Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Corporal John Ruoff was the first resident of Ozone Park to fall on the battlefields of Europe during World War I (1914-1918). Ruoff, who resided at 2212 Clinton Place, was killed in action on August 14, 1918 while fighting as a member of Company 1 of the 306th Infantry. His picture hangs in the Memorial Room of Corporal John Ruoff-Morelli Hargreaves American Legion Post 632, at 91-11 101st Avenue in Queens.
Corporal Ruoff Square, bounded by Cross Bay and Rockaway Boulevards, is in the center of Ozone Park. Originally settled by Native Americans of the Jameco and Canarsie tribes, the area was sparsely inhabited and largely agricultural throughout the 19th century. The neighborhood began to take shape when the music publisher Benjamin W. Hitchcock developed the area in the 1880s. Hitchcock hoped to draw residents to his development by promoting the “invigorating and healthful breezes” that swept in from Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, Ozone Park was named for these breezes: in the 19th century, “ozone” connoted pure, refreshing air rather than the atmospheric layer that most people associate with the word today.
In 1907, the real estate developer David Leahy began to build small homes in the southern portion of Ozone Park. He lured middle-class buyers by promising that with only a small down payment and monthly fee they could own a “four-room cottage in the country.” The arrival of elevated train service to Jamaica in 1908 made the area even more attractive to city residents, and began a long period of growth in Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, and Richmond Hill South. The widening of Rockaway Boulevard in 1929 and the construction of the Van Wyck Expressway in 1950 encouraged further expansion.
Ozone Park has long been known for horse racing. From the 1820s on, the Centerville Racetrack and the Union Course Racetrack drew many visitors to the area. In 1923, one race drew 50,000 spectators, who wagered more than $200,000, an enormous sum at that time. The horse racing tradition in Ozone Park continues today at Aqueduct Racetrack, on Rockaway Boulevard and 114th Street.
The land that is now Corporal Ruoff Square was made a “Public Place” by the Borough President of Queens on June 9, 1922. It was acquired by the City on November 30, 1927 and given its current name by the Board of Aldermen on April 29, 1930. Parks obtained jurisdiction over Corporal Ruoff Square on January 1, 1938. Today, the square contains numerous plantings of royal jade crab apples, blue mist shrubs, cotoneasters, and autumn flowering sedum: it is a garden under the A train.
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