Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Kissena Corridor Park consists of two separate corridors that link together much of the parkland in eastern Queens. The western corridor ties Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to Kissena Park, and the eastern corridor continues to connect Cunningham Park on the other side. Although it is composed of two different parts, it is considered a whole, as its sections form a continuous green space together with Kissena Park.
The western end of the corridor begins at the Queens Botanical Gardens. Built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the gardens are the culmination of centuries of Flushing’s horticultural heritage. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Flushing was recognized as America’s premiere horticultural center. In 1735, William Prince established in Flushing the first commercial nursery of the colonies. Famous patrons of the area’s plants and trees included England’s King William IV, George Washington, and explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who left behind specimens from their expedition.
Horticulturalist Samuel Bowne Parsons is believed to have named Kissena Lake, the origin of the name for the parks. Parsons informally studied Native American culture, and chose the word “Kissena” meaning “it is cold” from the Chippewa language (although the area had been settled by the Mantinecocks). Parsons’s father established a nursery for the family around 1840, and Parsons opened his own nursery on Kissena Lake in 1872, which is now part of Kissena Park. He added to Flushing’s horticultural reputation by cultivating a wide range of trees and plants, many of which were imported. His son Samuel Parsons, Jr. (1844-1923) was a landscape architect important in the history of New York’s parks. Parsons, Jr. helped Olmsted and Vaux design Central Park, and many of the plants were taken from his father’s nursery. For nearly 30 years he held park positions, including Superintendent of Parks, Landscape Architect, and Parks Commissioner for Manhattan. He defined many of the parks that characterize our city today, notably Riverside, St. Nicholas, and Morningside Parks, and the Broadway Malls after they were torn out to build the IRT subway. Parsons, Jr. also pioneered the development of play areas for children, particularly in densely populated tenement neighborhoods.
Of the parks connected by Kissena Park Corridor, the locations of Kissena and Cunningham Parks were first proposed on a map for the development of Greater New York drafted in 1900 by Louis Risse, the chief engineer of New York City’s Topographical Bureau and the designer of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Measuring 27 feet by 31 feet, the map was displayed at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Planned parkland was among the elements intended to help unite the five boroughs, which had merged into a single city only two years earlier. The city gradually implemented many of Risse’s proposals, including purchasing Parsons’s nursery to create Kissena Park after his death in 1906, and in 1928, buying the first part of Cunningham Park.
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was formerly the site of an ash landfill. Robert Moses (1888-1981, Parks Commissioner 1934-1960), saw the potential to rehabilitate the land as the grounds for the 1939-40 World’s Fair, but after the fair ended the park sat vacant for several years. It served as the temporary headquarters of the United Nations from 1946 to 1950, and was home to the World’s Fair again in 1964-65 under Moses’s direction (he resigned from Parks in 1960 to oversee the World’s Fair). In 1967 it was officially designated parkland, becoming a permanent part of the park system and the largest park in Queens.
Kissena Corridor Park was the result of another effort by Moses, who worked to develop an “emerald necklace” in Queens. A continuous series of green spaces now stretches 4.5 miles across the borough. The corridor was assembled in pieces beginning in 1938. Most of the land was purchased between 1944 and 1948, and additional land was created by filling in wetlands through the Department of Sanitation’s landfill program. Consolidation of the park continued during the 1950s with street closures.
Today, portions of Kissena Corridor Park are left as natural areas, while others are developed as ballfields or playgrounds. There is a boccie court at the corner of 56th Avenue and Main Street, and residents keep a sizeable community garden near Silent Spring Playground at Rachel Carson School. The corridor also provides a continuous bicycle path that ties the different parks in Eastern Queens together and makes them more accessible to the communities they serve.
- Kissena Corridor Park
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