Maspeth: From Small Dutch Community to Part of the Great Metropolis

Manhattan Skyline from Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)
Manhattan Skyline from Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)

The evolution of Maspeth, New York, accents urbanization.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, urbanization is “the process by which large numbers of people become permanently concentrated in relatively small areas, forming cities.”[1]  Not only did Maspeth grow from a small community to an urban center, it was consolidated into one of the largest urban centers in the United States.  The following discusses the growth of Maspeth from a small rural Dutch territory in the seventeen century into a component municipality.  Several recent images highlight Maspeth’s history and diversity.

Community History

New Year’s Day 1898 marked the birth of a great city and an American flag was mechanically hoisted over city hall in Manhattan.  The City of New York became a large metropolis through the consolidation of neighboring communities.  Present-day New York City consists of five boroughs: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.  In its 1897 charter, the consolidation of Greater New York was “an act to unite into one municipality under the corporate name of The City of New York, the various communities lying in and about New York Harbor, including the City and County of New York, the City of Brooklyn and County of Kings, the County of Richmond, and part of the County of Queens, and to provide for the government thereof.”[2]  Both Kings and Queens were on Long Island.  The part of the County of Queens consolidated was the three western-most towns and Long Island City, a city by itself at the time.  The three towns consisted of the eight incorporated villages of Flushing, College Point, Whitestone, Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Far Rockaway, Arverne and Rockaway Beach.  There were also a number of unincorporated villages like Queens, Hollis, Springfield and Little Neck.[3]  The three eastern towns would later become the New York State County of Nassau on January 1, 1899.[4]

The long journey to consolidation began in the early Dutch communities in New Netherlands.  Owing to Henry Hudson’s seventeenth century explorations in the Americas, a trading post was secured between the indigenous population and the Dutch.  Colonization soon followed.[5]  Both settlements of New Amsterdam and Breuckelen, present-day boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, were established almost simultaneously.  In May of 1626 the Dutch purchased Manhattan Island and established the formal government of New Netherland under Director-General Peter Minuit.[6]  Breuckelen was granted municipal privileges in October 1646.  Here is the first sign of consolidation ideology because the two judiciaries and local law official elected in Breuckelen were subordinate to the New Amsterdam sheriff on Manhattan.[7]

Colonization north of Breuckelen soon followed.  In 1642, the “Newtown Patent” granted over 13,000 acres in what is now Queens County to settlers who wished to develop the land.[8]  In consequence of its proximity to New Amsterdam, Maspeth was one of the first to attract settlers.[9]  Following his purchase of 400 acres at the head of Newtown Creek near Grand Street, Hans the Boor settled in Maspeth.  Other settlers included Englishman Richard Brintnell on the east side of Dutch Kills, Lymen Jansen on the west side, and Burger Jorissen to the north.[10]  By 1645, the first recorded Queens County doctor, James Clark, practiced in Maspeth.[11]

Mount Olivet Cemetery tour (May 4, 2013)
Mount Olivet Cemetery tour (May 4, 2013)

At the time of Dutch exploration, Long Island was inhabited by thirteen primary Indian tribes with the Canarsee, the Rockaway, and the Matinecoc in what is now Brooklyn and Queens.[12]  The derivation of the name Maspeth originates with the Indian word Mespaetches.  The name originally was given to a swampy creek, now known as Newtown Creek.  It also may have applied to the resident at the swamp and his family.  Originally, it was thought the connotation of the word was “at the bad water place,” referring to the low swampy region.  However, the translation was later changed to “an overflowing tidal stream” or “overflowed by the tide.”[13]  The name is first mentioned in an Indian deed dated August 1, 1638, when the Council of New Netherland secured for the West India Company “a certain tract of land lying on Long Island , reaching in length from the plantation of George Rapaljee (called Rinnegakonck) a good league and a half to the Mespaechtes and in width from the East River about one league to the copses of the same Mespaetches.”[14]  Variations of the word include Mespatchis Kil, Mespatchtes Kil, Mespacht, Mespaat, and Mespath.  Maspeth became the final form in 1703.[15]

The Town of Newtown charter was granted to the Rev. Francis Doughty and associates by William Kieft, “Governor Generall and the Counsil of New Netherlands for the High States Generall of the United Provinces and his Highness the Prince of Orange,” on March 28, 1642.  Maspeth was enclosed by this township.  All of what is now known as Long Island City remained part of Newtown until it received a city charter in 1870.  The Patent was the subject of debate for over a century.  According to English settlers, a hay meadow in Maspeth between the Town of Newtown and the Dutch settlement of Buswick (Boswyck or big woods) was included in the document.  The Dutch disagreed and it was not until a surveyor named Peter Marschalk drew a boundary line in 1769 that the dispute ended.  The resolution utilized a huge boulder, known as Arbitration Rock, to create a physical boundary line between the towns of Newtown and Bushwick.[16]

Maspeth served as a milling and water trade center with New Amsterdam.  Mills were established along Newtown Creek, and its tributaries.  Following the British annexation of New Netherlands, the Maspeth community of Quakers became part of the twelve original counties of the province of New York.  On November 1, 1683, Queens, formerly known as Yorkshire by the British, was named in honor of Queen Catherine of Braganza.  The county was later subdivided into the five townships of Newtown, Flushing, Jamaica, Hempstead and Oyster Bay.  The family names of Moore, Leverich, Burroughs, Betts, Albartis, Doughty, Hallett, Blackwell, and Parsall, are connected with the early history of Newtown.[17]  The first store keepers to serve Maspeth were Nathaniel Hazard and Francis T. White at the Maspeth Town Dock, located at Fifty-Sixth Terrace and Rust Street.[18]  Following the Revolutionary War, Maspeth grew and developed into a prosperous community with colonial roads.  Early businesses included Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, James Inglis’s Shirt Factory, A. Fisk Metal Casket Co., Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Laurel Hill Chemical Works, Haberman’s Tin Factory, Beyer’s Dairy, and Sampson’s Oilcloth Factory.[19]

Maspeth was also the home of New York State Governor De Witt Clinton for many years. A New York attorney and statesman, Clinton was educated at Columbia College and admitted to the New York bar in 1789.  Beginning his political career as a New York State Assemblyman, he later served as United States Senator from 1802 to 1803 and was the leader of the Republican Party in 1803.  He also served as New York City Mayor from 1803 to 1807, 1809 to 1810, and from 1811 to 1815.  Clinton served as Governor from 1817 to 1821, and again from 1825 to 1828.[20]  Reportedly, in the Maspeth home of his father-in-law Walter Franklin, Clinton composed a story connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River.  During his governorship, Clinton oversaw the construction of the Erie Canal.[21]

As the Maspeth community grew, the demand grew for better roads to the larger settlements in Brooklyn and Jamaica.  Following the Revolutionary War, present day Laurel Hill Boulevard was the first of the Colonial roads to be surfaced.  About 1800, it was covered with a huge layer of crushed oyster shells and called Shell Road.  In 1814, the current Metropolitan Avenue was surfaced and called the Williamburgh-Jamaica Plank Turnpike Road.  It ran from Brooklyn over a crude bridge, through what is now Middle Village, and onto Jamaica.  Present Myrtle Avenue, the Jamaica Plank Road, was also surfaced.  These wooden plank roads were the only routes to Jamaica and Brooklyn from the Maspeth region.  Other major thoroughfares in the area to be improved were present day Flushing Avenue, named the Brooklyn-Newtown Turnpike Road, and present day Maspeth Ave, named Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.  About 1840, Martin Suydam ran a stage coach line over the Williamburgh-Jamaica Plank Turnpike Road to bring people to the Brooklyn ferry and onto Manhattan.[22]

Maspeth grew in both population and industry by mid-nineteenth century.  In 1848 authorities of the Roman Catholic Church purchased the Alsop estate that bordered Maspeth and laid out Calvary Cemetery.[23]  The construction stimulated travel and employment to the Maspeth region.  Besides the cemeteries, employment was available at Newtown Creek.  By 1852, modern Maspeth began to take shape.  Surveyors Henry B. Miller and John H. Smith secured the farmlands of John Van Cott and of Joseph Van Mater to design streets and house lots to form a grid pattern called a village plat.  The streets were arranged so that they joined the old Colonial roads.  Grand Avenue stores and shops served the growing village community.[24]  The 1875 census, the first to list Maspeth separately as a village, revealed a population of 1449.  By the 1898 New York City consolidation, the number was 4300.[25]  Following the First World War, much of the Maspeth populace was employed in local industry at Newtown Creek, an attractive manufacturing site because of the water transportation available.  One factory was Haberman tin factory, formally known as the National Enameling and Stamping Company Here, workers produced metal pots and other enameled metal wares.[26]  Another local factory was Richy Brown and Donald on Flushing Ave.  They manufactured ornamental ironwork and one their major products was the construction of all the steel windows for the Empire State Building.  Gleason-Thibout, another Maspeth firm, assembled all the electric light globes of the famous skyscraper, each was hand blown.[27]  The industry expansion caused Newtown Creek to draw twelve feet of water by 1908.  In that year, it carried four million tons of cargo valued at 230 million dollars.  By 1923, the creek was dredged to a depth of twenty feet and was reported to have carried more shipping than the Mississippi River.[28]

Kosciuszko Bridge crossing over Newtown Creek and LIRR Montauk Branch (January 28, 2006)
Kosciuszko Bridge crossing over Newtown Creek and LIRR Montauk Branch (January 28, 2006)

In light of Maspeth’s growth, better transportation means and roads were needed.  While railroads served the region since the 1850s, local mass transit was vital.  By 1871 the old Calvary Line provided horse carriage transportation along Grand Avenue.  The enterprise was owned for a time by future Long Island City mayor Patrick Gleason and was electrified in 1893.[29]  In the 1920s Maspeth’s main street were paved with cobblestones and laid with trolley tracks.  However, in the ensuing years, the trolley was replaced by the more practical bus and the purchase of automobiles by the citizenry.  Maspeth’s biggest transportation change was construction of the Long Island Expressway.  The original 1852 village of small shops and local roads was destroyed or permanently altered as the interstate cut through the heart of the community.[30]

Mount Olivet Cemetery

Due to its rolling terrain and proximity to New York City, Maspeth was home to one of the many cemeteries established under the Rural Cemetery Association Act of 1847 to keep graveyards off Manhattan.  Mount Olivet was organized as a non-religious and private non-sectarian cemetery at a meeting of the home of James Maurice.  Maurice was born in New York City in 1814 and attended Broad Street Academy.  His legal career began in the offices of Seaman and Will, attorneys and counselors-at-law, at 3 Peck Slip.[31]  After he was admitted to the New York bar in 1835, he practiced law in Maspeth and was appointed a master in chancery by Governor Bouck in 1843.  His political endeavors include the New York State Assembly and the United States House of Representatives.[32]  In 1841, Maurice formed a partnership with James T. Brady in the firm of Brady and Maurice.  His Maspeth home was built on land purchased from Garrit Furman.  The house still stands at the corner of Rust Street and Fifty-Seventh Road.  Maspeth’s Maurice Avenue is named in his honor.[33]

Cemetery ground with Forest View Crescent apartment complex in the background, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)
Cemetery ground with Forest View Crescent apartment complex in the background, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)
Maurice family lot, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)
Maurice family lot, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)

Originally, forty-two acres was acquired by George Fash for Mount Olivet.  An additional sixteen acres was purchased in 1878 from the estate of James Waterbury, formerly the property of Thomas Hallet, and resulted in a combined seventy-one acres, with frontage on Grand Avenue.  Mount Olivet’s first board of directors were Samual Haskins, George Fash, James Maurice, Lawrence Waterbury, John Stevens, and Noah Waterbury.[34]

Grand Avenue Main Gate, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)
Grand Avenue Main Gate, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)

In addition to James Maurice, several other notable residents and famous New York families are interred at Mount Olivet.  The Moore family, including Samual and Sarah Moore as well as their son Benjamin who was both rector of Manhattan’s Trinity Church and Episcopal Bishop of New York, are buried in the cemetery.  The couple was also grandparents to Clement C. Moore, author of “Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as the “Night Before Christmas.”  The remains of the Moore family were removed from the old Newtown Cemetery, on Justice Street off Queens Boulevard in April 1916, for the development of a city park.[35]  Hallet is another famous family entombed at Mount Olivet.  After arriving in New York in 1648, William Hallett and family settled in Astoria and operated a carpentry and funeral business.  Some Hallett-owned Astoria land was donated to construct the first Queens school.  In 1905 the family remains were transported to Mount Olivet from Hallett’s Cove in Astoria.  As aforementioned a family descendant sold Hallett land to Mount Olivet for the expansion of the cemetery.[36]

Rail Transportation

The chronicle of rail transportation in Maspeth begins in the nineteen century and catches the early history of railroading on Long Island.  The narrative of the first iron horse to travel through Newtown begins in the village of Flushing.  By 1850, Flushing was populous and wealthy with a total population of 2,000.  Located only six miles from New York City, Flushing was the home of the Quaker movement on Long Island.  It was also famous for its botanical gardens and nurseries, which exported rare trees and flowering shrubs to the entire eastern seaboard.  To reach New York, steamboat was the only means of travel.  Communication with Brooklyn and Jamaica was achieved via stage coach.  The 1832 inception of rail service from Brooklyn to Jamaica signaled a new age of travel on the island.  Considering the size of Flushing, the village could not remain outside of progress.  However, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) could not financially undertake branch lines.  Therefore, Flushing needed to finance and build its own road if it desired a rail connection with the New York.[37]

In January of 1851, railroad advocates drafted articles of association and began preparations to sell stock of the Flushing & New York Railroad (Flushing & New York RR).  By February of the following year, promoters formally incorporated and elected officers and a board of directors.  Supporters included surnames still commemorated in the current community like Bowne, Parsons, Underhill, and Peck.  Engineers estimated that a road could be built for $121,000.  On March 3, 1852 the charter of the new road was officially issued at Albany.[38]

Objections to the railroad in both Newtown and Flushing delayed progress.  The selection of a right of way and terminus also held up construction.  Although Williamsburgh banned steam locomotives on major roadways, the Flushing & New York RR persuaded the Williamsburgh Common Council to grant a steam route through Greenport followed by horse drawn cars to Brooklyn.  However, the decision was vetoed by the Williamsburgh mayor.  Regardless of objection, active construction work began in April of 1853 and by September the barren, swampy and wholly unsettled area of Hunter’s Point was resolved as the terminus.  One reason for the choice was that Flushing & New York RR avoided issue with Williamsburgh.  The planned rail through Queens went to water’s edge solely by steam without horse-drawn assistance.  Another reason for the Newtown Creek right of way selection was that it was nearly all leveled surface, shorter, and therefore cheaper to build.  Theoretically, passengers and freight business would be easy to come by.[39]

Modern-day Newtown Creek with Manhattan skyline in the background (June 12, 2013)
Modern-day Newtown Creek with Manhattan skyline in the background (June 12, 2013)

The completed Flushing & New York RR ran from Main Street in Flushing to Hunter’s Point, traversing Maspeth.  The rails paralleled Maurice Avenue.  Crossing over Maspeth, the road curved southwest and followed a straight path to Newtown Creek.  Turning west, it aligned with the creek to the East River.[40]  The Flushing & New York RR totaled eight miles, with 7.47 miles of single track and .4 miles of second track.[41]

The first Flushing & New York RR train ran on June 26, 1854.  Timetables went into effect July 17, 1854.  In February of that year, the road acquired two ferry boats, the Enoch Dream and the Island City, to ferry passengers from Hunter’s Point to Manhattan.[42]  During the road’s brief period, station stops at one point or another included Main Street, West Flushing, Flushing Race Course, Newtown, Winfield, Maspeth, Penny Bridge, and Hunter’s Point.  The route served the newly founded Calvary Cemetery.  The Maspeth station stop was added on January 15, 1855 and discontinued in 1858.  No depot building was constructed.  It was located at Covert Avenue, or what later became Fifty-Eighth Street at Forty-Fifth Drive.  Presently, this is Fifty-Eighth Street near Queens Boulevard.[43]  Service, while brief, served the newly-established village, developed by speculators who transformed farmland into building lots.[44]

Maspeth Station
Flushing & New York Railroad
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened January 15, 1855
Station closed 1858
Location of the former Flushing & New York RR Maspeth Station, Fifty-Eighth Street, view north (April 19, 2014)
Location of the former Flushing & New York RR Maspeth Station, Fifty-Eighth Street, view north (April 19, 2014)
Calvary Cemetery (January 28, 2006)
Calvary Cemetery (January 28, 2006)

In light of weather and competitive issues, the duration of train service on the Flushing & New York RR right of way was relatively short.  Bad winters and poor ridership resulted in sale of the road in 1858 to Cooper, Brush, and Bowne.  Under new ownership, Oliver Charlick, who later headed the LIRR, was elected president.[45]  Since the LIRR was no longer legally allowed to run steam locomotives along Atlantic Avenue to Brooklyn, the road initiated construction of a competitive road from Jamaica to Hunter’s Point, by way of Winfield, in 1859.[46]  By April 1862, Flushing & New York RR trains no longer utilized the Flushing depot but rather LIRR depot at Hunter’s Point.[47]  In August of 1868, the Woodside & Flushing Railroad took possession of the old Flushing road.  Following completion of the Flushing & North Side Railroad from Hunter’s Point to Winfield on October 8, 1869, the roadbed from Winfield Junction to Hunter’s Point through Maspeth was abandoned.[48]

A competitor of the LIRR was the next company to service Maspeth.   Since the LIRR Main Line cut across uninhabited wilderness and served none of the populous villages along the south shore, a group of Long Island and Manhattan capitalists conspired to build a competitive road from the East River to Patchogue.  Following the Civil War, in the summer of 1865 stocks and bonds of the South Side Railroad Company of Long Island (South Side RR) were placed on the market.  The following January, the road was incorporated.  Charles Fox of Baldwin, the leading spirit behind the company, was elected president.  Another supporter of the new endeavor was Willett Charlick who, ironically, was brother to the LIRR’s Oliver Charlick, who opposed it.[49]  After contract was awarded to Shanahan, Meyers & Co., construction started on May 28, 1866.  The eastern section from Jamaica to Islip commenced first.[50]

The western terminus of the South Side RR was negotiated in winter 1867.  Since LIRR’s Oliver Charlick secured an indirect lease on the Brooklyn Central and Jamaica Railroad, Williamburgh and Long Island City were alternate communities for East River access.  The first concept ventured through Bushwick via Metropolitan Avenue while the second idea leased the aforementioned Flushing & New York RR right of way along Newtown Creek between Maspeth and Hunter’s Point.  Regardless of the choice, grading needed to be completed through Richmond Hill, Glendale and Fresh Ponds.  Western construction commenced on April 8, 1867,[51] with work completed to Fresh Pond on February 15, 1868.[52]  Since both the LIRR and Flushing & New York RR terminated at Hunter’s Point, South Side RR chose Williamsburgh for its terminus.  However, the Williamsburgh Common Council banned steam operation along Metropolitan Avenue.  After a failed petition and with no other choice left, the South Side RR finally accepted the terminus of Bushwick and Montrose Avenues.  On July 18, 1868, the first train pulled into the Bushwick depot.  Horses provided service to the East River ferry at South Eighth Street Station.[53]  Still determined for direct access, South Side RR introduced a petition to the Albany Assembly to allow a small steam dummy locomotive to substitute for the horses.  The substitute would eliminate some of the smoke and cinder exhaust.  The Senate Railroad Committee accepted the offer and East River dummy service commenced on August 2, 1869.[54]

Upon completion of its Rockaway extension, the South Side RR focused on a Hunter’s Point terminus.  The road finally secured former Flushing & New York RR route from Winfield Junction to Hunter’s Point.  A depot was erected at Vernon Boulevard and Newtown Creek.  To join the right of ways, a one and one-tenth mile spur was completed on May 3, 1870 from Fresh Pond to Bushwick, with connection at the present Forty-Ninth Street and Fifty-Sixth Road.  The subsidiary division was called “South Side Connecting Railroad Company.”  Prior to its completion conflict arose between William E. Furman, ex-sheriff and a descendant of a Queens pioneer family.  Furman lived in a mansion on the north side of Maspeth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street.  He refused to have rails within five feet of his house and procured an injunction.  The ruling was eventually lifted, and Furman and South Side RR agreed to an eighty foot distance from rail to house.  Service commenced on August 6, 1870.  The old segment of Flushing rails from Newtown Creek in Maspeth to Winfield was placed into service once again with a station stop named Maspeth at Borden Avenue.  However, revenue was low since it passed through farmland.[55]

Maspeth Station
South Side Railroad Company of Long Island
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened 1870 (author’ analysis)
Station closed February 1876 (author’ analysis)
Furman family lot, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)
Furman family lot, Mount Olivet Cemetery (May 4, 2013)

The South Side RR also had a short existence.  By September of 1874 the property of the road was put up at public auction.[56]  The Poppenhusen-owned railroad interests purchased it and changed its name to “The Southern Railroad Company of Long Island.”  However, by spring of 1876, the old South Side RR right of way was merged into the LIRR, the strongest rail company at the time.  The Poppenhusen management also leased the Flushing and North Side Railroad, and Central Railroad to the LIRR.  The final South Side RR timetable appeared in February of 1876.  Henceforth, LIRR listed the right of way as “Southern RR of L.I. Division.”  Since it was straighter and double tracked, the old South Side RR right of way from Jamaica to Hunter’s Point became the Main Line for passenger service while the old LIRR route via Winfield was assigned to freight service.[57]  As marked on an 1878 LIRR map, the old segment of the Flushing & New York RR from Newtown Creek in Maspeth to Winfield was no longer in use.[58]  While most of the right of way was removed after 1880 according to a 1924 corporate blueprint from the Arrt’s Arrchives website,[59] a 1903 atlas listed a portion of the “centre line of the old” railroad south of the newly developed Mount Zion Cemetery.[60]  By 1893, the first burial took place on land formerly used by the old Flushing & New York RR right of way.[61]  Five years later, the authorities of Mount Zion Cemetery purchased the adjoining estate of Captain Richard Betts and demolished his 1642 house.  The family cemetery on the homestead was incorporated within the grounds of Mount Zion[62] and the bordering street called Betts or Covert Avenue, currently Fifty-Eighth Street.[63]  The New York City Department of Sanitation incinerator on nearby Fifty-Third Avenue is still referred to as the Betts Avenue Incinerator.[64]

Betts Family Cemetery, with Betts Avenue Incinerator in view (October 14, 2013)
Betts Family Cemetery, with Betts Avenue Incinerator in view (October 14, 2013)

Under LIRR ownership, Maspeth railroad service survived until the end of the twentieth century.  The first LIRR station stop that benefited the community was Maspeth, which appeared on an 1898 LIRR map.[65]  It was west of the aforementioned Flushing & New York RR segment’s junction with the LIRR.  According to the website Trains Are Fun, Maspeth Station first opened in February of 1895 and closed in October of 1903.[66]  However, it apparently reopened since it was listed as a station stop on a 1908 timetable.[67]  While Trains Are Fun speculates that the station closed and reopened, it is also possible it served the community from 1895 through 1924.  It appears on both a 1903 and 1915 atlas.  In 1903, the depot was located on the northeast corner of Third Street and Flushing Avenue, the railroad right of way crossed the latter road.[68]  The 1915 atlas listed the depot at Charles Street (Fifty-Eighth Avenue), the former Third Street, and the new thoroughfare Rust Street.  Flushing Avenue was relocated by this time.[69]  Service included four daily eastbound and four daily westbound trains, with no Sunday service.[70]  By 1923, this was tweaked to three eastbound and five westbound.  All eastbound service was a flag stop, requiring passengers to flag the train to stop. Two of these were Manhattan Beach-bound, and the other Oyster Bay. Westbound service included two trains that originated in Manhattan Beach, both flag stops at Maspeth. The remaining three originated in Babylon, Oyster Bay, and Port Jefferson.[71]  However, Maspeth Station was shortly thereafter discontinued, since it was not listed on the 1925 timetable,[72] and does not appear on a 1929 atlas.[73]  Condiering it was primarily serviced by the LIRR Manhattan Beach Division trains, it is logical that the depot closed after the suspension of that line as of May 14, 1924.[74]

Maspeth Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station and depot building opened February 1895
Station closed May 14, 1924 (author’ analysis)
LIRR Maspeth Station, view east, "MV" Tower at Flushing Avenue trolley crossing visible in right background, circa 1924 (James V. Osborne photo, Dave Keller archive)
LIRR Maspeth Station, platform and depot building, view east, “MV” Tower at Flushing Avenue trolley crossing visible in right background (Circa 1924: James V. Osborne Photo, Dave Keller Archive)
Location of the former LIRR Maspeth Station, Rust Street and Fifty-Eighth Avenue, view west (January 28, 2006)
Location of the former LIRR Maspeth Station, Rust Street and Fifty-Eighth Avenue, view west (January 28, 2006)

Maspeth Station witnessed a sad death.  For on the morning of September 5, 1899, Margaret Gwen, whose husband was employed at the station, died of a heart attack while carrying her husband’s lunch to him.[75]  It should be noted that another Maspeth depot may have existed prior to this station.  Upon careful observation of a reprinted Town of Newtown atlas displayed at the May 4, 2013 tour of Mt. Olivet Cemetery, the words Maspeth Station appear just west of Bushwick Junction (see image below).  The possible station was on the right of way to Bushwick Station near present day Flushing Avenue, according to the circa 1880 atlas.[76]  The location matches a South Side RR station known as Hebbard’s.  The stop, named after Hebbard Farmhouse on modern Flushing Avenue at Fifty-Second Street, was listed solely in timetables of May, June, and August of 1870.  Although it is within current Maspeth limits, at the time it was in an area known as Metropolitan or East Williamsburgh.[77]

Newtown Queens Co. LI Atlas , Mount Olivet Cemetery Tour (May 4, 2013)
Newtown Queens Co. LI Atlas , Mount Olivet Cemetery Tour (May 4, 2013)
Location of the former South Side RR Hebberd’s Station, Fifty-Fourth Street grade crossing, view west (January 28, 2006)
Location of the former South Side RR Hebberd’s Station, Fifty-Fourth Street grade crossing, view west (January 28, 2006)

The next LIRR station to serve the community was Laurel Hill.  Located in a geographical area with the same name according to the 1898 LIRR map,[78] the station was situated at the northeast crossing of Clifton Avenue, presently Forty-Sixth Street, in Maspeth, just west of the junction of the former Flushing & New York RR spur.  The Trains are Fun website estimates that the station opened in 1891 and closed in 1900.[79]  A scanned image from the New York Public Library confirms a depot was at the location in 1891.[80]  However, it is also feasible that Laurel Hill was a station stop for the Haberman tin factory and served employees throughout the first decade of the twentieth century.  A careful check of the Manhattan Beach Division 1903 summer timetable notes that a select few daily trains stopped at the Haberman factory in Laurel Hill (see image below).[81]  Perhaps Laurel Hill Station provided service to the factory prior to the opening of Haberman Station.

Laurel Hill Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened 1891
Station closed 1910 (author’ analysis)
LIRR Time Table no. 26, in Effect May 27, 1903: Select Manhattan Beach Division trains stopped at Haberman Factory, Laurel Hill
LIRR Manhattan Beach Division Timetable Effective May 27, 1903: Select Manhattan Beach Division trains stopped at Haberman Factory, Laurel Hill
Location of the former LIRR Laurel Hill Station, Laurel Hill Boulevard, view west (April 19, 2014)
Location of the former LIRR Laurel Hill Station, Laurel Hill Boulevard, view west (April 19, 2014)
Haberman Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened September 1910
Last Passenger Service March 13, 1998
Station closed March 16, 1998

The final LIRR station in Maspeth was Haberman.  Named after the nineteenth century Maspeth tin factory, Haberman opened in September of 1910 at the southeast corner of Debevoise Avenue (Fiftieth Street) and Rust Street (Fifty-Sixth Road).[82]  Following the completion of the East River tunnels to Pennsylvania Station, the LIRR Main Line was changed and the former became known as the Montauk Branch, a reference to its South Side RR roots because the old right of way ventured to Montauk.[83]  Utilizing the old South Side RR right of way from Jamaica to Long Island City, trains serviced the local communities of Richmond Hill, Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth, and Long Island City.  While the intermediate station stops from Jamaica to Long Island City received frequent service following the route change, Haberman did not.  As a matter of fact by 1962, only four trains stopped at Haberman, two weekday morning westbound and two weekday afternoon eastbound.[84]  By October of 1974, the morning service was cut to one stop at Haberman while service remained unchanged in the afternoon.[85]

Unfortunately, the right of way through Maspeth was the sight of a many railroad-related deaths.  In fact, the year 1899 witnessed thirteen deaths in a half-mile stretch in the Laurel Hill factory region.  It was estimated that 1,200 to 1,500 people passed over the tracks on their way between their places of work and their homes.  They were unanimous in opinion that a public highway be built adjacent to the right of way since they crossed over a curved area of tracks on a twenty foot embankment with a view obstructed by buildings.[86]  By 1900 a Queens County Grand Jury investigated the failure of city officials to build a roadway through what was termed the “Bloody Gorge.”[87]  While better roads were built, the LIRR grade crossing elimination projects of the early twentieth century helped eliminate deaths.  The work to replace all crossings in Long Island City and the Town of Newtown, which included Dead Man’s Curve near Haberman’s tin factory, was done simultaneously with the tunnel project and the electrification of the new Main Line from Hunter’s Point to Jamaica through Winfield.[88]  Although later in the twentieth century, during the morning rush-hour on February 2, 1987, an eastbound coach-less LIRR diesel locomotive on the Montauk Branch struck and killed a twenty-six year old woman sixty feet east of the Maspeth Avenue crossing, not far from Haberman Station.[89]

LIRR Haberman Station and Alco FA2 number 601, view east, June 9, 1978 (Wm. Madden Photo, Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Haberman Station and eastbound Alco FA2 number 601 on the eastbound platform, view east (June 9, 1978: Wm. Madden Photo, Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Haberman Station, view east, circa September 1996
LIRR Haberman Station, view east (Circa September 1996)

Service to Haberman and the adjoining communities changed little in the late twentieth century.  Indeed, repair to the Dutch Kills swing bridge did not halt rail service to Maspeth.  The bridge, built in 1893 over a tributary of Newtown Creek, was closed in the early 1990s for extensive repairs.  Rather than cancel service on the scarcely used right of way and provide alternate transportation means, the LIRR maintained service, originating and terminating route service at Penny Bridge Station.[90]

LIRR Haberman Station and train number 2761, view east: Last westbound morning rush-hour station stop (March 13, 1998)
LIRR Haberman Station and train number 2761 on the westbound platform, view east: Last westbound morning rush-hour station stop (March 13, 1998)

Citing low ridership and the large cost to modify them to accommodate the railroad’s new double-decker diesel coaches, in late February of 1998 after more than a year of debate LIRR announced the imminent closure of ten stations.  The decision was being made at the same time the railroad was to update its timetable to reflect planned track work and other renovations, and LIRR felt it was convenient to get the message across that trains would no longer stop.  Posters were set to notify customers of the changes which would take effect March 16, 1998.[91]  Haberman and the adjoining stops along the route from Jamaica to Long Island City would no longer service the communities.  LIRR estimated that average daily ridership at Haberman was three customers.[92]  On Friday March 13, 1998, the last westbound train to stop at Haberman was LIRR train number 2761, which originated from Patchogue on the Montauk Branch, at 8:33 am.  The first of the last two afternoon trains to stop at Haberman was train number 560 at 5:01 p.m.  The last railroad coach to open doors at Haberman was train number 562 at 5:38 p.m.  Both these trains were bound for Oyster Bay.[93]

March 16 Station Closings 1
LIRR March 16 Station Closings Notice:
The announcement provided customers with an alternate transportation guide
City Terminal Zone Timetable Effective 11-17-1997
LIRR City Terminal Zone Timetable Effective November 17, 1997: The last timetable to mark service to Haberman Station (noted as Maspeth)

Conclusion

Urban Newtown Creek lined with industrial factories (January 28, 2006)
Urban Newtown Creek lined with industrial factories (January 28, 2006)

Modern-day Maspeth is no longer a small rural community.  As part of the City of New York, Maspeth emphasizes diversity and features all the amenities of an urban center.  As of 2010, United States Zip Code 11378, Maspeth, boasted a population of 34,279[94]  with more than 10,000 housing units.[95]  While mainly white non-Hispanic, Maspeth also contains an Hispanic and African American population.[96]  No longer serviced by railroads, residents can utilize one of the seven local bus routes provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  The subway is accessible from nearby Queens Boulevard.  City parks in the urban neighborhood are Frank Principe, Frontera Park, and Reiff Playground.[97]  As the first settlement in the borough, Maspeth exemplifies itself as part of the large metropolis.

 

Next page: Poignant Memories of another Day: History of Rail Service to Richmond Hill and the Former Communities of Clarenceville and Morris Park

 
_________________________________________________________________

[1] “Urbanization,” Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v., accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/619515/urbanization.

[2] Edward Hagaman Hall, A Volume Commemorating the Creation of the Second City of the World: by the Consolidation of the Communities Adjacent to New York Harbor under the New Charter of the City of New York (New York: Republic Press, 1898), 158.

[3] Henry Isham Hazelton, The Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 1609-1924 (New York: Lewis Historical, 1925), 1027.

[4] Edward J. Smits, The Creation of Nassau County, (Mineola [N.Y.]: Nassau County Dept. of Public Works, 1960), 25.

[5] “Episode one, The Country and the City, 1609-1825,” New York a Documentary Film, directed by Ric Burns (Alexandria. Alexandria, VA: PBS Video, 2001).

[6] Hall, 11.

[7] Ibid., 14.

[8] Tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery (founded 1850), photocopied handout presented as part of the “Mount Olivet Cemetery Tour” (Mount Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth, NY: May 4, 2013), 2.

[9] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 942.

[10] Ibid., 947.

[11] Ibid., 941.

[12] Ibid., 8.

[13] “Maspeth’s Ancient Name,” Juniper Park Civic Association, accessed September 18, 2014, http://junipercivic.com/historyArticle.asp?nid=65#.VBtYyZS-2dl.

[14] Col. Hist N.Y., vol. xiv., quoted in William Wallace Tooker, The Indian Place-names on Long Island and Islands adjacent with their Probable Significations (Port Washington, N.Y. : I.J. Friedman, 1962), 54.

[15] Barbara W. Stankowski, Maspeth: Our Town (Maspeth, N.Y. : Stankowski, 1977), 13.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 939-941.

[18] Tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery, 2.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Our Collection: DeWitt Clinton,” The New York Society Library, accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.nysoclib.org/collection/ledger/people/clinton_dewitt.

[21] Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, 941.

[22] Stankowski, Maspeth: Our Town, 31.

[23] Ibid., 32.

[24] Ibid., 33.

[25] Ibid., 41.

[26] Ibid., 43.

[27] Ibid., 67.

[28] Ibid., 62.

[29] Ibid., 55-60.

[30] Ibid., 74.

[31] Tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery, 1-3.

[32] “James Maurice,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, accessed July 16, 2013, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000261.

[33] Tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery, 3.

[34] Ibid., 1.

[35] Ibid., 4.

[36] Ibid., 5.

[37] Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 2, Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 1.

[38] Ibid., 2-3.

[39] Ibid., 5.

[40] Ibid., 6-7.

[41] Ibid., 11.

[42] Ibid., 10.

[43] Ibid., 143-144.

[44] Ibid., 13.

[45] Ibid., 20.

[46] Ibid., 29.

[47] Ibid., 30.

[48] Ibid., 59.

[49] Vincent F. Seyfried,  The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 1, South side R.R. of L.I. (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 1-2.

[50] Ibid., 3.

[51] Ibid., 4.

[52] Ibid., 14.

[53] Ibid., 9, 12, 14.

[54] Ibid., 16-18.

[55] Ibid., 29-30.

[56] Ibid., 57.

[57] Ibid., 67-69.

[58] “System Maps,” Long Island Rail Road History Website, accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.lirrhistory.com/apr2008/LIRRFreighttariffbackwithmap1878.jpg.

[59] “The Flushing Rail Road Company and Penny Bridge Station,” Arrt’s Arrchives, accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.arrts-arrchives.com/pennybridge.html.

[60] Queens Historical Library Collection, Atlas of the Borough of Queens, 1st and 2nd Wards, City of New York, by Hugo Ullitz (New York: E. Belcher Hyde, 1903), 22.

[61] “Brief Overview,” Mount Zion Cemetery, accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.mountzioncemetery.com/.

[62] Stankowski, Maspeth: Our Town, 55.

[63] Queens Historical Library Collection, Atlas of the Borough of Queens 1903, 22.

[64] “Betts Ave Incinerator,” USA.Com, accessed August 16, 2013, http://www.usa.com/frs/betts-ave-incinerator.html.

[65] “System Maps,” Long Island Rail Road History Website, accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.lirrhistory.com/oct2001/1898map.

[66] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History,” Trains are Fun, accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.trainsarefun.com/lirrphotos/LIRR%20Station%20History.htm.

[67] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, schedule in effect May 26, 1908, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1908), Montauk Branch.

[68] Queens Historical Library Collection, Atlas of the Borough of Queens 1903, 22.

[69] Queens Historical Library Collection, Atlas of the Borough of Queens, City of New York, Volume 2A, Newtown, Ward 2, by Hugo Ullitz (New York: E. Belcher Hyde, 1915), 4.

[70] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, schedule in effect October 16, 1921, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1921), Montauk Branch.

[71] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, schedule in effect October 23, 1923, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1923), Montauk Branch.

[72] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, schedule in effect October 21, 1925, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1925), Montauk Branch.

[73] Queens Historical Library Collection, Atlas of the Borough of Queens, City of New York, Volume 2A, Newtown (New York: E. Belcher Hyde, 1929), 4.

[74]Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 4, The Bay Ridge and Manhattan Beach Divisions; LIRR Operation on the Brighton and Culver Lines (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 188.

[75] “Died in the Depot,” Brooklyn Eagle, September 5, 1899.

[76] Newtown Queens Co. LI, atlas presented as part of the “Mount Olivet Cemetery Tour” (Mount Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth, NY: May 4, 2013).

[77]  Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road, vol. 1, 75.

[78] “System Maps.”

[79] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History,” Trains are Fun, accessed July 16, 2013, http://www.trainsarefun.com/lirrphotos/LIRR%20Station%20History.htm.

[80] “Image ID: 1523091,” NYPL Digital Gallery, accessed July 16, 2013, http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=844846&imageID=1523091&total=1&num=0&word=1523091&s=1&notword=&d=&c=&f=&k=1&lWord=&lField=&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&sort=&imgs=20&pos=1&e=w.

[81] Long Island Railroad Company, Long Island Railroad Company Time Table No. 26, For the Government and Information of Employees Only, In Effect 12.01 A.M., Wednesday, May 27th, 1903 (New York: Long Island Railroad Company, 1903), Manhattan Beach Division.

[82] MTA Long Island Rail Road, Long Island Rail Road Map, (New York: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 1994).

[83] “New Railway Station,” New York Times (1923-Current file), May 3, 1987, www.proquest.com.

[84] Long Island Rail Road, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, schedule in effect September 18, 1962, (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1962), Montauk Branch.

[85] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 14, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, City Terminal Zone Timetable Effective October 7, 1974, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 1974).

[86] “Latest Long Island News: The Most Dangerous Half Mile of Railroad Track in the United States,” Brooklyn Eagle, January 13, 1899.

[87] “Urge Construction of a Road: Queens Grand Jury Declares Highway Should Be Built Through Bloody Gorge,” Brooklyn Eagle, June 29, 1900.

[88] “North Side Grade Crossings: Preparations and Surveys Being Made to do Away With the Most Dangerous,” Brooklyn Eagle, June 1, 1902.

[89] “A Woman is Killed by an L.I.R.R. Diesel,” New York Times (1923-Current file), February 3, 1987, http://www.proquest.com.

[90] “Bridge Repair to Affect L.I.R.R. Queens Trips,” New York Times (1923-Current file), February 13, 1991, http://www.proquest.com.

[91] Mitchell Freedman, “LIRR Scaling Back / 10 Little-used Stations to Close in March,” Newsday, February 24, 1998, http://www.proquest.com.

[92] Somini Sengupta, “End of the Line for L.I.R.R.’s 10 Loneliest Stops,” New York Times (1923-Current file), March 15, 1998, http://www.proquest.com.

[93] MTA Long Island Rail Road, City Terminal Zone Branch Timetable effective November 17, 1997, (New York: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 1997).

[94] “Census Tract (2010 Census),” Infoshare Online, accessed July 24, 2013, http://www.infoshare.org/mod1/main.aspx.

[95] “Population 2010 Demographic Maps,” New York City.gov, accessed July 21, 2013, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/census/census2010/m_pl_h1_nta.pdf.

[96] “Population 2010 Demographic Maps,” New York City.gov, accessed July 21, 2013, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/census/census2010/m_pl_p7_nta.pdf.

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