Conrad Poppenhusen (1818-1883), entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born in Hamburg, Germany on April 1, 1818. After working as a whalebone buyer for a merchant in Europe, Poppenhusen moved to the United States in 1843 to set up a whalebone processing plant on the Brooklyn waterfront. In 1852, he obtained a license from Charles Goodyear to manufacture hard rubber goods, and he moved his firm to a farming village in what is now Queens.
Poppenhusen is credited with creating the Village of College Point, incorporating the neighborhoods of Flammersburg and Strattonport, in 1870. In order to accommodate his factory workers, Poppenhusen initiated many developments. He built houses, constructed streets, and established the First Reformed Church. In 1868, he opened the Flushing and North Side Railroad. That same year, he founded the Poppenhusen Institute, which comprised a vocational high school and the first free kindergarten in the United States. In recent years, Poppenhusen Institute, the oldest school in Queens, has undergone a renaissance and offers a diverse selection of arts, education, and social programs. After Poppenhusen retired, in 1871, his family lost much of its fortune through financial mismanagement. Conrad Poppenhusen died in College Point on December 12, 1883.
Conrad and Caroline Poppenhusen deeded the property for this parkland to the Village of College Point for $1,928 in 1872. On January 1, 1898, with the consolidation of the five boroughs, the land became the property of the City of New York and was given over to the Parks Department.
In 1884, residents of College Point raised $1,800 to commission the statue of Poppenhusen that stands on this triangle. Sculptor Henry Baerer (1837-1908) created a larger-than-life-size bust of Poppenhusen and placed it on a gray granite pedestal. Baerer was born in Kirscheim, Germany, and came to the United States in 1854. He was especially well known as a portrait sculptor, and contributed six sculptures to New York City parks, including two of the composer Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827), in Prospect and Central Parks, and a full-standing figure of General Gouverneur Kemble Warren in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.
A playground in College Point is also named in Poppenhusen’s honor. Located between 20th and 21st Avenues and between 123rd and 124th Streets, the playground was sold by Conrad and Caroline Poppenhusen to the Village of College Point for one dollar in 1870. Like Poppenhusen Triangle, the playground became part of the Parks Department upon consolidation, in 1898. Originally called College Point Park, it was renamed Poppenhusen Playground in 1971 by the City Council.
In 1996, a ceremony was held and a plaque installed in honor of Betty Pegen, a local volunteer who has tended the park for the past thirty years, making sure the flowers bloom, removing graffiti, and generally doing whatever is necessary to maintain her local green space.