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Queens made early use of lighting up its highways

By the Greater Astoria Historical Society

In November 1900, the eyes of the nation were on the Pan−American Exposition, lit up by electricity produced from nearby Niagara Falls. Queens was one of the first counties in the nation to electrify its highways and roads. On Nov. 30, the Star−Journal remarked that over 35 miles of Queens highways were lit by electric arc lights.

An editorial boasted that “all the main thoroughfares of the Borough are now illuminated from the East River and the Brooklyn boundary to the villages of Jamaica, Flushing and Newtown. These avenues, so popular with wheelmen [cyclists] and pleasure drivers, can now be traversed for miles over the well−lighted roadways as easily and as safely by night as by day.”

The Star−Journal noted that “the riding of the automobile has become a feature of late in the streets of the Borough of Queens. Nearly all of these automobiles are owned by wealthy residents with homes on Long Island and the machines are frequently used for riding into town for business, shopping, pleasure, etc. But right now there is trouble here in Long Island City for the automobile. It seems that there is a section of the Marine law which prohibits ferry boats from carrying inflammable fluids, and the provision compels ferry companies to see to it that automobiles containing gasoline shall not be allowed to cross unless the tanks containing the fluid are empty.”

The newspaper related a sad tale of a young man who, wishing to use the ferry that ran from Hunter’s Point to 34th Street in Manhattan, was compelled to empty his car’s tank and watch the precious fluid run out into the street.

Eventually, however, the automobile would have its revenge over the ferry. The Queensboro Bridge, opened in 1909, put the ferry out of business.

Offbeat leading lady Susan Anspach was born in New York on Nov. 23, 1939, and raised in Woodside. After graduating from Bryant High School in Astoria, she enrolled in the music department at the Catholic University of America, later transferring into drama. After graduation, she landed roles in Broadway and off−Broadway productions, including “Hair” and an Actor’s Studio play with Al Pacino.

After her first film, “The Landlord” (1970), she rocketed to stardom with a series of prime roles in “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), “Play It Again Sam” (1972) and “Blume in Love” (1973). She was acclaimed by New York Times critic Vincent Canby as “one of the most charming and talented actresses in America.”

Although the semi−neurotic roles that made Anspach famous went out of vogue by the 1980s, she still has a record of starring in 19 feature and eight TV movies and was featured in three TV series.

Her acting rÉsumÉ took an interesting turn when she gave acting classes to animators at DreamWorks to improve their renderings of the human form.

On Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., our annual holiday party featured the return of the door of the former Blackwell House, missing for more than a century. It will be put on permanent display. David Blackwell, descendant of the original owner, was on hand to give the house keys to the community. The door will be part of a new exhibit, “The American Revolution and Long Island City.”

For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718−278−0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.

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