2016-08-10 / Star Journal

Queens County Transitions From Countryside To City

The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal by Dan McDonald

Welcome to August 1905!

In August 1905, the patchwork of agrarian villages, towns and cities known as Queens County was on the verge of a century of sweeping change and development. Down on the Long Island City waterfront, work was progressing at a rapid clip on the new Steinway Tunnel under the East River. With the first spadeful of earth turned in July, the 30-foot-wide tunnel next to the Long Island Express Company stables was steadily making its way to 42nd Street in Manhattan. Opened in 1915, the tunnel carries the 7 train, and with her, millions of New Yorkers to and from the bustling borough of Queens every year.

With public transportation for Long Island City and other Queens communities on the horizon, developers began snapping up land in the borough at a frenzied pace. The old English farm out in Newtown near Trotting Course Lane and Hoffman Boulevard sold to a developer for $3,000 an acre, or roughly $80,000 an acre in 2016 prices. The Queens Center Mall now stands near the site of the old 11-acre estate. Over in Jamaica, Tax Commissioner William S. Cogswell acquired a large plot of land that once belonged to Rufus King, signer of the United States Constitution, for $8,500.

The Steinway Tunnel under the East River, 2013. Construction began in July 1905, the 30-foot-wide tunnel next to the Long Island Express Company stables was opened in 1915, the tunnel carries the 7 train, and with her, millions of New Yorkers to and from the bustling borough of Queens every year.Photo Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

The Steinway Tunnel under the East River, 2013. Construction began in July 1905, the 30-foot-wide tunnel next to the Long Island Express Company stables was opened in 1915, the tunnel carries the 7 train, and with her, millions of New Yorkers to and from the bustling borough of Queens every year.

Photo Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York With all the wheeling and dealing, real estate speculation and development coming to New York’s largest borough, it was a wonder that some old timers still managed to enjoy those seemingly endless, placid summer days before the arrival of apartment blocks and shopping malls. But there was no shortage of enjoyment for all in summer, 1905. At North Beach, trumpeted as “Nature’s Own Playground” in the Long Island Weekly Star, beachgoers could take in fireworks shows, as well as Lockwood the One-Legged Cycle Marvel. Others could dance the night away at the Fort Andersen dancing pavilion or down George Ehret’s Extra Lager Beer at Haffner’s Neptune Hotel and Casino. Those opting for a longer trip to the Rockaways could stay in one of a number of beachside hotels, including the Bay View, which boasted deep sea fishing from the sloop Edith, as well as telephone connections.

Not all summer beachgoers were in for such sedate, law-abiding pleasures, however. When a drunken group of “Jersey rowdies” arrived at North Beach on excursion boats from Newark, the miscreants began throwing beer bottles and glasses at police on the pier. The Weekly Star takes up the brawl from here.

“When they reached the pier they started in to fight the policemen as a preliminary to the pleasures of the day, but by the liberal use of their big sticks the officers convinced the toughs that North Beach policemen were not so dead easy as they had imagined. After a number of them had been laid out, they decided to give up the battle.”

Others were in far more charitable spirits toward one another that summer long ago. Reverend William Winter Mix of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Long Island City devoted his summer to ensuring that the less fortunate children of Queens would have a proper summer vacation. Working through the Fresh Air Fund program run by the New York Tribune, Reverend Mix sent 23 local children to the fresh air and blue skies of upstate New York that August. The youngsters were selected regardless of church affiliation, and surely carried fond memories of a carefree summer escape with them for the rest of their lives.

That's the way it was in August 1905!

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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