Some Elmhurst History

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    Newtown, founded in the mid-1600s after its colonists had fled from Native American attacks further west in Maspeth – and building literally a “new town,” mocks NYC’s preservationists, who seemingly prefer to recognize only buildings and artifacts in Manhattan and prefer to lavish designations and titles on buildings in that borough while ignoring the amazing treasures in what are considered the outer boroughs. In Queens, along with Jamaica and Flushing, Newtown (renamed ‘Elmhurst’ by developer Cord Meyer in the 1890s) retains several edifices and locales that existed in the first decades after its founding.

    The brownstone and granite Gothic First Presbyterian Church of Newtown at 54th Avenue and Queens Boulevard was constructed in 1895 by architect Frank Collins with $70,000 donated to the church in the will of one of its elders. When Queens Boulevard was constructed in 1910 and widened in the 1920s, the church had to be moved back several feet. The congregation of the church goes back to Newtown’s earliest era — founded in 1695 with first minister Rev. John Moore, of the famed Moore local family. Several congregants signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a 17th-century demand for religious tolerance by Flushing’s Quakers. There is a time capsule in the cornerstone.

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    The former Elmwood Theater, Hoffman Drive and 57th Avenue, is at the former Newtown junction of Hempstead Plank Road and Hoffman Boulevard. The plank road is now 57th Avenue and Hoffman Boulevard was expanded in 1910 to Queens Boulevard, connecting the Queensboro Bridge and the town of Jamaica. The Elmwood was built in 1928 by architect John Schladitz as the Queensboro, and offered vaudeville stage shows and moving pictures. After closing off and on during the Depression and WWII, it was reopened as the Elmwood in 1949 and prospered in the postwar years, until it closed as a theater in 2002 and purchased by the Rock Community Church, which renovated the exterior.

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    Justice Avenue is one of the oldest roads in Elmhurst, dating to the colonial era. The traffic island where it meets 90th Street and 56th Avenue, has been piquantly named by The Parks Department under the imaginative auspices of Henry Stern as “Horse Brook Island.” There are no horses or brooks here any more, but when the area was first settled, a short creek named Horse Brook flowed from this spot to approximately Kneeland Avenue and Grand, about six blocks to the west.

    Justice Avenue defies the street grid, which is usually an indication of a very old road. In this case, Justice Avenue, once known as Court Street, marks the former course of a now-vanished Long Island Rail Road branch, the Newtown and Flushing. Known as the White Line (its cars were white), it ran for two and a half years, from November 1873 to April 1876. Branching from the main LIRR line just south of the old Winfield Junction east of Woodside, it ran roughly parallel to the Flushing and Northside (now part of the Port Washington branch) to its terminal in Flushing, at today’s Main Street and 41st Road. The line boasted stops in Winfield, Newtown, Corona Park (now 111th Street) and Flushing.

    The line’s genesis came from rabid railroad competition in the 1860s. The LIRR had already built a line across today’s Jackson Heights to Flushing in an area then mostly meadows and swamps. Service was poor, however, and rubber manufacturer and railroad entrepreneur Conrad Poppenhusen built a competing line, the Flushing and North Side, in 1868; after the LIRR sold the older line to Poppenhusen a year later, LIRR president Oliver Charlick regretted losing business from Flushing, and so decided to build a new branch there, and thus the Newtown and Flushing was born.

    The LIRR and Poppenhusen engaged in a price war, with a ride on the N&F finally going as low as 8 cents. The two lines were close enough so that engineers of the two rival railroads could see each others’ trains across the fields and would race each other! At length, Poppenhusen purchased the LIRR in 1876 and closed the “White Line” in favor of concentrating on the Flushing and North Side. The tracks were ripped up in 1880 and today, the only trace of the railroad is Justice Avenue, which follows the course of the ghost railroad.

    The present farmhouse on 56th Avenue east of 90th originally belonged to a Mrs. Taylor and was constructed about 1860near noth Horse Brook and Justice Avenue.

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    On Broadway between 51st and Corona Avenues is the Reformed Dutch Church of Newtown, built in 1831, enlarged in 1851 with stained glass added in 1874. It replaced an older structure built in 1733. On the Corona Avenue side is an ancient graveyard with some Dutch stones.

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    Some are quite old, going back to the first days of the congregation; the older stones are brownstone with uneven tops, and the lettering in most cases is much more readable than younger marble stones, which deteriorated faster.

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