Settling Down And Building A Borough
In The Beginning
dominant physical characteristic of the present borough of Queens was
determined by the movement of a glacier, which halted about 15,000
years ago along a line which approximates the Grand Central Parkway.
During the American Revolution,
Avenue, originally an Indian trail, became a highway used
addition to the high ridge bounded by the appropriately named Hillside
and Highland Avenues, the melting of the glaciers left Queens with its
legacy of hills dotted with kettle ponds.
Indian tribes belonging to the Algonquin people were attracted to the
sites along the areas that offered abundant fresh water, natural
water, timber for building and shelter from winter storms.
Queens Indians were mostly a peaceful lot and they lived for centuries
harvesting salt, hay, fish, wild water fowl, oysters, clams,
shellfish, game and migratory birds.
main bands of Native Americans inhabited the lands of Queens – a
tribe for whom Jamaica was named, a tribe after whom the Rockaways
were named, and the Matinecock, who inhabited Flushing and the North
Shore of Queens.
native Americans cultivated what had been a very hospitable farmland
territory until the arrival of the European explorers and settlers in
the 17th Century.
Columbus first entered the “new world” in 1492, it was not until
the spring of 1614 that Europeans first explored Queens. The Dutch
vessel “The Restless” – explored Long Island Sound that year,
first sailing through the Astoria shore as they came to the Helle-Gat
year Native Americans gather in Queens to celebrate their heritage.
The borough was cultivated by several tribes up until the 17th
they sailed up the river through the sound and the bay by the meadows
(now Flushing), which they purchased from the Indians for an axe for
every 50 acres.
Before long, settlers arrived and established townships. While most of
the towns in Brooklyn were settled by Dutch colonists, those in Queens
were settled by the English.
territory was part of Nieuv Netherlands and was originally governed by
the Dutch, who permitted English as well as Dutch colonists to settle
and form townships.
The oldest house in
the Bowne House was built in 1661,
and remains as a testament
to religious freedom in Flushing.
first of Queens’ three original towns was Newtown, established in
1642. The township included an area within the limits of present-day
Corona, Forest Hills, Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village,
Newtown Creek, the East River and Flushing Bay.
eastern part of Newtown was in the patent granted by the Dutch to the
Englishman, Reverend Francis Doughty on March 28, 1642. This patent
covered most of the area except those Dutch farms previously settled
in 1638 in Long Island City and Astoria.
1645, a group of Englishmen settled in Flushing, having come by way of
Vlissingen on the Scheldt River. They received the patent from the
Dutch Governor William Kieft, who ended the patroon system of land
grants in New York.
The 700-foot-high Trylon and the
200-foot-wide perisphere were the center pieces of the 1939-40
World’s Fair in what is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Photo Courtesy of Dover
is not known if the township of Flushing was named after the Dutch
town of Vlissengen, or if the original settlers bestowed the name
(which translates into English as Flowing Water) because of the
meandering, snake-like course of the Flushing River. In any event, it
is certain that the colonists marveled at the natural abundance of the
1657 the Quakers arrived in Flushing and shortly thereafter Governor
Peter Stuyvesant banned all forms of worship except Dutch Reformed.
This was done despite the charter issued by the Dutch government which
assured them freedom of religious worship.
Dec. 27, 1657, Edward Hart, town clerk of Flushing, drew up the
Flushing Remonstrance. The remarkable document declared that all who
“…come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands
upon them, but give them free aggress and regress unto our Towne and
document was signed by 28 freeholders of Flushing. This protest
initiated a seven-year struggle for freedom of religious worship in
the Colony of New Netherlands.
1661, an Englishman – John Bowne – moved to Flushing from Boston
and built a home, which he opened to those Quakers who wished to
practice their faith without fear of imprisonment. Bowne was arrested
that year for his actions and was imprisoned and sent out of the
country “to wherever the ship shall land.” It landed in Ireland,
but eventually Bowne made his way to Amsterdam, Holland.
pleaded his case before the Dutch West India Company in 1664 and the
authorities restored freedom of religious worship. Bowne returned to
Flushing, and in 1672, George Fox, the founder of the Society of
Friends, visited Bowne and preached, “unmolested by any
1694, John Bowne was buried in the back of the Quaker Meeting House
which was erected along what is now Northern Boulevard. It stands
today, the oldest house of worship in the City of New York, and a
living monument to the battle in which brave citizens risked their
lives for the concept of religious freedom.
strategic location between Manhattan and Long Island greatly
influenced its development. The area was a thriving trade center long
before other sections of Queens were settled.
This photo taken in 1860 showing students at
the Flushing Institute is one of the oldest surviving photos of
Photo Courtesy of Dover
earliest public record – an Indian deed dated 1655 – shows that
Jamaica’s first settlers were fishermen and farmers from Hempstead.
They came to the Jamaica lowlands in 1644 and lived without the aid of
government sanction until 1656. The Indian deed was signed by Daniel
Denton and Roger Linas for the settlers and chiefs of the Rockaway and
Canarsie tribes. At that time the land was known as Jameco or Yemacah,
a derivation of the Indian word for beaver.
Stuyvesant granted the community a patent in 1656 fixing its boundary
lines vaguely on the north by Flushing and Newtown, on the south by
Rockaway Beach and on the west by Flatlands and New Lots. The same
area today comprises Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Hollis,
Queens Village, Howard Beach and Springfield Gardens, as well as
colonists, for the most part English, found themselves under English
rule again when Peter Stuyvesant surrendered to the Duke of York.
Nov. 1, 1683, Queens County was created, comprised of Newtown (first
and second Wards), Flushing (third Ward), Jamaica (fourth Ward) and
Far Rockaway (fifth Ward), part of Hempstead since 1644. At that time
the county was three times its present size…it included all of what
is now Nassau and extended to Suffolk.
Declaration of Independence signer Francis
Lewis was once a minister at
St. George’s Church on Main Street
other settlements began to grow at Astoria, Middleburg, Bayside and
Douglaston. Queens became a mecca for weekend excursionists going to
the races that were held throughout the area.
Flushing in 1732, William Prince established the first commercial
nurseries in America. Named the “Linaen Botanic Gardens” after the
Swedish botanist, Lineanus, they operated for almost two centuries.
Washington and John Adams visited the nurseries to examine the rare
trees and shrubs, which grew there.
of France and Prince William Henry, later King William IV of England,
also made the pilgrimage to the Prince Nurseries.
Parsons later established the Parsons Nurseries in Flushing, and the
offshoots of a giant Weeping Beech Tree still stand as a monument to
the birthplace of horticulture in America: a place of such beauty that
it inspired poet Joyce Kilmer to write “Trees.”
people of Queens were divided during the Revolutionary War: Whig
the English captured the island in 1776, many patriots were forced to
flee from the island in order to avoid capture. Jamaica Avenue,
originally an Indian trail, became a highway which the British used
during the war. The British burned a steeple off old St. James Church
in Newtown and captured the Quaker Meeting House in Flushing for use
as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
the Battle of Long Island, the British Army moved into Hell Gate and
erected artillery batteries on the site of what are now the Astoria
the war, Queens resumed peaceful activities. Waterborne commerce with
New York developed early and landing ports were established at Jamaica
Bay, Hunters Point, Hallets Cove and Little Neck Bay.
came to life during the Industrial Revolution. Steam-powered ferries
spurred the growth of Astoria in 1815 and steam-powered locomotives
brought new commercial activity to Flushing and Jamaica, which, by
1880, had become the key rail centers in the area.
King Manor in Jamaica was home to Rufus King
one of the first U.S. Senators from New York State.
were built near the East River in Hunters Point, Blissville, Dutch
Kills and Middletown. These towns were incorporated as Long Island
City in 1870. In
1850 there were just 20,000 people in Queens, but by the turn of the
century, the population had reached 153,000. Many were attracted by
the company towns, such as the 400-acre development in Astoria built
by William Steinway around his piano factory and a similar community
built by Conrad Poppenhusen around his ironworks in College Point.
1898, the four chartered towns of Newtown, Jamaica, Flushing and
Hempstead, along with Long Island City, agreed to consolidate into the
Borough of Queens, joining the other four boroughs to form the Greater
City of New York.
entered the 20th
century as a rural outpost, a garden in the city. By 1920, however,
the population had grown to nearly half a million.
opening of the Queensborough Bridge linked the borough to
mid-Manhattan and before long, the farms and estates were sub-divided
and real estate developers created new towns and housing for
immigrants and settlers.
a by-product of the City’s “progress,” the Brooklyn Ash Removal
Company purchased tracts of the 1,200-acre meadow and used it as a
dumping ground for most of the refuse from the Borough of Brooklyn.
Meadow stood in the very heart of New York, at its geographic and
population center. To travel from Manhattan to Long Island one had to
cross through the old dirt roads that went through the Corona Dumps.
The Queens garden had become a desert – a mosquito-ridden swamp
capped by a burning 90-foot high mountain of ashes, known as “Mount
Corona.” Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, in “The Great Gatsby,”
used this ash cap as the symbolic dividing line between the rich of
Long Island and the urban masses of New York City. Fitzgerald
described the dumps as “a Valley of Ashes – a fantastic farm where
ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens.”
a determined builder named Robert Moses, had different ideas.
1936, Moses completed the construction of the Triborough Bridge, which
linked Astoria with the Bronx and Manhattan. Moses cut through the
dump in order to build his road to Long Island, connecting the bridge
with the Island. Moses also saw the opportunity to transform this
eyesore into a great city park.
1939, a World’s Fair was held at the site to commemorate the 150th
Anniversary of Washington’s first inauguration as president in New
Fair was built on the remains of the Corona Dumps and thousands of
trees and shrubs were planted to transform the wasted area into a
garden with shaded walks, colorful fountains and fantastic displays.
1939-1940 World’s Fair, the completion of the Belt Parkway system,
the opening of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, and the completion and
expansion of Idlewild and LaGuardia Airports provided increased access
and mobility, which encouraged additional construction.
great amusement park at North Beach was removed to make way for
LaGuardia Airport, but an amusement area survived along the Rockaway
came to Queens when Paramount Pictures opened a studio in Astoria.
Most of the major stars of the era – including Mae West, W.C. Fields
and Gloria Swanson – set up residences in the plush new community of
such as Louis Armstrong would return from long road engagements to
their homes in Queens.
Hills and tennis became synonymous as the United States Open drew the
elite of sports each year to the Tudor-style town.
new communities that developed after World War II on large vacant
tracts adopted the names and many of the values and traditions of the
original rural villages.
1946, the United Nations first chose Queens as its permanent home and
World Capital. For five years, the U.N. General Assembly met in the
New York City Building, now the home of the Queens Museum of Art.
this tremendous growth, Queens residents preferred to keep their
“village identification.” They retained their town names on
addresses and rather than saying “I’m from Queens,” they were
more likely to say, “I’m from Flushing,” or Ozone Park, Astoria,
Ridgewood or Glen Oaks.
1964-65, Queens once again played host to the world at a giant
international exposition at Flushing Meadows. The second New York
World’s Fair drew over 55 million visitors from throughout the world
and showed the marvels of the Space Age. The fair also spurred the
completion of the Long Island Expressway, the Throgs Neck Bridge and
Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets.
great fair left many very tangible benefits to the borough, the most
obvious being the completed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. But in the
nearly 40-years since the fair, the most pervasive and wide-ranging
effect has been the tremendous influx of new nationalities into the
borough and a development that forever changed the borough’s
the late 1970s and 1980s, Queens County witnessed unparalleled growth.
As the 1939 Fair opened up Queens to development and the United
Nations spurred new housing, the 1964 Fair opened up a new area of New
York City – urban, but suburban – to a whole new group of
immigrants who would change the face of the borough.
noted historian Vincent Seyfried has pointed out in his book Old
Queens, N.Y., this is a transition that will endure for years to
wrote, “On July 1, 1968, Congress enacted a major restructuring of
the immigration statutes that for the first time relaxed restrictions
on immigration from third world countries. New York as the major point
of entry for the country, immediately felt the change in policy. The
last 20 years have witnessed a flood of newcomers from Central and
South America and Caribbean and Asian countries, principally China,
Korea, Japan, the Philippines and India.”
a dynamic new Queens Borough President – Donald Manes – would be
launching economic development projects such as the restoration and
expansion of the old Astoria motion picture studios and the erection
of the borough’s first skyscraper, the Citicorp building in Long
Island City, the arrival of new ethnic groups in communities such as
Flushing and Astoria, would give a new lease on life to neighborhoods
that had showed signs of urban decay.
Donald Manes legacy turned ugly in the late 1980s as the so-called
“King of Queens” became embroiled in the biggest municipal scandal
since Boss Tweed. But the growth of those years has extended to this
day, making this borough – home to over two million people – the
largest in size (over 118 square miles) and the population center of
the City of New York.
the 1990s dawned, there was a growing movement by some civic and
political activists to separate Queens from the City it joined in
1898. The Queens secession movement appealed to those who felt that
the “seventh largest city in the U.S.” should be an independent