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Udall's Park Preserve

Udalls Park Preserve

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

According to local Native American lore, there once lived on the shores of Long Island Sound two tribes of giants. When they were at war with each other, the tribe on the Connecticut side would break off pieces of their mountains and hurl them at the giants on Long Island. The Long Island giants, because they had no mountains, would reciprocate by hurling boulders—a strategy that proved successful. The Long Island tribe’s victory explains why Connecticut is strewn with boulders for many miles inland, while Long Island has boulders along its northern shore.

Geologists however, offer a different explanation. At various times over the past million years, global cooling caused massive glaciers to form over much of the northern United States. These ice sheets surged southward from Hudson Bay in Canada, collecting boulders, cobbles, gravel, and soil on the way. As temperatures began to rise 15,000 years ago, the last glacier receded from Long Island. As the ice melted, the debris was deposited throughout the landscape. On Long Island, it created the range of hills along the North Shore called the Harbor Hill Terminal Moraine. North of these hills other flat-topped hills formed that now project into the Long Island Sound. These are the peninsulas of Great Neck, Bayside, and Douglaston that flank the pre-glacial river valley of Little Neck Bay and Udalls Cove. As the glacier continued to melt, runoff formed streams that cut into the landscape, creating ravines.

Here at Udalls Cove, the streams carried sand and silt, which formed shallow intertidal flats that now collect water from throughout the area. The first plants to colonize these flats were a species of salt-tolerant grass called saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). Where the grass thrived, the current slowed, causing more sedimentary accumulation. The cove’s bottom continued to rise, and more plant species were able to take hold.

The earliest human inhabitants of this area probably arrived about 4,000 years ago, when a deciduous forest first appeared here. The people came during the warmer months, hunting whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and game birds such as wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) that lived in the forest. Later visitors came to harvest the water’s clams and oysters that came once the salt marsh and stabilized. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano (1480-1528) made contact and established trade with these Long Island natives. Over the next century and a half, the Native Americans built more permanent settlements throughout the island, and Europeans acquired more land for themselves. In 1645, the Dutch established the town of Flushing, and land in Little Neck was granted to settlers such as Thomas Hicks and Richard Cornell. The Mattinecock Indians, led by Chief Tackapousha (d. 1694) disputed these claims, and brought the issue before Governor Thomas Dongan (1634-1715). Tackapousha was at first able to delay white settlement, but after a few years, Thomas Hicks led a force of Europeans in a raid against the Indian settlement, and forcibly took the land. Thus began the decline of Queens’s native population.

In 1833, Richard Udall, for whom the cove is named, bought a mill formerly owned by the Allen family on the eastern side of the cove. The mill, now called the Saddle Rock Mill, remained in the Udall family until 1950, when it was donated to the Nassau County Historical Society. During the 1830s, a shellfishing community developed around the docks at Oldhouse Landing Road (now Little Neck Parkway) and Sand Hill Road. The industry thrived as the demand for oysters and Little Neck Clams (Venus mercenaria) grew. But by 1893, the local shellfishing industry was finished; overharvesting, poaching, and pollution had destroyed it. Today, the stanchions and bulkheads at the end of Little Neck Parkway are all that remain of the bygone era.

The Udalls Cove Preservation Committee initiated the acquisition of Udalls Park Preserve. The group of local residents organized in 1969 in order to prevent development of the land and promote public ownership. Udalls Cove was first mapped as a New York City park on December 7, 1972, but many subsequent additions have increased the size of the park. The preserve was created by a cooperative agreement between Parks and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; the state owns most of the land, but Parks manages the property.

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