11/13/14 11:00am

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Just the other day, I decided it was too nice a day not to go out for a stroll. Not having a whole lot of time to amble about, it was decided to “keep it local” and stay in Astoria. A few errands ended up being part of the excursion, and on the way home my path brought me to 46th Street between 25th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard where I encountered one of the many concrete arches that have carried the tracks of the New York Connecting Railroad since the time of the first World War. The tracks head east to the Fresh Pond and Sunnyside Yards, and west to the Hell Gate Bridge. Hell Gate Bridge began carrying rail traffic in April of 1917, by the way, which is what makes what I encountered on 46th Street so puzzling.

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More after the jump… (more…)

11/06/14 11:00am

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On this day, back in 1894, our forebears made what was arguably one of the greatest mistakes in history.

November the 6th is the day that Long Island City and the rest of what is now known as Queens voted to give up their sovereign rights as independent municipal entities to join with Manhattan and the Bronx, Staten Island, and the City of Brooklyn to form the City of Greater New York. An enormous section of Queens just stayed out of the whole thing, and became Nassau County. The whole consolidation effort was run out of Tammany Hall over in Manhattan. It was Dick Croker and JJ Byrne’s personal project, and it all became official in 1898 when our modern five boroughs were established.

From “Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920: The Borough of Homes and Industry“, courtesy Google Books:

At the election held November 6, 1894, the question of consolidating with the City of New York was voted upon by the residents of Queens County. The majority of votes in favor came from the Long Island City section whose inhabitants, because of their proximity to New York, had been in favor of the project for many years. The western part of the county therefore became part of the City of New York, and is known as Queens Borough; while the eastern part of the county was erected into a separate county, known as Nassau, taking its name from the early name for Long Island.

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04/10/14 11:00am

You never know what you might find at First Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

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Here lies Tammany, gazing eternally upon their work. The city. That great city. The greatest and last of their projects is promontory above the shield wall of Manhattan, and the familiar vista of Calvary Cemetery is offered as an iconic representation by most. It’s immediately recognizable, because of that singular tower.

The tower – called the Empire State building – was built in just over single year, under the supervision of a former Newsboy, from South Street in Manhattan, who watched the Brooklyn Bridge being built from his bedroom window.

From Wikipedia:

The Empire State Building is a 102-story landmark Art Deco skyscraper in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. Its name is derived from the nickname for the state of New York. It stood as the world’s tallest building for more than forty years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center’s North Tower was completed in 1972. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building once again became the tallest building in New York City and New York State.

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10/31/13 11:00am

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When the Mrs. and I first moved to Astoria, we found ourselves at the border. Not far from Woodside and across Northern Boulevard from Sunnyside, the section was once known as “The German Settlement” during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifically we found ourselves living in one of the four unit row houses found on 44th street nearby 34th Avenue. Anxious to meet the new neighbors, we set about talking to literally every stranger we could.

One of my little ice breakers is the usually innocuous question, “Have you ever seen a ghost?”.

More than one of the new neighbors answered in the affirmative, and they then told me about an apparition that they called “the White Lady.” (more…)

08/12/13 11:00am

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I walk just about everywhere, and take a lot of photos of what I see. One of the things I look for when moving around Queens is actually embedded in the street. Often, I’ll check out a photo I shot and some small detail will jump out and demand attention.

In the case of the “Water Supply DWS” manhole cover pictured above, found at the corner of Northern Blvd. and 44th street- I’m seeing the old NYC Department of Water Supply. The design elements indicate that this is a sewer cap and it likely dates back to the 1910′s or 20′s. Buildings, even whole neighborhoods, may come and go. The street and its utilities always remain, and a manhole cover is as close to a permanent artifact which will almost never be replaced as you can find in NYC.

Oftentimes, these manhole covers can open up a can of worms, as in the case of a certain fellow named Joseph McGee.

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There are quite a few of this model of manhole cover scattered around within the former municipal boundaries of Long Island City, which are all rather iconic and often photographed. They are all at least a century old. This one is on Newtown Road near the border of Woodside.

The screed at the top of the iron disc is a makers mark, which says “Joseph McGee L.I. City Iron Foundry.” After a little bit of looking around, I turned up an address for the foundry via this issue of “Penton’s Foundry List, 1918-19 edition” at google books. It lists the foundry as being located at 51 Sixth Street, LIC.

Here’s the problem, though — Sixth Street no longer exists. Many of the streets in LIC have not only been renamed since the old days, some have been resited, demapped, or eradicated entirely. Additionally, confusion is introduced by the fact that most “avenues” in modern LIC run east/west, while in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they ran north/south.

It seems that the 51 Sixth Street address would translate to modern day 48th Avenue in the vicinity of 5th Street (about here, unless I’m reading it wrong), and this 1919 map clearly shows an “iron foundry” at the appropriate spot.

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It seems Mr. McGee dabbled in politics, which is why the NY Times offered a line drawing of the man for consideration. Part of a series of portrait illustrations of the LIC luminaries who were running for Mayor of the independent city which are found in this article from 1895, the piece describes the political game and its players. Notice should be taken that the notorious Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason is pictured in the article as well.

Also, from a trade publication- “The Foundry, Vol 10 no. 55, 1897” at Boogle Books:

“Obituary Joseph McGee- Joseph McGee, proprietor of an extensive iron foundry at Long Island City N.Y., died at his home in that city on July 6 from a complication of diseases. Mr McGee in Ireland in 1847, and when he was 14 years old came to this country, going first to Kentucky and then to Long Island City, where he went to work in the foundry which he subsequently owned.”

When you’re taking a walk in Western Queens, you have to look “up, down, and all around” or you just might be missing something.

Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

07/29/13 11:00am

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The dead in Queens outnumber the living, thanks to the Rural Cemeteries Act of 1847-8.

After a series of epidemics cut a broad swath through all of New York City’s social classes in the 1830s and ’40s (typhus, cholera, etc.) it was decided that no new interments of the departed would be allowed in Manhattan. The various religious organizations and denominations were encouraged to seek out large “rural” properties in which to house the mortal remains of their adherents. This section of Western Queens (and North Brooklyn) where these cemeteries are located has often been referred to as the “cemetery belt” for its enormous size and overall acreage. It’s actually visible from space.

The Roman Catholics purchased a large parcel they would call Calvary in the 1840s and the Lutherans opened Lutheran All Faiths in 1850. For adherents of the Jewish faith, Mount Zion Cemetery was incorporated and opened in the 1890s.

The first funeral at Mount Zion was held on May 5 in 1893. (more…)

07/15/13 11:00am

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What do you call someone from Queens?

There are Staten Islanders, Brooklynites, Manhattanites. There are those who from “da Bronx.” More often than not, when referring to the residents of Queens, the media and or government use “residents of Queens.” Can it possibly be Queensite? To me, Queensite sounds like something that requires an antibiotic.

Queenser just sounds odd.

This may sound dumb at first, but I’m asking it out loud: What do you call a resident of the Borough of Queens?
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07/01/13 11:00am

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The entire reason that an independent municipality called Long Island City was created in the first place was because of the Long Island Rail Road.

Back in 1870, five towns and villages (Middleton, Astoria, Blissville, Ravenswood and Sunnyside) that were part of a governing entity called Newtown seceded and formed a new municipality. This happened, coincidentally, the same year that a corporation called the NY & Jamaica Railroad, which had experienced a never ending series of political problems in the City of Brooklyn, moved its operations to the north bank of Newtown Creek and drove service through to Hunters Point.

The company rebranded itself as the Long Island Rail Road, and the East River facing communities now described themselves as Long Island City.

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Passenger service was something the railroad managers were compelled to do by their charter with New York State, but back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the money was in freight.

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06/20/13 11:00am

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So… Welcome to Newtown Creek, and specifically, Maspeth.

Maspeth was the first European settlement in Queens, dating back to the 1640s.

Newtown Creek was a vital and thriving coastal wetland back then, known for a remarkable abundance of fish, fowl and shellfish. The modern community of Maspeth gets its name from a group of Native Americans who used to live here — a people whose name was recorded as the “Maespetche” or “Mespeatche” by the Dutch.

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Maspeth has a long and colorful history, one which includes being ruinously occupied by British and Hessian troops during the American Revolution, but the wooden structure you see sticking out of the water at the street end of 58th Road at 47th Street isn’t that old.

Instead, it only dates back to 1875 when Ulysses S. Grant was president. (more…)

04/03/13 11:00am

In Queens, you can find history in the most unexpected places. Take this gas station in College Point that Scouting New York visited last month. The typical retro service station has a sign in the window that says, “EST. 1868.” Hmm, that’s before the invention of the automobile.

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It turns out that the Farrington family business was once a blacksmith shop that made horseshoes, so they’ve always been involved in the transportation industry. Sometime between 1917 and 1920, they adapted with technology and started servicing cars instead.

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