Forest Hills and Rego Park historical background


Forest Hills the place that time never changed

A rendering of the future forest Hills Garden circa 1906.
If you went to the same spot (Station Square, Forest Hills) today, it would look the same.
The signatures are: on the left Olmstead Brothers Landscape Architects and n the right Gosvernor Atterbury Architect.
The Olmstead Brothers were the nephews of Frederick Olmstead Architect designer of Central Park.

The following is an excerpt from a Forest Hills historical sketch. By Jeff Gottlieb.

Virtually the from the retreat off the glaciers which formed it (as evidenced by proto-indian remains over 10,000 years old) Long Island and particularly' what is now Forest Hills and Rego Park, have been desirable places to live. The land was fertile, streams abounded and game was plentiful.

By the mid-1600 's European settlers, mostly Dutch and English out of Connecticut, had begun to settle in substantial numbers in and around Flushing and Middleburgh (later Newtown and now Elmhurst). With the exception of an occasional incident, the settler's relations with the native tribes - mostly the Mespatches (who were centered in what now is Maspeth), but also Rockawegs (from what is now Cypress Hills through South Brooklyn) and the Matinecocks (to the east in and around Little Neck and Douglaston) - was generally good.

The same could not be said of relations with the Dutch West India Company and Peter Stuyvesant, its irascible governor. However, seeking to escape his tyranny as much as to satisfy their own exploratory bent, by 1653 settlers began to move south to found Whitepot (see why Whitepot.)

By Revolutionary times, Whitepot was a firm part of, Newtown, then centered near the present intersection of Queens Boulevard and Grand Avenue, Elmhurst. A public school had been built at Trotting Course Lane and the present day Yellowstone Boulevard called the Whitepot School; it was to be used for over 150 years. The farmers who founded the school, the Remsens, the Furmans, the Springsteen family, and the Morrells would have the strongest influence over the next half century in Whitepot.

By 1800 the Remsens, one of whose members was the Revolutionary veteran Col. Jacobus Remsen, had enormous land holdings. Their mark on the area remains in the form of a family graveyard known as the "Old Remsen Cemetery." It is adjacent to Remsen Park on Alderton Street and Trotting Course lane.

Entering Whitepot life in 1829 was the young Ascan Backus. Born in the Kingdom of Saxony, Backus emigrated to the United States in 1814. After working with his brother Herman on farms along Fresh Pond Road he bought farmland on both sides of the Jamaica Road (now Queens Boulevard). Backus saw the civil War greatly increase his profits from produce shipped to Manhattan markets, and put the money to work buying more land. By intermarriage with neighboring families still other parcels came under Backus family Influence. On Ascan's death, his sons, Frederick and John, inherited the land. Frederick managed the local properties while John, as First Deputy Bridge Commissioner; became instrumental in creating the Queensborough Bridge.

By the time Ascan Backus died In 1880, Cord Meyer had become a well-known Newtown manufacturer and real estate owner. An inquisitive, successful man, he took over the Lord estate (Samuel Lord was one of the founders of Lord & Taylor) In Newtown Village, developed roads, put down sewers and water pipes and built homes. Seeking to separate his development in reputation and name from the already odiferous, industrial Newtown Creek, as well as to buyers, he called the new area Elmhurst.

By the turn of the century, Meyer's vision turned south along the same route followed by the early settlers. Forming the Cord Meyer Company In 1904, he soon began to buy farm land including the extensive Backus farms on both sides of Hoffman Boulevard, formerly Jamaica Road, and then named after a Boss Tweed protege. Meyer did not always purchase land for cash. Instead, be combined money payments with shares of stock in his company. This resulted, In Frederick Backus' case, In his becoming the treasurer of the Cord Meyer Company, a post the Backus son held until his death In the mid-1930 's.

Eventually Meyer assembled 600 acres including almost all the land from the present 65 th Avenue to the then cobblestone Union Turnpike and beyond as well as farms running from just east of Metropolitan Avenue to the Flushing Swamp (present day Willow ind Meadow Lakes). Dividing the land into 6,000 lots, Meyer began to build and sell homes, many of which remain and give Old Forest Hills it sedate appearance.

The year (1906) that Meyer began his development of Whitepot was also the year that railroad financier Russell Sage died leaving $64,000,000 to his widow Margaret Olivia Sloan Sage. Mrs. Sage was to dedicate her fortune and the remaining twelve year of her life to the then popular Utopian view of the social betterment of the world.

Establishing the Sage Foundation Homes Company, Mrs. Sage oversaw its purchase of 142 acres west (south?) of the newly built and soon to be electrified Long Island Railroad main line. It was her plan to build a garden community which would be home all to economic levels - the well-to-do, middle-class tradesmen, and blue collar workers. Grosvenor Atterbury was named supervising architect and the Olmstead Brothers (nephews of the famed creator of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead.) were named landscape architects of the project.

* Mr Gottlieb is a local historian and community activist. This is one of the many articles of the area that he has written. I want to thank Mr Gottlieb for permision to use this and other materials that he wrote.



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