Historical district. Garden sanctuary. Street food paradise. Jackson Heights Queens is all of these things. From its humble beginnings as dirt-paved farmland to its construction renaissance in the 1940s and 50’s, Jackson Heights is re-emerging as one of New York City’s most diverse and livable communities.
Before 1900: Living Off the Map
If you tried to locate Jackson Heights on a map of Queens County back in 1900, chances are you’d have a pretty hard time. That’s because the city simply did not exist. According to Jackson Heights: A Garden in the City by Daniel Karatzas, the area consisted mostly farms and fields and was originally known as the Trains Meadow section of Newtown (later re-christened Elmhurst).
An article published in the Jackson Heights News characterized the town as “barns and bee hives, carriage-houses and corn-cribs...dirt roads, packed hard by years of iron-shod hooves.” Except for a large horse-racing track running along Northern Boulevard near 72nd Street, the area saw relatively little residential or commercial activity.
A Bridge and a Plan
The opening of the Queensboro Bridge connecting 59th Street in Manhattan with Long Island City on March 30, 1909 helped changed all that. Also known as the 59th Street Bridge, a name popularized by the Simon & Garfunkel hit The 59th St.Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), the Queensboro Bridge was influential in transforming Jackson Heights from a rural area into a viable commuter suburb.
The decade prior to the bridge’s opening saw real estate speculators purchasing large quantities of property. Among the most aggressive was Edward MacDougall of the Queensboro Corporation, one of the first to recognize the area’s enormous potential for growth. According to Karatzas, MacDougall’s group spent nearly $4 million on various parcels of land, including a number of area farms. Nearly half a million was spent giving the area formerly known as Elmhurst a makeover. Streets were paved and new sewers and sidewalks were installed as the first apartment buildings appeared on 82nd and 83rd streets north of Roosevelt Avenue.