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Delamater "Del" Denton, fireman since 1895
and past Mayor of East Rockaway
A Gap of 10 generations
in the Denton family vanishes when you talk with Delamater II of East Rockaway.
"Del," 93 years old, has inherited more than a surname from the Rev. Richard
Denton, who in 1644 founded Americas oldest Presbyterian church, Christ
First Presbyterian of Hempstead. He is so much like the leader of Hempstead
Towns earliest settlers that, when questioned, he seems to take his interviewer
back to those pioneer days.
Christ First Presbyterian Church today adjoins Denton Green, named in honor of the Rev. Richard Denton. This was the pastor who led his congregation of English settlers across the Atlantic Ocean, carved new homes out of the wilderness in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but failed to find religious liberty until they reached a haven on Long Island.
Vitality, independence and a spirit of service to fellow men have persisted in this family from one generation to another. Four years ago, at the age of 89, Delamater II was still duck-hunting. His love for that sport continues, but the normal hardships of a nonagenarian in driving to the waterfront interfere. Rather than take up others' time to drive him there, he ducks hunting. His ancestor, the Rev. Mr. Denton, would understand.
Del is known as the oldest active fireman in New York State. He joined the East Rockaway Fire Department in 1895. He still attends firemanic meetings, and when there are parades he usually shares the Chiefs car. Possessor of an Honorary Chief badge, he had one of his proudest days when he received a handsome scroll recognizing his 75 years as a volunteer fire-fighter.
The quest for freedom that led the English-born Denton to cross an ocean and move out of two New England states in his search also motivated seventh-generation Oliver Denton (1773-1846). His wealth qualified him to marry a rich, influential Long Island girl but instead he chose for his mate Delamater Gautier, a French woman who fled to this country so she could worship according to her religious beliefs.
Oliver, Dels great-great-grandfather, is the ancestor who purchased a tavern bulding in 1808 and remodelled into a dwelling that became the family's homestead. The house, originally on Main Street, was moved in 1924 to its present location at 60 Denton Avenue, East Rockaway, by Delamater II. He raised the lower roof and had three dormers installed as well as some other remodelling done.
Oliver, first Denton to own the homestead, was the largest taxpayer in Hempstead Town, paying $27.93 tax on assessments totalling $14,700, according to an old newspaper clipping which quotes Bernardus Hendrickson, assessor in 1837. This Denton acquired his wealth not only by agriculture, but also by buying and selling farms along with other real estate.
His son Oliver Schuyler Denton (born 1809) inherited the spacious home while he was superintendent of a lifesaving station at Long Beach. For many years the house had a platform and sky1ight on the roof, used by the keeper to peer over the ocean through a spyglass. If his services were needed at the life-saving station he would hurry there in his boat. No bridges could speed his trip.
The rescue stations superintendent won recognition for his public spirit March 1, 1869, when the life-saving crews along Long Islands coast gave him a watch and chain. With this gift they presented a scroll which expressed their appreciation of Mr. Denton's "character as a public and private citizen," citing his "uniform courtesy, punctuality and thoroughness," and proclaiming their respect for him.
Oliver Dentons son, Delamater I (born 1846) donated land which includes the present site of East Rockaway Gristmill, museum and park adjacent to the Village Hall. Originally an elementary school was built on the land he gave.
Delamater I also started Denton Avenue. In 1903 he cut the street through the middle of his farm northward for about one-quarter mile, from Main Street to the railroads Long Beach branch. His farmhouse, which stood in the path of the new street, was moved about 100 feet westward on Main Street.
An early ancestor, Isaac, donated farmland in 1791 for the Sandhole Cemetery on Merrick Road between Lynbrook and Rockville Centre. The Sandhole Methodist Church once occupied this piece of property, which today is called Rockville Cemetery. Isaac (born 1747) was great-great-grandson of Daniel Denton, the Rev. Richard Denton's son. Dels forebears include one Richard, three Daniels, two Isaacs, three Olivers and his father Delamater I.
In his early 30s Del exercised leadership qualities which are a Denton tradition. After serving in the Spanish-American War he became an active member of the community and in 1909-10 was Village President (corresponding to the modern title, Mayor) of East Rockaway.
The same vigor and independence which won elective office led him to take responsible jobs at an early age. He first worked for a large Rockvile Centre lumberyard owned by Glentwood Combs. Later he joined the sales and delivery force of a Brooklyn company that sent its representatives out into Long Island in the driver's seat of wagons. Because there were comparatively few stores in Nassau County at that time, an enterprising youth could sell groceries, clothing and other staples in sufficient quantities to make the job pay well.
Dels father, Delamater Schuyler Denton I, devoted his pioneer spirit to a vast enterprise in 1869 on Hempstead Plains. When town-held common lands were sold to A. T. Stewart, the merchant prince of John Wanamakers department store in Manhattan, he chose Mr. Denton to survey that entire area for his fantastic new development The Garden City project kept Delamater I busy until about 1890. Delaniater then moved
his family from Hempstead to the East Rockaway homestead after his mother died, when Del II was 10 years old.
Work on the Garden City project laid the groundwork for a prominent civil engineering and surveying firm. Three generations contributed their energies -- Oliver S. and Delamaters I and II. Their offices were maintained in the homestead -- first on Main Street and subsequently on Denton Avenue -- in a spacious corner of the building.
Del resided a few years during his youth at the home of his sister, Susan D. Carman, on Church Street, Freeport. He was not a stranger in that village. His sister married Dr. Thomas D. Carman (1869-1936), a Freeport dentist, son of Isaac and Amanda Smith Carman. Dels uncle, physician John H. B. Denton, was one of Freeports three doctors around the turn of the century. Dr. Dentons daughter Lila married Valentine W. Smith, banker and genealogist whose findings on the Denton family were helpful in the research for this article.
Del retired in 1960, temporarily. After dissolving the business he had so much unused vigor that he re-entered civil engineering and surveying. He assisted Walter B. White until the mid-60s.
Seated in the old homesteads parlor, a visitor feels that all the Denton generations are close to 1970. A furniture "conversation piece" is a beautiful piano given to Dels aunt Susan on her 16th birthday by his grandfather Oliver. A brother, Oliver, was recognized as one of the nations finest pianists. He studied and taught in Germany, made his debut with the Berlin Symphony, and then earned music critics acclaim for many recitals in the United States. Some of his concerts may have drawn wider publicity, but to home town friends the biggest event was the recital Mr. Denton gave in honor of his first music teacher, Caroline Rhame, at her home in East Rockaway.
Dels aunt Susan married William Ritter, a founder of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their son William made such a success of his U. S. Attorney General job that he was mentioned prominently for the Presidency.
With his wife, the former Rosamond Story of Oceanside, Del has two daughters, Charlotte Denton of East Rockaway and Mrs. Arthur (Elizabeth) Baldwin of Freeport; two granddaughters, Mrs. Henry G. (Linda) Gaudsmith of Wheeling, Illinois, and Mrs. George D. (Mare) Strack of Fort Worth, Texas, and four great - grandchildren, Susan, William and Robert Denton Gaudsmith and Christopher Strack.
First appearing in the LI Forum 1970 No
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