This parkland is named for Horsebrook Creek, a small body of water that once flowed approximately half a mile from this park, to the area of Kneeland Avenue and Codwise Place.
Horsebrook Island is located in the Queens neighborhood of Elmhurst, which was established as Middleburgh in 1652 by the Director General of New Amsterdam, Petrus Stuyvesant. Middleburgh, named after a city in the Netherlands, was given to roughly 50 English Presbyterians for settlement that same year. The English took to calling the surrounding area “Newtown,” but the Middleburgh name remained as well, serving as the title for Newtown’s administrative center from 1683-1898.
When Queens was incorporated into New York City in 1898, the residents of Newtown opted to change the neighborhood name in order to disassociate the area from the foul smells of the industrial district surrounding Newtown Creek. They chose the name “Elmhurst,” meaning “a grove of elms,” because of the prevalence of elm trees (Ulmus americana) in the locality.
The surrounding area was developed in the late 1890s, primarily by the Cord Meyer Development Company. Founded in 1899 by Cord Meyer Jr. and his brothers, Christian and John, the company recognized that Queens had a rich potential for development, and purchased a large farm in Newtown from the co-founder of the Lord & Taylor Company, Samuel Lord. Streets were laid out, a sewer system was built, and ties were established to nearby trolley lines, all of which contributed to an influx of residential and commercial expansion soon thereafter.
Horsebrook Island, a small traffic triangle bounded by Justice Avenue, 56th Avenue, and 90th Street, is home to several small trees and bushes. It is now part of the Greenstreets program, a joint project of Parks and the Department of Transportation begun in 1986 and revived in 1994. Its goal is to convert pave street properties, such as triangles and malls, into green spaces.