While exploring the campus of Saint John’s University in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Queens, I supplemented my research with old aerial surveys and maps of the site. At the southeastern corner of the campus was once a pond that is entirely covered by a highway. Happy thoughts of a pastoral ice skating site are tempered by headlines of drowning victims at Redder’s Pond.
What happened to this pond and does anyone besides me care that it existed?
Where Utopia Parkway meets Homelawn Street and Grand Central Parkway, the neighborhoods of Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates and Jamaica Hills meet. Prior to 1931, this intersection was the site of Redder’s Pond, one of many glacial kettle ponds atop the terminal moraine.
A popular ice skating site, the pond claimed three fatalities on January 5, 1908, when two local teens, Francis and William Stecher, fell into the ice. Passerby Joseph Tiercey attempted to save the boys but the ice cracked under his weight, resulting in a third death. Although the pond was relatively small at two to three acres, it was 12 feet deep.
In 1931, the pond was filled to make way for Grand Central Parkway, a highway designed by Robert Moses that runs from the Triborough (I refuse to call it RFK) Bridge to the Nassau County line, where it continues east as the Northern State Parkway.
As the aerial surveys show, between 1924 and 1951, the oval-shaped pond at the southeast corner was replaced with a highway overpass. The sizable undeveloped super-block was the Hillcrest Golf Club, which in 1954 was developed as the Queens campus of Saint John’s University.
The pond resurfaced in print around 2010 when local historian Carl Ballenas published a book on the history of Jamaica Estates. In the book, a page about the pond retells the story of the tragic 1908 drowning. That same year, the Immaculate Conception School and St. John’s University partnered to install a plaque on a boulder marking the location of the post-glacial pond. As the rock is located in a traffic triangle, it would be ideal to have the site named Redder’s Pond Triangle. That’s up to the City Council to decide.
Other Jamaica Hills Ponds
Not too far from the site of Redder’s Pond is Goose Pond, the centerpiece of Captain Tilly Park. It is the last kettle pond in the neighborhood that still exists above the surface. All others have been filled.
To the west of Goose Pond, Parsons Boulevard makes the climb on its way north from downtown Jamaica towards downtown Flushing. at the corner of Normal Road and Parsons Boulevard, behind Hillcrest High School used to be Reeves Pond, appearing on the 1909 Bromley atlas as a dotted line mirage. It was filled around 1899 to make way for the trolley line connecting Jamaica to Flushing. The tracks were pulled out in 1937 and today, the Q65 bus route follows the trolley’s path.
The Normal School on the map above was founded in 1895 and demolished nearly six decades later in favor of a larger structure. Its site was selected because it was on a hilltop overlooking Jamaica.
According to Bien
Looking at the 1891 Joseph Rudolf Bien map, I enclosed the Jamaica Hills neighborhood in a black border. Redder’s Pond is circled in red, Goose Pond in green, and Reeves Pond in purple. The two horizontal highlighted lines are Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue; the two horizontals are Parsons Boulevard and Homelawn Street. The red line is the border between the towns of Flushing and Jamaica, later marking the path of Grand Central Parkway.
Bien dutifully marks the surface elevation of each pond, along with contour lines and forested areas. To imagine what Jamaica Hills looked like prior to development, a visit to Forest Park would suffice as it also has a knob and kettle terrain shaped by the last ice age.