In 1869, New York attorney Albon Platt Man purchased the Lefferts and Wellings Farms in West Jamaica, an area settled before the Revolutionary War. Envisioning a garden spot and refuge from city life in Manhattan, he recruited landscape architect Edward Richmond to help lay out his proposed community. It was one of the city’s first planned garden communities. All streets were well laid out with trees planted on both sides. When Edward Richmond died in 1870, real estate developer, Oliver Fowler, became Man’s partner. Lefferts Avenue, now Lefferts Boulevard, became the main thoroughfare.
Man called this new community Richmond Hill. “Richmond Hill” was also the name given to the 138 foot hill located north of Metropolitan Avenue on 116th Street. The name is believed to come from the London suburb of Richmond Hill, although some sources claim that it was named after Edward Richmond, the developer. Kew Gardens, originally North Richmond Hill, was established later in 1912. It was named after the town of Kew, England, near Richmond Hill, where the Royal Botanical Gardens are located.
Albon Man who developed Richmond Hill and his sons who later developed Kew Gardens generously donated property to the community for churches, schools, country clubs, and the Long Island Railroad Station.
Richmond Hill expanded to 400 acres when Man purchased the Bergen, Robertson, and Hendrickson Farms. The first house was built in 1869. In 1872 (considered the official “founding” of the community), the first Post Office was established and Public School 8 opened. In 1874, Richmond Hill’s first church, the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection was built. In 1875 Maple Grove Cemetery was created and the Long Island Railroad built its Richmond Hill Station at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard. Forest Park was created in 1894.
In 1895, Richmond Hill, Morris Park, and Clarenceville consolidated as the Village of Richmond Hill. The incorporation of the village was the outcome of an association of about 100 prominent citizens known as the Citizens’ Non-Partisan League. Alrick H. Man, the son of Albon Platt Man, became the first village president.
Between 1895 and 1898 the Richmond Hill Golf Course and Country Club was built in North Richmond Hill, the first Police Force was organized, Richmond Hill High School was founded, streets were graded, sidewalks laid, and street lights furnished. Stores opened along Jamaica and Atlantic Avenues.
In 1898, the Village of Richmond Hill, together with Queens County became part of New York City. In 1899, the Richmond Hill Free Library was founded. By 1905 there were between 12,000 and 15,000 houses in Richmond Hill. Many of these homes were built in the Queen Anne Victorian style.
In 1910, the Long Island Railroad opened a new station called “Kew” in North Richmond Hill on the site of what was once Crystal Lake. The neighborhood surrounding the station, then called Kew, separated from Richmond Hill in 1912. It was re-named Kew Gardens when the Kew Gardens Corporation was formed by the sons of Albon Man.
In 1917, the elevated line of the New York City subway system was extended along Jamaica Avenue to 111th Street, and in 1918 it was extended to 168th Street.
By the 1920s the terrain of Kew Gardens had been cleared, graded and built into the Kew Gardens Housing Development. It was considered a prime residential community. The private homes were designed in various Beaux-Arts Revival styles. Luxury apartment houses were built as well as the Kew Gardens Country Club, the First Church of Kew Gardens, P.S.99, and the Kew Gardens Inn.
A neo-Tudor village center with stores was built near the Kew Gardens railroad station. Lefferts Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue became the main commercial strips.
The Union Turnpike/Kew Gardens subway stop on the Independent Line was opened in 1936. Queens Borough Hall, built in 1940, was Queens County’s first dedicated Borough Hall. The Queens Criminal Courthouse, adjacent to Queens Borough Hall, was completed in 1961.
Today, the communities of Richmond Hill and Kew Gardens are well established with houses of worship, private and public schools, clubs, active social and political groups, banks, restaurants, supermarkets, and a movie theatre.
More information about the communities of Richmond Hill and Kew Gardens is available from the following sources:
Images of America: Richmond Hill by Carl Ballenas and Nancy Cataldi Kew Gardens: Urban Village in the Big City by Barry Lewis
A Peek at Richmond Hill through the History of Time by William Krooss
The Story of Richmond Hill by Kate Matson Post Richmond Hill: A Children’s tale and Coloring Book by Carl Ballenas
Victorian Richmond Hill by the Queens Historical Society
The Richmond Hill Free Library was founded on April 8, 1899, by the Twentieth Century Club, an organization of Richmond Hill women who had originally come together as Red Cross Auxiliary No. 71 during the Spanish-American War. The idea for creating this library was initiated by Ella J. Flanders. The library was housed in Arcanum Hall on Jamaica Avenue and the southwest corner of 116 Street. The library opened with 991 donated books and circulated 158 items the first day. The first librarian was Harriet Easby. For many years after it was formed, the library was known as “the child of the Twentieth Century Club.”
On January 1, 1901 the library became a branch of the Queens Borough Public Library.
In 1902, the library relocated to the old Congregational Church building on Park Street (Hillside Avenue). The present Carnegie building was completed in 1904. A gift from Andrew Carnegie, it was designed by the Jamaica firm of Tuthill and Higgins and was built on land donated by the Man family. The opening ceremonies were held on July 1, 1905. The area around the new building became known as Library Square.
In 1929, the building was closed for construction. It re-opened October 1,1930 with an expanded children’s room. From 1933 to 1936 the building was expanded under the Civil Works Administration. A new auditorium, a large reading room addition, and an extension of the children’s room were the major renovations. Until March 1939 rooms in the library’s basement were occupied by the WPA’s carpentry and machine shops. In April, they were taken over by the library’s Binding Department.
The Story of Richmond Hill, a 160 square foot mural painted by Philip Evergood, was commissioned by the WPA’s Federal Arts Project. Started in 1936, it was completed in 1938. The mural’s image is divided into two parts. The right part depicts a dingy, congested city, and the left a vision of an ideal rural community.
In 1961, the building was closed for extensive rehabilitation. During that time bookmobile service was provided every Monday from 10 to noon and 1-5 PM. The library re-opened on April 11, 1962. Improvements included a new roof, aluminum windows, asphalt tile flooring and a waterproofing of the exterior. A remodeled vestibule added 100 square feet to the public service area.
The archives (called “the morgue”) for the defunct New York Herald Tribune was housed in the library’s basement from the early 70s until 1986. It was regularly visited by scholars and researchers.
In 1979, a Rose Garden was organized by the Friendship Rose Society (Chapter of the National American Rose Society). It was the only Community Rose Garden in Queens. The Rose Garden won awards in the Mollie Parnis Dress Up Your Neighborhood Contest in 1980, 1981, and 1983.
The library was severely damaged by fire on February 11, 1984. Service to the public continued in a mini-branch in the Children’s Room during renovations. The ceiling was repaired, a ramp was built, a new blueprint for the garden was drawn up by the City’s landscape architect, new floors and new shelving were installed, and new furniture was ordered. The renovated library re-opened on August 3, 1986, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by the community, library personnel, and elected officials.
On November 2, 1996, the Queensmark Award was presented to the library by the Queens Historical Society in a ceremony held at the branch. This award recognizes structures of outstanding historical and architectural merit.
The Richmond Hill Historical Society presented a new Flag Pole to the library on June 14, 2003, with a ceremony on Hillside Avenue recreating the original 1910 presentation by Jacob Riis, and, in 2004, they presented the library with a Historical Plaque.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately one of two American men and one of three American women will have some type of cancer at some point during their lifetime. Queens Library HealthLink seeks to increase access to cancer screening and cancer treatment among medically underserved communities in Queens. Queens Library HealthLink is a partnership between Queens Library, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Queens Cancer Center of Queens Hospital and the American Cancer Society.