Finding The Famous Black Walnut of Woodhaven
by Ed Wendell
Jan 13, 2021 | 207 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Famous Black Walnut, a Woodhaven landmark from over 100 years ago, once sat on the northeast corner of Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.
The Famous Black Walnut, a Woodhaven landmark from over 100 years ago, once sat on the northeast corner of Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.
slideshow
A map of Woodhaven in the 1870s, with an X marking the approximate location of The Famous Black Walnut, above the “o”' in Brooklyn, at the corner of the Dominicus Vanderveer farm.
A map of Woodhaven in the 1870s, with an X marking the approximate location of The Famous Black Walnut, above the “o”' in Brooklyn, at the corner of the Dominicus Vanderveer farm.
slideshow
They called it The Famous Black Walnut. This grainy picture ran in the November 22, 1934, edition of The Leader-Observer, one of their classic anniversary editions.

The caption read as follows: "This tree, located on the northeast corner of Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, was for many years a landmark of Woodhaven. It stood at the corner of the old Dominicus Vanderveer farm. Alfred J. Ball, editor of The Leader-Observer, has a pen made from the wood of this tree by Harry Boerum."

What a wonderful glimpse of Woodhaven’s old, forgotten, history. There is no date on the picture, but we can make some inferences from the caption. But to do so requires some explanation.

The caption says that The Famous Black Walnut was located at “the northeast corner of Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.”

Okay, so that seems easy enough, we can figure out north and east, those haven’t changed in the last few hundred years. But Woodhaven Boulevard certainly has.

Woodhaven Boulevard is like this mighty river that’s been around forever. If you look at old maps of Woodhaven, you’ll spot Woodhaven Boulevard immediately and you’ll easily recognize the spot where it crosses with Jamaica Avenue.

It was called Flushing Avenue, then later Woodhaven Road because back in those days rather than a mighty river, it was more of a small stream. Woodhaven Road was just a single lane, not the ten-lane boulevard it was transformed into at the start of the 1940s.

The single lane of Woodhaven Boulevard closest to Dunkin’ Donuts was the original Flushing Avenue or Woodhaven Road. For those of you who haven’t been to Woodhaven of late, that was the Rexall Drug Store.

That was the entirety of Woodhaven Boulevard back then, one small road. Can you imagine squeezing all of today’s traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard, both north and southbound, into that wee single lane?

But even back then, with very few cars on the road, sleepy little Woodhaven Road was subject to huge traffic jams, particularly in the summer when cars were streaming through Woodhaven to the beaches of Rockaway.

That was the crux of Woodhaven’s argument against widening this road. Turning it from a one-lane road to a ten-lane highway didn’t really benefit the residents of Woodhaven.

In those days, such projects were funded by taxing the communities that benefited from it. Instead, this was being done for people from other neighborhoods who wanted to pass through our community on their way to other places.

The city wanted to tax Woodhaven residents to cover 80 percent of the cost of the project, and they loudly objected.

For over two decades they fought and even sued. Eventually, the cost was spread out more equitably across the borough and the city, and the road was widened.

So let’s go back to The Famous Black Walnut, sitting at the northeast corner of Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. So if you were to stand at Dunkin’ Donuts and look across the boulevard, the Famous Black Walnut Tree would be sitting on the other side of that first lane, right where the first pedestrian island sits.

The Vanderveers were among the early Dutch settlers in the area, and several family farms bearing their names are visible on old maps. The Dominicus Vanderveer farm stretched from Woodhaven Boulevard along the avenue all the way to Vanderveer Place, which later became known as Willard Avenue and then, finally, 96th Street.

It’s nice to think of that tree and how the community around it looked, with big farms and big empty spaces. How many people sat around that tree, getting shade on a hot summer day, enjoying the peace and quiet of Woodhaven Boulevard.

And how about that pen, made from the wood of this tree by Harry Boerum, a relative of the Vanderveers (Dominicus Vanderveer’s mother was a Boerum), and presented to Mr. Ball, the original publisher of this very paper you are reading.

One hopes that this pen, a piece of Woodhaven’s history, is out there someplace. Maybe it’s an old family heirloom with no backstory. Maybe it’s sitting at the bottom of a drawer.

Or maybe, like The Famous Black Walnut, it is gone forever. All that remains of it is what we can imagine.

Woodhaven Boulevard will be the topic of our next Zoom meeting, Tuesday, January 19, at 8 p.m. If you are interested in participating, please email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com for an invite.
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