Rediscovering some long-lost history
by Ed Wendell
Feb 22, 2017 | 7183 views | 0 0 comments | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodhaven’s historical record is fluid and constantly being rewritten as we rediscover more and more pieces of our past.

For example, what were once just regular trees lining a road through Forest Park turned out to be cherished memorials planted 100 years ago to the young men who sacrificed their lives in World War I.

The road through Forest Park will soon be renamed Forest Park Memorial Drive to reflect this and other memorials that populate our park. But it was while we were looking for these trees that we stumbled across a mystery that was recently partially resolved.

About three years ago, before we discovered the exact location of the memorial trees, all we knew was that they had been planted near the old golf clubhouse, the building in Forest Park that today is known as Oak Ridge.

There was a fenced area directly across the street from Oak Ridge that we wanted to explore.

You’ve passed by this a million times; it's right next to the long parking lot for the Forest Park Golf Course near the circle where people used to fly airplanes (which long ago used to be the 18th hole, but that’s another story).

There was a large breach in the fence that we walked through, and we were instantly confronted with an obstacle. The grounds inside that fence are wild and natural, and the footing is dangerous.

But more dangerous was the precipitous drop. This piece of land isn’t flat, it’s a large hole in the earth.

We left shortly thereafter; these weren’t the trees we were looking for. And the hole in the ground remained a mystery until we were speaking with Woodhaven’s Walter Steffens a few weeks ago.

While reminiscing about his childhood, he said the hole used to be a pond where neighborhood kids would swim and fish.

That makes perfect sense. It was a pretty deep pond (or lake, I don't really know the difference) by the looks of it.

But this raised the mystery of what happened to the pond. Did it dry up naturally? Did it ever have a name?

These are questions we don’t have the answers to (yet), but as noted earlier Woodhaven’s historical record is fluid and constantly being rewritten.

The nice thing is that the next time you walk or drive through the park, you can point at that fenced-in area and say “that used to be a pond.” Or a lake.

In the wake of this rediscovery came an interesting question from a friend, asking if I’d ever heard of a Crystal Lake in Forest Park.

After a little research, we found a clipping in an old Leader-Observer noting a Crystal Lake where the Kew Gardens railroad station now stands.

That seemed to end that inquiry, except for a different clipping we discovered from a May 1918 edition of the Leader with the headline “Legget Ave. Lad Drowned in Forest Park Pond.”

It told of the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy named Harry Miller from Woodhaven. (Legget Avenue was 80th Street in those days.)

Interestingly, even though the headline said young Miller drowned in a pond, it made several references to the name of that pond: Crystal Lake. Apparently, they had trouble telling the difference between ponds and lakes back then, as well.

But several pieces of evidence point towards this not being the lake in Kew Gardens, but one much closer to Woodhaven and possibly even our recently rediscovered pond.

The article stated that the boy’s mother had seen him in the backyard of their home minutes prior to his drowning, meaning the lake (or pond) was close to 80th Street in Woodhaven.

And when Harry Miller’s body was recovered, it was carried to the police station in Glendale.

None of the above would make sense if they were referring to a lake in Kew Gardens. All of it would make sense if they were referring to our recently rediscovered pond.

For now, we have a mystery tied to a nearly 100-year-old tragedy involving a drowned boy and a lake that disappeared. Local history doesn’t get much more fluid than that.

Join us at the next meeting of the Woodhaven Historians on Tuesday, March 7, at the Avenue Diner at 91-06 Jamaica Avenue at 7 p.m., where you will learn more about our community’s interesting history.

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