What would become Woodside, a bustling community centered at Roosevelt Avenue and 61st Street where the #7 Flushing Line and the Long Island Rail Road come together, was originally a part of a larger colonial village, Newtown. It was largely a woodsy swamp until the mid-1860s, when developer Benjamin Hitchcock purchased the John Kelly farm and divided it into building lots located along today’s Woodside Avenue. Kelly, an early settler, was part owner of a Brooklyn newspaper and sent it dispatches from his home in the ‘sticks’ called “Letters from Woodside;” Hitchcock perpetuated the name. Woodside took off when the Queensboro Bridge opened in 1909 and the el arrived in 1917. Woodside’s strange street pattern, with some streets angling for seemingly no reason, has to do with its old railroads: the Flushing and Woodside and Flushing and Northside Railroads, as well as the Long Island Rail Road, all ran through Woodside. By the late 19th century, the railroads had either failed or had been absorbed by the LIRR. The surviving roads, absorbed into the LIRR, were elevated by 1917.
Today in Woodside you are just as likely to exit an Irish bar and enter an Indian restaurant as you are to walk out of a bodega and then past a remnant of the colonial era. Woodside has succeeded in hiding in plain sight some of its more prominent relics from the old days, too.
At the corner of 58th Street and 39th Avenue, beside the railroad overpass west of the LIRR Woodside station, is a shambling, two-story residence that gives just a little hint of past grandeur. For several decades, this was a hotel that sat beside the railroad tracks, which were at grade when the house was built in 1882.
The hotel was constructed by German immigrant John Meyer, who arrived in Queens in 1877. He gained employment as a bartender/manager at a local watering hole called the Woodside Pavilion, which still stands as an unprepossessing private dwelling with white aluminum siding and brown window shutters, a block away at 39th and 57th. Meyer intended to become a saloon owner/hotelier himself and had Meyer’s Hotel constructed for $10,000 in 1882, with then-modern amenities private baths, running hot and cold water, modern kitchen, barber shop, and a livery service. Much of the cost went into sumptuous appointments such as yellow hardwood pine floors, black walnut moldings and paintings by renowned local artists.
Meyer was not around long to savor the hotel’s success, as he perished from a heart attack in 1887. His widow Katherine remarried, to George Shreiner, and kept the business going as the Katherine Meyer Hotel, which was later taken over by John E.A. Meyer, John and Katherine’s son.
As the decades went by Woodside was losing its rural aspect. The city was coming to Queens, and the Long Island Rail Road decided to eliminate its grade crossing and add extra tracks to its main branch, which wound up passing in front of Meyer’s Hotel. A massive elevated trestle was built right over the building’s front gate. John E. A. Meyer closed his father’s old hotel in 1917, the year after the trestle opened, and it became a two-family house. It’s likely that the current residents have no idea the place used to be one of the jewels of Woodside hospitality.