By CHRISTINA WILKINSON
Forgotten NY correspondent
MOST OF US CAN name famous generals of the American Revolution and the Civil War. But how many of us can name those who served in between?
During his time, Winfield Scott was considered by many to be the world’s greatest general. He served in the Army for 53 years, and was the longest active-duty general in U.S. history. It was he who authored the Army’s first “code of conduct” manual. He was often lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) called “Old Fuss and Feathers” due to his strict adherence to those rules and his fondness for military pomp and circumstance.
Born in Virginia in 1786, Winfield Scott proved himself a hero during the lesser-known War of 1812 (1812-1815) and the forgotten Black Hawk War (1832). He peacefully restored tranquility to the Canadian border during Martin Van Buren‘s presidency, and garnered a reputation for being as strong a peacemaker as he was an aggressor. In 1838, Andrew Jackson ordered him to enforce the Treaty of Echota. Scott voiced his disagreement, but ultimately followed the order of his Commander-in-Chief and forcibly relocated the Indians. History refers to this incident as the Cherokee Trail of Tears (1838-1839). The travesty turned out to be the biggest blemish on General Scott’s record.
His return to glory came when, as General-in-Chief of the Army, he successfully commanded our forces during the Mexican War (1846-1848). From that, he brought home many spoils – one being the bell that hangs inside the Bell Tower at West 249th Street and Henry Hudson Parkway in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. [For more information about the Bell Tower’s fascinating history, read itshistorical sign posted on the NYC Parks Department website and visit Forgotten NY’s Duyvil in the Details page.]
Winfield Scott had always been heavily involved in politics, and in 1852, he set his eyes on winning our country’s biggest political prize. He bested both Daniel Webster and, surprisingly, incumbent President Millard Fillmore to win the Whig Party nomination for President of the United States. In the general election, he was defeated by Democrat Franklin Pierce (who, incidentally, was a distant cousin of former first lady and native Manhattanite Barbara Pierce Bush).
In 1853, General Scott moved to New York and brought with him the Army’s command center. A group of his friends, led by Hamilton Fish, purchased a four story Anglo-Italianate style house at 24 West 12th Street in Greenwich Village, for him for the price of $26,000 (what a deal!). [This site was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and now houses theItalian Studies program of New York University.]
Fussy instantly became a member of high society and a local New York celebrity. In 1854, Manhattan developers G.G. Andrews and J.F. Kendall built a hamlet in northwestern Queens and named it in his honor.
The new settlement was called, simply, “Winfield.”
The rest of the page will chronicle what remains of this part of forgotten New York
The lost town of Winfield
Winfield was situated roughly in the area within the following borders: Hurl Gate Road (Woodside Avenue) to the north, Mount Zion Cemetery, Calamus Road (Avenue, today) and Maurice Avenue to the south, the New York Connecting Railroad to the east, and New Calvary Cemetery to the west. Its major intersection was where North Shell Road (45th Avenue), Thomson Avenue (Queens Blvd) and Fisk Avenue (69th Street) converged. This was an excellent place for a settlement, as it was located in close proximity to Newtown, and along the road that connected Long Island City and Jamaica. The adjacent town of Woodside was called so because the area sat beside what was then the Winfield Woods – a.k.a. “Suicide’s Paradise” – where, legend has it, despondent early colonists went to commit suicide.
Though you won’t find Winfield listed on modern maps, the village was, at one time, a major center of industry and railroad. The largest employer in the area was a foundry located at the crossroads mentioned above. The factory manufactured metal coffins – a good trade to be in with so many cemeteries in the area. Business later expanded when major rail lines converged at Winfield. During WWI, the factory was converted into an aircraft-making center. The same factory, at another time, also made Singer sewing machines. Alas, the entire complex is now gone.
The 1873 map of Winfield seen above and used as the background for this site can be viewed on the Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page.
St. Mary’s of Winfield
To minister to the predominantly German Catholic population, the church of St. Mary’s was built during the same year that the town was born. “Winfield” was later added to the name to distinguish this parish from St. Mary’s in Long Island City, when the latter was founded in 1868. St. Mary’s of Winfield, today known as Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2004.The St. Mary’s Drama Guild has some great old photos of the school and church posted on their website.
In 1854, the Flushing and North Side Railroad (now the Port Washington LIRR line) was extended to the area. The FNSRR ran at-grade down present-day Garfield Avenue. The FNS Winfield stop was located near Madison Avenue (70th Street) and Monroe Street (50th Avenue). The Winfield LIRR stop opened in 1865 less than a half mile away. Finding itself redundant, the LIRR stop closed in 1876, and patrons used the FNS stop, renamed “Winfield Junction,” in its place. Both lines were moved about one block north of their former locations and elevated for safety between 1912-1915, which is when the Winfield Junction station closed. There are no traces of either stop remaining, however, the present-day point in Woodside where the LIRR splits is still referred to as Winfield Junction. Another rail line called the New York Connecting Railroad, built around 1915, runs along what was the eastern border of Winfield. The handsome arches carrying the NYCRR over Queens Boulevard can be viewed on the Forgotten page entitled Got Connections.
An alley near the railroad called Henry Avenue, likely a remnant of what was Henry Street in the 1800’s, is profiled in Alleys of Queens.
Winfield Scott was 75 years old when the railroad was first introduced to his namesake neighborhood, and the country found itself on the brink of war once again. Scott was the General-in-Chief of the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, but due to age and infirmity, he was soon forced to retire. He was succeeded by Major General George B. McClellan, who disagreed with him on most major issues, often publicly ruffling Old Fuss’ feathers. However, prior to his departure, Scott developed the Anaconda Plan, which was his well thought out strategy to defeat the Confederate Rebels. He presented the plan to President Lincoln, but it was not adopted until well after the General retired. Three years of devastating casualties were suffered by both sides before the plan was finally put into effect in 1864 by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and Major General William T. Sherman. It was ultimately credited for the North’s victory in the war. General Scott proved that he certainly had been “the man with the plan” all along.
Scott did live long enough to see the Union Army emerge as the winner of the Civil War. He spent his final years at his beloved West Point, and passed away there in 1866. (His wife, Maria, died in 1862.) Below are pictures of his grave marker at the West Point Cemetery.
Photos by Russ Dodge at Findagrave.com
The day of his funeral, cannons fired at every Army post, and federal offices and the New York Stock Exchange were ordered closed for the day in his honor. It’s a good bet that Old Fuss and Feathers thoroughly enjoyed the attention, from wherever he was watching.
By 1866, the General was gone. But the town in Queens that had been named after him was just beginning to thrive as a community.
Winfield Reformed Church
The Winfield Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1880 by members of the Reformed Church of Newtown. The building was originally closer to Queens Boulevard, but was moved intact to its present location on 67th Street off of Woodside Avenue in 1907. Since the 1960’s, the church’s congregation has been made up mainly of Taiwanese immigrants.
A Winfield Homestead
This picture of a Winfield house was taken in the 1890s. Notice the farm animals in front of the house and the railroad running at-grade through the backyard.
Photo courtesy of Ann of Winfield (full name withheld by request). This was her grandmother’s house.
Here is the same house, today. Ann says, “When you look at the old picture, the water pump was by the yard entrance. The street level was 4 feet lower then (before sewers went in; there are a lot of sunken houses around here) so you can see that lower level porch has been cemented over.”
Socialist and Suffragist Central
Socialist Revolutionary Leon Trotsky spoke several times in Winfield in 1917. The building where this took place was called Urban Hall. It burned down in 1940 and elevated LIRR tracks now occupy the spot where it stood. Winfield was also a central location for the women’s movement. Outspoken suffragists rallied support at the Mothers’ Club of Winfield and passed out pamphlets at area railroad stations in the years prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Winfield War Memorial
In 1926, a memorial called “Victorious America” by sculptor James Novelli was installed at Winfield Plaza by the Winfield Honor Roll Association. The base of the sculpture listed the names of seven residents of Winfield who had made the ultimate sacrifice during WWI.
The Plaza, once a central community gathering place, had to be moved to present-day 65th Place and Laurel Hill Blvd near a BQE off-ramp in 1939 when the highway was built right through the heart of town.
Since that time, the statue has been through the wringer. She not only has had to withstand the effects of weathering, but she also has had her head cut off, frequently found herself covered in graffiti and was hit by cars on three occasions. She was successfully restored each time she had suffered an indignity, but the last car crash in 2001 knocked the old girl out of commission. After a few years in a Parks Department vault, she was restored to the corner in 2011.
Winfield Spur – IND Second System
The IND “second system” was proposed in 1929 and work began sometime in the 1930’s.
From NYCsubway.org: This was designed to provide through service to the Rockaways from midtown, and also to serve the neighborhoods of Maspeth and Ridgewood. It would have been a two-track line from Roosevelt Avenue to a connection with the Central Avenue line…It would have run as subway to 45th Avenue, elevated to Fresh Pond Road, and again as subway to the connection with the Myrtle/Central Ave line. In anticipation of this line being built, trackways measuring 750 feet along with a completed station with full tile work were built that connect to today’s IND Queens Blvd line at Roosevelt Avenue — Jackson Heights.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression put a quick halt to those plans, and the area is now used as storage and office space.
After World War II, the name “Winfield” became disused and the town was divided between Woodside and Maspeth. Since the decline of industry and the railroad in the area, the center of what was Winfield has become dotted with chop shops, cheap motels, and residential shacks. But there are also nice little parks and quaint dwellings to be found. Below are some of the scenes one may see while walking through Winfield today:
More of these photos are available in my Winfield slideshow.
Engine 292, the FDNY unit on Queens Boulevard at 65th Street, still carries the area’s former name.
The Winfield Cougars are what these Bravest call themselves, and they sport a flaming firekitty on their company patch.
Old Fuss and Feathers would be proud.
Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page
NPS National Landmarks Program
NYC Parks Dept
Trains are Fun
The White House
Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott, by John S.D. Eisenhower, The Free Press, 1997
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The Encyclopedia of New York City, by Kenneth T. Jackson, et al, Yale Univ Press, 1995
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Novelli: A Forgotten Sculptor, by Josephine Murphy, Branden Publishing Company, 2002
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Winfield Scott: The Quest for Military Glory, by Timothy D. Johnson, University Press of Kansas, 1998
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