Roy Wilkins Park, Queens

One of the most important east-west routes in Queens is Hillside Avenue, marked in parts as State Route 25 and 25B. The ancient road marks the terminal moraine of the last ice age. To its north are hills once dotted with kettle ponds. South of the terminal moraine, the landscape of Queens gently slopes towards the Atlantic Ocean. Streams originating near the moraine flowed south in a nearly straight direction towards Jamaica Bay. Dammed by farmers for use as mills, and by Brooklyn for its water supply, examples include Baisley Pond and Conselyea’s Pond.

One pond however is not connected to any stream, has no name (yet) and was formed in the late 1990s.

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The pond is located within a sprawling 54-acre Roy Wilkins Southern Queens Park, a former naval hospital given to the city in 1977 and developed as the focal green space for southeast Queens. Upon the acquisition, most of the unused structures were razed and in their place the community had a blank slate on which to design what it hoped to see in a park.

The naval hospital was established in 1943 on the site of the Saint Albans Country Club. To its north is Addisleigh Park, a landmarked suburban development where the icty’s black middle class lived in the prewar years, including a few notable jazz stars.

In 1982, a year after the death of noted civil rights activist and St. Albans resident Roy Wilkins, Southeast Queens Park was reassigned his name. Located in a largely African-American neighborhood, the park’s connection to black culture and history includes the Black Spectrum Theatre Company and the African-American Hall of Fame. The park also includes an indoor swimming pool, community garden, playgrounds and tennis courts. the park is run in partnership with the nonprofit Southeast Queens Park Association.

The master plan adopted in 1989 included a pond in the southwest section of the park as a compliment to the nearby picnic grounds and playground. The lake included a viewing platform on its northern side and a bird sanctuary isle, as seen in the 2006 aerial shot below.

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Unfortunately without proper maintenance, phragmites grew around the viewing platform, obscuring views of the isle and reducing the footprint of open water.

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As with other park ponds in the city, this unnamed pond requires ongoing care otherwise it will become a swamp rather than a picturesque water feature that it was intended to be.

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In contrast to the rest of Queens, the southeastern quarter of the borough was developed haphazardly and does not have a unified street grid. One by one, farms, golf courses and horse racetracks were transformed into apartments and tract houses. The quilt-like patchwork of grids above represent what once were large property holdings.

Still Unnamed, but…

If it were up to me, not only would the pond be given better care but if it had to be named, let it be in honor of Solomon Goodrich. Formerly the director of the Southeast Queens Park Association (SQPA), Goodrich was an active participant in the civil rights movement and a figure of black empowerment on the neighborhood level. Goodrich retired from the SQPA in 2002.

Another individual worthy of the honor could be Paul Gibson Jr. (1927-2014), also a local resident and the city’s first black deputy mayor at the time that the federal government was considering other uses for the property. Both men were active leaders in the local NAACP. One pushed the paperwork to make the park happen and the other galvanized public support for the proposal.

Perhaps in the near future…

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