Throughout the past four centuries in New York, when there wasn’t enough land available for development, land reclamation extended the city’s shoreline often for ports that connected the city with the world. The same can be said for the city’s airports, which were also built on reclaimed land. In the process not only were marshlands covered, but in East Elmhurst a millpond dating to colonial times was filled following the construction of LaGuardia Airport.
In this 1929 photo from the NYPL collection, the shot looks east where Jackson’s Mill Pond empties into Flushing Bay. The bluff on the right is in the neighborhood of East Elmhurst while the mudflat on the left is a forgotten place known as North Beach.
As it was
In this 1891 Julius Bien map of Queens, based on the U. S. Geological Survey of that year shows a creek flowing north towards Flushing Bay. The two main east-west roads then were Flushing Avenue (today’s Astoria Boulevard) and Jackson Avenue (today’s Northern Boulevard). Highlighted is the path of Junction Boulevard, which in East Elmhurst is assigned as 94th Street. From end to end, it links Rego Park with LaGuardia Airport, served by the Q72 bus. Winding across the plain was Trains Meadow Road, which was later consumed by the street grid.
This sparsely populated area between Astoria and Flushing, north of Corona and Newtown was then known as Trains Meadows. The origin of this name is unclear but it could be a corruption of “Drains Meadow,” after a stream flowing through it. Known to Natives as Sackhickniyeh, it originated near the present-day intersection of Broadway and 58th Street in Woodside.
From the Queens Historical Society‘s collection, this 1870 photo of the pond’s namesake mill Vincent Seyfried and William Asadorian’s Old Queens NY in Early Photographs. Near the creek’s mouth at Flushing Bay, a dam was constructed by Dutch settler Warner Wessels in 1655, with an undershot wheel providing power to grind wheat and corn for local residents. The site of this pond is on the northeastern side of the intersection of Ditmars Boulevard and 94th Street.
The reservoir behind the mill had three names during its existence: Kip’s Mill, Fish’s Mill and Jackson Mill. The latter was in memory of its last owner, Samuel Jackson. The mill operated until 1870. The road atop the mill dam connected Trains Meadow with Sanford Point, a tip facing the East River that separated Flushing Bay from Bowery Bay.
On the Point
In this 1908 G. W. Bromley atlas plate, Sanford Point is developed as the North Beach amusement district, developed in 1886 by local piano baron William Steinway. At the tip of the point, a ferry brought in visitors from Manhattan and other places. The amusement district’s decline can be attributed to water pollution and the 1920s prohibition on alcohol that closed beer gardens across the city. By the end of the decade, the street grid had been laid out across Trains Meadow, gradually transforming it into Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst.
Glenn Curtiss arrives
The closing of Gala Amusement Park brought a new tenant to Sanford Point, aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, who subsequently used landfill to expand his airport. In the 1935 aerial survey above, Grand Central Parkway had just been constructed along the water’s edge, sparing the neighborhoods but also severing them from the shoreline and reducing the size of the pond. Sanford Point and Rikers Island were both expanded in size using landfill. In color is the reduced Jackson’s Mill Pond, minus the gristmill. By 1937, the remaining homes on the point were gone as the airport was expanded.
In 1937, the city allocated a sum of $8,444,300 to expand Curtiss’ North Beach Airport. It reopened as a city-owned airport in 1939, soon after renamed after Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. What remained of Jackson’s Mill Pond was drained on the west side of 94th Avenue and expanded on the eastern side into an inlet of Flushing Bay under the name Jackson Creek Boat Basin. Drained in part because it was a mosquito breeding ground.
This inlet was filed by 1964, replaced with parking lots and an expanded central terminal. Although LaGuardia Airport is considered small in comparison to the two other Port Authority-operated airports in the metropolitan region, it remains a vital hub for domestic and Canada-bound flights.
What’s there today
In this recent Google Maps aerial shot, 94th Street still makes a slight curve as it descends towards the airport. Grand Central Parkway has been widened to a monstrous 10 lanes as it passes by the airport. Ditmars Boulevard serves here as the highway’s service road.
Following a reconstruction of 94th Street’s bridge over the parkway, landscaping was conducted along the highway shoulder space where Jackson’s Mill Pond once flowed and a curving pedestrian path marks its former shore. In the 1870s, North Beach was affectionately nicknamed as Frog Town because there were so many of them by the pond. The present sounds a stark contrast with endless automobiles and airplanes passing by.
The names Jackson’s Mill Pond, Frog Town, North Beach and Sanford Point are all equally unknown to most Queens residents today. Yet as LaGuardia prepares for its much-awaited reconstruction, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is aware of the site’s history and had an archaeological team conduct a survey of the property in June 2013. A sleeker central terminal is planned for the airport, giving more room for airplanes, to land take off and rest.
On a related note: While searching for information online on Jackson Creek, I stumbled upon the blog Lost Creeks of South Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto. They have their own Jackson Creek that is hidden behind property fences.
Speaking of Jackson: On Thursday, May 19, 6:30 pm, I will be speaking on my book before the New York City Sierra Club, Queens Chapter. The lecture will take place at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights.