By Jon Cronin
Maspeth was named after the Mespeactches Native Americans. This tribe was one of many that lived in this area and the name they gave it translates to “at the bad waterplace”, which may be attributed to the stagnant swampy areas that existed in the area.
The area was settled by British in the mid-1600s. The first deed signed on Long Island was between the newcomers and native tribes for 13,000 acres granted to the settles. Soon fights broke out between them and the Maspat tribe. The settlers retreated to what is now Elmhurst and later further back to Manhattan.
A few years later, the British ventured back to the area. It was initially a scant 28 English Quakers along the growing industrial Newtown Creek and Maspeth Creek that founded the town.
Maspeth borders Newtown Creek to the west and after the Revolutionary War the area became inundated with factories along the creek that could use the waterway to ship their goods to Manhattan. After the war, roadways were built made of crushed oyster shells and wooden planks. The creek was the site of the nation’s first kerosene refinery, first modern oil refinery, a glue factory, rope works, and a tin factory. Industry in the area kept growing. More skilled laborers moved into the area and brought with them the need for housing.
With the influx of immigrants and laborers in the 1800s, a shanty town of Boyash (Ludar) Gypsies took up residence between 1925 and 1939, but as a more cohesive neighborhood grew the shanties were bulldozed.
Over the years the creek’s shore was home to a sewage treatment plant, factories and refineries. The waterway became polluted then and the issue has become even more serious today At the time there were no regulations for pollution and today the Environmental Protection Agency has designated Maspeth Creek and Newtown Creek a superfund site, a title reserved for the most polluted sites in the nation.
The shores of the creek are still an industrial area, though none of the former factories and plants are currently active. This western portion of the town is considerably different from the peaceful eastern neighborhood.
Maspeth has become a close community. They were proud to have saved the Maspeth Town Hall, which was built by the Dutch Brinkerhoff family in 1898. Ironically, the building was never actually used as a town hall, but served as a schoolhouse until 1932, then a girls’ club during the Depression. It housed the 112th Precinct after that but fell into disrepair by the late 1960s. A committee was formed to save it and today the Maspeth Town Hall is a thriving Community Center.
Maspeth residents have also championed the naming of Frank Principe Park on Maurice Avenue and 63rd Street. Principe was a former Community Board 5 president and beloved community member. His wife Virginia was also an avid community advocate and within the park the playground was named after her in 2000. Recently the park was redesigned to allow for one soccer field and two softball fields for the youth of the community.