Maspeth — A History

Maspeth is a middle and working class neighborhood in Western Queens. Grand Avenue, its main thoroughfare, is lined with small shops, restaurants and bakeries, many owned by the same families for generations. Private single-family and multiple dwelling homes are predominately located on the side streets. The local population has traditionally been Polish, Irish and Italian and has remained relatively stable over the years. Other immigrant groups include Germans, Lithuanians and, more recently, Chinese and Koreans. An abundance of civic groups such as the Kiwanis and the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce are the backbone of the community, which has a long tradition of volunteer work and activism.

The name “Maspeth” is derived from the Mespeatches Indians, who originally settled near what is now Mount Zion Cemetery.  It is translated to mean “at the bad waterplace” relating to the many stagnant swamps that existed. In 1642, the first European settlement in Queens County was established in the area when Reverend Francis Doughty obtained a charter from the Dutch authorities in New Amsterdam.

To the west towards Newtown Creek is the Maspeth industrial area which includes the Maspeth Industrial Business Zone. In the mid-1800s, the Newtown Creek area was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City. From 1920 to 1983, the Phelps Dodge Corporation had a 35-acre property on Newtown Creek, which was the site of various manufacturing operations including a copper refinery.  As a result of its industrial history, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways and in 2010 was listed as a Superfund Site on the National Priorities List. Today, the EPA is performing a remedial investigation to determine the nature of the contamination and identify potential alternatives for what will be a precedent setting clean-up effort.