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Revisiting the early days of Woodhaven: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

cemetery-stones
The final resting place of those who lived in Woodhaven before it even had a name. Woodhaven, founded on July 1st 1835, celebrates its 187th birthday this week. (Courtesy of Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society)

Next week, we will celebrate this great nation’s birthday. Let’s hope that your Fourth of July is full of good food and fun times with friends and neighbors. But did you know that this week marks another birthday? This one is a little closer to home.

For it was on July 1, 1935, that the first papers were filed and the first piece of land was purchased in the Village of Woodville, which would later be renamed to Woodhaven. And so, while the rest of the nation celebrates America’s 246th birthday, closer to home we can also celebrate our own 187th birthday.

Can you imagine? Woodhaven is 13 years away from its bicentennial. We’d better start planning!

The area was well developed already by 1835, particularly around the Union Course Race Track. But the rest of Woodville was wide open. Before John R. Pitkin founded the Village of Woodville, this land was part of one giant farm, owned by Stephen Lott.

The Lott family was very prominent in our community’s early history, and many of them never left town, as they are resting peacefully in the northeast corner of the Wyckoff-Snedeker Cemetery on 96th Street, behind All Saints Church. The community retained the name Woodville until the 1850s when, due to the growth in population, villagers applied for its own post office. However, this application was rejected due to the fact that there was already a post office for a Woodville in New York, some 325 miles north of here. And so, we were forced to come up with a new name for our community.

For a while, Edgewood was a popular suggestion for a new name. But John R. Pitkin suggested Woodhaven, and seeing as how he had gotten the whole thing off the ground, his opinion held a lot more sway. And so, in 1853, the Village of Woodhaven was officially established meaning that, if you want to get really technical, this year marks the 168th birthday or anniversary of the name Woodhaven.

Keep in mind that the map of Woodhaven back then was quite different than it is today. The village used to stretch far south, deep into what is known today as Ozone Park. Back in those days, the village of Woodhaven was partitioned into several sections, with names such as Columbia Park (near 91st Street and Jamaica), Eldert Park (near Eldert Lane) and Equity Park (near P.S. 60 – in fact, the playground on 88th Avenue still retains that name).

These names were created for a few reasons, but mainly they were designed by real estate agents to help sell properties in this growing community. And one of the small sections of Woodhaven was a four-block parcel called Ozone Park.

Legend has it that the name “Ozone” was chosen to reflect the fresh breezes and healthy air that residents could expect to breathe in off the nearby water. And the name of Ozone Park may have faded into obscurity had it not been for the fact that the Long Island Rail Road set up a station with that name on Broadway (now 101st Avenue).

Over time, as the section names faded, the name of Ozone Park remained and, in time, became a full community in its own right. So, not only is it Woodhaven’s birthday, it’s really Ozone Park’s birthday as well. We have a shared history, these two communities, so we might as well acknowledge them together.

The big celebration lies ahead, the bicentennial in 2035. Back in 1935, Woodhaven had a giant celebration. The highlight of Woodhaven’s Centennial was a procession from Dexter Court to the Willard Theater on 96th Street (later the Cordon Bleu and today the Woodhaven Manor).

Residents carried a gigantic cake down Jamaica Avenue and into the theater, which accommodated close to 3,000 people. On this night, according to news clippings at the time, the theater was overflowing with residents, with crowds waiting in the streets to get inside. During the celebration inside the Willard, a celebratory telegram from Mae West was read aloud to cheers from one and all.

And so, as you enjoy your hot dogs and your parties, please remind your friends and neighbors that it’s not just America’s birthday they are celebrating; they are celebrating our birthday as well.

Happy birthday Woodhaven and Ozone Park!

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