History of Bay Terrace

History of Bayside/Bay Terrace

The Bay Terrace community was established in the 1950’s, when the cooperatives (Sections 1-12) were built. The last sections were completed in the mid-1960’s. Prior to that, the neighborhood area was considered part of  Bayside. The entire area was known as Flushing, after the Dutch word “Vlissingen.” The Village of Bay Side (original spelling) did not appear in any legal document until 1798 Bay Terrace encompasses 200 acres between 26th Avenue and Fort Totten.  The history of the area is a rich one.

In 1968 there was an archaeological study of the Bayside/Bay Terrace area which suggested that it has been inhabited over 9100 years. That, of course, includes prehistoric cultures.

I’d like to begin with the 17th century, A.D. and a brief discussion of the Matinecock Indians, long term inhabitants of this area. These Indians were members of the Algonquin Nation and were known as a peaceful people. Matinecock is the Indian word for “people of hilly land.” They were particularly known for their manufacture of wampum (their form of money), longhouses (homes that housed multiple families for long periods of time), and for the beautiful singing voices of the women.

I tried to determine when the Indians came to Bayside, but it appears that this is very vague. At best, I learned that these Indians probably came from Asia and Europe, most likely via the Bering Strait. As we know, many Indian nations inhabited the United States long before the Dutch and English settlers arrived in the 1600’s. In our region alone the Indian nations included the Wyandanch, Shinnecock and Montauk. Any of these names sound familiar?

The New Settlers

In the 1640’s the English and the Dutch began to settle around Little Neck Bay. The Matinecock had already settled there. The fishing was good and they also did light farming. The new settlers bartered land from the Indians and then decided they wanted more and more. In 1645, Thomas Hicks (Hicks Nurseries) attacked the peaceful (and unarmed) Matinecock with muskets and drove them from their land. The final battle was fought at what we know as Northern Boulevard. and Marathon Parkway. Able-bodied men were killed. Women, children and the elderly were allowed to survive. Some fled to Connecticut, others escaped to Eastern Long Island. By 1732, the Matinecock villages were all gone from Bayside.

There were several prominent families that settled in Bay Terrace including the Willets, the Bells, and the Lawrences. There is a cemetery at 216th Street and 42nd Avenue where the Lawrence family members are buried. The original Bell property was located at Bell Boulevard and 38th Avenue, now home of the Gleason Funeral Home.

A Summer Resort

During the mid-1800’s, Bayside became a summer resort complete with hotels and yacht clubs. One well known hotel was The Crocheron (sound familiar!). The wealthy built mansions on Little Neck Bay that they used as summer homes to get away from the simmering summers in Manhattan.

The Movie Colony

From the 1890’s to the 1940’s, Bayside was a major movie colony. Stars, including Pearl White (Perils of Pauline), W.C. Fields, Marie Dressler (Tugboat Annie), Norma Talmadge, John Barrymore, Gloria Swanson, Buster Keaton, and the producer, John Golden all had homes in Bayside/Bay Terrace. Films, such as “Sally of the Sawdust” were filmed in Bayside. Mary Martin (Peter Pan) used to visit The Bell Tavern along Bell Boulevard. Oscar Hammerstein had an estate near the Throgs Neck Bridge. Today we know this as Wildflowers Condominiums.

Cord Meyer

In 1850, Robert Willet built a mansion on Little Neck Bay. His daughter Amelia, and her husband, A. Howland Leavitt, inherited the mansion. Ownership was transferred to Leavitt’s daughter and her husband, Charles Garrison Meyer. The property (88 acres) was originally part of the Meyer family farm. The name Bay Terrace was used to identify the area sold by the family in 1939 and was used in topological maps.

In 1952, residential development of Bay Terrace Sections 1-12 began and continued into the mid-1960’s. Commercial development also began in the 1950’s. The shopping center certainly does not look anything like it looked back in the 50’s and 60’s. It has grown up, just as the Bay Terrace Community has grown.

Summing Up

This overview of Bay Terrace is just that, an overview. There is a lot of rich information; for example, the origins of the Long Island Railroad. Service to Penn Station from the Bayside Station began in 1910. Prior to that, people were taken to Flushing by stagecoach and transferred to a train to Hunters Point, with the final leg of the journey to Manhattan made by ferry. The IRT was planned to run along the Long Island Railroad tracks to Bayside, but the request was denied in 1917 because metal priorities were for the World War I effort.

There are many more interesting facts about our neighborhood. It’s worth a trip to the Bayside Historical Society, located at Fort Totten.

Roz Sackoff

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