Jamaica’s Rich History
History of Jamaica, Queens
Named for the Jameco (or Yamecah) Indians, who were part of the Algonquin nation, and lived on the northern shore of Jamaica Bay and along Beaver Stream and Beaver Pond. It is one of 3 villages dating back before the Revolution. Prior to the British settling there, the Dutch called the land Rustdorp (rest town). One of the county’s original towns, Jamaica was settled in 1655 by English families who came there from Hempstead and settled on a tract under a grant from Governor Stuyvesant. They gave their settlement the name of “Rusdorf,” and later, “Jameco;” the present name was adopted for the entire southeast portion of Queens in 1680. The first church in Queens, also the oldest Presbyterian church in the country, was built here in 1662. Jamaica became the county seat in 1683 when Queens was organized as one of the counties of New York State. A courthouse was built for $300, which also contained the prison and was used as a house of worship on Sundays. Early on the British made Jamaica the colonial capital of Queens County. The court and county and clerk’s office were established there. Executions were carried out around Beaver Pond. Grace Church was the official government church and during the Revolutionary War the area was occupied by British troops (1776-1783) whose huts were in the foothills north of Hillside Avenue.Jamaica (Jameco being the Algonquin word for Beaver) was incorporated in 1814. Transportation has played an important role in Jamaica’s history. The toll road between Hempstead and the ferry in Brooklyn — now Jamaica Avenue — provided much of the community’s commerce, and later became a major shopping area. The Long Island Rail Road provided service to Manhattan (NYC) in 1836. After the Civil War, Jamaica boomed in population and development. In the 1870’s side streets were laid out and the electric trolley began service in 1888. In 1918, the elevated train was extended down Jamaica Avenue, that coupled with the affordable 5 cent fare enabled people to live there and work in Manhattan.
By 1925 Jamaica was the premier shopping center for all of Central Queens and in the 30’s was the financial heart of Queens. (The first self-service supermarket in the country, King Kullen, opened in 1930 on Jamaica Avenue.). Until the middle of the 20th century, Jamaica was the center of commerce, government, and entertainment for most of Queens and parts of Brooklyn and Nassau County. A primary reason for its growth has been its uniqueness as a transit oriented hub, with the converging of 10 LIRR branches, 13 bus lines, 4 major subway lines, 5 adjacent highways and connecting transportation to JFK Airport. Beginning in the 1960’s, however, Jamaica experienced erosion in its position as the borough’s largest business district. New regional shopping malls in neighboring Nassau County siphoned off downtown retail activity, resulting in the closing of downtown Jamaica department stores, the relocation of two headquarter banks, and the departure of its largest industry, along with the loss of jobs and economic activity linked to those anchors.