Colonial Woodhaven

Like many other villages on the south side of the island, Woodhaven occupies the outwash plain at the foot of the terminal moraine, the hilly backbone running along the center of western Long Island marking the farthest southern advance of the last glacier. Most of the outwash plain on which Woodhaven lies is only 20 to 30 feet above sea level, but north of Jamaica Avenue the moraine ridge rises steeply to heights of 150 to 170 ft. culminating at one point in Cypress Hills Cemetery to 188 ft. Centuries before the white man came, the Indians of the area, moving along the base of the high land above, unconsciously created a footpath extending from East New York east to Jamaica and on into Nassau County. This Indian tract developed in the course of centuries into the Jamaica Avenue of today. This ancient roadway which the Dutch and English colonists found fully developed and in use, was elevated by decree of the royal government on June 19, 1703 to the status of a king's highway. Because the road led from Brooklyn Ferry to the colonial village of Jamaica, it early became known as Jamaica Avenue.

It was along this colonial highway that the earliest settlers first found their way to the vicinity of Woodhaven late in the 17th century. Among the earliest of these was Dow Jansen Ditmars, who settled on a farm east of Woodhaven Boulevard and south of Jamaica Avenue about 1687.What may be his or his son's tombstone can still be seen in the old Wyckoff-Snedicker Cemetery at 96th Street. In the early 1700's there were no stone cutters in business, so the grave was marked by a rude field stone marked "D.D A 71", that is, Dow Ditmars, year 1771. A similar stone marked "G.D.A 22" is that of another unknown Ditmars. Other than these ancient monuments there are other traces of the Ditmars family in Woodhaven today.

Starting at the borough line and running along the north side of Jamaica Avenue to near 85th Street and extending deep into the present Forest Park, were the lands of another old Dutch family, the Lotts, well-known in Flatbush and new Lots. During the 19th century Stephen N. Lott (1820-1862) and his sons Nicholas and Charles, still owned estates of several acres facing the avenue.

The land from 85th Street to near 90th Street owned by the Wyckoff family, another Brooklyn clan of Dutch descent; the last farm owner was Jacob S. Wyckoff, a minister in the Reformed Church.

The two blocks from near 90th street to Woodhaven Blvd., were held for a century and more by the Suydams, another old Dutch clan well know in Brooklyn. Daniel R. Suydam was the last owner. The Suydams, like the Lotts and Wyckoffs, were the owners of a part of Forest Park.

The Vanderveers, long settled in New Lots and intermarried with the Ditmars and Wyckoffs, owned the land north and south of Jamaica Avenue from Woodhaven Boulevard to about 96th Street. This land, formerly of Ditmars, had passed to the Snedickers and then to the Vanderveers early in the 19th century; Dominicus, the last owner, himself broke up the family acres into building lots.

The Napiers, a family of probably7 Scotch origin, came to Long island in 1844 and owned property north and south of Jamica Avenue to about 104th Street, the beginning of Richmond Hill. The Napiers, like the Vanderveers, later took an active part in breaking up their own farm land into streets and building lots.

In the 18th century the whole Woodhaven area broadly speaking, the triangle bounded by Jamaica Avenue on the north, Woodhaven Boulevard on the east and Old South Road on the south (Pitkin, Albert & North Conduit Aves.) was wholly empty of settlement. The sole houses in the area were the very scattered dwellings of the Snedickers, Lotts, Wyckoffs, Suydams and Vanderveers that dotted the primitive roads at wide intervals. The flat terrain sloping gently southward to Jamaica Bay was easily cultivated and without any marked features. It was an environment that made possible a tranquil and simple existence and this was well-suited to the stolid Dutch temperament of the settlers whose large families by natural increase spilled over from Flatlands and New Lots into the virgin acres of southern Queens. Nearly all of the farm folk had ties to the Dutch Reformed Church and on Sundays they drove in their carriages to worship in the old Dutch church at New Lots and Schenck Avenues in East New York and to socialize afterwards with their friends and neighbors. Some Woodhaven folk buried their dead in the churchyard, but about 1785, the Wyckoffs and the Snedickers each deeded a plot, about 80 x 266 feet on the border line along their respective farms and established a local burying ground that still exists at 96th Street behind St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. Between 1791 and 1900, over 200 local residents were buried here. Though the cemetery is badly neglected today, it is one of the few surviving relics of Woodhaven's earliest days and marks the resting place of its oldest inhabitants.

Before the beginning of settlement access to the territory later to be known as Woodhaven was possible by three roads only, each in use by 1750 at the latest. We have spoken of Jamaica Avenue growing out of an Indian trail. In 1809, as a means of relieving the inhabitants of some of the burden and expense of keeping the public roads passable and in repair, the Queens County Commissioners of Highways, with the permission of the citizens, sold the legal title to Jamaica Avenue to a private turnpike company. The idea was that those who actually used the roads should pay for them. On March 17, 1809 the Brooklyn, Jamaica and Flatbush Turnpike Company was incorporated and the Highway Commissioners turned over the road to the company for $50. The company erected toll gates, one at Cypress Hills Cemetery gate and one at Van Wyck Avenue and collected tolls which varied with the size of the vehicle, number of horses and length traveled. In 1835 the road passed into the possession of the Long island Railroad, which sold it in 1851 to the Jamaica and Brooklyn Plank Road Company. This company in 1879 passed to the horse car company and still later to the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. Jamaica Avenue proved to be the last toll road in Queens and toll continued to be collected on this busy street until as late as October 6, 1897. The Old South Road (Pitkin, Albert & North Conduit Aves.) crossed South Ozone Park from west to east just at the edge of the meadowland bordering Jamaica Bay. It grew up some time in the 17th century and was much used in colonial days for it was the only east -west road across Queens below Jamaica Avenue.

The third colonial highway through Woodhaven and Ozone Park was Woodhaven Boulevard. This road appears on the 18th century maps of Queens but little is known about it, since the road had no name, it was vaguely referred to as "the old road leading to the bay," for it did give sole access to the marsh grass and shelfish so valued in colonial days. Later, in the 19th century, it became known as Flushing Avenue. The modern name, Woodhaven Boulevard, does not come into use before about 1910.

In the whole first half of the 19th century the only new road to be laid out through Woodhaven and Ozone Park was the Jamaica and Rockaway Turnpike, today's Rockaway Blvd., in 1806. This was another private toll road laid out from the Brooklyn borough line in a straight line southeast to Baisley Pond and then south across the meadows to Lawrence and Far Rockaway. For many years toll was collected at the Woodhaven toll gate at Liberty Ave, and Rockaway Avenue by Henry Nelson Abrams, a Woodhaven blacksmith who, in his younger days, shod horses at the Union Course and Centerville race tracks. On July 4, 1883 the toll house burnt down and the company thereafter bothered to collect toll only at the Lawrence gate.

Website: The History
Article Name: Colonial Woodhaven
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY:   The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park
by Vincent F Seyfried - Woodhaven (New York, N.Y.) - 1986
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