When there are two large parks bordering each other, would it make sense to combine them under a single name? Not when each has a unique history and namesake worth keeping. In the Queens neighborhood of Bayside, the 46-acre Crocheron Park borders the 17-acre John Golden Park, but it is Crocheron that contains an internal waterway, Golden Pond.
I am not sure if Golden Pond has any relation to nearby John Golden Park, that is the name that it has been called for decades. This kettle pond is separated from the salt water of Little Neck Bay by a thin neck of land.
Where It Flows
As shown on the official Parks GIS map, the pond is enveloped entirely inside Crocheron Park, with Cross Island Parkway separating it from Little Neck Bay. On the pond’s northern side, a dead-end of 35th Avenue descends downhill into the park, running along the pond.
An ancient route, it was known since colonial times as Crocheron Avenue, running west for two miles west towards Flushing. Following the adoption of the borough-wide street grid, most of it was renamed 35th Avenue, except for the portion between Francis Lewis and Northern boulevards. The two parks on the map have an Olmstedian layout of winding paths on a hilly terrain, but most of it was laid out in 1934 and 1955.
As it Was
The pond wasn’t always named Golden. the 1903 Sanborn property survey shows it as Mickle Pond. On its north side on Crocheron Avenue’s dead-end is a hotel, which I will describe in detail further below. Note how the pond is exposed to the bay. Perhaps it was a millpond, with a design similar to Udall’s Mill Pond in nearby Great Neck. But who was Mickle?
The history blog Bowery Boys writes about Andrew H. Mickle, a son of Scottish immigrants, downtown tobacco merchant, and an unremarkable Tammany puppet who served as the city’s mayor for one two-year term in 1846. He later retired to his Bayside Lawn estate, where he died in 1863. His second wife was Mary Nicoll Lawrence, who is descended from early English settlers in Queens. On the undated map above from the MCNY collection, I highlighted Bell Boulevard and 35th Avenue. Most likely it dates to 1872. Mickle’s mansion overlooked the pond, and on its other side was the Crocheron property.
At the isthmus separating Little Neck Bay from the pond there was the Crocheron House, also known as Bayside House. Dating to 1830, it served as a popular destination for New York’s powerbrokers who made deals over clambakes. The delicacy of choice were littleneck clams, sourced from their namesake waterway. The first Crocheron mentioned for this property was John Crocheron, who left it to his daughter in his 1696 will.
Nearly two centuries later, his descendant Joseph Crocheron sheltered disgraced political leader William M. Tweed at his hotel. Boss Tweed was imprisoned in 1875 for corruption, but fled his Manhattan jail for Bayside. From here, he took a boat to Spain. Recognized in a political cartoon, he was arrested and extradited in the following year. Out of respect for his friend, Crocheron kept Tweed’s room in the condition that he left it for the next 30 years.
Crocheron House burned down on July 24, 1907. Strangely, just three months earlier, owner William M. Thomas publicized his intention of developing the property. The scene above would be unrecognizable today. The sandy beach was paved over in 1940 for Cross Island Parkway, and the hill behind Crocheron’s house retains the old owner’s name as Crocheron Park.
Landscaping at the Pond
Following the demise of Crocheron House, the property lay unused until the city purchased it for a park in 1924. In the aerial survey above from that year, much of Bayside was still bucolic even as tract housing was making inroads. A small brook fed water into the pond. At the dead-end site of Crocheron’s house were a couple of fishing shacks that would be cleared by the Parks Department.
With the New Deal underway, thousands of workers were assigned projects relating to park improvements. In the 1934 Municipal Archives photos, we see the tributary brook filled in with a rolling meadow that descends towards the pond. boulders dating to the last ice age litter the landscape.
The pond was given a new form, shaped like a teardrop. In the above archival image, an excavation crane is dredging the inland side of the pond.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the New York Philharmonic transformed the sloping lawn at Crocheron Park into a concert venue. As this August 1965 cover of Bayside times note,s a crowd of 20,000 went to see the concert. This was when renowned maestro Leonard Bernstein served as its director and conductor. In the following year the crowd ballooned to 40,000.
The road leading to Golden Pond still has that rural appearance as it enters the park. Thick forest cover obscures view of the bay at the end of 35th Avenue. The most famous of the park’s trees is the Boss Tweed Gingko, as it dates back to when the former Congressman traveled here for clambakes and picnics. It is likely a descendant of the trees imported to America by Samuel Bowne Parsons.
At the “head” of the pond, the narrow end of the teardrop, I could not find a brook of natural spring providing its water. Perhaps its source is either under the surface or from the city’s aqueduct. The pond is nearly at sea level in a natural ravine. Likely, groundwater descending down the slopes collects in this pond.
In contrast to the ponds at Kissena Park, Prospect Park, and other large parks, Golden Pond never had a boathouse. But it has a boat launch for the occasional kayaking event sponsored by Parks, and for the pond’s maintenance.
At the eastern end of the pond is a weir that drains excess water into Little Neck Bay. As with Bowne Pond and Kissena Lake, without drainage in place, water becomes stagnant, and algae then blooms, choking its resident fish, effectively destroying the pond. As with all Parks lakes and ponds, Golden Pond must be maintained to preserve its naturalistic appearance.
John Golden Park
From 1920 until his death in 1955, Broadway producer John Golden and his wife Margaret lived on an estate abutting Crocheron Park. Known to locals as “Mr. Bayside,” he welcomed neighbors to his property, where they practiced their golf swings, baseball, and held picnics. In his will, Golden bequeathed the property to the city, greatly expanding parkland in this corner of Queens. A theater near Broadway also carries his name.
While many parks that used to be private estates still have their mansions, in 1955 the city did not regard Golden’s mansion as worth saving. It was quickly demolished in favor of open space. The rare photo of the mansion comes from Bayside Historical Society. Based at nearby Fort Totten, it is the authoritative source for all things that are northeast Queens. There are still plenty of mansions in Bayside, as Forgotten-NY found in 2007.
Both of these large parks are connected to the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway, which runs along the waterfront Joe Michael’s Mile, connected by a footbridge to the park.