College Point was originally settled by the Native American Matinecocks. The Indians sold much of it to New Netherland Governor William Kieft in 1645. William Lawrence was the first British settler (College Point Boulevard’s name until 1969, Lawrence Street, honored the Lawrence family) and by 1838, Augustus Muhlenberg, rector of St. George’s Church on Main Street in Flushing, had founded St. Paul’s College in the area. The college foundered within a decade, but College Point and College Place recall it.
Manufacturer Conrad Poppenhusen (1818-1883) arrived here from Germany in 1854 and converted College Point into a virtual company town. Poppenhusen opened a large rubber factory employing hundreds of immigrant workers and native College Pointers. He also built the Flushing and North Side Railroad, now a part of the LIRR Port Washington line. Poppenhusen built water and sewage systems, a library, and the Poppenhusen Institute, which included the first free kindergarten in the United States. He is recalled by the Institute, an avenue, an 1884 bust by Henry Baehrer at Poppenhusen Triangle at College Place and 12th Avenue, and by a smaller bust in the Institute’s lobby.
The Institute featured the nation’s first free kindergarten (est. 1870), as well as a justice of the peace, the first home of the College Point Savings Bank, German ‘singing societies,’ the first library in the area, a court room, the Sheriff’s Office with two jail cells, and a grand ballroom where today, works by Hermon McNeil, College Point’s preeminent artist, are exhibited.
Today the Institute is used as a community center (in healthier times) and features karate and piano lessons, summer band concerts, a fire department museum and Native American exhibits, while the ballroom is rented for wedding receptions.