Jamaica, the largest and most densely populated community in central Queens, derives its name from the Jameco (meaning “beaver”) Native Americans, who lived along the shores of what is now Jamaica Bay. In 1655, the first English settlers arrived in Jamaica from Massachusetts and eastern Long Island. Within a year, they secured a land grant from the Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant, who had named the area Rustdorp (“rest-town”). Rustdorp soon became the seat of Queens County. On September 8, 1664, the Dutch surrendered their New Netherland holdings to the English. In 1683, the English governance organized the New York colony into ten counties. Queens County encompassed present-day Queens and Nassau County. The English renamed Rustdorp as the Town of Jamaica; it included all lands south of the present location of the Grand Central and Jackie Robinson Parkways. During the Revolutionary War (1776-1783), the area was predominantly Tory and occupied by British Troops. In 1814, Jamaica became the first village in Queens County incorporated as part of the United States of America.
Jamaica grew exponentially following the Civil War (1861-1865). Between 1875 and 1910, the population exploded from 780 to 58,200 persons. An electric trolley opened in 1888, but the installation of the elevated subway in 1918 along Jamaica Avenue fostered the rapid growth of commerce and housing. From 1920 to 1940, Jamaica Avenue became known for its department stores, which possessed the highest street valuations (between 160th and 168th Streets) in all of Queens County. A notable structure on the thoroughfare was the Loew’s Valencia (1929), an extraordinary art deco movie theater that is now used as a house of worship. And in 1930, Michael J. Cullen opened King Kullen on Jamaica Avenue, the world’s first modern supermarket. In April 1937, the Independent Rapid Transit (IRT) line began service, connecting Jamaica with the subways of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
160th Street, 109th Avenue, Union Hall Street, and 110th Avenue bound Jamaica Playground. Parks acquired the property by condemnation on September 24, 1941, to provide recreation for the newly constructed P.S. 40 (Samuel Huntington School) and the local community. The playground opened on December 20, 1943, and continues to be jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education. Formerly known as P.S. 40 Playground, the park was renamed by Commissioner Stern in 1985. In November 1994, Jamaica Playground received a $300,000 renovation sponsored by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. The playground now boasts eight handball courts, a wading pool, a comfort station, play equipment, three basketball courts, two softball diamonds, three paddle tennis courts, and three shuffleboard courts.