The History of Bohemia, New York
Vavra house built c. 1862, c.1940
For 100 years, Bohemia remained a very small village most of whose residents were of Czech descent. With the development of all of Long Island after World War II, Bohemia also grew. At the time of the centennial in 1955, the population was about 3000. Today it is an attractive and substantial community of almost 11,000 inhabitants from many national and ethnic backgrounds.
St. John's on the Plains, built 1886
The statue of Jan Hus in Union Cemetery is one of the few outside the Czech Republic. Hus was a Catholic priest who objected to some of the practices and teachings of the church. He was summoned by the Emperor Sigismund to defend his views at the Council of Constance. The emperor granted him safe conduct. When he arrived at the Council, the authorities refused to recognize his safe conduct and he was burned at the stake in 1415. He became a symbol in Czech history for both religious and nationalistic reasons. The statue, carved in Vermont at a cost of $1400, was dedicated in the cemetery in 1893. A centennial memorial took place in 1993. In 1854, Jan and Catherine Kratochvil, Jan and Barbara Vavra and Joseph Koula and his wife arrived in the United States from what is now the Czech Republic. They had taken part in the widespread revolutions against autocratic rule that had shaken Europe in 1848 and came seeking a new life in the United States. Work was hard to come by in New York and the men tried to support themselves as street musicians. In 1855, Vavra became ill and was told by his doctor to move to the country. Through an agent, he bought, apparently sight unseen, 5 acres of land from the farm of Alexander Wallis abut 50 miles east of the city in an area of Long Island known as Lakeland. The purchase was a disappointment, scrub oak and dwarf pine made less inviting by a covering of soot from recent forest fires. The couples nevertheless determined to settle there. Josef Koula was a carpenter and while the others dug the land and felled the trees, he built the houses. The families soon ran out of money and had to look for work. This they found at 50 cents a day on the estate of Colonel William Ludlow, a few miles away on the shore of the Great South Bay. Koula and his wife eventually moved to Boston, leaving only the two other couples. The first child was born in the settlement on April 1, 1858, Charles Peter, the son of Jan and Catherine
In the spring of 1859, 11 new couples moved into the little community, joined in 1862 by 7 more. Most of the newcomers found jobs in oil and fish factories on Fire Island, a few miles offshore. As more families came, they brought with them cigar making skills from the old country and eventually cigar makers opened factories to take advantage of these abilities.
The Vavra home, built c.1862, in c.1940
The community, at this time called Tabor, grew slowly but by 1867 there was need for a school. A one room structure costing $600 opened with an enrollment of 48 children. The one teacher's annual salary was $180.
Original school opened 1869 New school opened 1903
To provide for the growing number of children, the community voted in 1903 to build a larger school at a cost of slightly over $3000. By 1906, the teachers' salaries had grown to $10 a week. Now Bohemia is part of the Connetquot School District, along with the hamlets of Ronkonkoma and Oakdale. The district has seven elementary schools, two middle schools and one senior high school with a total recent enrollment of 6700. The1903 building survived until destroyed by fire on Dec. 19, 1974 With more settled life, the residents formed clubs and organizations, a "Shooters' Club" from 1868 to 1884, the "Czech Farmers' Club" in 1872, the "Czech-Slovak Bene-volent Association" in 1887. By 1885, there was enough political influence in the town to open a post office. A community meeting decided that "Bohemia" would be the name of the village replacing the previous "Tabor" and "Bohemia Village." Joseph Nohowec served as its first postmaster. Recognizing the need for better organization to deal with the danger of fire, a group of men met on Jan. 30, 1893 to form Hook and Ladder Company #1. A contract was signed for fire fighting apparatus at a cost of $375. The newly-built firehouse hosted its first meeting on Sept. 4, 1894. Joseph Novotny was the first foreman. The first piece of motorized equip-ment, a Reo, was purchased on 1920 for $2500. Over the years, the Fire Department has sponsored bands, a juvenile drum and bugle corps, a racing team and a ladies' auxiliary. The original firehouse burned down in 1977. A modern facility had been dedicated in May, 1962. There were Catholic Masses celebrated in Bohemia in its early days by visiting priests. In 1885, Rev. James Bobier, the pastor of St. Patrick's church in Bay Shore, saw to the building of a small chapel holding just over 100 people and dedicated to St. John Nepomucene, a popular Czech saint. Over the years, the church was served by priests from Bay Shore, East Islip and Sayville, with Czech-speaking priests from New York City often visiting. The mission became a parish in 1919 with Fr. Wenceslaus Kroupa as the first pastor. A parish school was opened in 1924 under the direction of
the School Sisters of Notre Dame. A new church was ready for worship in1981. The original school burned down in Feb. 1957 and was replaced by a new building. The school is now closed and the parish participates in Prince of Peace Regional School in Sayville.
Rev. John Prescott from St. Barnabas Episcopal Mission in Sayville, (now St. Ann's Church) had visited Bohemia sometime after his assignment to Sayville in 1874 and held services at the home of Jan Nohowec. In 1886, a small chapel was built and named St. John's on the Plains. Every other Sunday, Rev. Prescott came from Sayville for services accompanied by choir, Sunday school teachers and organist. Rev. Prescott and the little chapel became famous over the years for the many marriages he performed there. In 1953, a new church took the chapel's place. The chapel was added to the back of the parish house. More recently, the church fell out of use when Episcopal services ceased. The church is now the home of an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation. The World War II Memorial frames an earlier World War I monument on the grounds of the John Pearl school. This monument was dedicated on Nov. 9, 1947 before about 1500 people. In WW II, 118 residents served in the armed forces, seven of whom gave their lives. A rededication ceremony took place on May 16, 1998 with 18 WW II veterans from Bohemia honored. In 2011, the Bohemia Civic Association refurbished the monument and included memorials for those who have served in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.