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DURKEE SPICE FACTORY

Established by Eugene R. Durkee in 1851, the Durkee Company is a manufacturer of spices, condiments and grocers’ specialties. They relocated from Hudson Square in Manhattan to Elmhurst in 1917, when they built this four-story industrial structure as their new mustard and spice factory. News of this move were met with opposition from the community, who wanted to preserve the residential use of the neighborhood. As a way to mitigate this negative reception, when announcing the purchase of the property from the Cord Meyer Company, Durkee stated that the factory would be surrounded by lawns and flower beds, and it would be an ornament to the community. Durkee was the largest factory and the largest employer in Elmhurst with over 300 employees, mostly women.

E.R. Durkee died in December of 1926, leaving everything to his daughters. The Company was sold in 1986 and was subsequently absorbed into a larger-food processing conglomerate. In 2007, the building was renovated and became the Elmhurst Educational Campus, which hosts three separate high schools: The Pan American International High School, the Civic Leadership Academy, and Voyages Preparatory High School.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

NEWTOWN HIGH SCHOOL

48-01 90th Street
1900 by Boring & Tilton
1921 by C.B.J. Snyder
1931 by Walter C. Martin
1958 by Maurice Salo & Associated

One of Elmhurst’s and Queen’s most prominent buildings, the Newtown High School is the result of several building campaigns, which began with the construction of a small, wooden school house in1866 to serve children from the Village of Newtown and the surrounding farms.

 

The school’s first expansion took place in 1898-1900, when a much larger, brick building, designed by the architectural firm Boring & Tilton, was added to the site. It was renamed the Newtown High School in 1910, after the lower grades were moved out.

 

As Elmhurst’s population grew in the early twentieth century, Newtown High School needed to expand. Plans began in 1917 for an addition to be designed by C.B.J. Snyder, the noted Superintendent of School Buildings for the Board of Education, but the First World War delayed construction until 1920. The new impressive Flemish Renaissance Revival-style wing was opened in 1921, featuring stepped gables and a dramatic 169-foot, centrally-placed tower topped by a cupola and turrets.

 

Two Flemish Renaissance Revival-style wings designed by Walter C. Martin were constructed in 1930-1931, and the Boring & Tilton’s turn-of-the-century wing was replaced by an International Style addition in 1956-1958, designed by the Manhattan architectural firm Maurice Salo & Associates.The remarkably intact Newtown High School now serves a diverse body of 4,500 students and more than 200 teachers. Newtown High School is a New York City Individual Landmarks and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.

AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND

In 1828, one year after emancipation, newly freed African-Americans established the now demolished United African Society (later known as the African Methodist Episcopal Church), on the very site of this burial ground.

 

St. Marks A.M.E Church started as a small church surrounded by a cemetery, which would later be replaced by a new building thanks to the efforts made by the congregation and contributions from other local churches. Construction began in 1908, but only the shell of the building would be completed due to a lack of funds. In 1911, the Queens Building Department deemed it unsafe and ordered posts to be set up in the basement to hold up the weight of the floor. This prompted renewed efforts to raise money, and by the end of the year, the church was completed and dedicated. Little is known about what happened to this building, but in 1928 the congregation moved to a new location in North Corona and attempted to move their deceased, but the City of New York declined the request and only twenty remains were successfully transferred.

 

While there are no physical markers that remain of this burial ground, documentation has determined that there are 310 interments, the majority of which remain beneath the earth today. Nearly forgotten, vast public interest of this site was awakened after Martha Peterson was found in her iron coffin in 2011. Ms. Peterson’s life—and death—was the subject of a special television program that aired on P.B.S. in 2018.

 

Though small plot of land has survived as a touchstone to one of the earliest freed African- American communities in the region and its history is nearly as old as freed African- American society in New York State itself.

 

Photo courtesy of the Queens Library.

 

ELMHURST MEMORIAL HALL

8-24 43rd Avenue
1926

Erected in 1926 by the Elmhurst Memorial League, this Colonial style building was conceived as a memorial for the men and women of Elmhurst who gave their services, and in some cases their lives, to the country during World War I. After the cornerstone was laid, the committee launched a campaign throughout Elmhurst in order to raise the funds needed to complete the building. The festivities included a machine gun demonstration and a concert given by a Veteran’s Band.

The initial design for the memorial included a Memorial Lobby, featuring an inscribed bronze tablet listing the names of those who died in service, and mementos of the war. On the second floor, there would be a lounge and meeting rooms, and the headquarters of the Elmhurst Post No. 298, American Legion.

ELMHURST BAPTIST CHURCH

87-37 Whitney Avenue
1902-1903
A. F. Leicht

Before the Civil War, there was a Baptist Chapel at Queens Boulevard, but the congregation eventually disbanded. In 1900, a series of cottage prayer meetings resulted in the organization of a new congregation, who started a fundraising campaign to build a church after Cord Meyer donated a plot of land. Since the site was located in the midst of the new upper- class Elmhurst community, the congregation was anxious to build a structure that would be an ornament and an asset to the neighborhood.

 

Designed by the church architect A. F. Leicht, the plans called for a stone building with an octagonal interior and a concave ceiling finished in hardwoods with a seating capacity of 500. The cornerstone was laid on July 1902, and the congregation moved into the building in 1903. The formal dedication ceremony took place in the summer of that same year.

Photo by Elmhurst Baptist Church.

CORD MEYER HOUSES

87-04 to 87-20 Elmhurst Avenue, 1912
Judge Street, 1904
Corner of Hampton St. and 43rd Avenue, 1897
Cord Meyer Development Company

Throughout the 20th century, the Cord Meyer Development Company played a significant role in Queens development. Led by Cord Meyer Jr., the Meyer brothers-sons of a German immigrant originally focused development in Elmhurst in 1893, when they purchased a farm in Newtown from Samuel Lord, co-founder of Lord & Taylor. They renamed the area Elmhurst, laid out subdivisions and streets, installed sewers, and established trolley connections. The company’s success inspired a number of imitators, but none of them had the financial backing and personal commitment of the Cord Meyer Company.

Some of Cord Meyer’s developments still survive in Elmhurst, like a row of Colonial houses with peaked roofs covered in green terra-cotta tile built in 1912 on the south side of Elmhurst Avenue, between Hampton and Ithaca Streets, and a group of brick English townhouses built in 1904 on Judge Street, between Whitney and Elmhurst Avenues. Besides house building, Meyer also developed store buildings for his new residents, the first three of which went up on 43rd Avenue at Hampton Street, and the first opened for business in 1897. Only one of these buildings remains, at the corner of Hampton Street and 43rd Avenue. By the late 1920’s, the steady rise in the cost of land soon forced the transition to five and six-story apartment houses that occupied the whole building lot. The Cord Meyer Company responded to this trend by building in 1928 Hasting Court Apartments (40-40 Elbertson St) and Alida Court (87-15 Britton Ave).

CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE HOMESTEAD PARK

82-02 Broadway
1954

The Moores were one of the most prominent families of Elmhurst –then Newtown-, settling in the mid-1600’s after Captain Samuel Moore was granted eighty acres of land as acknowledgement for the efforts of his father, Reverend John Moore, during the colonization of the area by the Dutch. Captain Moore built a house on his lands in 1661, and the property remained in the family for centuries. During the Revolutionary War, the British General William Howe made it his Long Island headquarters.

One of Captain’s Moore great-great grandsons was Clement Clarke Moore, who is best known as the author of the classic children’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as “The Night Before Christmas”) and as a major developer of the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan. Clement Clarke Moore was believed to have used the family homestead as a periodic country retreat. The property is also known as the birthplace of the famous “Newtown Pippin” apple, the oldest commercially grown variety to be bred in the US and a famed apple during Colonial times, favored by the Queen of England, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

By the early 1800’s, most of the Moore estate was divided into building lots and sold at auction. The site of the homestead remained in the family until the Board of Transportation acquired it during the construction of the Independent Subway in 1930, razing the buildings in 1933. This photo depicts the buildings before their demolition. In 1954, Parks acquired the property to build the Elmhurst Playground, which was renamed the Clement Clarke Moore Homestead Park in 1987.

Photo courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archive.

Elmhurst, Queens

The first European settlement in Elmhurst was founded in 1642 at the head of the Maspeth Creek. The town was destroyed due to increasing conflicts between Native Americans and the Dutch, and was replaced in 1652 by a new village located on safer ground inland, at what is now Queens Boulevard and Broadway. The English called the place Middelburgh, since Dutch authorities required a Dutch name, but referred to it as Newtown among themselves, to distinguish it from the old town at Maspeth.

The 18th century was a period of prosperity for Newtown Village. Population slowly increased and the local economy became more diversified. The proximity to New York allowed for crops to be sold in the open market or traded for manufactured goods, and also provided access to luxury goods and services. The road system was largely created during this time, connecting the outlying hamlets with the churches and town offices at Newtown, giving them also access to the mills, the meadows and the shore.

During the Revolution, the British Army occupied Newtown. Officers were billeted in the houses and buildings were repurposed for field hospitals, armories and headquarters. After the war, the town recovered gradually, mostly thanks to new practices and technologies in agriculture that boosted the economy. Social change was spurred by the complete abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827, with a group of newly freed African-Americans establishing the first AME Church and cemetery in the town.

In the years before the Civil War, and during the first decade after, Newtown remained largely a one-street town. Although there was some commercial growth, and a new building was erected for the Newtown High school, attempts to expand the limits of the old village were unsuccessful. This began to change in 1869, when large estates began to be sold in auction. In 1893, the Meyer brothers –led by Cord Meyer Jr.- bought over 100 acres of the Samuel Lord estate to develop an ambitious plan for a new suburb northwest of the old Newtown Village. This development was planned to offer amenities rarely present in a rural district, and certainly nowhere else in Queens at the time: paved streets, a water system and private sewers. The project proved to be extremely successful, and the neighborhood became known for its fashionable housing developments and wide-ranging infrastructure.

Cord Meyer also lobbied to have the name of the village changed to Elmhurst, to avoid any reference to the polluted Newtown Creek. The name is said to have been inspired by large mature American elms that existed along Broadway, particularly in front of St. James Church. Despite initial resistance from the townspeople to discard the historic name of the village, in 1896 the Post Office officially changed to Elmhurst.

The opening of the subway in 1936 destroyed many of the old village’s landmarks, most notably the Moore Homestead, but vastly stimulated local growth. After the Second World War, Elmhurst became a place for architectural innovation. Influenced largely by the New York World’s Fair of 1964, buildings like the Pan American Motel, the Queen’s Mall and Bank of America’s branch at Queens Blvd changed the neighborhood’s landscape. In the 1980’s, a wave of immigration from many different countries changed Elmhurst from an almost exclusively white, middle-class suburban community into the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the city.