When John R. Pitkin bought the land where Woodhaven now sits back in 1835, he envisioned a brand new city stretching all the way from Brooklyn to Jamaica. Because this land lay to the east of Manhattan, he dubbed his dream city East New York.
The Panic of 1837 resulted in banks closing and thousands losing their jobs and scuttled Pitkin’s dream of a new city, but different portions of his investment survived. One section, which he had called Woodville, consisted of factories, hotels and two racetracks.
When the citizens of Woodville applied to the government to have a post office, they were told they would have to change their name due to there already being a Woodville in upstate New York. And so, in 1853, the village of Woodville was rechristened Woodhaven.
In those days, and deep into the 1920s, Woodhaven stretched much further south than it does now. A small part of Woodhaven, a four to six-square-block area known as Ozone Park, named for its promise of fresh air and ocean breezes, would survive and grow and become the community we know today.
And so, this first walking tour of 2016 will cover the area of Ozone Park that was once called Woodhaven, and we will follow the footsteps of its rich and interesting history. We will visit the site of Woodhaven’s first bank and several of the hotels and saloons, buildings which are still standing today.
You will hear the urban legend about a 90-year-old woman who cheated on her husband and learn the real story, and you’ll visit something you've passed a million times that she was responsible for building.
You will visit the spot where an ancient burial ground for slaves was unearthed and find out where George Washington slept when he visited Woodhaven. You will visit the only remaining portion of the old Union Course Racetrack that is still visible and see the exact spot where a young woman was killed during the cyclone of 1895.
You will visit the famous Grosjean factory and learn about the fire that nearly destroyed Woodhaven and the tragedy of the Grosjean family. You will see the church that Grosjean built for his son Alfred, who was mysteriously killed, and how that contributed to the decline of the factory.
You’ll retrace the final fateful steps of Professor Kotkov, the Woodhaven teacher who was brutally murdered 95 years ago this month. One of his murderers was the youngest person executed in New York State, and you will stand in the very spot where all of their lives changed forever.
And as a bonus, this walking tour of Woodhaven will be powered by PastPort, making it interactive for those with iPhones. At certain locations, you will be able to pick up your phones and using this app see an old picture of the location.
If you are interested in taking part in this free tour, be advised that it will cover about 3.5 miles and we expect it to last between two and three hours. Please RSVP for the tour by emailing email@example.com or by calling the society at (718) 805-2002.
The next two two are scheduled for Sunday, June 5, and Sunday, August 7, with details for each tour to be announced.
And as a last reminder, the Queens Memory Project will be at Neir’s Tavern, 78th Street and 88th Avenue, this Saturday, March 5, from 1 to 3 p.m. Bring your old photos and Woodhaven-related documents and the volunteers from the Queens Library will scan them for you, returning the materials and the digital scans on a free thumb drive.
It’s an effort to save and preserve as much of our Woodhaven history so future generations can also learn about our shared past. Who knows? Maybe someday, future historians will give walking tours of Woodhaven and talk about us!