Maple Grove Park

Maple Grove Park

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

This park is located just east of Maple Grove Cemetery, a nondenominational burial ground founded in 1875 to ease overcrowding in Jamaica’s Prospect Cemetery. Built in 1668, Prospect was the first cemetery built in the Town of Jamaica, and is located at 159th Street and Beaver Road, just south of the current Long Island Rail Road tracks.

On February 9, 1875 the Long Island Democrat reported that a group of men from Brooklyn had purchased 75-acres of land with the purpose of building a cemetery by the name of Maple Grove. The site was located in what was then known as Hayestown, an area now mostly contained within Richmond Hill, that was founded in the 19th century by general store owner Ambrose Hayes. The cemetery was constructed on one of the highest points on Long Island, in view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Long Island Sound. Maple Grove was modeled after the 478-acre Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn that, like Maple Grove, is located on a large hill and features extensive landscaping and horticulture.

In April of 1875 the non-profit Maple Grove Cemetery Association received permission to open from the Queens Board of Supervisors. By February of the following year, the cemetery was open and making interments. The first person to be buried in Maple Grove Cemetery was Edward H. Sprague, a one-year-old who had died of smallpox.

Maple Grove Cemetery is also the resting-place for several notable residents of Queens. John H. Sutphin (1835-1907), one of the cemetery’s organizers, served as the president of Jamaica Savings Bank (1896-1897) and the founder of the Bank of Jamaica (1895). In 1867 Sutphin was elected county clerk of Queens and, from 1867 to 1897, served as chairman of the Queens Democratic Committee. Sutphin is the namesake for many Queens locations, including Sutphin Playground in Baisley Pond Park, and Sutphin Boulevard, a roadway located on land near the present Jamaica Long Island Rail Road station.

J. Harvey Smedley (1840-1925), after whom a street in Briarwood is named, also lies in Maple Grove Cemetery. Smedley organized the Long Island City Savings Bank and started the public school savings bank system. Smedley’s son, Mason O. Smedley was chosen by borough president Maurice Connolly to serve as the Democratic leader of Queens. He held the position until Richard S. Newcombe (1880-1930), the namesake of Newcombe Square between Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens Road, and 84th Street, brought down Connolly by exposing the corrupt nature of his administration.

In addition, the cemetery contains the remains of Edward Mandel (1869-1942), a Jewish educator and lawyer who was one of the founders of the teacher’s pension system and John Townsend Suydam (1856-1930), a Republican politician and member of the famous Suydam family. The Suydams were Dutch farmers who were among the original landowners in Queens and are the namesake of a street in Brooklyn, as well as other places throughout New York City. Maple Grove is also the resting-place of Elizabeth Riis (1853-1905), who lived for many years at 84-39 120th Avenue in Richmond Hill with her husband Jacob Riis (1849-1914). Jacob was a famous journalist, photographer, and author of How the Other Half Lives (1890), an expose that led to urban housing reforms.

The City acquired this parkland in conjunction with the construction of the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678). The Expressway was built to connect John F. Kennedy Airport, then Idlewild Airport, to several of the main east-west thoroughfares that run through Queens. Initial construction of the Van Wyck Expressway was completed in 1950, and the road was officially opened on October 14 of that year. Commissioner Stern gave Maple Grove Park its current name on July 21, 1997. The park contains over thirty trees, including oaks as well as maples, which create a tree-lined seating area for members of the community and those working in Borough Hall or the Queens Criminal Court.

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