In colonial times, the Little Neck area was named for the geographical feature of the small peninsula extending into Little Neck Bay. A larger peninsula just to the east was called Great Neck. In the early 1900’s developers wanted residents to sign a petition to change its name to Westmoreland, but the majority declined. The original area of Little Neck has been reduced twice: once in 1872 to create Douglaston and again in 1928 when Nassau County changed the name on its side of its boundary with Queens County to Great Neck.
In 1872, Douglaston was named for William P. Douglas, who inherited the estate on the peninsula for which Little Neck was named from his father, George Douglas. When the Flushing Railroad, now the Long Island Rail Road, decided to create an additional stop one mile west of their Little Neck depot, William moved the former Van Zandt chapel to serve as its station. In exchange, he asked that the station and the surrounding village be named Douglaston.
When Henry Hudson sailed to Manhattan in the early 1600’s, the Matinecoc Indians lived in northern Long Island. Seafood, game, and corn were plentiful. Abundant clam shells for making wampum made them the wealthiest Indians on Long Island. The Matinecoc made white wampum from the periwinkles and the more valuable black wampum from quohog.
The Dutch West India Company encouraged settlement in the New Netherlands. A circular of the time promoted Long Island as Eden-like with “deer, sixteen hands high, buffaloes which could be ridden and broken to the plow, large turkeys, 500 to the flock, and clear spring waters equal to light Dutch beer.”
Thomas Foster had fled from England to Holland due to religious persecution. He and his family were the first to settle on the northern shore on Long Island. In 1637 they built a small stone house with one window and wooden shutters where “the Alley” now meets Northern Boulevard.
New Englanders Richard Cornell, a Quaker from Rhode Island, and Thomas Hicks from Massachusetts were two of the earliest landowners in Little Neck. Thomas Hicks used force against the Matinecoc to secure his holdings.
In 1664 the Dutch surrendered the New Netherlands to a British fleet of 24 ships. New Amsterdam became New York. Queens was named for Catherine of Braganza, queen of their new ruler, the British monarch, Charles II. Britain ruled the area for the next one hundred and nineteen years.
Agriculture continued to be the mainstay of life. The Allens operated a mill that shrank and tightened homespun woolens woven on hand looms. The woolens could then be made into cloth. In 1752, James Hedges began to operate a gristmill in the Alley.
Cornelius Van Wyck built a house on his estate in 1735. Today it is noted for its hand-hewn shingles and salt box type roof. The interior has been restored. It is one of the few surviving Dutch colonial houses within New York City, and is designated a New York City Landmark.
The British occupied Long Island throughout the Revolutionary War, from August 28, 1776 to Nov. 21, 1783. They and their Hessian mercenaries used it as a staging and supply area. Everything was at British disposal; private homes, horses, livestock, crops, and forests. As the record says, “Soon there wasn’t a picket fence or a four-legged animal, except dogs, left standing.”
Hessians looted the Foster homestead and hung elderly Thomas Foster, descendant of the original settler, from an apple tree. Company commander Foster rescued him and personally “ran through” one of the Hessian soldiers with his sword.
General Washington designated Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge to create a network of spies among the occupying British forces. These spies included a merchant, an innkeeper, a farmer and several housewives. All risked the fate of Nathan Hale. One recruit used clothing on her clothesline to relay signals. Another gave dinner parties “to honor” British officers and gleaned information from their conversations. Couriers rode the dangerous muddy roads in the dark of night. This network helped foil Benedict Arnold’s plan to surrender West Point. Finally the British were defeated and withdrew.
In 1790, recently inaugurated President George Washington visited the Alley. He acknowledged a welcome and had refreshments at the tavern.
The Alley Pond settlement continued to grow and was the great center of the way of life in Little Neck. By 1813 it included gentlemen farmers, small “truck” farmers, merchants, artisans and oystermen.
In 1819 Wynant Van Zandt III, a wealthy New York merchant and alderman, purchased the peninsular estate on Little Neck Bay and built a large square mansion for his wife and fifteen children. Ten years later, he donated part of the funds and the land to build the Zion Episcopal Church.
When Van Zandt died in 1831, his heirs sold his estate in two parts. It time, the southern part became Douglaston Hill and the northern part Douglas Manor.
Joseph De Forest purchased the southern part and resold it to Cortland Van Beuren, who in turn sold it to Jeremiah Lambertson. Lambertson divided the land into generous 200 ft. by 200 ft. lots with streets named for trees. On July 23 and 27, 1853, he sold the lots to eighteen buyers. However, for the next fifty years very little building was done.
George Douglas, a wealthy Scot, bought the northern peninsula section and began to plant trees imported from all over the world. In 1862 when he died, his eighteen-year-old son William inherited his estate. “Willie” was known as a playboy and sailor of big yachts. For “Willie” the estate was a social hub for entertaining the wealthy and powerful of New York, including Gordon Bennet, publisher of the New York Herald, and financier J. P. Morgan. Their yachts were often moored on the Bay. In 1871 Willie won the first America’s Cup aboard the Sappho.
In 1866, when the Flushing Railroad reached Little Neck, the Old Depot served as its station. Soon the railroad created an additional stop one mile to the west. William donated the former chapel of the Van Zandt family to serve as its station. In exchange, he requested that the station and the village around it be named Douglaston.
Twenty years later, in 1887, “Willie” and resident subscribers funded a Queen Anne-style building and landscaping for the new Douglaston depot. Travelers still needed to take the ferry between Long Island City and New York since the rail line still had not reached Manhattan.
The great years of Little Neck clamming began in the 1860s. Capt. Christian W. Kirkman, a Danish sailor and fisherman, found he could increase the clam yield by planting oyster beds among them. The clams burrowed under the oyster beds to spawn, and multiplied at an incredible rate. These small hard clams were served in the best restaurants of New York and several European capitals. The industry was ruined by pollution from the city in the 1890s.
In 1898, Queens County became part of New York City. Many homes were built in anticipation of a direct route to Manhattan. Two major public works were finished by 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel under the East River and the Queensborough Bridge. The city’s building of roads and bridges spurred tremendous suburban growth.
In 1905, The Rickert-Finlay Company bought the Benjamin Woolley farm and created the Westmoreland Development. They laid out streets and building lots. The 270 homes were given covenants and restrictions with their property deeds to preserve the atmosphere of comfortable living close to New York. These homes were advertised with the not quite accurate slogan “only 26 minutes to Manhattan”.
The following year, in 1906, William Douglas sold his property to the Rickert-Finlay Company. They developed the 175-acre estate into a carefully planned garden suburb town called Douglas Manor. The manor house served as a clubhouse and social center. Each home was within one mile of the station. Its 550 single-family homes include Queen Anne, Colonial, Tudor, and Mediterranean Revival architecture.
Douglaston Hill consists of the area between Douglas Manor and Northern Boulevard, bounded by Douglaston Parkway to the west, and 244th Street to the east. In the late 1800’s it was occupied by a variety of people, including summer residents, local tradesmen, and free blacks that worked in the oyster industry. In the early twentieth century most homes were built in anticipation of the completion of the railroad tunnel under the East River to create a direct route to Manhattan. Architectural styles in the area include Queen Anne, Craftsman, Bungalow, American Foursquare, Tudor Revival, and Colonial Revival. The oldest property in the district is the Zion Episcopal Church.
The rest of Douglaston and Little Neck developed rapidly, mostly with one family houses. The increased population needed increased services. Telephones, a volunteer fire department, a Mothers Club, Christian Endeavor Societies, schools, the American Red Cross, a library, a bank, a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout Troop, a newspaper, a garden club, and several places of worship were active by the middle of the 1930s.
When Northern Boulevard was widened in 1930, the remains from a Matinecoc Indian burial ground were reinterred on land at the Zion Episcopal Church.
With improved transportation to Douglaston and Little Neck, the importance of the Alley settlement waned. The City of New York Parks Department acquired much of the land. During the 1930s, through the Parks efforts to convert the area for recreational use and through the construction of the Long Island Expressway and Cross Island Parkway, several of the older structures were cleared and much of the marshland filled in. This marshland is now recognized as a vital link in nature’s ecosystem.
In 1974, the Parks Department created the Wetlands Reclamation Project and began rehabilitation of the natural wetlands of the park. Alley Pond Environmental Center, a National Environmental Study Area since 1976, has encouraged awareness of the environment. It serves families and over 20,000 students annually, offering hiking, birding, lectures, workshops, and tours. Alley Pond Park contains over 635 acres of forested hills, ponds, meadow, and salt marshes.
Since the 1970s, environmentalists have actively sought to preserve the salt marshes in Udalls Cove for the sake of Little Neck Bay. The Udalls Cove Preservation Committee was formed to lobby city planners to keep the cove as a national wildlife preserve.
A 600-year-old White Oak tree, the oldest tree on Long Island, stands at 233 Arleigh Road in Douglas Manor.
During the 1990’s, the Douglaston/Little Neck Historical Society headed the drive to preserve the two unique residential developments of Douglas Manor and Douglaston Hill. As of 2004, each area is designated as a New York City Historic District.
Sentiments spoken by a resident a few years ago still seem relevant, “What people here want is a continuation of the community this has been for years and whose essence is a rustic New England type town. Our community is the bay, the wetlands, large old trees and the beauty of nature around us that provides a sense of openness and of peace and quiet.”
In 1914, the Queens Borough Public Library opened a small branch in a Douglaston real estate office with 587 books. The next year, through the efforts of the Mothers Club and the school principal, the collection was moved to P.S. 94. Additional moves included the Community Church and 248-04 Northern Boulevard. On April 4 1962, the Douglaston/Little Neck Branch opened its doors in its new improved and expanded quarters at its present location of 249-01 Northern Boulevard.
Flux, James A. and Levine Ty, Bayside Its Yesterdays and Tomorrows, the History of Bayside, Bayside, New York 1957
“The Fosters Made Their Mark on Early Queens” by Joan Brown Wettingfeld who is a historian, free-lance writer and member of the Borough President’s History Advisory Committee, Times/Ledger, May 5, 1994.
Fowler, George C. and Ernestine, Through the Years in Little Neck and Douglaston, Angle Offset, 1963.
Gubernick, Loys, Little Neck Then...and Now, Loys Gubernick, 1982.
Historical Walking Tour, 1975
History of Little Neck, 1952
Little Neck, Douglaston—In profile, by Gene Gleason of the Herald Tribune Staff, Herald Tribune, Dec. 22, 1963.
Long Island Division, Queens Borough Public Library, 89-11 Merrick Boulevard, Jamaica, NY
Queens Scape, Douglaston/Little Neck, Carol Polsky, Newsday, Sunday Dec 31, 1989
Shaman, Diana, If You’re Thinking of Living in: Douglaston, New York Times, March 25, 1990.