BY SERGEY KADINSKY
Forgotten NY contributor
The Borough of Queens was once a patchwork collection of villages divided among the major towns of Flushing, Jamaica, Newtown, Far Rockaway, and Long Island City. In 1898, Newtown merged into Greater New York, and was renamed Elmhurst. Its outlying neighborhoods, Winfield and Nassau Heights were absorbed into Elmhurst. In 1915, the numbered street grid was gradually imposed on the borough, and the streets of Nassau Heights began to take on numbers. But one stubbornly remained, and you can park your car on it today without any fear of ticketing.
In a borough that once had several Broadways, Jamaica Avenues, and Fulton Streets, there could now be only one of each. Only one of the borough’s two Madison Streets could keep the fourth president’s name. The loser would have to take a number. Ridgewood was given that honor, while the Madison Street of Nassau Heights would become 84th Street. Or so we thought…
Unlike some Forgotten alleys, Madison Street is still owned by the city, with stop signs, sidewalks, and occasional repavings. At the same time, the street does not have any name signs, addresses, nor street cleaning schedule.
Usually the difference between a legal street and an alley is demarcated by the sidewalk, as seen on the left. But only one of the three streets crossing Madison Street has the sidewalk division. Without it, the alley would simply blend into the streetscape, and drivers would not know the difference.
In this 1912 map, Nassau Heights forms a tight street grid to the winding colonial-period roads and farming landscape surrounding it.
Of course, many of the streets on this map were not built yet, but the properties were already demarcated for prospective owners.
After the numbering grid was imposed, Division Street became 84th Street, and so did Madison Street. But they both overlapped between Valentine Street and Caldwell Avenue (today’s 54th Ave. and 57th Ave. respectively), circled in red
That three-block stretch, where Madison parallels Division, was purged from city maps, yet it remained an open street to this very day.
(On the 1912 map, Thomson and Jamaica Avenues are now Queens Boulevard; Washington is now Seabury; Adams, Van Horn; Jefferson, Haspel: see below.)
In this 1954 aerial view, the empty area near the bottom right was a cliff separating the elevated Nassau Heights from Elmhurst proper. Within a decade, the Long Island Expressway would totally alter the landscape, running across the bottom of this aerial view, severing old Madison Street into two.
The dark paved street is 57th Avenue, known as Caldwell in 1912. It is part of the colonial-period North Hempstead Plank Road, which connected Maspeth to Flushing Meadows, and points east.
Other roads that shared this ancient Plank name include Rego Park’s 63rd Road, and Forest Hills’ Apex Place, 62 Drive, and Colonial Avenue.
Once it crossed Flushing Meadows via Strong’s Causeway, it became North Hempstead Turnpike, known today as Booth Memorial Avenue. The circuitous east-west path is today paralleled by the mighty Long Island Expressway.
The cliffhanger 84th Street footbridge over the LIE provides an endless view east on the left, but even on a clear day, I doubt that Nassau County can be seen. There are too many hills and valleys ahead of it. On the right above is a westward view, with the traffic-free Madison Avenue of Elmhurst. Midtown’s skyscrapers frame a jagged background.
This is why this footbridge is nicknamed the ‘cliffhanger’. Across the highway, homeowners have a clear view of the King of All Buildings.
Across the street from the homes above, this is the view they enjoy. The view was a bit hazy, as the city was experiencing an early 90+ degree day in May.
Unlike most city neighborhoods, Elmhurst and Maspeth have noise barriers shielding them from the mighty highway. To the east, Rego Park, Flushing, and Fresh Meadows are less fortunate.
What Hagstrom once forgot, Google Maps remembers, with Madison Street marked on that forgotten three-block stretch along 84th Street, which makes its shift at 57th Avenue.
In spite of the banal number grid, a number of local streets carry local names, such as Seabury, Van Horn, and Haspel. The latter was named after a local soldier killed in the first World War.
The local Veterans of Foreign Wars post also bears Haspel’s name.
The land for the 1.6 acre Crowley Playground was acquired by the city in the 1950s for the highway. Leftover land along the highway was turned into parkland. In 1986, it was renamed for local Democratic District Leader Walter Crowley. His nephew Joseph went on to become the county party chief and a US Congressman. His daughter Elizabeth is the local City Council member [as of 2010].
Sergey Kadinsky has been living in Queens since age eight. His interest in journalism can be traced back to childhood, when he made a hobby out of writing letters to the editors of local newspapers. He is a writer who aspires to a career in journalism and politics. At times, he has been spotted giving tourist-friendly monologues atop Gray Line buses. He also paints murals that contain maze puzzles. His website is mazeartist.
Page completed May 31, 2010