The Long History of New York City's Borough of Queens

Queens, New York City
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Queens, the easternmost borough of New York City, has a history going back to colonial times. Geographically, it is part of Long Island and was the home of Native American Lenape people.

Origins of the Borough

English and Dutch colonists came to Queens settling in 1635 with settlements in Maspeth and Vlissingen (now Flushing) in the 1640s. It was part of the New Netherlands colony.

In 1657, the colonists in Flushing signed what became known as the Flushing Remonstrance, a precursor of the U.S. Constitution's provision on freedom of religion. The document protested against the Dutch colonial government's persecution of Quakers.

Queens County, as it became known under English rule, was an original colony of New York created in 1683. The county, at the time, included what is now Nassau County.

During the Revolutionary War, Queens remained under British occupation. The Battle of Long Island occurred mostly nearby in Brooklyn with Queens playing a minor role in the battle.

During the 1800s, the area remained mostly agricultural. In 1870, Long Island City was formed, splitting off from the town of Newtown (now Elmhurst).

Queens Joins New York City

The borough of Queens, as part of New York City, was formed on January 1, 1898. At the same time, eastern part of the territory, the towns of North Hempstead, Oyster Bay, and most of the town of Hempstead, remained as part of Queens County, but not the new borough. A year later in 1899, they split to become Nassau County.

Following years were defined by new transportation routes and transformed the sleepy borough. The Queensborough Bridge opened in 1909 and a rail tunnel under the East River in 1910. The IRT Flushing subway line connected Queens to Manhattan in 1915. That, combined with the rise of the automobile, contributed to the population of Queens doubling in a decade, from less than 500,000 in 1920 to more than one million in 1930.

Queens had its moment in the spotlight as the site of the 1939 New York World Fair, and again as the site of New York World's Fair in 1964 and 1965, both in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

LaGuardia Airport opened in 1939, and JFK Airport in 1948. Back then, LaGuardia was called Idlewild Airport.

Queens became known in pop culture as home borough of Archie Bunker in All in the Family in 1971. The landmark sitcom came to define the borough, for better or worse. In recent years, performers from Queens have risen to heights of fame, especially in the world of hip-hop with luminaries such as Run DMC, Russell Simmons, and 50 Cent.

Recent Years

The 1970s-2000s have emerged in the history of Queens as the great American immigrant experience. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opened legal immigration from across the world. Queens became a destination of immigrants with more than half the population born overseas, and more than a hundred languages spoken.

In the 2000s, Queens has been touched by tragedy. The 9/11 attacks struck down residents and first responders across the borough. American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in November 2001, in the Rockaways, killing 265 people. Superstorm Sandy, in October 2012, devastated low-lying areas in southern Queens. In the wake of the storm, a massive fire swept the Breezy Point neighborhood, destroying more than a hundred homes.