Today we continue our exploration of the border between Little Neck and Douglaston. When I left off last week, I had just traversed the new shortcut between Little Neck and Douglaston Hills. It’s a short wooden footbridge over a creek running through Udalls Cove Park, a 30-acre salt marsh that effectively delineates the border between the two neighborhoods north of Northern Boulevard. I had chanced upon the former St. Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Church on Orient Avenue, formerly known as 243rd Street.
Little Neck and Douglaston are sister neighborhoods in the far northeast of Queens. The border between what were two tiny towns on the north shore of Long Island in the colonial and postcolonial eras, before they were absorbed into Greater New York along with the rest of Queens in 1898, has long been a puzzlement. Some chroniclers say it’s Marathon Parkway, which stands in for 250th Street. I think that allows way to little territory to Little Neck, however, and you’ll forgive me for being partial: I have been a resident of Little Neck since 2007, and reside an Eli Manning touchdown pass, or Geno Smith interception return, from Nassau County.
Despite the fact that the neighborhoods are adjacent, easy entrance and egress between them has long been difficult. There are only two roads between the two neighborhoods near the shoreline: Northern Boulevard, the mother road of Long Island, and a twisting road running between Douglas Road and Little Neck Parkway called by its residents Sandhill Road in its western section and 39th avenue in its eastern part. The city’s Department of Transportation cannot decide between the two and so has a sign on the Douglaston end calling it “Bayshore Boulevard.” Its eastern end is not on city maps at all and so the city disdains posting a street sign.
I’ve discovered a new way to get to Douglaston from Little Neck, though, and it’s all due to a short wood bridge that the NYC Parks Department built just recently.
I may not have expressly stated it previously, but even though I am able to function in summer, the heat and humidity wears me down to a nub by Labor Day every year; and I don’t feel fully dressed unless I can wear a jacket. Psychoanalyze that any way you wish, but I have always felt more contented and grounded in cool and cold weather. I would be completely ineffectual if forced to reside in equatorial regions or the Pacific.
My neighborhood, Little Neck, in winter can occasionally be as picturesque as any town in the Poconos or the Catskills, though all it lacks is a mountain for actual skiing. Though I don’t mind, because they still talk about that ski trip I took to Hunter, let’s say a few years ago. (I had trouble with the tow line, to give you some idea.)
Originally a Methodist church built in 1867 on gifted land from Bloodgood Cutter (see below), the modest brick and frame building still stands, surrounded by newer additions. It became the nondenominational Community Church of Little Neck in 1925. Then as now the church conducts a Sunday school and holds a strawberry festival in June.
Today, I wandered on the maze of roads south of Northern Boulevard and west of Little Neck Parkway. This land was once owned by Bloodgood Haviland Cutter (1817-1906). Known as the “Bard of Little Neck,”, he was a potato farmer, poet and friend of Mark Twain, who immortalized him as the “Poet Lariat” in Innocents Abroad. Twain poked fun at Cutter as a master of doggerel who annoyed fellow passengers on an excursion to the Holy Land in the travelogue. B.H. Cutter’s grave, marked by a large cross, can be found in the nearby Zion churchyard on Northern Boulevard.
A road runs from the East River to the tip of the North Fork of Long Island, running through Long Island City, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Flushing, Auburndale, Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Great Neck, Munsey Park, Port Washington, Muttontown, East Norwich, Oyster Bay Cove, Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, Northport, Smithtown, Stony Brook, St. James, Port Jefferson, Rocky Point, East Shoreham, Wading River, Calverton, Riverhead, Aquebogue, Jamesport, Mattituck, Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport, Orient and Orient Point, and would go further were an ocean not in the way. It is a precolonial trace used by Native Americans before Verrazano and the Dutchmen who followed him caught sight of the lengthy island along whose north shore it limns. It’s Jackson Avenue, North Hempstead Turnpike, Lawrence Hill Road, Fort Salonga Road, North Country Road, Main Road, Route 25A, Route 25, and in NYC and Nassau County, it’s Northern Boulevard.
In Queens, Northern Boulevard has been called Jackson Avenue (the stretch west of Queens Plaza still is), Bridge Street, and Broadway; a Flushing enclave and LIRR station still bear the name Broadway after the old road. I’m unsure when the whole kaboodle was renamed Northern Boulevard; perhaps it was in the great 1920s “boulevard”-naming craze the Queens Topological Bureau underwent, when the Philadelphia-style numbering system was instituted and most major roads like Vernon Avenue, New York Avenue, and Rockaway Plank Road were given “boulevard” monikers.
To walk Northern Boulevard, or Routes 25A/25 from shore to shore would require a few days, and at the sluggish pace I generally employ, more than a week.
A walk through the neighborhoods of the northern part of Queens, College Point, Whitestone, even Bayside, will reward the urban enthusiast with glimpses of the small Long Island North Shore towns they used to be. There are town centers at 14th Avenue and 150th Street in Whitestone, along College Point Boulevard between 14th and 18th Avenue, and Bell Boulevard between Northern Boulevard and 35th Avenue. The spaces between these town centers, once meadows or farmland, have been filled with block after block of one and two-family homes and seem to have been thoroughly “folded” into a uniform Queens fabric: definitely not the dense, urban feel of a Soho or a Park Slope, but not the thoroughly suburban atmosphere of a Levittown or Hicksville. The two “northeasternmost” of Queens’ neighborhoods, Douglaston and Little Neck, however, have a different tone: they somehow seem carved out of the rather exclusive, monied precincts of the Nassau County townships immediately to the east, Great Neck and Manhasset. Both neighborhoods are served by a short shopping strip along Northern Boulevard, and the area’s hilly topography doesn’t lend itself to block upon block of similar-looking ranch houses.
For centuries before the mid-1600s the Matinecock Indians, a branch of the Algonquin, had lived on the peninsula where Douglaston Manor is today as well as lands to the south and east, including today’s Little Neck (a “neck” here meaning a plot of land. The term is also seen in adjoining Great Neck as well as Gravesend Neck in Brooklyn.) Little Neck Bay’s wealth of seafood, including the huge oysters that grew here then, sustained the tribe. In the 1600s, European settlers also turned their attention to the area, not only for the clams but for the harbor, which offered easy access to water traffic. The British and Dutch soon had bartered, or some say swindled, the Matinecocks out of much of their ancestral lands, except for a small portion called Madnan’s Neck (possibly named for settler Ann Heatherton, “Mad Nan” although it could also have been shortened from the Indian name for the area, Menhaden-ock, “place of fish.”) In 1656, Thomas Hicks — of the Hicks family that eventually founded Hicksville — forcibly drove out the “last of the Matinecock” in the Battle of Madnan’s Neck at today’s Northern Boulevard and Marathon Parkway.
There are a pair of very short, hidden lanes on the north side of Northern Boulevard between Marathon and Little Neck Parkways. Cornell Lane, which is marked by the Department of Transportation, is the longer of the two and is lined by a set of cozy one-family homes. The lane was formerly a part of the Cornell family’s Little Neck holdings. Possibly, the lane is named for Henry Benjamin Cornell, a member of Zion Church, who is buried in its churchyard. A lost lane called Wright’s Lane formerly intersected Cornell Lane, but no trace of it remains today.
Five generations of the Cornell family made their homes in Little Neck. They were descended from Quaker Richard Cornell, who had come to Flushing from Rhode Island in 1643 and had received a land grant from the Dutch West India Company.
A Cornell farmhouse still stands on Little Neck Parkway just north of the Long Island Expressway.
Samuel Cornell, born 1702, raised produce for Manhattan markets sending it by barge from the north end of the Old House Landing Road, now Little Neck Parkway. A descendant of Samuel Cornell was Ezra Cornell, the founder of Cornell University.
Although modern development and renovations have come to Cornell Lane you can still see some small, unaltered cottages. Some still have the original one-digit house numbers.
I love Fall. I love the cooler weather, the autumn foliage, pumpkins and Indian corn. To me, it’s not a season of death, but of new purpose. After a hot summer, everyone seems renewed in the fall, ready to start Big Things. We open new seasons at the theater, the opera, on television; it’s an exciting time of year, culminating in the holidays. January and February, well, that’s another story. But we’re not there yet, it’s still the middle of Fall, and that means peak leaf changing season. And what better place to see nature’s amazing palate of colors than in a park? In this case, Queens’ second largest park?
Ally Pond Park borders Douglaston on the east and Bayside on the west. Little Neck Bay stretches gloriously to the north, and Union Turnpike cuts the park off on the south. This part of Queens sits on a terminal moraine formed by the Laurentide glacier thousands of years ago. The ice deposited boulders and dug creeks and ponds. Today, the park encompasses fresh water ponds and natural springs, as well as salt marshes from Little Neck Bay, forming a very diverse biosphere, one of the great highlights of the park. (more…)
Nearly 20 ForgottenFans enjoyed Forgotten New York’s Little Neck-Douglaston tour this past weekend. Unusually for recent tours, this time the weather was threatening, but rain only started falling as the tour was ending. Little Neck and Douglaston are far richer in Colonial history and artifacts than many would immediately expect, and this tour mined that history, shining a light on several hidden artifacts.
Above is shown Zion Church, whose grounds are entered via a lengthy path from Northern Boulevard just east of Douglaston Parkway.