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.
Middle Village on the modern map lies between Maspeth and Forest Hills, but it was named in the 1830s after its position along Metropolitan Avenue, which was laid out as a toll road between Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Jamaica in 1816. By the Civil War era, a small scattering of dwellings as well as a hotel sprung up along the road in this area, deemed to be the midpoint between Williamsburg and Jamaica. The area added population as cemeteries were built in the area and a network of saloons and hotels was instituted to serve cemetery visitors.
The main roads in the area have remained surprisingly intact since their inception; pre-Civil War maps show clearly the roads that would become today’s Metropolitan Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, Cooper Avenue, 69th Street (formerly Fisk Avenue) and Dry Harbor Road (Dry Harbor was an old name for Glendale, as locals looking down into the valley noted that houses appeared to be “floating” in a waterless harbor).
Maspeth’s and Middle Village’s relative isolation from mass transit give them the feeling of small towns embedded in the big city.
Forgotten NY will be holding a tour on Saturday in Ditmas Park and Flatbush, Brooklyn. Meet at the Avenue H station house on the Manhattan-bound side at Avenue H and East 16th Street.