Middle Village received its name because it marked the midway point for travelers along the old Jamaica Turnpike (today’s Metropolitan Avenue) between the ferry at Williamsburgh and the village of Jamaica. It is an Anglicized version of the original name, Middleburgh, and was once a populated settlement of Dutch farmers who sold their produce in Manhattan. Middle Village borders Elmhurst to the north, Rego Park to the east, Glendale to the south, Maspeth and Ridgewood to the west.
The first inhabitants were American Indians, members of the Montauk confederacy, which included the Canarsie, the Manhasset and the Shinnecock. During the American Revolution, the British grazed cattle in the area to feed the garrison occupying New York City. Settlement, mostly of English and Scotch-Irish descent, grew with the opening of the Jamaica Turnpike in 1816. Starting in the 1850’s, following the failed Revolutions of 1848, German refugees flooded the neighborhood in search of good farmland and bought up the acreage between Metropolitan and Myrtle Avenues.
During the Civil War (1861-1865), Confederate soldiers who were prisoners of war were confined in the basement of what was once Niederstein’s Restaurant on Metropolitan Avenue. Many of the graves in All Faiths/Lutheran Cemetery are the resting place of Civil War veterans.
In the 1920’s, fed by the automobile and installment payment plans, a housing boom eventually consumed the farmland and meadows. The last farm in Middle Village was sold to developers in 1937.
Located just six miles from Manhattan, Middle Village is a lovely neighborhood of private homes, small apartment buildings, and vibrant shopping districts. The 55 acres that constitute Juniper Valley Park are a jewel. Few realize that until 1915, that stretch of land was known as “Juniper Swamp.” Homes along the Park’s southern border enjoy breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, including the newly constructed Freedom Tower. The events of September 11, 2001 hit Middle Village especially hard.
Today’s population is predominantly Italian-American and Irish-American. In recent years, Middle Village has benefited from an influx of eastern European, Latin American and south Asian residents. Still, it’s not uncommon to find second and third-generations inheriting homes in Middle Village, which is part of Community Board 5.
The 1964-1965 World’s Fair in nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park gave many Middle Villagers their first interaction with computer equipment. The Fair was a close, convenient way to enjoy its many pavilions, exhibits, restaurants and rides. It is best remembered as a showcase of mid-20th Century American culture and technology with more than 51 million people attending.
Middle Village has served as a location shoot for the TV series “Blue Bloods” starring Tom Selleck. Mike Repole, CEO of Glaceau Vitaminwater, and Donna DeCunzo-Taddeo, President of Voodoo Tiki Tequila Corp., also have roots in Middle Village.
Middle Village can also boast of other, more permanent residents. James Harper, founder of the great Harper Brothers publishing house was a Middle Village resident who began his education in Maspeth’s Old Brook School. In 1822 Thomas Pullis, Sr. (1778-1854) purchased a 32 acre tract of land in what would become Middle Village. Pullis was a successful farmer and merchant who shipped his produce to the bustling metropolis of Manhattan. Upon his death in 1854, Pullis was buried in a private graveyard, which is now part of Juniper Valley Park.
Avant-garde photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) is interred in St. John’s Cemetery.
Super centenarian Carl Berner was born in Stuttgart, Germany on January 17, 1902. In 1928, he left for America, where he started a successful toy company. Mr. Berner was active in the Juniper Park Civic Association and Middle Village community affairs right up until his death on January 7, 2013, just a few weeks before his 111th birthday.
Famous people buried here who lived nearby:
Charles Atlas (1892-1972) is buried in St. John’s Cemetery. Born Angelo Siciliano in Calabria, Italy, he was a sickly child, who really did have sand kicked in his face by a Coney Island lifeguard. Using ‘Dynamic Tension,” Atlas improved his health, packed on the muscle and in 1922 won the “Most Perfectly Developed Man” competition in Madison Square Garden.
Former Representative and Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro (1935-2011) as well as Hollywood director (“Dirty Dancing,” 1987) Emilio Ardolino (1943-1993) are interred in St. John’s Cemetery. Cosmetics magnate Helena Rubenstein (1870-1965) is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery. All Faiths Cemetery is the final resting place for a majority of the 1,021 mostly German victims of the “General Slocum” disaster (June 15, 1904). It was, until the attacks on the World Trade Center, the worst disaster in New York City history.