Elmhurst occupies a site in the northwest part of Queens. It is a heavily urbanized area with endless rows of houses, high-rise apartments, and mega-chain stores. Elmhurst is the modern name for the old Newtown Village. The village of Newtown (Elmhurst) was settled in 1652 and named Middleburg after a city in the Netherlands. In 1663, by a proclamation of the king of England, the name was changed to Hastings, after the town in England. Two years later it was officially named New Towne, soon shortened to Newtown.
On January 1, 1898, when it became part of New York City, the name Elmhurst was adopted for the entire village. The name Elmhurst was chosen because of the many elm trees that grew in the area, especially the large elm tree in front of John Furman’s store, the site now occupied by the library.
The residents of Elmhurst are mainly Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Mexican, and other Hispanic immigrants. In fact, Elmhurst is one of the most diverse, concentrated areas in the entire world. Houses of worship include The Reformed Church of Newtown., established in 1731; and The Saint James Episcopal Church.
Beginning in May 1900, residents began planning for the library. In 1901 a mass meeting was held to obtain a Carnegie grant. Construction began in 1904, and the “Carnegie Library Building at Elmhurst” was officially opened on March 31, 1906. The grounds were beautifully landscaped with terraces, rock gardens, and a pool. The book collection numbered 3003.
In 1932 a new reference collection of over 2,000 volumes was purchased. A listing of these titles was published in pamphlet form. In the late 1940’s the Elmhurst-Jackson Heights American Legion began making donations toward a memorial collection. Each Memorial Day the Legion still gives money to the library for this collection. One of the first record collections in the Queens Library system was started at the branch when residents contributed money in the memory of Miss Portia Conklin, who was branch librarian at Elmhurst up to the time she died in 1947.
Alterations in 1980 left intact the original plaster ceiling and a Colonial Revival style wooden mantel decorated the library seal in the Children’s Room. In 1985 a new circulation desk and lighted display shelves were installed. An Adult Learning Center, specializing in English and literacy classes, was constructed.
In 2000 new windows, roof, and mechanical systems were installed and the interior was renovated. A modern handicapped access ramp and concrete steps with an aluminum pipe rail have been installed at the entrance. The landscape around the library is a community garden today, which dedicated volunteers maintain.
In 2005 a new initiative has been launched for the design of a new library facility and extension of the current site. This will allow the Elmhurst Library to expand and enhance the services it provides to its customers.
The Elmhurst Community Library currently serves its diverse community through a number of entertainment and educational programs, classes, and print and media collections focusing on customers’ diverse interests and needs. It is no longer just an information service provider; it is a center for the dynamic community’s activities.
Sanjek, Roger. The Future of Us All: Race and Neighborhood Politics in New York City. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Seyfried, Vincent F. Elmhurst: From Town Seat to Mega-Suburb. 1995.
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.