The corner of Corona Avenue and 108th Street has the most famous Italian Ice vendor in the city. Most of its customers do not know that a century ago there was a pond on this location used primarily for ice harvesting.
Looking at a 1902 atlas from the New York Public Library, we see Corona Avenue running past this pond and Central Avenue (present-day 108th street) ending at the pond. As a reference, the triangular block later designated as Moore Park has been marked.
Where it was
I first read about this kettle pond in Robert Skillman’s book The Skillmans of New York as a point where Corona Avenue begins its descent towards Flushing Meadows. On the 1873 F. W. Beers atlas of Queens below, we see the short-lived rail line running parallel to Horse Brook, connecting Newtown and Flushing with a stop at Corona Park.
Recall that’s where Colonial Avenue crossed Horse Brook at the historic Coe’s Mill. To the north of the tracks, Shady Lake Farm is marked. The farm separated Corona Park from Corona Heights, the topographical apex of the future neighborhood.
About This Farm
A postcard of the Shady Lake Farm was identified by authors Jason D. Antos and Constantine E. Theodosiou for their book Corona: The Early Years. According to the authors, Shady Lake was given its name by farmer John H. Smith, who purchased the land around it in 1837. A native of Rhinebeck in upstate New York, he was known as The Yankee to locals. In the summer, he opened his property to the public as a picnic ground while harvesting ice from the pond in winter.
Recall that John H. Smith was from Rhinebeck and it turns out that up there is another Shady Lake, which functioned in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a resort, “catering to a refined class of Christian guests.” (read: this place did not accept Jews) Could the Shady Lake of Rhinebeck have been a namesake for the Shady Lake of Corona, Queens?
Filling Shady Lake
As seen in an 1881 ad in Newtown Register, the Smith family also sold fertilizer at their farm. Because this pond was on private property and marked on the 1911 street grid as impeding the extension of 108th Street towards Forest Hills, this pond was doomed. The fish were caught and it was filled. 108th Street served as a major sewer line and later as a bus route. Although the 1901 Bromley Atlas still shows the pond in the way of 108th Street, by 1907, an updated atlas shows the pond’s footprint covered by properties. The grids of Corona and Corona Park now almost touched each other, as soon as the lake would be filled.
Without a Trace
By 1924, when the first citywide aerial survey was conducted, there was no trace of Shady Lake. 108th Street’s path had been cleared to the south of Corona Avenue, while the triangular plot on the northern side of Corona Avenue and 108th Street was dedicated as a park. It was named after William F. Moore, the first Corona resident killed in World War One. A plaque underneath the park’s flagpole commemorates 49 local residents killed in that war. The plaque was paid for by the Corona Heights Civic Association, which represented businesses and residents around the site of the former Shady Lake.
The Lemon Ice King of Corona
A half century after ice was harvested at Shady Lake, Nicola Benfaremo set up his shop at the corner of Corona Avenue and 52nd Avenue at 108th Street. The neighborhood has seen plenty of changed since then. Many of the neighborhood’s Italian families have moved out, with Latin American newcomers taking their place. But when those families visit the old neighborhood to watch a bocce game at Moore Park, it comes with a serving from the Lemon Ice King. What started with two flavors in 1944 now offers 40, homemade and still family owned. It’s a local legend. Another popular figure around here is artist Richard J. Finnell, who specializes in painting the street scenes.