Englishman William Hallett Sr. received a land brief from
the Dutch authorities in New Amsterdam for 161 acres in northwestern Queens.
The area became Hallett's Cove and Hallett's Point on the East River at Hell
Gate, now Astoria. This site was one of Queens' earliest settlements belonging
to Jacques Bentyn, circa 1638, but abandoned and destroyed in the 1640s. Hallett's
Cove had been a place of safety in the age of sail, as navigators often waited
there for more favorable tides to get them through Hell Gate to points east
and north. The Hallett family remained prominent in the area for over 200 years.
December 27, 1657
Edward Hart, Town Clerk of Flushing, writes Flushing's
'Remonstrance for Religious Freedom.' When Gov. Stuyvesant orders that Quakers
are to be banned from New Amsterdam, a small group from Flushing, Newtown, and
Jamaica defied his order. Hart and Sheriff Tobias Feake are arrested after the
Remonstrance (petition) is presented. The descendants of two signers, Edward
Hart and Richard Stockton, signed the Declaration of Independence 119 years
December 14, 1662
The Council of New Amsterdam decreed “…for the welfare of the community…to transport from this province the aforesaid John Bowne, if he continues abstinate and pervicacious, in the first ship to sail, for an example to others.” Bowne and his wife Hannah had allowed Quakers to worship in their Flushing house, in spite of a ban issued on such worship by Governor Syuyvesant. On January 9, 1663, Bowne was deported to Holland aboard the Gilded Fox, for trial in Holland. He returned eventually, bearing with him the right of religious freedom, granted by the directors of the West India Company.
December 8, 1783
Jamaica was finally free of the last British soldiers.
Two weeks after Evacuation Day (Nov. 25), Long Island's seven-year Revolutionary
War occupation was over. A large patriotic rally followed the Redcoats' departure
from Jamaica and smaller rallies were held in Dutch Kills and Astoria. The American
Revolution was won.
December 22, 1783
The first Town officers of Newtown were elected under independence. They and all political officials in Queens at that time had to deal with the aftermath of the British occupation including dilapidated farm buildings, burned fences and woodlands destroyed by the foraging army.
December 23, 1823
"A Visit by St. Nicolas" is published in
the Troy Sentinel. The anonymous author is later claimed by Clement Clark Moore.
Its opening line, 'T'was the night before Christmas " is now a holiday
classic. Although written at Chelsea, the family estate near West 23rd Street
in Manhattan, some believe he was relaying his holiday experiences from childhood
when he visited ancestral homesteads in Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.
December 12, 1853
The Myrtle Avenue and Jamaica Plank Road was opened from
western Brooklyn to Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill. The early 1850s saw the
construction of numerous plank roads made of hemlock, oak, and pine planks,
eight feet long and up to four inches thick. They were considered an improvement
from the dirt turnpike road which were nearly impassable in winter and early
spring due to freezing and mud. There was a tollgate at Cypress Avenue and the
plank road cut through Myrtle Avenue Park, now Forest Park. Planks soon rotted
planks making the plank road's success short-lived.
December 28, 1892
An explosion in the Steinway Tubes kills five and injures
dozens. Several factories were wrecked, the concussion throws people to the
sidewalks, and flying glass from hundreds of shattered windows and falling plaster
showered down on Hunters Point. The disaster is caused by overheating 87 pounds
of thawing dynamite. Years pass before the project is completed. Today it's
the Queens entrance to the No. 7 line tunnel under the East River.
A survey on the three year old Queensboro Bridge shows a 25% gain in
traffic from the previous year with over 5,000 vehicles crossing in one 24 hour
period. The number of horse drawn vehicles are decreasing as nearly two-thirds
of the traffic are trucks and automobiles. The following year's daily volume
is projected skyrocket to 17,000 per day, or 12 vehicles a minute. The bridge
is expected to reach full capacity within a decade.
The Queens Chamber of Commerce released some statistics for 1912 from the Industrial Directory of New York. The volume devoted considerable space to Queens, saying: “Queens is of importance from three standpoints: As an industrial community, as a residential section, and as a truck farming section…” The report stated that there were 720 farms, comprising 14,588 acres (out of a total 82,883 acres for the entire borough). Over half of their produce for 1912 was fruits and vegetables. The report also showed that there were 851 factories, employing 31,687 workers. Over 110 different lines of manufacturing were carried on in the borough.
December 12, 1928
Lewis Latimer, the African-American inventor and resident
of Flushing died. A former assistant of Thomas Edison, Mr. Latimer was famous
for expanding upon the Edison light bulb. As a patent clerk he helped Alexander
Graham Bell with his telephone patent. Later he created and patented a carbon
filament for the light bulb, which is still in use today. The Edison Electric
Company's first black executive, Mr. Latimer supervised street light installation
in New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London, England. He lived in a
house at 64 Holly Avenue in Flushing from 1908 to 1928. The house still exists
and was moved to Leavitt and 137th Streets.
The WPA and the NYC Tunnel Authority offices are besieged with applicants
for sand-hog jobs in the $58 million Queens-Midtown Tunnel. At completion, the
tunnel will change only 25 cents instead of the 50 cents collected on the Holland
Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge. Heavy traffic on the Triborough Bridge
at a quarter and a million cars over the Henry Hudson Parkway at a dime proves
that low tolls are just the thing to encourage the public.
December 7, 1948
The “Freedom Train” rolled into Queens and stopped in Flushing for a four-day stay before going on to Jamaica for another two days. It carried priceless documents: the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Emancipation Proclamation and other important historical papers and artifacts. The train, officially known as “The Spirit of ’76,” was gleaming white with red and blue stripes. It had traveled 35,779 miles, the longest train tour in history. Since its first stop in Philadelphia, on Constitution Day, 1947, it had been in every state in the union. Queens was the 318th stop on its journey. About 22,955 school children and adults visited the train during its stay in Flushing. In its entire journey, over 3,255,000 Americans had visited the train.
A brutal winter storm buries Queens. A slashing blizzard measures
more that 18 inches by noon. Packing a howling 35 mph wind, the mercury dips
to a frigid seven degrees. The deep freeze slows the borough from digging
out. Long Island tallies 26 dead. LIRR erases the day off its calendar.
December 4, 1967
Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion of the 1939 classic film the Wizard of Qz died of pneumonia at the age of 72. He was buried in Union Field Cemetery in Flushing. Although Lahr’s movie career never really caught on, he remained a life-long icon due to his role as the Cowardly Lion in Oz. Aside from that role, he is probably best remembered for his role in a Lay’s potato chip “Bet you can’t eat just one” commercial ad campaign. His vocal characterization of the Lion was also a strong influence on the voice of the cartoon character Snagglepuss.
December 9, 1977
The Sunnyside Garden boxing arena on Queens Boulevard at 45th Street was demolished. The building was originally built by Jay Gould as a private club. In 1945, it was sold and converted to a boxing arena. In the 1960’s, it also hosted wrestling matches. As the popularity of both sports waned, the Garden found itself host to teen dances, proms and flea markets. In 1977, it was demolished, replaced by a hamburger restaurant.
December 11, 1978
Over $6 million in cash and jewels were stolen from Lufthansa
Airlines in a notorious robbery at JFK Airport. The Jimmy "The Gent"
Burke gang scored America's largest criminal take ever. Henry Hill, a gangster
in the Lucchese crime family, was one of the masterminds. He was portrayed in
"Goodfellas", the 1990 film by Queens native Martin Scorsese. Although
in 1980 Hill turned state's evidence against Burke, the latter was never prosecuted
for the Lufthansa heist but was convicted of other crimes. He died in 1996..
Henry Hill is still in hiding from Mafia hit men but doesn't live in fear or
so he says. To this day none of the cash was recovered.
December 20, 1986
A gang of teenagers attack Michael Griffith, Cedric
Sandiford and Timothy Grimes. The three men stopped in New Park Pizza at 156-71
Cross Bay Blvd. to use a phone after their car broke down. Upon leaving the
pizzeria, they are jumped by a mob. Although Grimes escapes, Sandiford is beaten
and Griffith is killed. The subsequent arrest and trial of the gang leads to
further racial polarization in the city. After conviction, the thugs are given
long prison sentences.
December 15, 1996
The St. John's University men's soccer team won the NCAA
Division I championship. Led by goals from Jesse Van Saun, Wojtek Krakowiak,
Ben Hickey, and Medufia Kulego, the Red Storm defeated Florida International
University 4 goals to 1. Led by coach Dave Masur, St. John's vanquished Fordham,
George Mason, William & Mary, and Creighton to get to the finals. It was
the university's first NCAA title game since 1952 and their first national title
in any sport.
Keyspan announces that two 47-megawatt gas turbines are due on a site
in Ravenswood across from Silvercup Studios. Residents in Western Queens claim
their area is overburdened with similar facilities. Three large power plants,
owned by Orion Power, Keyspan Energy and NYPA, plus an additional one, have
filed applications to build additional large-scale plants in the near future.