Astoria is a neighborhood in the northwestern corner of Queens that is as diverse as the immigrants that settled there from places as far away as Greece, Italy, Ireland, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.
A Famous Ancestry
Originally named Hallet’s Cove after its first landowner William Hallet settled there in 1659 with his wife Elizabeth Fones, New Yorkers can probably figure out that Astoria was renamed after John Jacob Astor, then the richest man in America with a net worth of over $40 million. Astor was asked by founding father and fellow fur trader Stephen Halsey to invest $2,000 in the neighborhood in return for naming the area after him. He only invested $500, but the name stayed nonetheless, as a bitter battle over naming the village was finally won by Astor's supporters and friends.
Beginning in the early 19th century, affluent New Yorkers constructed large residences around 12th and 14th streets, an area that became known as Astoria Village (now Old Astoria). This area was a noted recreational destination and resort for Manhattan's wealthy elite. From Astor's summer home in Hell Gate, Manhattan—on what is now East 87th Street near York Avenue—he could see across the East River to the new Long Island village named in his honor. Astor, however, never actually set foot in Astoria.
Astoria was first settled by the Dutch and Germans in the 17th century. Many Irish settled in the area during the waves of Irish immigration into New York City during the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the second half of the 19th century, economic and commercial growth also brought increased immigration from German settlers, mostly furniture and cabinet makers.
One such settler was Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, patriarch of the Steinway family who founded the worldwide piano company Steinway & Sons in 1853. Afterwards, the Steinways built a sawmill and a foundry, as well as a streetcar line. The family eventually established Steinway Village for their workers, a company town that provided school instruction in German as well as English.