Middle Village

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Nestled in the heart of Middle Village, Juniper Valley Park — which sits between Juniper Boulevards North and South, Lutheran Avenue and 71st Street on the west and Dry Harbor Road on the east — is almost intentionally situated far from the crowds and noise that the subway bring. It’s one of the youngest of Queens’ larger parks, having been created in the 1930s.

Middle Village lies between Maspeth and Forest Hills and was named in the 1830s after its position along Metropolitan Avenue, which was laid out as a toll road between Williamsburg and Jamaica in the 1810s. A roadhouse as well as several small dwellings and farms arrived in the area, which had come to be considered midway between Williamsburg and Jamaica, hence its name. Large cemeteries such as Lutheran/All-Faiths, Mt. Olivet and St. John’s arrived after 1850 or so, and attracted Sunday visitors; restaurants and saloons sprung up in the area to serve the crowds. In time, more streets were laid out and were lined by dwellings.

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Last week, I showed BQ readers the highlights of my walk down the entire length of Metropolitan Avenue, from the East River waterfront all the way to its eastern end at Jamaica Avenue, with an emphasis on its Queens identity east of Newtown Creek. I only got us as far as 69th Street, just east of the last stop on the M train.

Metropolitan  Avenue is about 13 miles long, end to end, and today’s highlights cover a lot of territory from Middle Village to Forest Hills. If you’re not up to the challenge of walking the whole way, that’s fine: simply take the M to the end of the line and grab the B54 bus heading east, which runs nearly the entire length of the avenue with a detour into The Shops at Atlas Park.

The best way to see a neighborhood, though, is by putting one foot in front of the other; behind the wheel or the handlebars, there are other things to pay attention to, such as cars and traffic regulations.

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Brooklynites know Metropolitan Avenue as an east-west thoroughfare dividing the north and south sections of Williamsburg (though others consider Grand Street the true divider). It’s a street that holds some sentiment for me, as in 2010 lamppost maven Bob Mulero and I curated a NYC lamppost exhibition at the City Reliquary at 370 Metropolitan Avenue at Havemeyer Street.

I took advantage of a sunny weekend day to march the entire 13 miles (or so my iPhone indicated) of Metropolitan Avenue from the East River waterfront all the way to Jamaica, where Metropolitan peters out at the Van Wyck Expressway and Jamaica Avenue. It’s a relatively easy walk, which took me about six hours since I was constantly stopping for photographs. If you want a real workout and you’re younger than I am, you could probably power-walk the whole length in less than five hours, especially if you have good luck catching green lights.

Metropolitan Avenue was laid out in the early 19th century as the Williamsburg and Jamaica Plank Road, and was tolled in various locations. It was a farm-to-market road plied by farmers bringing wares to East River barges and then back east through fields and meadows to the town of Jamaica.

The land was sparsely settled in the early days, and the plank road was intersected only by Fresh Pond Road, 80th Street and Woodhaven Boulevard, which were all differently named then. It ran through the lost communities of Winantville and Columbusville, as well as a locale whose name is still used today, Middle Village, so named for its central location between Williamsburg and Jamaica.

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On your mark. Get set. Go…but not too fast. On July 12, the eighth annual Tour de Queens will take participants on a roughly 20-mile loop that starts and ends in Astoria Park. Basically a rolling parade, the tour rides en masse at a family-friendly pace –about 10 mph — with NYPD escorts, volunteer safety marshals, and occasional stops at intersections to gather riders. This year’s route goes through Long Island City, Sunnyside, Rego Park, Forest Hills, and Corona with an optional rest stop with light snacks and water at Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village.

Proceeds go to Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit that promotes bicycling, walking, and the use of public transit in New York City.

Details: Tour de Queens, meet in the Astoria Park parking lot off 19th Street and Hoyt Avenue North, Astoria, July 12, 8 am check in, $22.50.

Photo by Tour de Queens

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The Woodside zip code – 11377 – lost more native sons during the Vietnam War than any other area in the United States. Many other neighborhood residents made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country over the past centuries, and 34 individuals who lived or worked in Woodside died during the Twin Tower terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

On Monday, members of the John V. Daniels VFW Post 2813 will honor veterans by placing a wreath at the flagpole at John Vincent Daniels Square near Roosevelt Avenue and 52nd Street at 11 am. Also, after a 10 am mass, the St. Sebastian War Veterans group will host a parade that kicks off from the St. Sebastian School parking lot at Woodside Avenue and 57th Street.

That’s only part of it. Queens has about 55,000 veteran residents, more than any other borough in New York City. It also hosts the country’s biggest Memorial Day parade (in Little Neck/Douglaston). Here’s a list of local parades scheduled for this weekend.

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This quaint two-story building in Middle Village has a three-bedroom apartment for rent. The building was built in 1930, but the apartment is newly painted and has new tiles in the kitchen. There are wood floors throughout, and each room has multiple windows.

The Atlas Park shopping center and the Rego Atlas movie theater are two blocks away. The nearest M train is about a 20 minute walk, but the Q29, Q47, Q54 buses are right down the street. Parking is also available for an additional fee. The rent is $1,950 a month.

79-45 69th Avenue, #2 [Exit Realty by the Park Inc] GMAP

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It’s time to tree-cycle and e-cycle. To promote eco-friendly practices — and help New Yorkers avoid a new state law imposing $100 fines on residents who leave electronics on the curb for pickup — the Queens Botanical Garden will  host the 12th annual E-Waste Recycling Event on Sunday. Done in partnership with the Lower East Side Ecology Center and sponsored by TekServe, this six-hour event allows participants to drop off unwanted or non-functional computers, printers, cell phones, video games, tablets, and other gadgets in the parking entrance. (Click here for a full list of acceptable items.) Garden employees will make sure that they are disposed of in the proper ecological way. On the same day and in the same spirit, the garden will host arts-and-crafts activities using recycled and repurposed items.

Meanwhile in response to recent holidays, the NYC Parks Department will host MulchFest 2015 all weekend at various spots throughout the five boroughs, including 13 Queens green spaces. Residents can bring trees to these spots to be recycled into mulch that will nourish plantings across the city. In some places, NYC Parks employees will chip the wood and give bags of mulch back to the tree donors. Details for all three events are on the jump page.

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There it sits at Metropolitan Avenue and 69th Street in Middle Village, across the street from All-Faiths Cemetery, a showcase of stone carving with the name Frank T. Lang positioned prominently on the chamfered corner, guarded by prehensile tailed creatures of no known genus or species. Its proximity to the cemetery is no accident, as Lang was a prominent stone carver as well as mausoleum architect in the early 20th century and his work can be found both in All-Faiths and in nearby St. John’s Cemetery.

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Though western Queens is well-known for its vast cemeteries, there are also a number of very small ones. A small section of Juniper Valley Park at Juniper Boulevard North and 81st Street in Middle Village is given over to the Pullis Farm Cemetery, once the property of farmer Thomas Pullis, who purchased 32 acres in the area in 1822. Pullis prohibited the sale of the cemetery in his will, and it continues to be marked and protected. A memorial marker has replaced the cemetery’s old tombstones.

Prior to the 1990s, this small patch had descended into obscurity and ruin. Fundraising efforts, led by Ed Shusterich, founder and president of the Pullis Farm Cemetery Historical Landmark and a Middle Village resident, resulted in the construction of a small memorial and a fence surrounding the cemetery plot. Much of Juniper Valley Park was located on what was the Pullis farm: the family cemetery contained five graves with three markers. By the turn of the century the plot was weed-choked and just one broken marker remained.

Juniper Valley Park itself dates only to the 1940s, when NYC acquired 100-acre Juniper Valley Swamp to settle a $225,000 claim in back taxes against gangster Arnold Rothstein, who, it’s believed, had the Chicago White Sox in his back pocket in 1919 when the Sox threw the World Series against Cincinnati. The old swamp is now one of Queens’ most beautiful parks.

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It’s officially summer now, a time when an afternoon in the park is just the thing to cool off body and soul. Because of history and geography, Queens can rightly boast of having some of the most unique parkland in the city, with parks ranging from the concrete and steel of Gantry Plaza State Park to the wide open sand dunes of Fort Tilden. While most of our city’s parks can boast of meadows and trees, Queen’s Juniper Valley Park, in Middle Village, is probably the only one that can boast of having a peat bog.

The park started out as a swamp. Tens of thousands of years ago, the glacier that created Long Island left behind a lot of water that collected in a swamp here. Much of that swamp eventually became a peat bog, as tons of vegetable material rotted and decomposed in the water and was turned into peat. Scientists in 1934 figured that the peat bog measured 10 acres in area, 16 feet in depth, and 390,000 cubic yards in volume.

The bog was called Juniper Swamp, due to the thick forest in and around the swamp filled with juniper and white cedar trees. During the Revolutionary War, the British occupying army camped out in the Middle Village area. Over the course of the war they decimated the forests in the area, cutting down trees for shelters, firewood and shipbuilding. They discovered the peat bog, and began cutting peat for fuel as well, a task also taken up by local residents, as the British had left little wood for anyone else.