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Old Woodhaven Village grew and prospered during the years from 1850 to 1900. A large part of the growth was due to the Lalance & Grosjean Manufacturing Co., established by Florian Grosjean. This factory Produced sheet-metal culinary utensils. Grosjean bought a site in Woodhaven in 1863. Woodhaven became a prototype of the factory town in America. The utensil factory changed the course of Woodhaven’s development. Half of Woodhaven’s inhabitants (500) were employed at the factory in 1882. Grosjean’s mansion was on the site of St. Anthony’s Hospital on Woodhaven Blvd.
During that same half century, John Pitkin began buying and then subdividing some of the area’s large estates. By 1852 he had created a tract of land which he called “Woodville.” After buying thelots at auction, the new residents changed the name of the village to Woodhaven, since there was already another town called Woodville further north. Pitkin also purchased several farms and established a shoe factory on the avenue which still bears his name. Even before Pitkin sold his land, Woodhaven was renowned for a world famous racetrack, called the Union Course racetrack. It was referred to as the “tack of the North.” Union Course was opened in 1821, in the area which is now 78th to 86th Street from Jamaica to Atlantic Avenues. In May 1845, almost 100,000 people came to see the big race between Fashion of the North and Peytona of the South. When trotting races became popular, many jockeys, such as Hiram Woodruff and John Murphy, became famous. Flora Temple, William Tell, Patchen, and Dexter were some of the horses that became legends. Dexter Park, a well-known baseball park in Brooklyn, was named after the legendary trotter, Dexter, who won the international trotting title. The famed horse trainer Hiram Woodruff had his stables in that area.
Interesting Facts about Woodhaven and the Neighboring Communities
Nobody knows why it was named after a Canadian-born Secretary of the Interior. Behind the Cordon Blue on Woodhaven Blvd., the remains of the old Wyckoff-Snedeker Burying Grounds, where prominent Dutch farm owners from this are buried their families. The plot dates back to the late 1600’s. Woodhaven Boulevard was once called Trotting Course Lane because it led to the Popular Centerville Trotting Course which opened in 1825.
George Gershwin was born at 242 Snedeker Avenue and Danny Kaye grew up on Bradford Street. Film and TV star Barry Sullivan is a Woodhaven native and Mae West lived on 88th Street. Vince Edwards was a lifeguard at Cypress Hills Swimming Pool.
The house in which Betty Smith wrote “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” still stands across the street from the Woodhaven Library. In this best selling novel, the widow Nolan marries a policeman with a civil service job and moves to Cypress Hills where it is quiet and there are trees.
The murals in the Woodhaven Post Office showing excerpts from the Constitution were created by the world famous modern artist Ben Shahn.
Brian Hyland, a Woodhaven boy, wrote the song “Little Bitsy, Teeney Weeney, Yellow, Polka Dot Bikini.” Carol Heiss from Ozone Park won the 1960 Olympic figure skating medal. The Movie “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” starring Maureen Stapleton was filed near the Jamaica El.
The Woodhaven branch was first opened for business on March 4, 1911. Twelve hundred books lined the shelves of the library room, located in a store at the corner of Jamaica and Dennington (now 88th Street) Avenues. It was originally known as Manor Branch: several members of the Manor Literary Society and other citizens started the library as an Extension Department agency in the Brooklyn Manor section of Woodhaven. It was the 18th library to be started in the borough.
In 1919 the name of the library was changed to Woodhaven Branch. The cornerstone for the new building was laid by Mayor Hylan on June 28, 1923. The library, the last to be built by Carnegie funds, was opened on January 7, 1924. Located at 85-41 Forest Parkway, this branch now contains more than 23,000 volumes. In 1933 work was begun on the basement, a remodeling project using CWA funds for material and labor. The basement housed CLASP staff members until 2001. It is now used as the storage and book sale room.