Posts Tagged ‘Queens history’

The controversial royal Queens is named for

May 26, 2014

CatherineofBraganzayoungIn 1683, not long after England permanently took over New Netherlands from the Dutch, a round of renaming was in order.

The entire colony was rechristened New York, after the Duke of York.

And because the Duke of York was given control of the area by his brother, King Charles II, the Duke named Kings County for him.

Queens County reportedly was named for Charles’ wife, Catherine of Braganza.

Who was Catherine? A Portuguese-born royal who came with a huge dowry (crucial to cash-strapped England at the time) and trade rights to Portuguese-controlled colonies around the world, she was not widely loved in the UK.

QueensubwaysignOne one hand, she’s credited with introducing the fork, tea, and orange marmalade to her subjects.

But she was unable to produce an heir, and she was Catholic in a Protestant-ruled nation.

After her husband died, sick of being hassled by the new regime, Catherine soon returned to her home country and spent the rest of her life there.

NPG 597,Catherine of Braganza,studio of Jacob HuysmansShe stayed under the radar for more than three hundred years.

But her name popped back up in the 1980s when it was announced that a Portugal-backed, 35-foot bronze statue of her was to go up along the Queens waterfront at Hunters Point.

Politicians were on board; a sculptor brought in and casts made. By the 1990s, however, community groups rallied hard against the statue—because Catherine’s family had benefited from the 17th century slave trade.

Also, some historians questioned whether Catherine really was the woman who lent her title to the borough’s name.

CatherinestatuegolisbonBecause of the controversy, the sculpture project was nixed.

Catherine became such a lightning rod, even her portrait was removed from Queens Borough Hall.

Eventually, a smaller-scale model of Catherine, made from the original mold, was created. It now sits on the waterfront in Lisbon (right; via

Traces of old phone exchanges of Queens

September 23, 2010

This frozen-in-time faded ad—complete with 1980s-style graffiti—remains on the side of a warehouse along 31st Street in Astoria.

The RA comes from Ravenswood, an enchantingly named hamlet that once existed along the East River and was home to many old-money mansions in the 19th century.

The neighborhood was absorbed into Long Island City toward the end of the 1800s, but the name lives on in the form of the nearby Ravenswood Houses and the Ravenswood Generation Station.

This Millionaire Realty sign, on Astoria Boulevard, doesn’t look very old. But it must date back to the 1960s at least, when telephone numbers still had the two-letter prefix.

Astoria’s Irish potato famine cemetery

September 1, 2010

The real name of this tidy 19th century burial ground on 26th Avenue and 21st Street is “The Graveyard of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.”

But it’s always been known by its nickname, because many of the people buried there immigrated from Ireland in the 1840s during the potato famine.

Back then, 21st Street was the heart of a small Irish enclave in Queens, populated by immigrants who worked as servants for Anglo and Dutch families and in local factories.

It’s a small cemetery wedged between residences. Peer through the iron fence and you see all Irish names on the stones: Donnelly, Kelly, Muldarry, Joyce.

Many of them list the deceased’s county of birth. And all the gravestones face East, toward Ireland.