WILD IN THE COUNTRY, Fresh Meadows

by Kevin Walsh

Where can this Queens scene be, which looks to be way out in the countryside with a few scattered houses near the horizon and a single railroad track in the foreground? Fortunately the notation tells us: it’s 164th Street at 65th Avenue on April 6th, 1926. In 2019, this location looked like this.

In the late 19th and early 20th Century, a trolley line connected Flushing and Jamaica, running originally through the farms and fields of Fresh Meadows. Service on this line was ended in 1937. In short order, the tracks were pulled up, the weeds paved over, a center median added, and 164th Street became the fast and furious stretch we know it as today between Flushing Cemetery and the Grand Central Parkway.

South of Grand Central Parkway the trolley line veered off 164th and rode on its own right of way to a terminal on Jamaica Avenue at about 160th Street. In the decades since, most of this trolley route has been either eliminated or hidden pretty well, but the four-lane width of 164th Street is a legacy of the route. There was one lane of traffic on the east side of the street, with the rest taken up by trolley tracks. For more information see Stephen Meyers’ book, Lost Trolleys of Queens and Long Island.

As it happens, I have a number of photographs of the Flushing-Jamaica trolley before and after service ended — when the weather cools a bit, I may make my way down this stretch of 164th Street and show you what things looked like then and now. In some cases like the above, things are unrecognizable; but in some spots, nothing has changed a bit!

Incidentally in the 1920s, streets were already gridded out the way the appear today (for the most part) as this 1922 Hagstrom indicates. They weren’t built out completely until after World War II; and then, the Long Island (Horace Harding) Expressway arrived in the Fabulous 1950s.

More from the old days of Queens here.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

8/6/20

13 comments

Patrick August 7, 2020 - 3:32 am

It would be interesting to see a picture of Fillmore’s Tavern on 166th Street in relation.

Reply
Kevin Walsh August 8, 2020 - 2:12 pm

I have another photo showing what became 65th Avenue and the building that now houses the tavern can be seen. It was built in 1912; this was a small built up area in the country at the time.

Reply
Patrick August 8, 2020 - 3:07 pm

Wow, cool!

Reply
tom August 8, 2020 - 8:13 pm

Remember when the bar was officially known at Vinnies Hillcrest, but unofficially known as Marie’s, his wife. Great food for a great price. Big hangout for phone company, post office, Con Ed and other blue collar workers.

Reply
Mitchell Pak August 7, 2020 - 12:00 pm

I played softball at a park on 164th Street just south of 65th Ave for over 10 years. Hard to believe that it once looked like this.

Reply
George Cassidy August 7, 2020 - 12:02 pm

My father and my uncle used to ride that car daily to get to classes at Jamaica Training School.

Reply
Andy August 7, 2020 - 2:53 pm

Excellent photo, thanks for posting. Just one correction please – the photo is 1926, so the photo is about ten years before trolley service ended. The trolley operator’s routes, New York and Queens County Railway, became the Queens Transit Corporation, later Queens Surface Corporation. That firm’s buses were noteworthy for their dark orange and cream paint scheme, almost a Creamsicle style. In 2005 Queens Surface became part of MTA Bus Company. The Q65 route on 164th Street still plies the route of the old trolleys, and is one of the busiest routes in Queens because it follows a north-south path without any parallel subway or LIRR routes.
The photo shows a single track, which means that this portion of the route, midway between Jamaica and Flushing, was not heavily patronized, as evidenced by the barren landscape. A single track was no doubt adequate to support two way service every 20 to 30 minutes. Signals would normally control entry into this single track stretch so as to avoid any head-on collisions.

Reply
Kevin Walsh August 8, 2020 - 2:09 pm

Yes, I stole that from another FNY post showing the line in 1936. I deleted that line.

Reply
Irene Panossian August 7, 2020 - 11:54 pm

Thanks for posting this. I grew up a few blocks away. Yes, nice to see my neighborhood.

Reply
Moshe Feder August 10, 2020 - 12:21 pm

Thanks so much for posting this! I knew about this Flushing-Jamaica service — there were vestiges of its rails peeking through the asphalt in Flushing when I was a kid — but had never seen a photo of this part of the line. I still live just over a mile west of this location in Queensboro Hill, but it’s so changed I can’t decide which way the camera is pointed. Do you know? Since it appears to be looking toward higher ground and there’s a building in the distance to the left of the telephone pole at the right that might be PS 163 (I couldn’t find out when it was built), my own guess is that it’s looking North, but I’m not sure.

I can’t tell you much I wish it had been retained. The removal of excellent streetcar lines that would only have become more important over time is the original sin of mid-20th Century urban planning. The thought that we voluntarily gave up spacious, clean electric transit for cramped, filthy diesel buses makes my blood boil.

Reply
redstaterefugee August 12, 2020 - 10:36 am

Knock it off, Feder. Trolley lines were inflexible because of the fixed rails they ran on. In the mid 20th century, when Queens’ population was growing & new communities were emerging bus lines provided route flexibility. The diesel engine was always a reliable, economical, & durable power source for buses, trucks, submarines, ships, & generating stations. Take a close look at the Cummins turbo diesel option offered by Ram trucks which are beloved by their owners. .Logic must prevail over sentimentality & irrational sentimentality.

Reply
Andy August 12, 2020 - 9:48 pm

Your point about population growth in Queens is spot on. In 1930 its population was 1,079,000; in 1960 the population was 1,810,000, representing an increase of nearly 70% over thirty years. While it is true that NYC officials, led by Mayor LaGuardia, were pro-bus and anti-trolley after the mid-1930s, it’s also true that bus transportation was the obvious answer to quick transit expansion in Queens. Keep in mind also that very few of today’s transit buses are straight diesels. Most have hybrid, fossil fueled power plants that generate electric power for the motive power, which eliminates the need for a conventional transmission behind the engine.

Reply
redstaterefugee August 13, 2020 - 10:51 am

“You are correct, sir”. Modern buses are like diesel electric submarines or locomotives: great examples of great engineering.

Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.