Originally known as Old Fields, it became known by the name Greenlawn with the coming of the Long Island Rail Road in 1870 or 1871. The LIRR chose the name Greenlawn for its station, apparently to project an idyllic rural/suburban image and foster resort travel to the beaches in Centerport. Greenlawn was well known for its pickle production during the 19th century as well as, to a lesser degree, potato and cabbage farms; the principal commodity, pickles, is still celebrated by the annual Pickle Festival, held by the local Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association at the John Gardiner Farm. The Gardiner family was the first to make a name for themselves as pickle farmers in the region but a former slave, Samuel Ballton, earned the moniker "The Pickle King" for becoming a prolific pickle farmer in Greenlawn in the early 1900s.
- The pop singer Mariah Carey grew up in Greenlawn. She attended, and graduated from Harborfields High School.
- Jeff Hawkins, born in 1957 in Huntington, New York, and who graduated from Harborfields High School in 1975, is the founder of Palm Computing where he invented the Palm Pilot, and Handspring where he invented the Treo.
- Fay Kellogg, called the foremost woman architect in the United States, summered on a farm that she owned in Greenlawn. She also designed and supervised the building of Greenlawn's post office east of Broadway behind the train station in 1911.
- The late Karl Linnas, surveyor and alleged war criminal and Nazi collaborator in Nazi occupied Soviet Estonia during World War II.
- The late Charles Ludlam, actor, playwright and founder of the Theater of the Ridiculous in New York City, grew up in Greenlawn and graduated from Harborfields High School.
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