Mapping the History of College Point: The Impact of Immigrants on a Neighborhood in Queens

Authored by Megan Smead

Image of Fire Insurance Map of College Point, Queens watermarked with New York Public Library logo

Map of College Point, Queens, NY from the Sanborn Map Company, Atlas 141, Queens V. 5, Plate No. 15, 1903, made available by the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division of the New York Public Library.2

The Sanborn Map Company created fire insurance maps beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, showing the location and construction of buildings and roads in major cities across the United States, which allowed insurance companies to assess fire risk.1 The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division of the New York Public Library has digitized many atlases and maps, including the Sanborn map in Figure 1, which represents College Point, Queens, NY in 1903. As part of an Academic Service-Learning experience through St. John’s University, I georectified this map, and others from the same atlas of Queens. The georectification process entails using the NYPL Map Warper tool to match coordinates from the historical map to a current map in order to align the two maps. Georectification of historical maps allows genealogists, historians, architects, urban planners and members of the public to observe geographic and demographic changes over time, and to make connections to the past. Volunteering my time and skills in service to the public by georectifiying maps allows me to strive towards fulfilling the Vincentian mission of service that is essential to St. John’s University.

Viewing the historic map of College Point through the Vincentian lens of transparency and social justice brings to light the influence of immigrants on the development of Queens. Immigrants’ stories are often under- or misrepresented in the narrative of history, yet they are key to the development of the American culture, economy, and values. College Point has long been a home to immigrants. “Great waves of Irish and German” immigrants  settled in Queens during the nineteenth century, one of whom, Conrad Poppenhusen of Hamburg, Germany, would leave a  lasting impact on the development of College Point.3 Poppenhusen was  an entrepreneur who had struck a lucrative deal with Charles Goodyear to manufacture vulcanized rubber, and chose College Point as the location for his company. “Poppenhusen’s story sounds like that of any shrewd entrepreneur of the day, but instead of the suspicion with which most mid 19th-century capitalists view their employees, Poppenhusen had advanced social ideas that set him far apart from his peers.”4

For his employees, Poppenhusen constructed affordable housing, established the first free kindergarten in the United States as well as a secondary school, and endowed the Poppenhusen Institute, which initially served a variety of community functions – bank, village hall, public library, a place to take English language lessons, and more.5 Today, the Institute is still a community center for College Point; Free classes, concerts, plays, and special events and services occur at the Institute, and it maintains an archive of local historical photographs and artifacts.6 The Poppenhusen Institute’s original charter shapes its current goals – “to continue to offer the people of the Metropolitan area, life enhancing cultural, recreational, and educational programs, either free or at a nominal fee…[and] to provide a warm, welcoming and encouraging environment to all who enter through ‘The Doorway of Opportunity.’”7 Poppenhusen’s lasting legacy for College Point  exemplifies his dedication to serving others, striving for excellence, and providing opportunity for immigrants, all of which represent Vincentian values. College Point is still a unique, thriving neighborhood, home to many Chinese, Korean, and Colombian immigrants, who are now shaping the culture and values of the community.8

1. Walter W. Ristow, “Sanborn Maps: Introduction to the Collection,” Library of Congress, March 14, 2017, https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/articles-and-essays/introduction-to-the-collection/

2. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “Queens V. 5, Plate No. 15 [Map bounded by Ave. G, N. 13th St., 1st Ave., West Blvd.]” New York Public Library Digital Collections, March 14, 2017, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/916ba0ab-76bd-9e3a-e040-e00a180604fe

3. Daniel Hartman and Barry Lewis “A Walk through Queens: Birth of a Borough.” Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.thirteen.org/queens/history2.html

4. Victor Lederer, College Point: Images of America (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004), 7-8.

5. Adrienne Onofri, Walking Queens: 30 tours for discovering the diverse communities, historic places, and natural treasures of New York City’s largest borough (Birmingham: Wilderness Press, 2014), 93.

6. Lederer, College Point, 8.

7. The Poppenhusen Institute, “History,” The Poppenhusen Institute, March 14, 2017 http://poppenhuseninstitute.org/history/

8. Lederer, College Point, 8

Bibliography

Hartman, David and Barry Lewis. “A Walk through Queens: Birth of a Borough.” Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.thirteen.org/queens/ history2.html

Lederer, Victor. College Point: Images of America. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “Queens V. 5, Plate No. 15 [Map bounded by Ave. G, N. 13th St., 1st Ave., West Blvd.]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 14, 2017. http:// digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/916ba0ab-76bd-9e3a-e040-e00a180604fe

Onofri, Adrienne. Walking Queens: 30 tours for discovering the diverse communities, historic places, and natural treasures of New York City’s largest borough. Birmingham: Wilderness Press, 2014.

The Poppenhusen Institute. “History.” The Poppenhusen Institute. Accessed March 14, 2017 http://poppenhuseninstitute.org/history/

Ristow, Walter W. “Sanborn maps: Introduction to the collection.” Library of Congress. Accessed March 14, 2017. https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/articles-and- essays/introduction-to-the-collection/

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