Geographical Fun Facts

Typical Queens Neighborhood

This week I decided to step way out of the box, and discuss the first book I’m pushing.  Maybe try to scout up some interest, if you will?  For those of you who do not know of this fiction work, entitled A Mother’s Prayers, it is a coming-of-age story of an African-American teenager who lives in Queens, New York.  The book covers a ten-year span of her life.  With that in mind, there are also many people who are unfamiliar with New York and/or Queens.  The story does however, wander into Manhattan, different areas of New Jersey, Nassau, Bahamas and Paris, France, but I will stay mostly in the New York/New Jersey region.  As I began my research, I realized there is some pretty neat history surrounding these areas of America.  Why did I pick Queens? Simple – I spent the second half of my teenage years there, and lived there until I married, and moved to New Jersey.  The borough of Queens is so huge though, there is neither time nor space to list everything.  I have therefore, confined all of these facts to the SE corner of the county. Here is my list of interesting facts on Queens, New York:

  • General Peter Stuyvesant settled this area under Dutch rule in 1656 and called it Rustdorp, even though it’s inhabitants were the Lenape, a Native American Tribe;
  • The English arrived in 1664, and named it “Jameco;”
  • Bet you didn’t know how the borough of Queens got its name? It came from Queen Braganza, the wife of King Charles II of England;
  • We know that George Washington slept in places up and down the eastern seaboard.  And yes, he slept in Queens as well – at the house of Rufus King, an attorney, Senator and signer of the U.S. Constitution.  In 1974 his home became a National Historic Landmark, and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in Jamaica;
  • Jamaica Avenue, a main thoroughfare, at one time served as an ancient trail for Native American groups from as far away as the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, coming to trade skins and furs for wampum – they called it “The Kings Highway.” That’s a funny fact, because over 400 hundred years later, this main drag is still congested with all kinds of traffic – all coming to shop in the local establishments;
  • After World War II, builders in Long Island were responding to the cities overcrowding and to White soldiers coming back from the war. So they built massive suburban developments on Long Island. This helped escalate something called “White flight” that emptied out many homes in southeast Queens. When this happened Middle class Black families from Brooklyn and Harlem took advantage and purchased homes in large numbers. This resurgence continued into the 1960s;
  • Jamaica Bay is a literal Wildlife Refuge and is managed by the National Park Service, but in 1972 became a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The area also provided parks/beaches such as: Jacob Riis Park (Riis Beach), Breezy Point Surf Club and Silver Gull Club. Floyd Bennett Field is also located nearby and provides Archery year round;
  • South Ozone Park, NY where the story takes place is now simply called Jamaica. The change took place sometime in the 1990’s (I haven’t been able to pin down an exact date);
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) carries a Jamaica, NY address;
  • JFK is located in Jamaica Bay, which is only twelve miles from the southern tip of Manhattan;
  • In June of 1975 an Eastern Airlines jet went down on Rockaway Boulevard after being stuck by lightning, killing all but fourteen;
  • On December 11, 1978 one of the largest, if not the biggest heist took place at JFK’s Lufthansa Terminal. This theft made it to Hollywood in the movie The Big Heist.  It also  served as the main plot of the 1990 Goodfellas movie;
  • The Concorde made its first stop at JFK in December of 1977;
  • This part of Queens is about twenty minutes from the beach, Far Rockaway, NY;
  • On Rockaway Beach, you can sit and watch the planes landing – depending on the flight patterns. There is also an amusement park there named, Playland, which is similar to Coney Island, only not as large;
  • Aqueduct Raceway is in SE Queens, and Belmont Raceway is roughly fifteen minutes in the other direction, toward Long Island.

Lastly, some notables who live in Queens:

Jimmy Breslin – author and columnist
Mario Cuomo – Former Governor of NY
Metallica – Rock Group (for only a brief time in 1983)
Nicki Minaj – Rapper
Cyndi Lauper – Singer (grew up in S. Ozone Park)
Donald Trump – RE Developer, and our
Rufus King who housed George Washington – attorney, senator and U.S. Constitution signer

Fun Facts of Belleville, New Jersey

Why did I choose Belleville?  Areas by Branch Brook Park remind me so much of Queens.  It is also very likely for an African-American business owner of a sheet metal company to want their office there. It would put them closer to Manhattan, and it’s more of an industrial area.  A few tidbits about this town:

  • Belleville gave itself the nickname Cherry Blossom Capital of America, with an annual display that is larger than that in Washington, D.C.;
  • Most notably, some of The Soprano episodes were filmed in this town.
  • Some significant people from Belleville:

Joe Pesci – Actor
Frankie Valli – Lead singer of The Four Seasons
Russell Baker – NY Times Columnist

Fun Facts of Hunterdon County, New Jersey

My story wanders into Annandale, New Jersey which is in the northwest part of the State.  Since there are no real or interesting facts about this tiny town, I decided to go with Hunterdon County, which is where this haven is situated.

  • Again, the Lenape Indians, “Original People” occupied the area;
  • The County has 246 bridges;
  • The first courthouse went up in May of 1792.  In fact the last hanging in the county took place in 1828 – James Guild, a 14-year-old who murdered his mistress;
  • On January 2, 1935 the Lindberg Trial began at the Flemington Courthouse.  Bruno R. Hauptman went to trial for the fatal kidnapping of Lindberg’s son;
  • Lee Van Cleef, a movie star appearing in Westerns in the 1960s and 1970s began his career at a local theater company in Clinton, New Jersey;
  • Bernie Worrell, the keyboardist and founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic is listed as a resident. He later moved on to the group Talking Heads.

So, that concludes our little, and not so brief, geographical fun fact-fest on A Mother’s Prayers.  I hope you enjoyed reading the history of these towns as much as I took pleasure in doing the research.  Now, we wait for the book.  If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to leave them.

All images courtesy of Google Earth

Some information provided through Wikipedia and County of Hunterdon, State of New Jersey

3 thoughts on “Geographical Fun Facts

  1. Wow…you have a lot of background on your setting. 🙂 Nice job! I’m guessing you are a plotter not a pantser. I did a lot of research on the location and time period for the hf mg novel I’m working on. I think knowing a setting is a huge benefit.

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