By CHRISTINA WILKINSON
Forgotten NY correspondent
DURING the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch farmers settled Newtown and Bushwick on the western end of Long Island. One of these farmers, Paulus Van Der Ende, built a house in Newtown in 1710. The restored farmhouse is located at the corner of what are today Flushing and Onderdonk Avenues; the latter street was named after the house’s second owner, Adrian Onderdonk, who moved there in 1831. More about this house can be found on FNY’s Flushing Avenue page.
A border dispute between Newtown and Bushwick lasted over a hundred years, into the period when the English were ruling and settling Long Island. A somewhat temporary resolution was the placement of three giant rocks (referenced on this FNY page) by a surveyor in 1769 – each labelled with a ‘B’ on one side and an ‘N’ on the other – to delineate what he determined to be the border between the two townships.
In 1856, a reservoir was constructed on the Newtown-Bushwick border that supplied water to the City of Brooklyn. The water flowed through a series of canals and aqueducts across Jamaica, originating at the Ridgewood Ponds, in what is today the town of Wantagh in Nassau County. The body of water became known as Ridgewood’s Reservoir, after its eastern source.
The land in the vicinity of the reservoir was officially called South Williamsburgh at this time. Desiring a unique identity for their area, residents adopted the name of the reservoir for their town. When map printers applied the name ‘Ridgewood’ to an area larger than that of the town limits, the tight-knit community changed its name to ‘Evergreen,’ after the large nearby Cemetery of the Evergreens. In 1910, the name Ridgewood was officially bestowed upon the entire area nestled between Glendale and Bushwick. However, traces of the old Evergreen name still exist today.
The Evergreen Branch of the LIRR once passed through the area, and remains of it can still be found in Ridgewood if you look carefully.
Evergreen Avenue, once a part of ancient Bushwick Road (hence its slight twists and turns) leads right to Cemetery of the Evergreens. Evergreen Park sits adjacent to P.S. 68 at St. Felix and 75th Avenues.
“Evergreen,” or “EV,” was the predominate alphanumeric telephone exchange in Ridgewood and can still be found on display at some of the older businesses in the area, such as the one pictured at left.
(This 1873 map of Ridgewood was taken from the larger map of Newtown found on the Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page .)
The Kings-Queens border has been shifted several times over the years, and Ridgewood has always suffered somewhat of an identity crisis because of it. This map shows that back in 1873, the border was drawn as a diagonal line without regard to the streets, so technically one’s house could be in both counties at the same time. Further complicating matters, the northernmost part of the town on the Queens side was called ‘East Williamsburgh,’ as though it was an annex of the well-established Brooklyn neighborhood.
(Ed.: note also that the name Ridgewood was only applied to the eastern part of what’s now Ridgewood; in that light, the naming of Ridgewood Reservoir makes a bit more sense. It’s now in what’s now Cypress Hills.)
In the 1920′s, the border was redrawn as a zigzagging line down Menahan Street and Cypress, St. Nicholas, Gates, Wyckoff and Irving Avenues. The street grid here slants to the left and does not line up with that of the rest of Queens. As you approach the border, address numbering follows the Brooklyn system and the Queens hyphen seems to be optional.
For the longest time, Ridgewood and Glendale were served by the Bushwick post office, and therefore were assigned a Brooklyn zip code. Envelopes were addressed as “Ridgewood, Bklyn, NY 27.” Businesses in the area at the turn of the century preferred it that way, because at the time, the name of Brooklyn carried more prestige than that of any part of Queens.
After riots and looting devastated neighboring Bushwick during the Great Blackout of 1977 ,area residents actively sought to disassociate themselves from Brooklyn. In 1979, Ridgewood and Glendale finally received a Queens zip code: 11385.
Many horsecars, steam trains, electric trains, trolleys and buses have chugged their way through Ridgewood over the years. It became a hub for transportation in the early 20th century, and the extension of the Myrtle Avenue elevated line through the area was responsible for a housing boom which began prior to WWI.
One exit of the Fresh Pond Road Station leaves you practically on someone’s doorstep. All of the Queens stations on the M line are in Ridgewood, with the exception of Metropolitan Avenue, its terminus.
More bus lines start with a B than with a Q the closer you get to the Brooklyn border. The state-of-the-art Fresh Pond Depot off Fresh Pond Road is home for most of the area’s buses.
(Ed.: the bus terminal at Fresh Pond Road is a former trolley station)
The LIRR’s freight line, run now by NY & Atlantic Railway, creates somewhat of a physical border between Ridgewood and Glendale, its neighbor to the east.
Surrounded on two sides by rail tracks, Joseph Mafera (formerly Glenridge) Park is a true urban oasis. You might catch a glimpse of it while riding the M train, which rumbles along the north side of it. In this photo, a freight train crosses over the bridge at the Fresh Pond Railyard on the eastern side of the park while a baseball game is played below. Batters here can’t hold up their hands and call for time to allow the noise to pass, as the pros do out at Shea. The trains can take up to 15 minutes to go by.
The park is very busy on the weekends. This particular day, besides the rail action and baseball games, the playground and basketball courts were very active. A child tried unsuccessfully to make his kite defy gravity while a red-tailed hawk hovered above, demonstrating just how easy flight is. A vendor scooped Italian ice in the outfield and this junior Jeter was one satisfied customer.
Ye Olde Ridgewood
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Ridgewood was primarily made up of farms, small family businesses and factories. The two largest industries in the area were breweries and knitting mills. Below are photos of some of the structures from this period that have withstood the test of time.
The Meyerrose House was built on Forest Avenue in 1906 by the Sheriff of Queens County, Joseph Meyerrose. It subsequently served as a political clubhouse, a restaurant and a knitting mill. Today it is a Romanian church.
The Ridgewood Democratic Club building, on Putnam Avenue, dates back to about 1902. It was originally the office of Paul Stier, Ridgewood’s largest residential home builder. More on him later…
In May of 1908, the Bishop of Brooklyn was travelling to Rome via ocean liner when an idea came to him. He would build a church in Ridgewood and name it afterMatthias, one of the Apostles. (The Brooklyn Diocese oversees Kings and Queens Counties.)
In 1909, St. Matthias Church and School was built as an all-in-one building on Catalpa Avenue. The above postcard shows how it looked in 1915, after the new friary and convent were built, to the right of the main building.
By 1917, St. Matthias was overflowing with parishoners.
WWI delayed the construction of a new, larger church, which was finally completed in 1926. The school was then expanded to occupy the entire old building.
St. Matthias interior. See link at the bottom of the page for additional photos of the inside of the church, which is one of the most beautiful in all of NYC.
These buildings house J.& C. Platz, Inc. The Platz Brothers started selling painting supplies in 1909 from the smaller building on the left and in 1913 built the corner structure so they could expand their business to include hardware.
After almost 100 years, Platz Hardware is still in business. They remain at the same location, and now they also sometimes sell flowers. In 1909, they advertised on the side of a horse-drawn cart. Today they reach the masses viatheir website.
Moeschle’s Cafe stood at the corner of what is now 70th Avenue and 60th Street. The photo is from 1912.
Notice that they sold Rheingold beer, which was manufactured and bottled at a large brewery in Bushwick. Many Ridgewood residents worked in breweries on either side of the border.
Today, the building’s restaurant tradition continues, but the establishment is now called Cozy Corner.
Before the Prohibition era, there were 48 breweries in Brooklyn and Queens. Most closed in the 1970′s. The Brooklyn Brewery, which opened in 1996, is the only local (Williamsburg) brewery now.
The early members of the Ring family were farmers and lived in this house, which was built in 1860. In 1910, they sold the house and the land it sat on. As we will see shortly, selling their property wouldn’t put an end to the Ring family’s involvement in the development of their land.
The farmhouse was saved from demolition. It was purchased by a real estate dealer who moved it to its present location at Cypress Hills and 62nd Streets. Despite the alterations, the house still stands out among Ridgewood’s ubiquitous rowhouses.
This Greenpoint Bank was at one time a Childs Restaurant. You can always spot a Childs by the seahorse pattern that lines the tops of their former buildings.
Above the bank is a Navy recruiting office. This picture captured the sailors returning to their office after lunch. Instead of sailing the ocean blue on a big ship, these guys get to navigate through a sea of traffic in a blue sedan. It’s probably not what they had in mind when they signed up, but at least they get to save money on Dramamine.
The Ridgewood Theatre (1913) on Myrtle Avenue has been landmarked and saved from demolition.
The establishment pictured above was Kaspar Franz’s Saloon. It was located on Menahan Street. Above is a 1906 photo of Franz’s family.
Today, the same address is a Romanian Cultural Center named Banatul, which sponsors a soccer team. A peek inside reveals that the main room is still being used for its original purpose.
The housing boom
As mentioned previously, the subway extension into Ridgewood was primarily responsible for bringing new people to the neighborhood. Someone needed to give them a place to live. Four major builders were responsible for providing living space for the new residents, many of whom were German immigrants.
In this section, we will briefly describe who each man was and their contribution to the pre-WWI housing boom in Ridgewood. The four were: Paul Stier, Walter Ring, Gustave Matthews and Henry Meyer, Jr.
Paul Stier built more than 750 houses in Ridgewood under his own name, and after he partnered with August Bauer, they together built 200 more. A short, dead end street off of Putnam Avenue and next to what was his office, is named Stier Place in his honor. The area bordered by Fresh Pond Road and 71st, Putnam and Forest Avenues had at one time been called ‘Stierville,’ since that is where many of his homes were built. He sold his single-family houses for $5,600.
In 1915, Stier won the election for Sheriff of Queens County. This new venture proved to be his downfall. The German immigrant, who came here with nothing and fulfilled his version of the American dream, was shot dead by a crazy man in Whitestone while attempting to execute a contempt-of-court warrant in 1916. He was 42 years old at the time of his death.
The Ring family was of the farming tradition, but farming began to die out in the early 1900′s, and they found themselves in a bit of a pickle. Part of their land had been condemned by the city to make way for P.S. 88. They then decided to have most of the rest of their land subdivided into 230 housing lots. 67th Ave, 68th Ave and 68th Road lie within this area.
One heir, Walter F. Ring, went out independently and found a partner, William R. Gibson. They formed the Ring-Gibson Company, whose forte was building multi-unit rowhouses with businesses at ground level.
They were very interested in developing the part of the Ring land that fronted Fresh Pond Road, but as it was still owned by the Ring heirs (of which Walter was one), they could not buy it directly. In a strange and legally questionable arrangement, they asked Paul Stier to buy the land, which Ring-Gibson then purchased from him for $1. Much of today’s Fresh Pond Road commercial district came about because of this deal.
Gustave Matthews mass-produced these multi-unit houses for about $8,000 and sold them for $11,000. They did not have central heating or hot water systems. The only heat came from coal in the stove and a kerosene heater in the living room. Despite this, the U.S. Government gave special recognition to Matthews’ concept in 1915 when an exhibit was opened at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. It showed the world how efficiently these type of apartments met housing needs for a surging population.
Henry W. Meyer was born in Germany in 1850. He came alone to America in 1866, when he was 16. He saved the money he made working as a grocery store clerk and eventually was able to purchase a failing tobacco store. He started making his own tobacco and turned the business around. His best selling brand was called “Ivanhoe.”
Before his death in 1898, Meyer amassed quite a bit of land in Ridgewood and Glendale by buying up pieces of other families’ estates. He called his estate “Ivanhoe Park.”
After his death, his son decided that housing development would be more profitable than the tobacco business. As a result, he built 104 rowhouses of cold-water flats, such as the ones pictured above on 64th Street, by 1921.
In 1959, New York City passed a law that called for conversion of cold-water flats into apartments with centralized heat and hot water systems.
The entire rowhome area of Ridgewood, all 2,980 buildings, comprises the largest National Historic District in the nation. All of the builders used Kreischer bricks, which give the buildings their golden appearance. Another spot in Ridgewood where Kreischer bricks are on display is Stockholm Street, a.k.a. “The Yellow Brick Road.”
Two banks named Ridgewood…
They say politics makes for strange bedfellows. It seems that the banking business does as well. Competing builders Paul Stier and Walter F. Ring, together with architect Louis Berger, founded the Ridgewood National Bank in 1909. In 1910, the bank moved into the building pictured above. The building is still there, albeit in an altered form, and is now a pharmacy – the inside of which retains some of the bank’s original charm.
A butcher, a baker, an undertaker, an attorney, a physician and nine other local residents were the founders of the ‘Savings Bank of Ridgewood,’ built at the corner of Forest Avenue and George Street in 1921.
Eight years later, the name of the bank was changed to ‘Ridgewood Savings Bank,’ which it is still known as today. A new main office was completed at Myrtle and Forest Avenues in 1929. Intricate exterior building details can be viewed in the photo gallery which is linked at the bottom of this page.
Memorials to Heroes
The Ridgewood Remembrance sits at the crossroads of Myrtle and Cypress Avenues and honors those who died in WWI.
It was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1923. The pillar is 11 feet high and contains 3 bas-reliefs of a soldier, a sailor and a pilot.
The soldier is accompanied by a woman with a torch, the sailor by Neptune, and the airman by an allegorical female figure.
[Near this location stood a building bearing the address 816 Cypress Avenue. This was where, in 1922, the WHN radio station held its first broadcast. At the time, it was one of only 30 stations in all of the United States, and the only one in Queens County. In 1923, WHN was sold to the Loew's Theatre organization, which moved the operation to Times Square in Manhattan. The station changed owners, call letters, formats, broadcasting locations and frequencies many times over the years. Today, the station that traces its humble beginnings back to Ridgewood is1050AM ESPN radio.]
A spot named Korean Square at first seems a bit odd sitting in the middle of what is today a German, Spanish and Slavic neighborhood.
That is, until you realize that the name honors those who were killed in the Korean War.
The monument was placed on a triangle along Forest Avenue in May of 1955. A wreath-laying ceremony takes place here twice a year.
Venditti Square on Myrtle Avenue , home to this unique street clock, was named for NYPD Detective Anthony J. Venditti, who was gunned down on January 21, 1986 as he entered the diner pictured behind the clock. Venditti had been conducting surveillance of local mobsters. His partner was wounded, but survived, and managed to hit one of the suspects with return fire. Those responsible were apprehended, but were acquitted of murder. They later were sent up the river for racketeering.
Police Officer Ramon Suarez School, at Cypress Avenue and Weirfield Street, is dedicated to the memory of a transit cop who died on September 11, 2001. He was photographed aiding at least three people who escaped the World Trade Center with their lives. One of them was a pregnant woman, who two months later gave birth to a daughter. He died when he ran back into Tower 2 and it collapsed.
At one time, Robert Moses, our favorite urban planner, proposed that a highway be built along the Brooklyn-Queens border, and across the southernmost part of Ridgewood. Interstate 78, or the Bushwick Expressway, thankfully never came to fruition.
From a July 2004 mayoral press release:
“Ground was broken for the Ridgewood Reservoir on July 11, 1856 on the site of Snediker’s Cornfield.
“Water was first raised into the Reservoir on November 18, 1858 by two large pumps each with a capacity of 14 million gallons per day. [The 1859 lithograph above left, entitled, " View of Brooklyn City Water Works and Cypress Hills from Ridgewood Reservoir, " by F. Blumner and G. Kraetzer, celebrates the opening of the new water reserve.]
“By 1868, the Ridgewood Reservoir held an average of 154,400,000 gallons daily, enough to supply the City of Brooklyn for ten days at that time.
“The Ridgewood Reservoir remained in regular service until 1959. From 1960 to 1989, the reservoir’s third basin was filled each summer with water from the City’s massive upstate reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, and used sporadically as a backup supply for parts of Brooklyn and Queens.”
The entire complex was decommissioned by the city in 1990 and left to decay. Since that time, it has become a hotspot for urban explorers, such as those at Urbanlens, Netherworld Online and Dark Passage.
In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe announced that the Reservoir would be cleaned up, opened for public use and managed by the city parks department.
Oh, and by the way, there is no longer an area called Ridgewood Ponds out east. Today, what was once the source of Brooklyn’s water supply is divided into Seaman, Wantagh and Mill Ponds. The only remaining clue that these bodies of water lent their original name to the Queens border town is the presence of tiny Ridgewood Drive to the east.
Forgotten Fan Sean Cornelis: The area where these lakes are located (now known as The Mill Pond Preserve and Twin Lakes Preserve) was at one time called Ridgewood, in fact the entire town of Wantagh was known as this during the early 1800s. When the Southern Railroad of LI (later became the Babylon Branch of the LIRR) came through here in 1867 the station was called Ridgewood and was known as that until 1891. The original Ridgewood station still exists but was moved to another location when the tracks were elevated. It’s currently home to the Wantagh Museum. Near Seaman Pond there are at least 3 Brooklyn Water Works buildings still standing.
Also, the “Ridgewood Drive” you mention is actually the Ridgewood Condominiums which have only existed for about 10 years. They were built on the property of Thomas Seaman (the namesake of the Pond) and the entire complex was actually modeled after the mid-1800s Seaman home that still stands on the property….so the name is new but still a tip of the cap to the old Ridgewood Ponds and Brooklyn Water Works system.
Snyder-Grenier, Ellen M.: Brooklyn! An Illustrated History. Temple University Press, 1996
Palmetto Street: July 4th, 1914 by artist Doug Leblang
The color photos above and in the photo gallery were taken on May 14th, 2005, and the page was completed on June 11th, 2005 by Forgotten NY correspondent Christina Wilkinson. The black-and-white photos are from the Times Newsweekly, except where noted.
©2005 Midnight Fish. erpietri”@”earthlink.net
But wait…there’s more!
Your webmaster accompanied Christina on her Ridgewood research. Here’s a couple of things she left out…
Former hay loft, Cypress Avenue and Menahan Street. Many NYC buildings are converted stables and haylofts.
“Ralph Street” sign at Cypress and Menahan Street, which Ralph Street later became. Christina proposes a theory that Ralph Avenue is a southern extension of Menahan Street, and a look at the map seems to support her: even though Menahan Street ends at Bushwick Avenue, Ralph Avenue begins at Broadway where Menahan would intersect if it continued through.
Ralph Avenue and its neighbor to the west in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Patchen Avenue, are likely named for early 1700s Kings County landowner Ralph Patchen.
Former US post office, Madison Street above Wyckoff Avenue.
Former RKO Madison Theater, Myrtle Avenue and Woodbine Street. The painted word “Madison” can barely be made out on the wall. The Madison opened in 1927 and showed its last film in 1978.
Cinematreasures has plenty of Madison reminiscences
Bleecker Street brownstones
Wyckoff Avenue, exterior date is 1897. According to Will Anderson’s book The Breweries of Brooklyn, it’s the office building of of Welz and Zerweck’s once mammoth brewery.
Thanks to Forgotten Fan Jack Termine.
OK, we’re done.