If you know me, you know I can talk a lot, especially about our neighborhood. I’ve been giving weekly Zoom presentations talking about Woodhaven for an hour, sometimes two, and I never run out of things to discuss.
I have been president of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society for ten years, taking the reins from Leonora Lavan, one of the founders of the WCHS. And I have been blessed to live in a neighborhood with so much of its history still around.
We have one business in Neir’s Tavern that’s over 190 years old. But while Neir’s may be the most famous, we need to remember that Walker Funeral Home is over 125 years old.
And Ohlert-Ruggiere, Inc. can also claim to be around 125 years old, as they acquired Woodhaven’s oldest insurance agency, Clapp Insurance.
Pop’s on 86th Street and Jamaica Avenue is around 115 years old, Manor Delicatessen is over 100 years old, and Schmidt’s Candy is closing in on 90 years. Imperial Upholstering on 86th Street is now in its 83rd year.
And the newspaper you’re reading right now, either in print or online, has chronicled the history of Woodhaven since 1909.
On top of that, we’ve got a New York City Landmark in the Forest Park Carousel, which is 130 years old. Sitting nearby is Seuffert Bandshell, which will be celebrating its 100th birthday this decade.
Forest Park itself, along with the golf course and the golf clubhouse (now Oak Ridge), are 125 years old.
We’ve got schools and churches well over 100 years old, and one of the most important buildings in our community’s history, the clocktower of LaLance & Grosjean, still keeps watch over Woodhaven and Ozone Park 145 years after it was rebuilt following a devastating fire.
And we have a cemetery on 96th street behind All Saints Episcopal Church, serving as the final resting place of some of the earliest settlers in Woodhaven, with marked graves going back to 1789.
So that’s why I shake my head when people who haven’t lived here in years say they don’t recognize Woodhaven anymore, that everything’s changed. If you look at Woodhaven and fail to recognize the longevity of our history and the wealth of it that’s still sitting in plain view, then you’re not really looking.
Along the way, however, some of our history has been lost. But through the efforts of our community, we’ve been able to recover and restore some of it.
During our research, we uncovered an old news clipping about the Memorial Trees in Forest Park. These were trees that were planted to honor the Woodhaven soldiers killed in WWI and families used to come up and decorate them for Memorial Day.
But over time and due to a strange chain of events, that tradition died. But 100 years later, many of those trees still stand, so we began decorating the them again with local residents, students, ROTC, American Legion, and other volunteers. And we were able to the street co-named and restore a bit of old history.
We did something similar with a triangle named for Father Lynch, a local priest who was in the Fighting 69th, a successor to the famous Father Duffy. Father Lynch was killed in the Battle of Okinawa and the triangle at Rockaway and Atlantic was named after him in 1949.
He was a great character, the pages of this newspaper carried stories about what a great man he was, kind and fair to everyone he encountered. They even wrote a book about him called Father Cyclone. It would make a terrific film.
But none of us had ever seen a sign there, so with the help of American Legion Post 118, we asked for and received a street sign bearing his name at the triangle dedicated in his honor. We were thrilled that some of Father Lynch’s family was in attendance.
We have a lot of terrific history all around us and lots more just waiting out there to be discovered. If you’d like to learn more about our past, please join us at one of our upcoming Zoom meetings.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to join us on this historical journey through Woodhaven.