Jul 10, 2024, 06:27AM

Independence, and Other Avenues

There are three Independence Avenues in New York City, one lengthy and two short.

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There are three Independence Avenues in New York City, one lengthy and two short. The first, depicted above, goes through the far northern Bronx in Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale, running through both urban and rural territory. It begins at Palisade Ave. at Henry Hudson Park and runs north in narrow and wide sections to just past W. 247th St. and then from Spaulding La. north past Wave Hill to a dead end past W. 24th St.; there’s also a short piece at the end of Arlington Ave.

The avenue was erroneously named, as a long-ago cartographer mistakenly placed Fort Independence in Spuyten Duyvil. The American Revolutionary fort was in hilly Kingsbridge Heights, where it has a street named for it: Fort Independence St., situated west of the Jerome Park Reservoir.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn’s Bath Beach, patriotically-named Independence Ave. runs in two pieces, one from Bay 8th St. to 15th Ave., and another between 15th and 16th Aves. between Cropsey Ave. and Shore Parkway. The street was built on landfill also used to support Shore Parkway and wasn’t named or built up until after World War II. The third Independence Ave. in New York City is at the south end of the Staten Island Mall, a road that connects Richmond Avenue and Forest Hill Road.

Brooklyn has its share of patriotic-sounding street names, such as State St. downtown, as well as Union and President in Cobble Hill, Park Slope and Crown Heights, but there was a street called United States St. or, as it was commonly represented on maps, U.S. St., in tiny Vinegar Hill. It was a dead-end alley off a northern portion of Little St., which has since been reduced to a single short block between Evans and Plymouth. I’ve circled it on this 1929 Belcher Hyde atlas. Since then, the massive nearby Con Edison plant expanded and a waste treatment plant was built in the Navy Yard, eliminating all trace of U.S. St.

I’m fascinated by streets that dramatically change character from one end to the other, as well as change their level of traffic. There are a number of streets in NYC that start with just a trickle of traffic and build and build to a heavy volume, such as Staten Island’s Hylan Blvd., which begins quietly at the Alice Austen House (which belonged to the famed late 19th-early 20th century photographer) on the Narrows, becomes a screaming, honking mess as it roars down the island’s east shore, and ends quietly again at the historic Billopp Conference House, where Ben Franklin unsuccessfully tried to stave off the Revolutionary War.

Each borough except Manhattan has a street, or streets, named Union, and Manhattan has the bustling Union Square, named for the confluence of Broadway (earlier Bloomingdale Road) and the Bowery. Brooklyn’s Union Street is named for the Union Stores, an 1800s East River dockside repository for sugar, molasses and other comestibles. Brooklyn and the Bronx’s Union Ave. are likely named for the Union Army following the Civil War.

The south end of Queens’ Union St. in Flushing sits amid a thicket of streets named for plants in alphabetical order from A to R. Flushing, beginning in the colonial era and for almost 200 years, was home to a number of plant nurseries where people would come from all over the NYC area to buy flowering plants and fruit trees. That era ended in the early-20th century when Flushing became increasingly urbanized. This section of Union St. between Cherry and Negundo Aves. is a tree-lined side street, lightly trafficked except for residents. The space between Union St.’s two sections was once occupied in large part by the Sanford Hall Sanitarium, which fronted on Jamaica Rd. (now Kissena Blvd.). What was the first private asylum in NY state was established in 1841 by Dr. James McDonald. One of its more famed patients was actress Georgia Cayvan; she died there at 49. Cayvan was famed for wearing a glass dress. The sanitarium closed in the first half of the 20th century; Ash, Beech and Cherry Aves., and their private houses, now take its place.

The northern section of Union St. between Franklin Ave. and Willets Point Blvd. runs through the heart of Flushing and is a busy commercial thoroughfare, second only to Main St. among Flushing’s north-south routes. It roars past the First Baptist Church (1890) at Sanford Ave.; St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church (1961 but founded in 1854); Roosevelt Ave. (pictured), built in the 1910s to accommodate the elevated Flushing Line. Its eastern section was once called Amity St., and Nancy Reagan lived at Amity and 149th Pl. as a child; Flushing’s most beautiful building, the Collegiate Gothic Flushing High School at Northern Blvd.; St. John Vianney Church at 34th Ave.: known as the Curé of Ars, John Vianney was instrumental in the reinstitution of the Catholic faith in France after the French Revolution and is now the patron saint of priests; and a pair of large co-operative developments, Linden Hill Houses and Mitchell Gardens, face off on Union St. between 25th and 31st Rds.

Liberty Ave. is a lengthy route split between Brooklyn and Queens, running from East New York all the way to Hollis in southern Queens. For much of its route, it’s shadowed by the last remaining section of Brooklyn’s Fulton St. El and carries the A train to its destinations at Lefferts Blvd. and the Rockaways. In Jamaica, it runs past York College, one of New York’s City University branches. Pictured, we see it at the Brooklyn-Queens undefended border at Eldert La.

The story goes that Liberty Ave. wasn’t named in a groundswell of patriotism, but more prosaically: built in the mid-19th century, it was never tolled as roads like Jamaica Ave. and Flatbush Ave. were long ago.

—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)


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