The colorful mural on the side of Maspeth Federal Savings bank at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 69th Street proudly proclaims “Maspeth is America.”
Few things are more American than a grandiose painting of a bald eagle soaring alongside Old Glory, just like few neighborhoods in the entire country have more history than Maspeth does.
Long before Maspeth became the first English settlement in the future Queens County in 1642, the area was known as Mespet, named after the Mespeatches, a Native American tribe that occupied the area.
Armed conflicts with the Mespeatches tribe forced many settlers to flee to what is now Elmhurst in 1643. But the area’s access to prime waterways such as Newtown Creek and the East River proved too attractive for some of the original English settlers, who returned for good nine years later, in 1652.
Fast forward 362 years and today’s inhabitants of Maspeth are just as stubborn when it comes to staying put.
It’s that feeling of community and togetherness emblematic to small towns that attracts families to the area, community activist and state Assembly candidate Dmytro Fedkowskyj says.
So why would anyone ever want to leave?
“You get a sense of knowing your neighbors in Maspeth. That’s important because you live on the same block, your kids play together and they go to the same schools,” Fedkowskyj said. “You feel comfortable leaving your windows open. And having an abundance of two- and three-family homes allows for other families to move in and enjoy it too.”
About 35,000 people live in the middle-class, commercial-centric western Queens community, and numerous nationalities are represented.
Families of German, Eastern European, Italian, Polish and Irish descent, among others, all call Maspeth home.
Regardless of where your family had come from, Fedkowskyj remembers the jovial place Maspeth was for the neighborhood children years ago.
“We had restaurants, local pizzarias and even a bowling alley where Stop & Shop on Grand Avenue is now,” he said. “Saturday mornings, we used to get up and go to the bowling alley with our friends. We’d play in the arcade and then bowl before going home.”
Longtime Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri knows the area today as somewhere loaded with great family-owned shops you can freely walk to and from.
“In Maspeth, you have a restaurant depot,” Arcuri said. “There are various local fish markets too, and you can walk eveywhere.”
While the bowling alley may be gone, Maspeth is still family-friendly, in part because of its close proximity and relationship with the surrounding areas.
The sprawling Juniper Valley Park, located just over the border in Middle Village, is enjoyed by hundreds of children from all around the immediate area, including Maspeth, every year. Numerous sports leagues for both children and adults hold practices and games there, with the park’s playgrounds allowing those children too young for athletic competition the ability to enjoy themselves.
“There’s now more green space in and around Maspeth,” Fedkowskyj said. “The main space everyone shares is Juniper Valley Park. Kids from Maspeth play with the kids from Middle Village.”
However, parents of many Maspeth children often found themselves in a jam over what high school they wanted to send their children to up until just two years ago.
Schools such as Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood were the only options until Maspeth High School opened in 2012, one year after a temporary location in Forest Hills was used to educate students until the Maspeth building could be constructed.
Maspeth isn’t just a place many have raised their family, its western end is the home to numerous manufacturing companies and other assorted industrial sites.
Both Coca-Cola and Canada Dry operate bottling plants in West Maspeth, while United Parcel Service and T&T Industry, a waste management company, maintain facilities there, as well.
Hundreds of people, many of them Queens residents, are employed by such companies. And Community Board 5, which represents Maspeth along with Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood, often has fought against any rezoning from manufacturing to residential in the area in order to protect industry.
Fedkowskyj, a member of CB 5, believes industry remaining in Maspeth greatly benefits the community.
“To keep manufacturing in Maspeth is important because it keeps jobs in Maspeth,” he said. “We need to maintain it, but we also need to bring more manufacturing back. How we attract it is the question.”
Arcuri concurs with his colleague, citing the area’s industrial history as a reason to encourage manufacturing in Maspeth.
“This whole area was a big part of the war effort,” Arcuri said of the many factories that produced chemicals and vehicle parts during World War II. “We have skilled people. We just need more industry here.”
When it comes to conflicts like World War II, Maspeth takes pride in honoring its veterans, both living and deceased.
The “Maspeth is America” mural overlooks two memorials in the square outside Maspeth Federal Savings bank. The first is a Sept. 11 tribute, featuring a large bronze plaque, two firefighter helmets, a small piece of twisted metal from one of the fallen towers and a perfect view of the World Trade Center.
The second memorial, another plaque surrounded by flowers and shrubbery, features the name of every Maspeth service member who died during World War II and the wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
Every year, thousands of Maspeth residents turn out on Memorial Day to honor the veterans, something Arcuri views as unique to the proud and distinctly American neighborhood.
“Every other neighborhood around here disappears on Memorial Day. But not here,” Arcuri said. “You go to the beach or went away around Memorial Day, but you don’t do anything on Memorial Day itself except go to the parade. I thought that would disappear, but they’re still doing that now.”