Visiting College Point, the Small Town in the Big City

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    The Poppenhusen Institute, built in 1868

    There is no college in College Point, and hasn’t been since about 1850, when St. Paul’s College, whose site we will visit later in the tour, was converted into an elementary school and then a summer resort. The college was founded in 1835 as a seminary by the Rev. Augustus Muhlenberg. Communities known as Strattonport and Flammersberg united to form College Point in 1867.

    Though the Lawrence family, a name familiar to Queens historians, were the first to settle in what is now the College Point area in the colonial era, it was an entrepreneur named Conrad Poppenhusen who built downtown College Point, to house his factory workers, and it is his legacy that shapes College Point to this day.

    College Point today is about as fully realized as small town life gets within the five boroughs. It’s effectively separated from the rest of the city by the East River, Whitestone Expressway and the former Flushing Airport, and the Long Island Rail Road stopped running there in 1932. However, a number of city buses are routed there and College Point is well worth a day trip from “out-of-villagers.”

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    Click here to see an interactive map of points described in this tour.

    Poppenhusen Institute, 14th Road and 114th Street

    Rubber manufacturer Conrad Poppenhusen’s philanthropy and good will was, in good measure, responsible for College Point’s early development. The Poppenhusen Institute, built in 1868 at what is now 14th Road and 114th Street, featured the nation’s first free kindergarten, as well as a justice of the peace, the first home of the College Point Savings Bank, German singing societies, the first library in the area, a court room, the sheriff’s office with two jail cells, and a grand ballroom.

    Today the Institute (pictured at top) is used as a community center and offers karate and piano lessons, summer band concerts, exhibits, classes and other programming, while the ballroom is rented for wedding receptions.

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    The upstairs main hall contains two artworks of note: “The Triumph of the American Union,” by German immigrant Friedrich Spangenberg, and, shown above, “Coming of the White Man,” by Hermon Atkins MacNeil.

    McNeil donated “Coming of the White Man” — actually a plaster cast of a bronze statue completed in 1904 for a city park in Portland, Oregon — to the Institute in the early 1900s, when he was serving as head of the Institute’s art department. It depicts a chief of the Multnomah tribe and his chief aide standing on a large, boulder-like pedestal.

    The sculpture stood in the Grand Auditorium until 1980, when the Institute was threatened with sale and demolition, at which time it was sold.  The plaster cast was generously donated back to the Institute in 2002, and it again stands majestically in its former spot.

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    Beech Court, 14th Ave at 121st Street

    The Herman Funke Estate, adjacent to the Koenig-Boker mansion, has fortunately survived as Beech Court, on 121st Street north of 14th Avenue.

    The cul-de-sac retains several outstanding homes, including a Queen Anne classic and an Art Moderne, one of two in the area. (The other one is on Malba Drive, a couple of miles to the east.)

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    Empire Market, 14-26 College Point Boulevard

    This College Point institution was founded in 1921 by the Lepine family and has been in this location for over 90 years.

    The Empire is old school all the way. German groceries line the dark, wood-paneled walls. Smoked pork products like bratwurst, landjaeger, knockwurst and bacon are made in-house, sauerkraut is sold by the pound, and there’s a large collection of sweets for the kids.

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    Former Grand View Hotel, 123rd Street and 13th Avenue

    The traffic circle at 13th Avenue and 123rd Street is occupied by just one building: the red-bricked, dormer-windowed former Grand View Hotel, built in 1853 as Herman Schleicher’s mansion. Schleicher supported the South in the Civil War, and ran guns to the Confederates. It became the Grand View Hotel, whose elevation permitted views of the East River and Flushing Bay, and later was divided into apartments.

    The building predates the College Point street grid, so instead of moving the building, planners laid a traffic circle around it.

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    Hermon A. MacNeil Park

    The riverside spot where the park now stands was previously home to the Episcopal seminary that gave College Point its name: the short-lived St. Paul’s College. It was founded by Reverend William Augustus Muhlenberg, who in 1835 bought 134 acres for the college, which opened in 1839 and closed about 10 years later.

    William F. Chisholm, a former St. Paul’s student, married Mary Rogers, the niece of Reverend Muhlenberg, in 1848, and the young couple moved into a mansion on the grounds of the old school.

    In 1930 the City of New York acquired the Chisholm mansion and its grounds for a public park, adding a new playground, football field, roller skating rink, baseball diamond, and picnic grounds. The popular park was known alternatively as Chisholm Park and College Point Shore Front Park.

    Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia made the Chisholm mansion his summer City Hall in 1937, running the city from the shores of the East River in July and August. Several years later the old mansion was razed by his parks commissioner, Robert Moses — a flagpole now marks the site. In 1966 Mayor John V. Lindsay signed the law renaming the park for Hermon Atkins MacNeil.

    With its sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline, the Bronx, Rikers Island and the Whitestone Bridge, the park remains a popular spot with locals — who are still known to call it by its former name, Chisholm Park.

    By the way, the homestead of the original founders of College Point, the Lawrence family, still exists. It has been moved to the Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Farmingdale, in Nassau County.

    To get to College Point by subway and bus, take the 7 train to Main Street and then the Q65 bus from in front of New World Mall, at Main Street and 40th Road. Get off at Poppenhusen Institute, 14th Road and 114th Street.

    By car: Take the Whitestone Expressway to Exit 15, then go west along 20th Avenue to the center of town.

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