or talk about it. It was like saying that the neighbor’s dog had gotten loose and ran around the neighborhood ruining everyone’s yard. My father who had been a U.S. Air Force Officer simply laughed and slammed the door in their faces.
Thanks to a few Long Islander’s who had more respect for history then they did the almighty dollar and real estate values, the Hoeffner House was moved to the Bethpage Village Restoration. Once there, it was returned to a time when the place was called the Noon Inn and owned by John H. Noon from 1848 to 1859. While I was glad to see the house saved, I was sorry to see it historically limited to such a short time period. The Hoeffner House was a structure with a rich history and fantastic array of legends which extended well into the twentieth century.
Many older Nassau County residents said that the place had been a speakeasy and distribution point for booze during Prohibition. Stories of liquor smuggled in from Canada and brought to Hoeffner’s Hotel from Montauk and other coastal locations were always being repeated. These stories included a fair share of murders that were said to have occurred there during the days of the smugglers and bootleggers. Stories of murder and mayhem were, however, not just limited to distant history.
One often-retold story of murder most foul involved some teenagers who managed to break into the Hoeffner House for a secretive late night drinking binge sometime in the early 1960s. The three were said to have been found dead about a week later, having been stabbed to death by a vagrant who had been sleeping on the second floor of the old structure at night. Because of that alleged incident, the place temporarily became known as Hoeffner’s Death House.
It quickly became a badge of honor for teens to sneak into the house, run up to the second floor, stick their heads in all the rooms and run down again without getting killed. A group of teen boys and girls bent on doing exactly that saw a floating ball of light on the second floor during one of these tests of courage. All were certain they had experienced some sort of ghostly phenomenon and told the police. They investigated, but allegedly found nothing. On the same night, the vagrant who had been arrested for the stabbings was said to have committed suicide in jail.
While I’m sure the original structure could have been a point of facilitation for smugglers trying to avoid British Tariffs, it’s doubtful that the Hoeffner House was ever a hangout for bootleggers or served as a Speakeasy. As far as the teen murder story goes, it was probably created by parents who didn’t want their kids venturing into an old house that presented a possible danger to anyone who might step on old stairs or rotted floorboards. When trying to research that and other stories about the house, I never found one official record to indicate that even one murder ever took place there, at least until now.
The murder I am speaking of is one committed by politically correct historians, selfish politicians and the Chamber of Commerce members that have backed them up. Not long ago I was contacted by Raymond Hoeffner Jr. He is the son of Raymond Hoeffner, grandson of Andrew Hoeffner who originally bought the hotel from Henry Schultz in 1914. I enjoyed several phone conversations with him about his family, the old house and the East Meadow of yesteryear that we both came to know and love. What I did not enjoy was hearing about was how the contribution that the Hoeffner Family has made to East Meadow’s History seems to have been severely overlooked and under appreciated.
It seems that during attempts to create a new East Meadow Town Square on the property once known as Hoeffner’s Corner, the Hoeffner Family had been relegated to an almost vague anonymity. Merely listing them as just another owner of the Noon Inn is not only an insult to the Family and their contribution to the growth of East Meadow, but to everyone who had come to know and feel a strong connection to the Hoeffner House. Self-serving politicians and business people afflicted with long-term memory loss may try to help politically correct historians rewrite modern history and rename places important to those who grew up around them, but they cannot effectively change the truth.
The truth is that the Hoeffner Family made a permanent and vital contribution to East Meadow that had a direct effect on the town’s economic and social growth. Hoeffner’s Corner was a point of contact for business, commerce and development at a key time in the history of East Meadow. The old Hoeffner House (as we called it) provided a landmark and point of contact with the past that everyone in East Meadow could appreciate and enjoy.
It’s easy to ignore the paranormal incidents and fascinating legends that have become a part of the history of Hoeffner’s House. That’s because they exist in a place we cannot define, readily understand or easily manipulate. It’s harder to ignore the contributions of a Family that helped put East Meadow on the map and make it a terrific place to call home.
Smugglers, bootleggers, ghosts and aliens have managed to give Hoeffner’s Corner a haunted history. Politicians, businesspeople and their politically correct historian flunkies have managed to create a legacy that is far more disturbing. It’s a legacy of fluff over fact and disrespect over decency.
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