A Walk Through Queens - With David Hartman and Historian Barry Lewis
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The First Residents Birth of a Borough Growth and Urbanization
Photo of Steinway & Sons Piano Factory, circa 1895
The Old Town Hall in Jamaica
Photo of LIRR stop in Jamaica.

TOP: In the early 1870s, William Steinway, the piano manufacturer, began production in East Astoria, creating a manufacturing village out of farmlands.

MIDDLE: The Old Town Hall in Jamaica served as the county seat of Queens until the consolidation of New York in 1898.

BOTTOM: The Long Island Railroad brought virtually all of Queens within suburban commuting distance.

The 19th Century    Consolidation

By a vote of 1407-1144, the Town of Flushing, vetoed the proposal of the consolidation of Queens into the Greater City of New York
The American Revolution

The era of the American Revolution, 1776-1783, disrupted the lives of every villager and farmer in Queens, often dividing neighbors against one another. Except in Newtown, the majority of the residents of Queens strongly favored the British. In fact, Queens County refused to send any delegates to the first or second Continental Congress.

The defeat of George Washington and his forces at the Battle of Long Island (fought in Brooklyn) on August 27, 1776 led to a seven-year occupation by British troops. The British ravaged the countryside, destroyed the forest for firewood, stole livestock, controlled all movement over roads, and seized all public buildings including the Old Quaker Meeting House which was used as a prison, a hospital and a storehouse.

Even after the American victory at Yorktown in 1781, British troops delayed their withdrawal from Queens County until they could secure the evacuation of British Loyalists to Canada who feared retribution for having collaborated with the enemy. The last British troops marched down Jamaica Avenue on November 25, 1783. On the night of December 8, 1783, a patriotic celebration was staged at what are now Parsons Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue. Thirteen candles were lit in every window to celebrate the birth of the new thirteen-state nation.

The 19th Century

Beginning in 1800, turnpike fever hit Queens County. The turnpikes were very important to the history of Queens because speedy overland travel became possible for the first time. The idea was to privatize the public roads -- to lease them for fixed periods to private companies that would then be authorized to collect tolls and in return maintain good road services. In March 1801, the Flushing and Newtown Turnpike was incorporated; in 1806, the Jamaica and Rockaway and, in 1809, the Jamaica and Rockaway Turnpike.

Queens was rural and offered an abundance of flat, open surfaces ideal for horse racing. In 1821, the Legislature authorized the Union Course, a track just south of Jamaica Avenue and between 78th and 85th Street in Woodhaven. In 1825, the Eclipse racetrack was built south of Rockaway Boulevard and East of Woodhaven Boulevard. These two tracks operated for over fifty years and their existence stimulated travel, a hotel industry and a settlement along Jamaica Avenue.

The urbanizing forces that would eventually overwhelm rural Queens began developing in the 1830s, as suburban villages were founded by individuals and realty companies for development. Charles and Peter Roach acquired Long Island City in 1934, Woodhaven started as a real-estate promotion in 1835, and Astoria was created by Stephen Halsey in 1939, along with several associates.

In 1847, the state government in Albany passed a piece of Legislation entitled the "The Rural Cemetery Act." The law authorized corporations to buy land, open cemeteries and sell plots for money to private individuals. In addition in 1848, burial grounds were banned from lower Manhattan for health reasons. Within five years cemeteries corporations began to buy up farms in Queens county and lay out large cemeteries in Queens such as Calvary (1846,) Evergreens (1848) and Cypress Hills (1852.)

Urbanizing forces became especially conspicuous in the 1850s. In Western Queens, land speculators bought up farms for conversion to village lots. Maspeth, Corona, Long Island City (Hunters Point area,) and Winfield all started between 1852 and 1854. Manufacturers, seeking rural settings within reach of New York City, scattered factories more widely at --Whitestone, Woodhaven, and College Point. Meanwhile, the Rockaway beaches had begun to attract affluent summer excursionists.

The great waves of Irish and German immigration that swept into nearly all the East Coast cities during the mid-nineteenth century reached Queens as well. The Irish settled in Astoria and, to a lesser degree, in Jamaica and Flushing. Many Germans entered Queens by way of Brooklyn via Metropolitan and Myrtle Avenues. Middle Village, which had been English in the 1840s, became almost wholly German by 1860.

The Civil War only briefly interrupted this process of growth. In the quarter century that followed, 1865-1890, the initial urbanization of western Queens was largely completed: Glendale in 1868-1869, Richmond Hill in 1869, and Queens Village in 1871. In the early 1870s, William Steinway, the piano manufacturer, began production in East Astoria, creating a manufacturing village out of farmlands that had survived until then on either side of what is now upper Steinway Avenue.

Ridgewood boomed as a residential community after the Brooklyn City Railroad built its car barns there in 1881. The continuing flow of population out of Brooklyn via Richmond Hill and Woodhaven led to the creation of Ozone Park in 1882 and Morris Park in 1884. The coming of the Myrtle Avenue elevated train in 1888 furthered this process, especially enhancing Ridgewood's appeal as a residential haven.


The 1890's were an era of consolidation -- not only social and geographical, but political as well. The idea of a Greater New York, the merging of Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and western Long Island (Queens and Brooklyn), had been growing.

In 1890, the State set up a commission to study the idea and in 1894 the people were asked to express their opinion in a non-binding ballot. The historic vote occurred on November 6, 1894. Manhattan favored the idea. In Queens, Long Island City and the Towns of Jamaica and Newtown voted in favor, Brooklyn vetoed the proposal as did the Town of Flushing, by a vote of 1407-1144. In March 1896, the Legislature passed the Consolidation bill, and Governor Morton signed it on May 11. All the old town governments in Queens went out of business on December 31, 1897 and on January 1, 1898 the Great City became a legal fact.