Jamaica Queens is buzzing. Although it doesn’t have the same level of excitement or sensory overload that Times Square imparts on its visitors, it’s a bustling city center just brimming with activity. The courts, government offices, hospitals, colleges, ethnic restaurants of every kind, big box retailers and mom-and-pop shops – the neighborhood has a lot going on at any given moment.
Jamaica, a diversely populated middle-class neighborhood located in southeastern Queens has a huge commercial and retail district with a residential component too. Its boundaries are Hillside Avenue to the northwest, Van Wyck Expressway to the south, Linden Boulevard to the southeast, and 188th Street and Jamaica Boulevard to the northeast.
Jamaica has a similar history to other areas of Queens and Manhattan. Indigenous tribes called it home until the Dutch arrived in the mid-1600s. They purchased the land for a very small amount (history says two rifles, a fur coat, and some gun powder). Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant named it Rustdorp, which translates to rest town. English colonists took over the lands from the Dutch around 1655 and changed the name to Jamaica.
In the late 1770s, Jamaica became a popular trading post and it was eventually incorporated into a village in 1814. In 1834, B and J Railway Company built a train line connecting Brooklyn to Jamaica. It didn’t last long because B and J Railway ran out of money to keep the trains operational. New investors stepped in and saved the company. They renamed the organization the Long Island Rail Road Company.
In 1898, Queens became part of New York City and served as the county seat for Manhattan.
Today’s Jamaica has a thriving business district that represents the diversity of Queens. West Indian grocery stores, African American bath and beauty supplies, South American eateries, Indian owned electronic stores, Italian grocers, South East Asian markets line the streets selling their goods and services.
There are even green spaces in this densely populated urban neighborhood. Rufus King Park, Marconi Park, Jamaica Playground, Saint Albans Park and Baisley Pond Park are just a few of the more notable ones.
Jamaica is accessible with plenty of transportation options. Jump on the Long Island Railroad and be in Manhattan in 35 minutes, or head the other direction to Montauk or the Hamptons. The Air Train takes you to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Subway and bus lines will whisk you to Manhattan, Brooklyn, or further into Queens.
Afrikan Poetry Theatre – For a real taste of culture visit this community theatre. It offers readings, music performances, lectures, and workshops for individuals, families, and children.
Sybil’s Bakery and Restaurant – Serves tasty Caribbean and Guyanese meals along with traditional baked goods.
Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning – Founded in 1972, this multidisciplinary arts and cultural center offers dance performances, visual arts exhibitions, educational programs, and much more. Part of this institution is housed in the landmarked Queens Register of Title and Deeds Building.
What You Might See
It’s a busy thoroughfare (trains, planes, and automobiles) with lots of activity. People everywhere, moving and shaking.
What You Don’t Know
The First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica is the oldest presbyterian church in the nation. Organized in 1662, the church has held continuous service since its date of inception. Remarkably it hasn’t stopped services under three flags (Dutch, England, and United States).
The neighborhood name, Jamaica derives from the name Jameco Indians who were the first indigneous people on the lands. Jameco eventually became Jamaica.
What’s in the Future
The Jamaica Capacity Improvements (JCI) Project aims to improve and modernize the LIRR rail infrastructure in and around Jamaica Station. The ongoing project will upgrade platforms, enhance train performance, improve signals and make trains faster and more efficient.