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Pictures dated c. 1907 and 2003
Pictures did not appear in original article
Click images to enlarge
The old and new P.S. 54 Schools as seen from Hillside Avenue at 126th Street. In the black & white picture, the new P.S. 54 school building can be seen behind the old one which was soon torn down.



Pictures dated c. 1925 and 2001
Pictures did not appear in original article
Click images to enlarge
Looking north on Austin Street (to the left) and 126th Street (to the right) in the former Hayestown section of Kew Gardens, NY.
Historical Association
Researches Hayestown
[Reprinted from the February 16, 1992 issue of the Queens Chronicle]

Don't be surprised, when you least expect it, [if] someone on Jamaica Avenue walks up to you and asks, "Can you tell me how to get to Hayestown?" says Felix Cuervo, president of the Native New Yorkers' Historical Association. Hayestown, or Hay's Town, as some historians call it," explained Cuervo, "was a part of Richmond Hill and now Kew Gardens around the 120th to 130th Streets blocks between Jamaica Avenue and where Maple Grove Cemetery is now. It was first settled in 1878 and like many other small neighborhoods within our community, one day it just up and vanished."

"We have been studying and researching these 'lost areas," said Robert P. Mangieri, the organization's vice-president. However, we seldom find anyone who remembers anything about them. In the case of Hayestown, which carried the name until about 1940, we were fortunate to locate someone who actually lived there and remembers much about the daily life of this working class community. She is Rita Werner, the Richmond Hill Community Leader, wife of John Werner who also devotes his time to the betterment of the Richmond Hill area.

According to Mrs. Werner, her family lived in a new, detached, single family house that faced the Long Island Railroad tracks which were on an elevated section of land. "It was a very countrified atmosphere," she said "We bought eggs from a neighbor who raised chickens. Another neighbor raised rabbits. As children, there were plenty of empty lots to play in. I started kindergarten at at P.S. 99, but was referred to P.S. 54, which is still there, however, the P.S. 54 I attended was a wooden school painted gray. The present brick school went up later."

"This piece of land which ran north toward what is now Queens Boulevard," said Dr. A. Allan Greene of Howard beach, a native New Yorkers' official, "was a district of fertile farms first settled by the Dutch. The land was still in the hands of their descendants when Hayestown was established. These Dutch descendants thought they were being crafty when they sold some of their poorer lands to Italian immigrants who, with some Irish, made up the population of Hayestown," added Dr. Greene. What they didn't know was that the new settlers had been farmers in Italy and could grow lush vegetables and flowers on solid granite. Soon their land was as valuable and fertile as everyone else's."

"To get to school," continued Mrs. Werner, "I had to pass the old Borden's stables and then cross Hillside Avenue. We had great sledding from Kew Gardens Road, where Maple Grove Cemetery is now, to our block 126th Street. We loved the snowfalls. There was a more difficult hill we called "Snake Hill." We went home only to eat and get dry clothes. Wagons delivered ice for the "ice box," milk wagons delivered milk in glass bottles, coal for the furnace, peddlers with wagons would cry out their wares from wagons from the street, fruit, watermelon, vegetables, fish and dry goods. There were no refrigerators, or heating your entire house by the flick of a switch. Few radios and TV of course, hadn't been invented yet. Still we had a happy childhood and lots of fun."

"Up near Queens Boulevard," said Mangieri, "was known as Butter Milk Hollow. Sloping toward Hayestown was the large farm of David Springsteen, no relation to Bruce Springsteen. People who bought homes in the Hollows were surprised to discover several caves there, some rather large, complete with hermits who had lived in them for years. Luckily, the merits turned out to be lonely, harmless old men."

"On Thanksgiving Day," added Rita Werner, "we dressed as ragamuffins in our mother's and father's old clothes and went around to our neighbors asking, "Anything for Thanksgiving?" On Halloween we filled a stocking with flour and hit one another with them. There was no "trick or treat" in store-bought costumes, but the streets were safe and we didn't need our parents as escorts. On Thanksgiving Day, we were thrilled to get an apple, a chicken leg or a penny."

Cuervo held up a news clipping drawn from the old Richmond Hill Record dated December 23, 1911. It read: Pioneer dies suddenly. Founder of Hayestown passes away. While at Church, Ambrose Hayes, for many years a well known resident of this place died suddenly Sunday evening in the rectory of the Holy Child Church (Chestnut Street, 112th Street) [sic] and Orchard Avenue (86th Avenue). Hayes was about 70 years-old. The section where he lived has long been known as Hayestown, because he was the first settler there. The Rev. Father Thomas A. Nummey, rector of the Church administered the last rites.

Thus vanished the founder of Hayestown. Within a short thirty years the Community known as Hayestown would also disappear. "We are thankful," said Dr. Greene, "that Rita Werner knows its history."

  • The Queens Chronicle, February 6, 1982 issue, copyright 1992. Permission granted by the The Queens Chronicle
  • Antique photograph of P.S. 54 from the Lucy Ballenas Collection courtesy of Carl Ballenas

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