Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

When Long Island City Really Was a City

Most of us know that Brooklyn was a seperate city up until 1898, when the City Charter was approved and the Five Boroughs were consolidated. Less known is that the western portion of what was then Queens County was, indeed, a seperate city for a mere 28 years, with its own government, police and schools, one of which still stands and is a popular cultural institution.

During most of the 19th Century the County of Queens extended all the way to Suffolk County. Nassau did not exist. Much of the area was very rural, and consisted of seperate villages and towns, with no centralized street system. The county seat was Newtown, near the old Elks Lodge on Queens Blvd.

The Western portion of the county was somewhat more built-up, and had a growing population, including many immigrants from Ireland and Germany. Feeling short-changed by the present system, the residents of Western Queens elected to form their own city effective 1870. Long Island City became the new county seat for Queens, which made sense because it was also the terminus for most of the railroads which at the time were the principle form of land transportation. It was also a short ferry ride from Manhattan, and across narrow Newtown Creek from Brooklyn. The area near the present 45th Road/Courthouse Square stop on the 7 train became the city's Gold Coast, with many beautiful rowhouses.

The boundaries of LIC were the East River on the west, Long Island Sound on the north, Newtown Creek on the south, and the now vanished "Old Bowery Road" on the east. Exactly where the road passed is a matter of some debate for local historians. In the northern part of LIC it followed Hazen Street. Indeed, once you cross Hazen into Elmhurst, you will notice that the street grid changes radically. In the south, estimates for the road's location vary from 48th to 52 Streets. I tend to think that the latter is probably closer.

One of the greatest industries for LIC, and for Queens in general at the time, was death. Laws severely limited burials in Manhattan, and soon huge cemetaries were being created in Queens, typically owned by religious organizations. Going to the cemetary was not ncessarily a somber experience at the time. In an era when many New Yorkers lived in crowded tenements with little open space, a trip to visit Grandma's grave in beautiful new Calvary Cemetary was often quite litterally a picnic for the whole family. An Irish immigrant named Patrick Jerome Gleason created a horsecar line to take folks to the cemetaries, and quickly got rich. "Battle Axe" Gleason, as he was known, served as Mayor of LIC, with a reign of corruption that would make Boss Tweed jealous.

1898 saw the ratification of the City Charter and the demise of LIC, although the name is still utilized to designate parts of Western Queens, especially near Hunter's Point.

The one well-preserved government building from the LIC era was Ward School One, today known as the PS1 Museum.

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At 10:30 PM , Blogger davidgreene6495 said...

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