Juniper Valley Park was known as the treacherous “Great Swamp” in the 19th century. It was made up of underground streams and quicksand, and only useful for raccoon and possum hunting and mining peat, the dark vegetable matter formed by partial decay of plants in wet ground.Many developers believed dirt is dirt and land is land. However, any geologist will quickly tell you this is not always true.
The formation of Richmond Hill came about as a result of the 1869 purchase of the Lefferts and Welling farms by Albon Platt Man, a prominent New York attorney.
In the very early days of the community folks were connected by a post office in Jacob Van Wicklen’s store on Myrtle Avenue. At that time it was referred to as the Clarenceville Post Office. In 1872, it was replaced by the new Richmond Hill Post Office, located near the “triangle” where Park Street (now Hillside Avenue) and Myrtle Avenue meet.
Astoria, named in honor of the entrepreneur John Jacob Astor, has as its showpiece one of the most outstanding parks in all of Queens County. Astoria Park, located on the East River around the bend from Pot Cove, has been around since long before our much-heralded Flushing Meadows Park.
In September 1916 a steel arch bridge was completed over the most wicked stretch of the East River and over the park, to carry freight and passengers for the Pennsylvania Railroad between Astoria and Manhattan. The architect was Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935). The Hell Gate Bridge is unique in that it would be the last New York City span to collapse if humans were to disappear. It would take at least 1,000 years to fall without the maintenance of mankind, compared to 300 years for the other bridges. It was proudly updated and painted red in 1996.
New Yorkers over the age of 65 still remember how much we were starved for National League baseball when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved to California. The only game in town was the American League’s Yankees, and when they went on the road, you had nothing. A horrible thought for a baseball addict.
Attorney William Shea headed up a committee to make arrangements to expand the National League from eight to 10 teams. Abraham Beame, later to be our mayor, was the city’s budget director and comptroller in 1960. He backed a stadium in Corona. All members of the old Board of Estimate voted for it, except the two from the Bronx.
Richmond Hill is one of the older communities in Queens, and got its own high school in 1899, when there were only a few in the borough.
The school was unusual in that it had an astronomy observatory and telescope, built at a cost of $6,000. The first principal was not an administrator but respected mathematician and astronomer Issac Newton Failor (1851-1925). The RHHS yearbook and newsletters were dubbed “The Dome.”
Hillside Avenue is one of the longer avenues in Queens, starting in Richmond Hill and continuing over the city line in Floral Park.
For those who were well to do, a house up on the hillside was a sign of wealth and success. The prized north side real estate had some of the most gracious homes around — before there was a place called Jamaica Estates.
In the early part of the 20th century there were still many 18th- and 19th-century houses in Queens. Most are gone, but among those that remain is one whose occupants played key roles in our history. Jamaica’s King Manor, which blended Dutch and Georgian Colonial architecture, was spared for its historical value, despite its high property value fronting on Jamaica Avenue.
Rufus King (1755-1827) was among the framers of our Constitution and one of New York’s first two U.S. senators. He later was ambassador to the Court of St James’s.
In the mid-1990s another unofficial landmark was demolished in Forest Hills, ending an era. Colonial Garage was the last gas station on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.
At one time not so long ago there were seven gas stations with garages operating on either Queens Boulevard or Austin Street in Forest Hills. Now there are none. Aside from the Colonial, located at the corner of 78th Avenue, two of the better known were the Seminole Garage at 112-17 Queens Blvd., replaced by The Pinnacle building, and the Continental Garage on Queens Boulevard at 70th Road, replaced by Lane Towers.