Jamaica is a middle-class neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. The neighborhood is part of Queens Community Board 12, which also includes Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Baisley Park, Rochdale Village, and South Jamaica. Jamaica is patrolled by the NYPD’s 103rd, 113th & 105th Precincts.
It was settled under Dutch rule in 1656 in New Netherland as Rustdorp.Under British rule, Jamaica became the center of the “Town of Jamaica”. Jamaica was the county seat of Queens County from the formation of the county in 1683 until March 7, 1788, when the town was reorganized by the state government and the county seat was moved to Mineola (now part of Nassau County). In 1814, Jamaica became the first incorporated village on Long Island. When Queens was incorporated into the City of Greater New York in 1898, both the Town of Jamaica and the Village of Jamaica were dissolved, but the neighborhood of Jamaica regained its role as county seat. Today, some locals group Jamaica’s surrounding neighborhoods into an unofficial Greater Jamaica, roughly corresponding to the former Town of Jamaica, including Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, St. Albans, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Hollis, Laurelton, Cambria Heights, Queens Village, Howard Beach and Ozone Park.
The neighborhood of Jamaica is completely unrelated to the Caribbean nation of Jamaica (although many residents are immigrants from Jamaica); the name similarity is a coincidence. The name derives from Yameco, a corruption of a word for “beaver” in the Lenape language spoken by the Native Americans who lived in the area at the time of first European contact. The “y” sound in English is spelled with a “j” in Dutch, the first Europeans to write about the area. This resulted in the eventual English pronunciation of “Jamaica” when read and repeated orally.
Previously known as one of the predominantly African American neighborhoods in the borough of Queens, Jamaica in recent years has been undergoing a sharp influx of other ethnicities. It has a substantial concentration of West Indian immigrants, Indians, Arabs, as well as many long-established African American families.
Jamaica is the location of several government buildings including Queens Civil Court, the civil branch of the Queens County Supreme Court, the Queens County Family Court and the Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building, home to the Social Security Administration’s Northeastern Program Service Center.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Northeast Regional Laboratory as well as the New York District Office are also located in Jamaica. Jamaica Center, the area around Jamaica Avenue and 165th Street, is a major commercial center, as well as the home of the Central Library of the Queens Borough Public Library. The New York Racing Association, based at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, lists its official address as Jamaica (Central Jamaica once housed NYRA’s Jamaica Racetrack, now the massive Rochdale Village housing development). John F. Kennedy International Airport and the hotels nearby also use Jamaica as their address.
Jamaica Avenue was an ancient trail for tribes from as far away as the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, coming to trade skins and furs for wampum. It was in 1655 that the first settlers paid the Native Americans with two guns, a coat, and some powder and lead, for the land lying between the old trail and “Beaver Pond” (later Baisley Pond). Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant dubbed the area Rustdorp (“rest-town”) in granting the 1656 land patent.
The English took over in 1664, renamed it Jameco (or Yamecah) after the name they gave to the local Native Americans that lived in the area, and made it part of the county of Yorkshire. In 1683, when the British divided the Province of New York into counties, Jamaica became the county seat of Queens County, one of the original counties of New York.
Colonial Jamaica had a band of 56 minutemen that played an active part in the Battle of Long Island, the outcome of which led to the occupation of the New York City area by British troops during most of the American Revolutionary War. In 1790, in William Warner’s tavern. Rufus King, a signer of the United States Constitution, relocated here in 1805. He added to a modest 18th-century farmhouse, creating the manor which stands on the site today. King Manor was restored at the turn of the 21st century to its former glory, and houses King Manor Museum.
By 1776, Jamaica had become a trading post for farmers and their produce. For more than a century, their horse-drawn carts plodded along Jamaica Avenue, then called King’s Highway. The Jamaica Post Office opened September 25, 1794, and was the only post office in the present-day Boroughs of Queens or Brooklyn before 1803.Union Hall Academy for boys, and Union Hall Seminary for girls, were chartered in 1787.The Academy eventually attracted students from all over the United States and the West Indies.The public school system was started in 1813 with funds of $125. Jamaica Village, the first village on Long Island, was incorporated in 1814 with its boundaries being from the present-day Van Wyck Expressway (on the west) and Jamaica Avenue (on the north, later Hillside Avenue) to Farmers Boulevard (on the east) and Linden Boulevard (on the south) in what is now St. Albans.By 1834, the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad company had completed a line to Jamaica.
In 1850, the former Kings Highway (now Jamaica Avenue) became the Brooklyn and Jamaica Plank Road, complete with toll gate. In 1866, tracks were laid for a horsecar line, and 20 years later it was electrified, the first in the state. On January 1, 1898, Queens became part of the City of New York, and Jamaica became the county seat.
The present Jamaica station of the Long Island Rail Road was completed in 1913, and the BMT Jamaica Line arrived in 1918, followed by the IND Queens Blvd. Line in 1936 and the Archer Avenue lines in 1988 (after the portion of Jamaica Line in Jamaica was torn down.) The 1920s and 1930s saw the building of the Valencia Theatre (now restored by the Tabernacle of Prayer), the “futuristic” Kurtz furniture store and the Roxanne Building. In the 1970s, it became the headquarters for the Islamic Society of North America.
The many foreclosures and the high level of unemployment of the 2000s and early 2010s induced many black people to move from Jamaica to the South, as part of the New Great Migration.
In December 2012, a junkyard fire required the help of 170 firemen to extinguish.
On October 23, 2014, the neighborhood was the site of a terrorist hatchet attack on two police officers of the New York City Police Department.
Jamaica is large and has a diverse population. It is mostly African American, with sizable Hispanic, Asian and White populations. While the corresponding figures represent a certain portion of Jamaica, official statistics differ by the area’s numerous zip codes such as 11411, 11428, 11432, 11433, 11434, 11435, and 11436. The total population of Jamaica is estimated to be a bit over 200,000 with all neighborhoods taken into consideration.
Jamaica was not always as diverse as it is today. Throughout the 19th to early 20th centuries, Jamaica was mainly populated with whites as new Irish immigrants settled around the places known today as Downtown and Baisley Pond Park. However in the 1950s, what was later called white flight began and middle-income African Americans started taking their place. After the 1970s, as housing prices began to tumble, many Hispanic such as Salvadorans, Colombians, Dominicans, and West Indian immigrants moved in. These ethnic groups tended to stay more towards the Jamaica Avenue and South Jamaica areas. Yet it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that immigration from other countries became widespread. Gentrification and decrease in crime attracted many families toward Jamaica’s safe havens. Hillside Avenue reflects this trend. Along 150th to 161st streets, much of the stores and restaurants are of South American and Caribbean culture.
Farther east is the rapidly growing East Indian community. Mainly spurred on by Jamaica Muslim Center, Bangladeshis have flocked to this area due to easy transit access and the numerous Bangladeshi stores and restaurants lining 167th and 168th streets. Neighborhood analysts[who?] have concluded that Bangladeshis are becoming the most rapidly growing group. Other areas where they are known to reside include Merrick Blvd. and Sutphin Blvd. in South Jamaica. Yet heading down this same direction, you will find numerous churches, stores, salons, and hair-braiding shops thriving in the hip-hop and African-American cultures. Many Sri Lankans also live in this area for similar reasons as the Bangladeshi community, evidenced in the numerous food and grocery establishments catering to the community along Hillside Avenue. As well as the large South Asian community thrives significant Filipino and African communities in Jamaica, along with the neighboring Filipino community in Queens Village and the historic, well established African-American community that exists in Jamaica.
From 151st Street and into 164th Street, many groceries and restaurants pertain to the West Indies. Mainly of Guyanese and Trinidadian origin, these stores serve their respective population living in and around the Jamaica Center area. East from 167th Street to 171st Street, there are East Indian shops. Mainly invested by the ever growing Bangladeshi population, thousands of South Asians come here to shop for Bangladeshi goods. Also there are restaurants such as “Sagar”, “Ambala”, “Ghoroa”, and countless more in the Bangladeshi stronghold here. Some people call this area another “Little South Asia” similar to that of Jackson Heights. Jamaica, Queens is another South Asian ethnic enclave popping up in NYC, as South Asian immigration and the NYC South Asian population has grown rapidly, as well as new South Asian enclaves.