BY JON CRONIN
In the early 1800s people were drawn to Woodhaven by two racetracks that occupied the area; Union Course and Centerville Race Track. In 1835, a businessman named John R. Pitkin persuaded the Long Island Rail Road after his plan to build a manufacturing plant failed and he began promoting a village he called Woodville.
By 1853, Pitkin started a newspaper and the residents voted to change the name to Woodhaven. The next year a tinware factory opened and built housing for its eventual 2,100 employees. Over the course of the next 30 years, the owners of the factory, Charles Lalance and Florian Grosjean had an influx of French workers move to the neighborhood.
Irish and Italians moved to the neighborhood closer to the turn of the twentieth century as more public transit appear as part of the elevated lines. By the mid-century there were more German and Polish families beginning to appear.
There were only a few Victorian homes with mainly one and two family homes throughout the neighborhood.
Many older residents who grew up in Woodhaven during the mid-twentieth century recall its small-town charm and mom and pop shops that littered Jamaica and Atlantic Avenues.
Only two stores from that era left: Schmidt’s Candy on Jamaica Avenue, which opened in 1925 and is famous for its homemade chocolate, and is still run by the original Schmidt’s granddaughter and Neir’s Tavern, known then as Union Course, which opened in 1829, according to the tavern’s website.
Although much of that history is no longer visible, there are some remnants. The clock tower from the old tinware factory, which closed in 1955, now resides as part of Atlantic Avenue’s shopping district between 91st and 92nd Avenues.
Novelist Betty Smith wrote her classic “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” while living on Forest Parkway.
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church has stood since 1900, still serves parishioners. The Wychoff-Snediker Family Cemetery is located by the church and has grave stones dated back to 1750. Both the cemetery and church are on the national register.
In 2013, Woodhaven celebrated the refurbishing and reopening of the 110 year-old Forest Park Carousel after it closed in 2008. According to the Carousel’s website, it was created by artist Daniel Carl Muller in 1903 and has resided in Forest Park since 1973.