This property is named for Horse Brook, a small body of water that once originated approximately half a mile from this park, in the area of Kneeland Avenue and Codwise Place. The creek flowed in an easterly direction along present-day Long Island Expressway, draining into Flushing Meadows. The stream was buried in the early 20th century as Elmhurst developed from a suburb into an urban neighborhood.
Horsebrook Island is located in the Queens neighborhood of Elmhurst, which was established as Middleburgh in 1652 by the Director General of New Amsterdam, Peter 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 to1898.
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 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 part of the Greenstreets program, a collaboration between NYC Parks and the NYC Department of Transportation that aims to transform paved street properties such as triangles and malls into greenspaces.