Private Edward M. McKee was a native of Queens who was killed in World War I. McKee grew up at 67 North Sixth Avenue in Whitestone, and joined the army when the United States entered the war. He served in Company I of the 326th Infantry regiment, and tragically died of wounds on October 15, 1918, just 27 days before Armistice and the end of the war.
McKee Square is located at the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge approach to the Southern State Parkway. Beginning in 1905, speculators proposed the construction of a bridge spanning the East River to connect Whitestone, Queens, to Ferry Point in the Bronx. In 1929, the Regional Plan Association revived plans for such a bridge. Under the auspices of Parks Commissioner and master builder Robert E. Moses (1888-1981), the proposed bridge would become part of an “inner belt” in New York’s circumferential highway system, which would enable motorists to travel between Long Island, upstate New York, and New England without passing through high-density areas in western Queens. Moses received authorization to build the Bronx-Whitestone bridge from the New York State Legislature in April 1937, and construction commenced on June 1, 1937. Since Moses wanted the bridge to be completed in time for the opening of the World’s Fair in April 1939, construction proceeded on a tight schedule. On April 29, 1939, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened to traffic. Characterized by its Art-Deco design, the bridge carries approximately 110,000 vehicles per day.
McKee Square functions as a traffic median in the middle of the Cross Island Parkway. The Cross-Island Parkway begins at the Bronx-Whitestone bridgehead and extends east and south through Bayside and Alley Park along the East River and Little Neck Bay. Near the eastern boundary of Queens, it connects the Laurelton Parkway and the Southern State Parkway. The parkway was dedicated on June 29, 1940, and was praised by The New York Times as “the greatest municipal highway venture ever attempted in an urban setting.”
Along the route of the Cross Island Parkway, Moses planned a series of “ribbon parks,” one of which is McKee Square. Wherever possible, playgrounds and walkways were to be constructed along the parkway. On March 31, 1938, the City of New York acquired the land that is now McKee Square by condemnation in the Cross Island Parkway proceeding. In 1940, a local law named the small park to “pay tribute to one who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War.” In 1997, Queens Borough President Claire S. Shulman sponsored a $375,000 reconstruction of all the Cross Island Parkway parks. Characterized by its greenery and benches, McKee Square is a welcome break amid several major thoroughfares.