Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Bell Boulevard takes its name from a prominent family in Queens history. In 1824, Abraham Bell, an Irish immigrant member of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, who became a partner in the shipping firm Bell and Bowne, acquired a 246-acre farm located in the present-day neighborhood of Bayside. Bell Boulevard, which was known as Bell Avenue until a street organization system renamed it in the 1930s, was originally a country lane that divided the Bell farm.
Originally, Bell Avenue was less than a mile long. In 1849, part of the Bell farm was sold to Andrew Mickle (1805-1863), a wealthy tobacco farmer who served as Mayor of New York from 1846 to 1847. As the Bell family sold off other parcels of their farm in the mid- 1800s, Bell Avenue was extended and slowly grew into one of Queens’s main thoroughfares. In 1866, a railroad reached Great Neck, and many other farms in the area were sold off to developers. By the 1920s, there was a thriving commercial strip along Bell Avenue between Broadway and 41st Avenue. Today, Bell Boulevard is lined with stores and businesses, and runs southwest from Willets Point Boulevard at Fort Totten, down through the neighborhoods of Bayside and Oakland Gardens.
Located along Little Neck Bay, Bayside was first inhabited by the Matinecock Indians. In 1644, William Lawrence acquired title of the land from Charles I, King of England, and a series of large landowning families, including the Bell family, acquired land in this area. After the Civil War, the dozen or so families who owned Bayside began to sell their holdings to real estate developers. Sales of land were boosted by the 1866 extension of the Flushing and North Shore Railroad and the subsequent growth of the Northern Boulevard commercial district. In the 1920s and 1930s, film stars and sportsmen such as Pearl White, Norma Talmadge, and John Golden made homes in Bayside. Single family homes and apartment complexes were built in the area after World War II, giving the neighborhood its current suburban character.
The neighborhood of Oakland Gardens is named for a private estate called “The Oaks” that once occupied much of the area. John Hicks, one of Flushing’s original patentees, settled the area in 1645 and named his estate after the trees in the region. The estate, which spread from present-day 46th Avenue to the Long Island Expressway, passed through several owners, and in 1859 was bought by John Taylor, a successful restaurateur from Manhattan. Taylor and his partner, John Henderson, transformed The Oaks into a horticultural paradise with more than 30 greenhouses, specializing in roses and orchids. In 1896, John H. Taylor, son of the restaurateur, organized the Oakland Golf Course on 110 acres in the area. Most of the single-family houses and apartment complexes in Oakland Gardens today were constructed during a post-World War II building boom, when the area turned into a thriving suburban neighborhood.
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