Long Island (locally: /lɔːŋˈɡaɪˌlənd/), an island in the Atlantic Ocean that comprises the southeasternmost part of New York state, U.S. The island lies roughly parallel to the southern shore of Connecticut, from which it is separated to the north by Long Island Sound. Long Island’s western end forms part of the harbor of New York City approximately 0.35 miles (0.56 km) from Manhattan Island and extending eastward into the Atlantic Ocean. The island comprises four counties; Kings and Queens counties (the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively) and Nassau County share the western third of the island, while Suffolk County occupies the eastern two-thirds.
Almost 130 kilometers long and no more than seven kilometers wide, the island is a land of contrasts, with sandy beaches on the west coast and steep, rocky cliffs along the east. Long island is a haven for fishing, diving, and boating, and boasts many unspoiled pink and white sand beaches. The island is also home to Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest known saltwater blue hole in the world. The Long Island Regatta takes place at Salt Pond in the summer. Access to the island is mainly by air or ferry service from Nassau.
More than half of New York City’s residents now live on Long Island, in Brooklyn, and in Queens. However, many people in the New York metropolitan area (even in Brooklyn and Queens) colloquially use the term Long Island (or the Island) to refer exclusively to Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and conversely, employ the term the City to mean Manhattan alone.
Both the longest and the largest island in the contiguous United States, Long Island extends 118 miles (190 km) eastward from New York Harbor to Montauk Point, with a maximum north-to-south distance of 23 miles (37 km) between Long Island Sound and the Atlantic coast. With a land area of 1,401 square miles (3,630 km2), Long Island is the 11th-largest island in the United States and the 149th-largest island in the world larger than the 1,214 square miles (3,140 km2) of the smallest U.S. state, Rhode Island.
Bays along the island’s northern shore include Flushing, Little Neck, Manhasset, Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, Smithtown, and Port Jefferson Harbor. Long Island’s southern shore, fronting the Atlantic, is lined by an almost continuous series of sandbars and sandspits that form several embayments, including Jamaica and Great South bays. This ribbon of sand widens at certain points to form little islands, several of which have become popular bathing beaches such as Rockaway Beach, Long Beach, and Jones Beach. The long spit called Fire Island, or Great South Beach, is largely occupied by Fire Island National Seashore.
Originally named “Yuma” by Arawak Indians, the island was renamed “Fernandina” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. However, Long Island earned its current name because a seafarer felt it took too long to sail past the island. After all, it is 80 miles long, but no more than four miles wide at its broadest point. The Tropic of Cancer runs directly through the island, giving it two very different coastlines the dramatic cliffs and caves of the east coast that front the crashing Atlantic waves, and the sandy edged lee side which slopes calmly into the Bahamas Bank. Here visitors will find world-famous Dean’s Blue Hole, historic twin churches built in the 1800s, and a large ancient cave system. But, the ruins of St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church are an often unsung attraction. Believed to have been started by the Spaniards in the 1600’s and completed in the 1800’s, it is said to be the oldest church structure in The Bahamas.
Long Island has a rich cultural history. Native American tribes, including the Lenape (called the Delawares by Europeans) have inhabited the island for thousands of years, and while their populations have mostly been replaced with the descendants of immigrants from across the world, two reservations uphold this legacy on Long Island. The Shinnecock and Poospatuck reservations, now federally protected, are the homes of these tribes, and each year visitors are welcome to the Shinnecock reservation to learn about and participate in the seasonal festivals.
Early colonial figures included Wyandanch, Captain Kidd, Lionel Gardner, and John Underhill. The West of Long Island was settled by the Dutch, and the East settled by Puritans from Massachusetts. Long Island was the scene of several witch hunts, including one involving Lionel Gardner in Easthampton.
The English and Dutch were the first European settlers on Long Island, but came under English rule in 1664 when the entirety of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam was brought under English rule. From that time Native American populations began to decline as the population of European settlers grew. The largest battle of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Long Island, was a major loss for General George Washington. Since it remained under British control throughout the war, Long Island became one of General Washington’s most strategic areas for espionage.
Long Island became a part of Yorkshire and was governed by laws that were promulgated at Hempstead in March 1665. The county system was introduced in 1683 with the creation of Suffolk, Queens, and Kings counties. During the American Revolution, Long Island was a hotbed of activity by both loyalists and Patriots, and its coastal area was raided by privateers and military units. The island was a major source of food and wood during the war, and the Battle of Long Island was the first engagement in the campaign of 1776.
Long Island’s beautiful north shore attracted both wealthy Americans and Europeans during the Gilded Age who’s large and lavish estates earned this region the title of “The Gold Coast.” Today these estates have been reborn as gold courses, parks, subdivisions and museums, and while the former wealth that once inhabited the area is gone, the tradition of fine homes and wealthy landowners is still alive along the north shore.
In the 19th century, Long Island was still mainly rural and devoted to agriculture. The predecessor to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) began service in 1836 from the South Ferry in Brooklyn, through the remainder of Brooklyn, to Jamaica in Queens. The line was completed to the east end of Long Island in 1844 (as part of a plan for transportation to Boston). Competing railroads (soon absorbed by the LIRR) were built along the south shore to accommodate travellers from those more populated areas. For the century from 1830 until 1930, total population roughly doubled every twenty years, with more dense development in areas near Manhattan. Several cities were incorporated, such as the ‘City of Brooklyn’ in Kings County, and Long Island City in Queens.
Long Island remained largely rural and agricultural throughout the 19th century. Nassau County experienced the largest growth in the United States between 1950 and 1970, setting off a chain reaction of suburbanization and economic development across Long Island. Today Nassau and Suffolk Counties are ranked among the most expensive areas to live in the United States, and are home to some of the nations best public and private schools and most effective community offices.
“Nassau” is one of several names by which the island was once known. Long Island was the home of several prominent Roosevelts such as author Robert Roosevelt, and the summer home of his nephew Theodore Roosevelt.
The island was once a major manufacturing centre, notably of aircraft and electrical equipment, but services and light industry have become the economic mainstays. Hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders commute to work in New York City each day. Long Island is served on both its northern and southern shores and through the central part of the island by the Long Island Rail Road, which carries more commuters than any other railroad in the country. A highly developed and efficient system of express highways connects the island to Manhattan and the other boroughs of New York City by several major bridges and tunnels carrying motor-vehicle traffic, as well as rail and subway lines.
In 1996, tragedy struck Long Island, as TWA Flight 800 exploded over East Moriches. 230 people were killed in the disaster. Also, September 11th 2001 had a major affect on Long Island. Due to the proximity of New York City to Long Island, many victims lived outside of the city on Long Island in the suburbs and commuted to the trade center each day via train or subway (if in the city). So, Long Island lost many loved ones in the towers and were affected economically as well.
Long Island has a moderately sunny climate, averaging 2,400 to 2,800 hours of sunshine annually. It has warm, humid summers and cold winters, but the Atlantic Ocean helps bring afternoon sea breezes that temper the heat in the warmer months and limit the frequency and severity of thunderstorms. In the wintertime, temperatures are warmer than areas further inland (especially in the night and early morning hours), sometimes causing a snowstorm further inland to fall as rain on the island. The coldest month is January when average temperatures range from 25 to 35 °F (−4 to 2 °C), and the warmest month is July when average temperatures range from 75 to 85 °F (24 to 29 °C). Temperatures seldom fall below −5 °F (−21 °C) or rise above 100 °F (38 °C). However, measurable snowfalls every winter, and in many winters one or more intense storms called nor’easters produce blizzard conditions with snowfalls of 1-2 feet and near-hurricane force winds.
Several smaller islands, though geographically distinct, are in proximity to Long Island and are often grouped with it. These islands include Fire Island, the largest of the outer barrier islands that parallels the southern shore of Long Island for approximately 31 miles (50 km); Plum Island, which was home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a biological weapons research facility; as well as Robins Island, Gardiners Island, Fishers Island, Long Beach Barrier Island, Jones Beach Island, Great Gull Island, Little Gull Island, and Shelter Island.
Long Island has a great deal of beaches. Sunbathing is considered a recreational sport on Long Island with competitors vying for the best tan. A few of the more popular beaches and parks include – Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park, and Hempstead Lake State Park.
One of the most popular summer destinations on Long Island, especially for the city’s well-to-do, is the Hamptons in eastern Long Island’s Suffolk County. Montauk, NY (the end) is a tourist destination and a hot spot during peak fishing seasons. Also, Fire Island National Seashore which is a long barrier island on Long Island’s south shore is a hot spot for tourists, especially during the summer. Fire Island’s prestigious beaches attract many. Ocean Beach is the most populous town on Fire Island. The island is only accessible through ferries from Bay Shore, Patchogue/Bellport, and Blue Point.
Long Island has played a prominent role in scientific research and in engineering. It is the home of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in nuclear physics and Department of Energy research. Long Island is also home to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which was directed for 35 years by James D. Watson (who, along with Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin, discovered the double helix structure of DNA). Companies such as Sperry Rand, Computer Associates (headquartered in Islandia), Zebra Technologies (now occupying the former headquarters of Symbol Technologies, and a former Grumman plant in Holtsville), have made Long Island a center for the computer industry. Stony Brook University of the State University of New York and New York Institute of Technology conduct advanced medical and technological research.
Traveling by road, Long Islanders use three main arteries into New York City: The Long Island Expressway, the Northern State Parkway, and the Southern State Parkway. By train, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is the busiest commuter railroad in North America, carrying an average of 274,000 customers each weekday on 730 daily trains. By sea, there are several Long Island Ferries that run from Fire Island to Shelter Island, one to Block Island, four to Connecticut. Ferries are also available for charter. The Long Island Rail Road is a favored method of transportation on Long Island, with line branches running along the north and south shores, as well as a main line running centrally east and west across the island.