A horse, of course? Vote on what should represent Woodhaven
by Ed Wendell
Oct 31, 2017 | 2354 views | 0 0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The famed race between Eclipse and Sir Henry. Over 60,000 people came to Woodhaven that day to watch and bet on the race.
The famed race between Eclipse and Sir Henry. Over 60,000 people came to Woodhaven that day to watch and bet on the race.
The landmarked horses of the Forest Park Carousel, part of Woodhaven's history for over 100 years.
The landmarked horses of the Forest Park Carousel, part of Woodhaven's history for over 100 years.
If you could choose one symbol that defines Woodhaven, what would it be? One symbol that captures the unique qualities of our community’s history, of its resilience; what would you choose to represent Woodhaven?

That’s the issue on the ballot next Tuesday, November 7, as the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society celebrates Election Night, starting at 7 p.m. at the Avenue Diner at 91-06 Jamaica Avenue.

Everyone is welcome to come out and hear the debates and cast a vote on their favorite choice. There are so many symbols to choose from. The trees in Forest Park, the Jamaica Avenue El, the great number of beautiful churches.

Or perhaps you favor Forest Parkway as the symbol of our community or the LaLance-Grosjean Clocktower. There are so many possibilities to choose from!

I’ll tell you my choice. A few months ago, an artist doing research on a project asked me what I thought was the symbol of Woodhaven. I felt the answer was pretty easy: a horse.

Why a horse?

For starters, much of what is now Woodhaven was farmland over 200 years ago. In fact, the Napier family owned a horse ranch right on Jamaica Avenue and 98th Street.

The property stretched all the way to Park Lane South, and they were known for using their horses to plow the snow off the streets so locals could get to church on time.

The first mode of public transportation in Woodhaven was the horse drawn carriage. Once rails were put down, the horses would pull the carriage from Brooklyn into the Woodhaven Depot at 78th Street and Jamaica Avenue.

There, the driver would dismount and walk the horse around to the back of the carriage and pull it back to Brooklyn.

The most famous horses in all of Woodhaven’s history might be the ones that raced at the famous Union Course Racetrack, from the 1820s to the 1870s.

Shortly after the track opened, over 60,000 people watched a matchup between a horse from the North (Eclipse) and the South (Sir Henry). Over $200,000 changed hands that day, over $4 million in today’s money.

With the arrival of racing came the arrival of businesses and people, eventually forming a community. It could be argued that modern Woodhaven was built around the racetrack.

In fact, the odd intersection that forms Whiting Square is the result of trying to build straight streets around the crooked remnants of the east side of the track.

Of the businesses that flourished as the result of the racetrack well over 180 years ago, only one remains, Neir’s Tavern. And if you look at the logo for Neir’s, you’ll see a racehorse.

If you are looking for the modern form of horses in Woodhaven, look no further than our Forest Park Carousel, a New York City Landmark. There are 49 horses on our famous carousel (36 jumping and 13 standing) that the majority of us have ridden on once or twice in our lifetimes.

So for me, the historic symbol of Woodhaven is the horse. But compelling arguments could be made in favor of the trees that line our streets or the stores on our avenue.

A great argument could also be made in favor of this very newspaper, which has served as the eyes and ears of Woodhaven for over a century. How many of us have been reading the Leader-Observer our entire lives? How many of us had their very first job with the Leader, delivering copies to our neighbors?

And so, with Election Night less than a week away, you have a little time to make up your mind and come out and vote for what you feel should be the symbol of Woodhaven. The winning choice will be incorporated into the cover of the Woodhaven book we are currently working on.

And regardless of how I feel about the outcome, if my horse doesn’t win I will respect the results of this election. So we hope to see you in our voting booth (after you vote in the other election, that is) at the Avenue Diner next Tuesday.

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