Jackson Heights is today one of the most historic neighborhoods in Queens, named for the president of Hunter’s Point, Newtown and Flushing Turnpike Company, John C. Jackson.
Jackson was born at the Staffordshire Potteries in England on April 7, 1809. He set sail for New York in 1830 and became one of the most respected and well known citizens of Queens in his lifetime.
In 1834, Jackson wed Martha Riker, daughter of Capt. Andrew Riker. In 1839, the Jacksons set up a home at her birthplace in what is now Long Island City. They raised one daughter there and she grew up to marry into the Riker family.
During his lifetime, Jackson had many different occupations. He started out as an importer of china and earthenware, moved on to breed cattle and ended up an urban planner of sorts, constructing a roadway — once known as Jackson Avenue — from Hunter’s Point to Flushing.
He excelled in his careers, and during his first exhibit for agricultural awards at the Queens County Fair in 1852, he obtained a prize for every single entry. Jackson was elected vice president of the New York State Agricultural Society in 1854 and 1855. He was elected president of the Queens County Agricultural Society in 1863, 1864, 1865 and again in 1874 and 1875.
At his retirement, Jackson was recognized for his work at the QCAC in a resolution which noted “the generous and noble spirit of liberality that has marked his course during the period of his official terms.”
When Jackson’s six-mile connecting turnpike was completed it was pronounced the finest road on Long Island. As a mark of appreciation, stockholders of Jackson’s company had dinner served to him on a silver platter.
Though bearing Jackson’s name, with the word “Heights” likely added due to its elevation, Jackson Heights developed into what it is today under the hand of Edward Archibald MacDougall, president of the Queensboro Corporation.
With knowledge that the Queensboro Bridge was to be constructed, MacDougall bought up land in the area and spent money paving the streets so that people could easily access Manhattan.
The Queensboro Bridge opened in 1909, helping to populate the area, and on Oct. 30, 1911, the first baby born in Jackson Heights, Katherine Brace, was delivered at 55 26th (now known as 83rd) Street.
Though there were already buildings in the area, MacDougall’s primary vision for Jackson Heights was formed between the years of 1912 and 1916, influenced by his 1914 trip to Europe.
MacDougall was inspired by the garden city movement, founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard in England in 1898. Howard created a careful urban plan to balance industry, residences and agriculture. MacDougall wanted to use Howard’s framework to create better living spaces for Jackson Heights residents.
However, MacDougall’s choice to develop buildings with courtyard gardens wasn’t entirely altruistic. The 1901 Tenement Act prohibiting cramped unventilated living quarters also played a role.
The buildings were designed with attention to appearance and comfort, with close attention paid to allowing sunlight and air flow.
When the elevated subway arrived along Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights in 1917, the neighborhood was in business. With Grand Central Station only 20 minutes away, it became a desirable location to live.
In 1919, the Queensboro Corporation introduced a “Cooperative Ownership Plan,” one of the first of its kind in the United States. Under the plan, the corporation was able to make immediate returns on its investments by selling units.
At the age of 70 in September 1944, MacDougall died. His death was announced in the Jackson Heights News. Jackson died decades earlier in 1899.
Today, Jackson Heights is one of Queens’ historic districts, bounded by 76th Street on the west, 88th Street on the east, Roosevelt Avenue on the south, and Northern Boulevard on the north. An even larger portion of the community is recognized by New York State and the federal government as being historic.
Jackson Heights is home to a diverse population including many South Asians, Hispanics and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
The area is known for its delicious food and for its gay pride parade which is the largest outside of Manhattan.