From The Stone Age
used in food preparation by Matinecock
tribe members are on display at the Bayside
Historical Society. Tribune photo by Michael
kettle ponds and rolling hills that make up today’s
landscape in Queens had a rough beginning. They
were slowly scraped and pushed into the land over
thousands of years by a glacier that once sat
where we now live; its outermost edge followed
about the same line the Grand Central Parkway
runs. You can see the high ridge it cut as the
glacier crept across the land—it’s
bordered by Hillside and Highland Avenues.
When Native Americans first discovered the land,
they were attracted to areas that offered abundant
fresh water, timber for building and shelter from
As we know, the original human residents of Queens
were a peaceful group, living for centuries harvesting
salt, hay, fish, wild water fowl, oysters, clams,
shellfish, game and migratory birds.
Three main tribes of Native Americans inhabited
the lands of Queens: a tribe after whom Jamaica
was named, a tribe after whom the Rockaways were
named, and the Matinecock, who inhabited Flushing
and the North Shore of Queens.
Until the arrival of the European explorers and
settlers in the 17th Century, they cultivated
a very hospitable farmland territory.
Although 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 narrow passage.
Later, they sailed up the river through the sound
and the bay by the meadows of what is now Flushing,
which they purchased from the Native Americans.
The price? One axe for every 50 acres.
Before long, settlers arrived and established
townships. While Dutch colonists settled most
of the towns in Brooklyn, the English settled
those in Queens.
The land was part of a territory originally called
Nieuv Netherlands, and was originally governed
by the Dutch, who permitted English as well as
Dutch colonists to settle and form townships.
The 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.
The eastern part of Newtown was in the patent
granted by the Dutch to an 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
In 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 patron system
of land grants in New York.
It 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 to “flowing water” in English)
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 area.
collection of baskets, wampum, a medicine
pipe and a pendant sits in the Bayside
Historical Society’s Ft. Totten
home.Tribune photo by Michael Rehak
1657, the Quakers arrived in Flushing. Shortly
thereafter, Governor Peter Stuyvesant banned all
forms of worship except Dutch Reformed despite
the famous charter known as the Flushing Remonstrance,
which was issued by the Dutch government to assure
colonists freedom of religious worship.
The charter was written on Dec. 27, 1657, by Edward
Hart, town clerk of Flushing.
The remarkable document declared:
“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
The document was signed by 28 freeholders of Flushing.
This protest initiated a seven-year struggle for
freedom of religious worship in the Colony of
In 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. He landed in Ireland,
but eventually made his way to Amsterdam, Holland.
Bowne pleaded his case before the Dutch West India
Company in 1664. The authorities restored freedom
of religious worship. Bowne returned to Flushing
and in 1672, George Fox, a Quaker and the founder
of the Society of Friends, visited Bowne and preached,
in his own words, “unmolested by any magistrate.”
In 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.
Jamaica’s 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.
The earliest public record—a Native American
deed from 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
Daniel Denton and Roger Linas signed the deed
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 naitve
word for beaver.
Peter 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
The mostly English colonists, governed by the
Dutch under Stuyvesant, found themselves under
English rule again when he surrendered to the
Duke of York.
On Nov. 1, 1683, Queens County was created. It
comprised Newtown, Flushing, Jamaica and Far Rockaway,
which had been 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.
Meanwhile, other settlements began to grow at
Astoria, Middleburg, Bayside and Douglaston. Queens
became a mecca for Manhattanites on weekend excursions
to horse races that were held throughout the area.
In Flushing in 1732, William Prince established
the first commercial nurseries in America. Named
the Linnaen Botanic Gardens after the Swedish
botanist, Linnaeus, they operated for almost two
centuries. George Washington and John Adams were
visitors to the nurseries to examine the rare
trees and shrubs that grew there.
Lafayette of France and Prince William Henry,
later King William IV of England, also made the
pilgrimage to the Prince Nurseries.
Samuel 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.
FOR THE BOROUGH
The people of Queens were divided during the Revolutionary
When the English captured the island in 1776,
many patriots were forced to flee from the island
in order to avoid capture. Jamaica Avenue, originally
a Native American trail, became a highway that
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.
After 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 Houses.
After 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
Queens 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.
Factories 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
In 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.
native mask adorns a display at the Bayside
Historical Society. Tribune photo by Michael
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.
The 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.
As 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
The 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
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
“They were a Valley of Ashes,” Fitzgerald
writes. “A fantastic farm where ashes grow
like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque
However, a determined builder named Robert Moses
had different ideas.
In 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
In 1939, a World’s Fair was held at the
site to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Washington’s
first inauguration as president in New York City.
The 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
The 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
The great amusement park at North Beach was removed
to make way for LaGuardia Airport, but an amusement
area survived along the Rockaway beachfront.
Hollywood 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 Bayside. Entertainers such as
Louis Armstrong would return from long road engagements
to their homes in Queens. Forest Hills and tennis
became synonymous as the United States Open drew
the elite of sports each year to the Tudor-style
The 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
In 1946, the United Nations chose Queens as its
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.
Despite this tremendous growth, Queens residents
preferred to keep their village identification.
They retained town names on addresses, and were
more likely to refer to their homes by the township,
rather that by the borough’s name.
In 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.
The 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 once-rural
gas station, at Northern Boulevard and
Steinway Street, was once a dairy farm
owned by Jasper Durner. Durner was among
the first German immigrants to Queens.
Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
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.
As noted historian Vincent Seyfried has pointed
out in his book Old Queens, N.Y., this is a transition
that will endure for years to come.
He writes, “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
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