For almost 100 years, the town of Middle Village had an identity crisis. The area was settled around 1816 by people of English descent and was named in the early nineteenth-century for its location as the midpoint between the then-towns of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and Jamaica (Queens) on the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike (now Metropolitan Avenue), which opened in 1816. It took years for the name to catch on, many people called the northern part, Maspeth or later Elmhurst.
Some residents didn’t care for the name Middle Village and the name Nassau Heights surfaced. In the 20th Century there were also several attempts to rename much of Middle Village, “Forest Hills West.”
The late, great historian, Vincent Seyfried, defined Nassau Heights as the following:
“An obsolete name for a part of northwestern Queens lying within Elmhurst south of Queens Blvd and east of Grand Avenue. The name first appears on a map of the Bretonniere farm published in December 1853 by its developer W.E. Caldwell; the farm occupied a parcel now bounded by the tracks of the LIRR (northeast), 58th Ave (southeast), 83rd Street (southwest) and 55th Ave (northwest). On some maps the neighborhood extended as far south as Caldwell Avenue. The tract was slow to develop: streets were not laid out until 1896 and houses were not built until the 1920s.”
Old newspaper articles indicate that Nassau Heights was initially centered in what is today South Elmhurst and northern Middle Village. Interestingly, by the time the 1943 profile of Nassau Heights was printed by the NY Times (opposite page), South Elmhurst was no longer considered to be within its boundaries at all and the area shifted to instead include Rego Park and parts of Glendale.
The name “Nassau” comes from an old name for Long Island, which was at one time named Nassau, after the Dutch Prince William of Nassau. The original Nassau is actually located in Germany, and is not an old Indian term, as many falsely believe.
Today there are no vestiges of the name “Nassau Heights” remaining anywhere in Queens.