Fresh Meadows: History Amid the Housing


    The name “Fresh Meadows” derives from the same Dutch source that gave us “Flushing.” The latter is an English version of Vlissingen, a Dutch town whose name means “salt meadow valley.” After Flushing, originated in the 1640s, had been established for a while, colonists started to move to its southern reaches (but not as far as Rustdorp, the next town south, today’s Jamaica.) They found the area suffused with meadows and swamps fed by fresh, or salt-free, water springs, and so named it Fresh Meadows.

    The same etymology applies to Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood: when European colonists arrived, they found non-saline ponds and named a road for the largest one.

    What had previously been part of the Fresh Meadows Country Club was purchased by the NY Life Insurance Company and the complex was finished in 1949. It was called by architecture critic Lewis Mumford “perhaps the most positive and exhilarating example of community planning in the country.”  The project contains several privately owned dwellings but most of it consists of three-story buildings and some high-rises. There are 3,000 families and about 7,800 units.


    blackstumpOne of the major east-west local routes through Fresh Meadows is 73rd Avenue, a road with an over-200 year old pedigree. In colonial Fresh Meadows the preferred method of marking property lines between farms was to place rows of blackened stumps along the boundary, and before the name Fresh Meadows caught on the area was called Black Stump. Fresh Meadows was thought to be a rather more welcoming name, and Black Stump Road was renamed in the 1920s as part of Queens’ renumbering system taking effect at the time. Today, it’s  lined with handsome single-family Tudor homes.



    On 182nd Street just north of 73rd Avenue you will see what appears to be a weedy, empty lot, with ivy and ancient trees. This, though, is the cemetery of one of the farming families in the area, the Brinkerhoffs; there are 76 plots here dating from between 1736 and 1872. The tombstones have been long ago stolen or are buried underground, and can only be seen these days in history books. The cemetery was declared a NYC Landmark in 2012.


    The Klein Farm, 73rd Avenue and 195th Street, sold produce for years in a roadside stand until 2003, when the family sold it to a realtor. The farm had been in operation here since 1895. Redevelopment has been threatened for several years, and a current tenant recently tore down the century-old trees on the farmhouse’s front lawn.

    The Kleins once owned approximately 200 acres in the area; some of it was sold in the 1940s to NY Life Insurance, which in turn built Fresh Meadows Houses.

    Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern recognized the Kleins’ farm legacy by naming the adjacent playground for it in 1999.


    Jewel Avenue starts placidly at 73rd Avenue and 179th Street, but later becomes a main artery crossing Flushing Meadows-Corona Park into Forest Hills.

    Jewel Avenue is the only remnant of a group of streets east of Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills named in alphabetical order that turn up on maps from the early 20th century. The streets in sequence were named Atom, Balfour, Chittenden, DeKoven, Euclid, Fife, Gown, Harvest, Ibis, Jewel, Kelvin, Livingston, Meteor, Nome, Occident, Pilgrim, Quality, Ruskin, Sample, Thurman, Uriu, Verona, Webb, and Zuni; it’s likely the streets were only on the planning boards till they were built mid-century, by which time they carried the numbers (68th Road, 68th Drive etc.) they do today. I don’t know why the Jewel Avenue name was kept; it’s one of the few non-numbered streets, along with Northern Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, that cross Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

    Jewel Avenue’s street signs also bear the name Harry Van Arsdale Jr., who was was the first President of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council (CLC) in New York City from its formation in 1958 until his death in 1986. NYC prides itself on being a city friendly to labor, so it’s not surprising that a major thoroughfare would be named for a labor leader. Jewel/Von Arsdale Avenue runs through Electchester, which was originally built to house members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

    Oddly, in Forest Hills, west of Flushing Meadows, the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. moniker shifts to 69th Road and Jewel Avenue has its street signs to itself.


    Today Union Turnpike is the only turnpike left in NYC (I don’t count Jericho Turnpike, which was recently drafted onto the Queens map.) There used to be another.

    Booth Memorial Avenue, which runs from College Point Boulevard to the LIE, was formerly known as North Hempstead Turnpike, a gloriously incongruous name since it did not extend out to the town of Hempstead in Nassau County. In the tradition of NYC roads like Flushing Avenue and White Plains Road, it was likely named because it led to roads which would take you to Hempstead. When the road was named in the 1800s, the town of Hempstead was in Queens, but when Queens joined NYC in 1898, three of Queens’ easternmost towns opted out to become Nassau County.

    It was renamed (probably in the late 1950s) for Booth Memorial Hospital at Main Street. However, the ‘new’ name is now also outdated, since Booth Memorial became New York Hospital in the 1980s. So, let’s go back to the old name! (Won’t happen.) Both avenue and hospital are/were named for William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.

    Incidentally, Northern Boulevard formerly became a completely different North Hempstead Turnpike once it reached the Nassau County line, but that made more sense, since it was entering… the town of North Hempstead.

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