It’s a shame we can’t jump into an H.G. Wells-style time machine and motor backward or forward to a time of our choosing, but the laws of physics insist that time travel is impossible without expending nearly impossible amounts of energy, and even then…
Thus, we’re left with the next best things: paintings, photographs, and artworks that can capture past events and preserve them for future generations. We can take a look at maps of a particular era and surmise what was going on.
College Point sits in NW central Queens, currently cut off from Flushing by the College Point Industrial Park, the long-dead Flushing Airport and from Whitestone by the Whitestone Expressway. It is also separated from the rest of Queens by Flushing Bay. Just as evolution in Australia proceeded separately from other continents and so fauna and flora developed there quite unlike the rest of the world’s, so College Point has pretty much forged its own path. Two major roads lead in, College Point Boulevard and 20th Avenue, and its residents are linked to the rest of NYC only by buses and automobiles. The LIRR ran to College Point for several decades, but stopped from underpatronage and the Depression in 1932.
In 1852, College Point was isolated, but in those days there was much more interborough travel by boat. Two small towns called Flammersburg and Strattonport (likely named for their founders) in the early 19th Century. By 1852 Strattonport was the dominant town and had absorbed the other. Its grid street pattern is still in place in modern College Point; the slanted road seen on the 1852 map is today’s 14th Avenue.
At the top of the map are two elements that defined College Point for decades to come. There is no college in College Point, and hasn’t been since about 1850, when St. Paul’s College, shown on the northernmost part of the map, was converted into an elementary school and then a summer resort. The college was founded in 1835 as a seminary by the Rev. Augustus Muhlenberg. The school was well-remembered and in 1867, College Point received its current name. The slanted road leading to the school is today’s College Place.
Just below the St. Paul’s College notation is the inscription “W.F. Chisolm.” William F. Chisolm was a St. Paul’s student who married the Rev. Muhlenberg’s niece, Mary Rogers. Her mother had purchased several tons of stone that had originally been meant for the college, but that plan was abandoned due to the financial “panic” of 1837, and the couple moved into what was then called the Chisolm Mansion, made from the discarded stones.
The mansion and its grounds were acquired by NYC for use as a public park in 1930 and kept the grand building open for a few years. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia briefly used it as a summertime City Hall in the era before widespread air conditioning. Finally, the inevitable happened and the city had razed the mansion by 1941. In 1966, Chisolm Park became Hermon MacNeil Park after a famed local sculptor whose most famed work was the Standing Liberty Quarter, minted from 1916-1932. More of MacNeil’s works are on display at the Poppenhusen Institute on 14th Road. Its namesake, rubber and railroads king Conrad Poppenhusen, didn’t arrive from Germany in College Point until 1854.