Originally posted Fall 2007. Photos: Christine Halkiopoulos.
A hamlet isn’t exactly what I think of when I think of New York City but the neighborhood of Middle Village began as just that; a small group of English families who settled together at the mid-point between Williamsburgh and the Jamaica Turnpike in the larger area of Newtown. Middle Village was formally established the same year the Turnpike was opened in 1816.
Early development of Middle Village was reserved for the dead. In 1852, after burials had been outlawed in Manhattan , St. Paul ‘s German Lutheran Church and others, bought several acres of farmland for a cemetery. This land would later become part of the Lutheran Cemetery , which serves as the present day western border. German people began to populate the area and by the end of the Civil War, the population consisted of mostly Germanic people. Another wave of immigrants, this time Italian, would come into the neighborhood in the early 20th century.
In 1879 the Catholic Church designated a cemetery of their own, St. John’s Cemetery . Life in Middle Village, at this time, was centered around the cemeteries and services needed in regards to the deceased and their families such as monuments, flowers, and inns for visiting relatives.
Originally, Middle Village had a environmental border, Juniper Swamp , that prohibited development. However, in 1915 the swamp was filled in to create Juniper Park . Recently, the park underwent reconstruction and now includes a brand new playground and enhanced facilities for court sports such as tennis and handball as well as a roller-hockey rink. The park’s bocce court is a favorite among the older Italian residents of the neighborhood.
Until the first World War, the area still had quite a few working farms. These were replaced shortly after with primarily detached one-family houses. After World War Two, however, the predominant domestic architecture to be built were row houses.
Middle Village has modern row houses which were built in a uniform style in continuous rows. There is access to the back of the homes via alley with ample parking. The typical home was originally a small home with two bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, living room, basement, one bath and a crawl-space attic. We did a story about a bathroom remodel in one of these homes last March. Although the facades haven’t changed too much, residents have done a lot with their space, adding additions to the back and finishing basements. Typically, you can add a dining room and another bedroom in the space you have.
Middle Village enjoys close proximity to Manhattan. The subway, trains M, L, and R, get you into Midtown Manhattan in about an hour, while the express bus takes less than 30 minutes. Because of it’s central location it’s easy to get to nearly all the major highways in New York City. It’s about an hour’s drive to the Long Island beaches or to upstate New York. So residents get the benefits of city living with ample opportunity for getting away.
Middle Village is a safe, quiet, residential neighborhood. Traditionally a working class area, many residents are New York City police officers and teachers in the public school system. The community association, The Juniper Valley Association, has been long established and is very active in community affairs. It’s also reputed to be one of the best in the country. Their efforts keep the community spirit strong and their advocacy for responsible urban development have saved many historic homes in the area.
Vincent Seyfriend, “Encyclopedia of New York City,” Edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995.
John Roleke, About.com, 2007.
History of Queens County, New York, W.W. Munsell & Company, 188.