As one crosses over the Van Wyck Expressway, visits the flea market at Aqueduct or hurries through bustling terminals at Kennedy Airport, it is hard to fathom that this thriving community of more than 45,000 people was only a century ago farm land, inhabited by fewer than 150 families.
The original inhabitants of South Ozone Park were Native Americans of the Jameco and Rockaway tribes. English and Dutch settlers took possession of the land in the 1660s, as part of a land grant by the Dutch West India Company. Up until the early 1900s, the area of South Ozone Park was used to farm everything except potatoes “because the soil was too salty”.
The winds of change began blowing as early as the 1880s when music publisher Benjamin Hitchcock, the developer of Ozone Park began marketing the area to the south of Ozone Park for its “invigorating and healthful” breezes sweeping in from Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Real estate developer David Leahy, who could arguably be called “The Father of South Ozone Park” began in 1907 building small homes in former farm fields by promising potential home owners that for $9.00 down, $6.00 per month, they could purchase a four room cottage in the country. Leahy knew that the former Pennsylvania Railroad, purchased by the Long Island Railroad in 1900, was expanding its routes into the Jamaica area and that more and more people would be eager to move to South Ozone Park.
Initially, the only church that existed was Union Chapel on Three Mile Mill Road. As the community grew, Leahy gave gifts of land for church sites as a means of further stabilizing the community. St. Clement Pope Roman Catholic Church, at 141st Street near Rockaway Boulevard; the Reformed Episcopal Church, at 134th Street and Sutter Avenue, and the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, at 140th Street and 120th Avenue were each erected on plots given for that purpose by Leahy.
There was other evidence of growth in the early years. A public library was established in 1912. It was located in part of a drug store. In 1913, the city made funds available for the construction of an addition to the eight original classrooms of P.S. 45 located at 150th Street off of Rockaway Boulevard. Shortly thereafter, P.S. 96 was built at Rockaway Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue. Soon thereafter John Adams high School at 107th Street and Rockaway Boulevard and Edgar D. Shimer Junior High School at 142nd Street and 114th Avenue were built. The first movie theater was opened in 1921 at Rockaway Boulevard and 135th Street. By 1921 the Rockaway Boulevard trolley system had been replaced by a bus system. Banking institutions began making their presence felt when the Bank of Manhattan Company and Ozone Park National Bank established branches in the area in 1925. In 1929, Rockaway Boulevard was widened. Other roadways, like the Van Wyck Expressway, further heightened the accessibility of South Ozone Park to other comunities.
Over the years South Ozone Park has retained its character as a community of single-family or two-family homeowners. Like the borough of Queens itself, South Ozone Park has seen a change in its racial demographics as neighbors from many shores now call this community their home. 20% of its residents are white, more than one-third are Black or African-American, nearly 13% are Asian and nearly 23% are Hispanic. Through the years Rockaway Boulevard lost its luster as the main commercial strip of South Ozone Park as many of its benchmark stores have been lost to larger shopping malls. However, the boulevard still resonates with the life of smaller stores and restaurants, many of them owned by newly arrived or first generation immigrants.
South Ozone Park has several landmarks of distinction including:
Wilbur E. Colyer Square, Rockaway Boulevard and 120th Avenue and 133rd Street. Colyer, a South Ozone Park Resident, was 17 when he volunteered to fight in World War I. He was killed and awarded the Congressional Medal of honor for Valor at Verdun, the first and youngest Queens resident to receive such an honor.
Ancient Burial Ground of the Rockaway Tribe is located at the northern end of JFK’s runway. Arrowheads and spearheads have been found there.
Aqueduct Race Track borders Ozone and South Ozone Park. With its 80,000-seat capacity, Aqueduct is the largest thoroughbred racing track in the country. Many famous horses have become champions at Aqueduct, including Man O’War and Seabiscuit.
Byrne Place, North Conduit Avenue between 130th Place and 134th Street, was named to honor Officer Edward R. Byrne, who was killed on February 26, 1988, while sitting in his patrol car protecting a drug witness.
The South Ozone Park Library has served and grown as a site of educational and recreational activity from the early years of South Ozone Park’s development until today. Dating back to 1912, the first sites of the library were in a hardware store, a paint store, a millinery store and an auto repair shop. In 1928 the library was moved to 132-09 120th Avenue. Eventually the collection was moved to 130-16 Rockaway Boulevard where it was housed in a rented store-front. In 1974, the South Ozone Park branch opened at its present address, 128-16 Rockaway Boulevard as a one-story, 7,500 ft. facility.
Throughout the year, the branch provides programming to meet the informational, educational, recreational and cultural needs of its customers from the youngest pre-schoolers through senior citizens.
“Get to Know South Ozone Park – Your Community” - Queens Borough Public Library
"The History of South Ozone Park” – The Forum Newspaper, August 4, 1979
“The History of South Ozone Park Demonstrates Development Since Its Inception in 1907” – The Silver Jubilee Souvenir Program 1907 – 1932
Jamaica and Ozone Park Officials Hail JFK Rail Link http://gothamgazette.com/community/32/news/1023
"South Ozone Park – ‘The Sport of Kings in their Backyard” http://www.newsday.com/extras/lihistory/spectown/hist0011.htm
Á Walk Through Queens With David Hartman http://www.thirteen.org/queens/history3.html