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Jamaica, New York


Jamaica, New York

Neighborhoods of New York City
Frederick Ruckstull's Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument (1896) in Major Mark Park

Coordinates: 40°42′13″N 073°48′07″W / 40.70361°N 73.80194°W / 40.70361; -73.80194Coordinates: 40°42′13″N 073°48′07″W / 40.70361°N 73.80194°W / 40.70361; -73.80194

Country United States
State New York
City New York City
County Queens
Named for Lenape word for "beaver"
Population (2000)
 • Total 216,866
 • Black 58.2%
 • Hispanic 17.1%
 • White 14.9%
 • Asian 10.5%
 • Other 9.4%
 • Median income $39,553
ZIP code 11405, 11411–11436, 11439, 11451, 11499
Area code(s) 718, 347, 917

Jamaica is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. It was settled under Dutch rule in 1656 in New Netherland as Rustdorp.[1] Under British rule, the Village of Jamaica became the center of the "Town of Jamaica". Jamaica was the county seat of Queens County from the formation of the county in 1683 until March 7, 1788, when the town was reorganized by the state government and the county seat was moved to Mineola (now part of Nassau County). When Queens was incorporated into the City of Greater New York in 1898, both the Town of Jamaica and the Village of Jamaica were dissolved, but the neighborhood of Jamaica regained its role as county seat. The neighborhood is part of Queens Community Board 12, which also includes Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Baisley Park, Rochdale Village, and South Jamaica.[2] Jamaica is patrolled by the NYPD's 103rd, 113th & 105th Precincts.[3]

Previously known as one of the predominantly African American neighborhoods in the borough of Queens, Jamaica in recent years has been undergoing a sharp influx of other ethnicities. It has a substantial concentration of West Indian immigrants, Indians, Arabs, as well as many long-established African American families.

The neighborhood of Jamaica is completely unrelated to the Caribbean nation of Jamaica (although many residents are immigrants from Jamaica); the name similarity is a coincidence. The name derives from "Yameco", a corruption of a word for "beaver" in the Lenape language spoken by the Native Americans who lived in the area at the time of first European contact. The "y" sound in English is spelled with a "j" in Dutch, the first Europeans to write about the area. This resulted in the eventual English pronunciation of "Jamaica" when read and repeated orally.[4]

Jamaica is the location of several government buildings including Queens Civil Court, the civil branch of the Queens County Supreme Court, the Queens County Family Court and the Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building, home to the Social Security Administration's Northeastern Program Service Center.[5] The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Northeast Regional Laboratory as well as the New York District Office are also located in Jamaica. Jamaica Center, the area around Jamaica Avenue and 165th Street, is a major commercial center, as well as the home of the Central Library of the Queens Borough Public Library.

Some locals group Jamaica's surrounding neighborhoods[6] into an unofficial Greater Jamaica, roughly corresponding to the former Town of Jamaica, including Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, St. Albans, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Hollis, Laurelton, Cambria Heights, Queens Village, Howard Beach and Ozone Park. The New York Racing Association, based at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, lists its official address as Jamaica (Central Jamaica once housed NYRA's Jamaica Racetrack, now the massive Rochdale Village housing development). John F. Kennedy International Airport and the hotels nearby also use Jamaica as their address.


Jamaica Avenue was an ancient trail for tribes from as far away as the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, coming to trade skins and furs for wampum.[7] It was in 1655 that the first settlers paid the Native Americans with two guns, a coat, and some powder and lead, for the land lying between the old trail and "Beaver Pond" (later Baisley Pond). Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant dubbed the area "Rustdorp" in granting the 1656 land patent.

The English took over in 1664, renamed it "Jameco" (or Yamecah) after the name they gave to the local Native Americans that lived in the area, and made it part of the county of Yorkshire. In 1683, when the British divided the Province of New York into counties, Jamaica became the county seat of Queens County, one of the original counties of New York.

Colonial Jamaica had a band of 56 Minutemen that played an active part in the Battle of Long Island, the outcome of which led to the occupation of the New York City area by British troops during most of the American Revolutionary War. In Jamaica, "George Washington slept here" is indeed true — in 1790, in William Warner's tavern. Rufus King, a signer of the United States Constitution, relocated here in 1805. He added to a modest 18th-century farmhouse, creating the manor which stands on the site today. King Manor was restored at the turn of the 21st century to its former glory, and houses King Manor Museum.

By 1776, Jamaica had become a trading post for farmers and their produce. For more than a century, their horse-drawn carts plodded along Jamaica Avenue, then called King's Highway. The Jamaica Post Office opened September 25, 1794, and was the only post office in the present-day Boroughs of Queens or Brooklyn before 1803.[8] Union Hall Academy for boys, and Union Hall Seminary for girls, were chartered in 1787.[9] The Academy eventually attracted students from all over the United States and the West Indies.[10] The public school system was started in 1813 with funds of $125. Jamaica Village, the first village on Long Island, was incorporated in 1814 with its boundaries being from the present-day Van Wyck Expressway (on the west) and Jamaica Avenue (on the north, later Hillside Avenue) to Farmers Boulevard (on the east) and Linden Boulevard (on the south) in what is now St. Albans.[11] By 1834, the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad company had completed a line to Jamaica.

In 1850, the former Kings Highway (now Jamaica Avenue) became the Brooklyn and Jamaica Plank Road, complete with toll gate. In 1866, tracks were laid for a horsecar line, and 20 years later it was electrified, the first in the state. On January 1, 1898, Queens became part of the City of New York, and Jamaica became the county seat.

The present Jamaica station of the Long Island Rail Road was completed in 1913, and the BMT Jamaica Line arrived in 1918, followed by the IND Queens Blvd. Line in 1936 and the Archer Avenue lines in 1988 (after the portion of Jamaica Line in Jamaica was torn down.) The 1920s and 1930s saw the building of the Valencia Theatre (now restored by the Tabernacle of Prayer), the "futuristic" Kurtz furniture store and the Roxanne Building.

Demographics and neighborhoods

Jamaica is large and has a diverse population. It is mostly African American, with sizable Hispanic, Asian and White populations. While the corresponding figures represent a certain portion of Jamaica, official statistics differ by the area's numerous zip codes such as 11411,11432, 11433, 11434, 11435, and 11436. The total population of Jamaica is estimated to be a bit over 200,000 with all neighborhoods taken into consideration.

Jamaica was not always as diverse as it is today. Throughout the 19th to early 20th centuries, Jamaica was mainly populated with whites as new Irish immigrants settled around the places known today as Downtown and Baisley Pond Park. However in the 1950s, what was later called white flight began and middle-income African Americans started taking their place. After the 1970s, as housing prices began to tumble, many Hispanic such as Salvadorans ,Colombians and Dominicans and west Indian immigrants moved in. These ethnic groups tended to stay more towards the Jamaica Avenue and South Jamaica areas. Yet it wasn't until the late 1990s and early 2000s that immigration from other countries became widespread. Gentrification and decrease in crime attracted many families toward Jamaica's safe havens. Hillside Avenue reflects this trend. Along 150th to 161st streets, much of the stores and restaurants are of South American and Caribbean culture.

Farther east is the rapidly growing East Indian community. Mainly spurred on by Jamaica Muslim Center, Bangladeshis have flocked to this area due to easy transit access and the numerous Bangladeshi stores and restaurants lining 167th and 168th streets. Neighborhood analysts have concluded that Bangladeshis are becoming the most rapidly growing group. Other areas where they are known to reside include Merrick Blvd. and Sutphin Blvd. in South Jamaica. Yet heading down this same direction, you will find numerous churches, stores, salons, and hair-braiding shops thriving in the hip-hop and African-American cultures. Many Sri Lankans also live in this area for similar reasons as the Bangladeshi community, evidenced in the numerous food and grocery establishments catering to the community along Hillside Avenue. As well as the large South Asian community thrives significant Filipino and African communities in Jamaica, along with the neighboring Filipino community in Queens Village and the historic, well established African-American community that exists in Jamaica.


Economic development was long neglected. In the 1960s and 1970s, many big box retailers moved to suburban areas where business was more profitable. Departing retailers included brand name stores and movie theaters that once thrived in Jamaica's busiest areas. Macy's and the Valencia theater were the last companies to move out in 1969. The 1980s crack epidemic created even more hardship and crime. Prime real estate spaces were filled by hair salons and 99 cent stores. Furthermore, existing zoning patterns and inadequate infrastructure did not anticipate future development.

Since then, the decrease of the crime rate has encouraged entrepreneurs who plan to invest in the area. The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), the local Business improvement district, acquired valuable real estate for sale to national chains in order to expand neighborhood commerce. As well they have completed underway proposals by allocating funds and providing loans to potential investors who have already established something in the area. One Jamaica Center is a mixed-use commercial complex that was built in 2002 by The Mattone Group housing Old Navy, Bally Total Fitness, Walgreens, Subway (restaurant), Dunkin' Donuts, a 15-screen multiplex theater and for a while a Gap. Banking has also made a strong revival as Bank of America, Sterling National Bank, Chase Bank, and Carver Federal Savings Bank have each created at least one branch along various major streets: Jamaica Avenue, Parsons Boulevard, Merrick Boulevard, and Sutphin Boulevard. A $75 million deal between the developers, The Mattone Group and Ceruzzi Enterprises, and Home Depot cleared the way for a new location at 168th St. and Archer Ave. All approvals were obtained within three months of the application dates.

The most prominent piece of development has been the creation of the Sutphin Boulevard transit hub aka "Jamaica Station" which was fully completed in 2003. It includes the Sutphin Blvd. E, J, and Z subway subway station, LIRR, and the Airtrain JFK which provides a 5–7 minute direct ride from Jamaica to John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Airtrain station remains the central figure for ongoing economic progress. With the growing number of riders each day passing through this station, the city is providing some major changes to the surrounding blocks of this massive hub of transport.

Efforts have been made to follow the examples of major redevelopment occurring in plan. Structures of up to 28 stories can be built around the main transit hub as well as residential buildings of up to 7 stories can be built on Hillside Ave.

Several projects are in progress. The New York City Economic Development Corporation has issued an RFP for redevelopment of a 45,000 sq ft (4,200 m2). abandoned garage located at 168th St. and 93rd Ave. Plans are underway to convert this space into retail and parking spots. "TechnoMart Queens" was the first approved project. Located at Sutphin Blvd. and 94th Ave., Korean Based Prime Construction Corp., Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, and several other partners have signed a deal to create a 13-story Mega-mall. 9 floors will be dedicated towards wholesale electronics, 3 floors to retail space for shopping, and it is estimated to contain parking for up to 800 cars. Groundbreaking on this site will initiate in late 2008 and is slated for completion by mid-2011. The GJDC has announced in their newsletter that another site adjacent to the mall will be converted into a hotel for Airtrain passengers. Official groundbreaking information has not been released nor declared yet its completion is set for 2010.

Grupo TACA operates a Jamaica-area TACA Satellite at 149-16 Jamaica Avenue.[12]

Airport-related businesses

Several businesses are at the distant John F. Kennedy International Airport. North American Airlines has its headquarters on the property of JFK.[13] In addition, Nippon Cargo Airlines maintains its New York City offices there.[14]

When Tower Air existed, its headquarters were at the airport.[15][16] When Metro International Airways existed, its headquarters were at the airport.[17]


Jamaica Station is a central transfer point on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which is headquartered in a building adjoining the station; all but one of the commuter railroad's lines (the exception being the Port Washington Branch) run through Jamaica.

The New York City Subway's IND Queens Boulevard Line (E F trains) terminates at 179th Street station, at the foot of Jamaica Estates, a neighborhood of mansions east of Jamaica's central business district. The Archer Avenue Line, which opened in 1988 (E J Z trains), terminates at Jamaica Center – Parsons/Archer station. Jamaica Center is not just a transit hub; it is also the name of a business and government center that includes a federal office building, and a shopping mall and theater multiplex (One Jamaica Center), and is adjacent to various other businesses and agencies, such as the main forensic laboratory facility for the New York City Police Department.

Jamaica's bus network provides extensive service across eastern Queens, as well as to destinations as distant as Hicksville in Nassau County, the Bronx, the Rockaways, and Midtown Manhattan. Nearly all bus lines serving Jamaica terminate there; most do so at the 165th Street Bus Terminal or the Jamaica Center subway station, except the Q46 bus which operates along Union Turnpike which serves as the northern border of Jamaica.

Greater Jamaica, a large, sprawling neighborhood, is also home to John F. Kennedy International Airport—one of the busiest international airports in the United States and the world— public transportation passengers are connected to airline terminals by AirTrain JFK, which operates as both an airport terminal circulator and rail connection to central Jamaica at the integrated LIRR and bi-level subway station located at Sutphin Blvd and Archer Avenue.

Major streets include Archer Avenue, Hillside Avenue, Jamaica Avenue, Liberty Avenue, Merrick Boulevard, Parsons Boulevard, Guy R. Brewer Boulevard (formerly known as New York Boulevard but renamed for a local political leader in 1982), Sutphin Boulevard, and Union Turnpike, as well as the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678) and the Grand Central Parkway.

Neighboring areas are Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Holliswood, Bellerose, Briarwood, Cambria Heights, St. Albans, Hollis, Queens Village, South Ozone Park, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, Laurelton, Rosedale, Brookville, Rochdale, South Jamaica, Springfield Gardens, Hillcrest, Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows, Meadowmere Park, and Woodhaven.

Government and infrastructure

The Federal Aviation Administration Eastern Region has its offices in Jamaica.[18]

Major thoroughfares

Jamaica Avenue

Hillside Avenue

Hillside Avenue is one of the main thoroughfares of Jamaica. It is served by the F train, from Sutphin Boulevard to its 179th Street terminus. Hillside Avenue runs east from the Richmond Hill area, passes Ozone Park, along the length of Jamaica, and into Queens Village and Nassau County. It is a wide 6 lane street with numerous commercial activities. The Q43 Bus runs its entire length starting at Sutphin Boulevard. Hillside Avenue separates Jamaica from Jamaica Hills, Jamaica Estates and Briarwood on the southern boundary. Union Turnpike separates the northern boundaries of Jamaica Hills, Jamaica Estates, and Briarwood from the southern boundaries of Flushing or Fresh Meadows.

Within every couple or so blocks, there is a transition of one ethnic enclave to another. From 148th Street to 150th Street, one will find numerous wholesale and merchandise shops with a well amount of family oriented restaurants of South American descent. From 151st Street and into 164th Street, many groceries and restaurants pertain to the West Indies. Mainly of Guyanese and Trinidadian origin, these stores serve their respective population living in and around the Jamaica Center area. East from 167th Street to 171st Street, there are East Indian shops. Mainly invested by the ever growing Bangladeshi population, hundreds of South Asians come here to shop for Eastern goods not found anywhere else in Queens. Also restaurants such as "Sagar" and "Ghoroa" countless more resemble the Bangladeshi stronghold here. Some people call this area another "Little South Asia" similar to that of Jackson Heights.

Sutphin Boulevard

Sutphin Boulevard is Jamaica's second busiest thoroughfare. It has stations for the E, F, J and Z trains, the LIRR, AirTrain JFK, and two Queens Courthouses. It begins at Hillside Avenue and 147th Place in the north and works its way south and downhill connecting with Jamaica Avenue, Archer Avenue, Liberty Avenue, South Road, Linden Boulevard, and terminates at Rockaway Boulevard. At first it is a small four-lane street, but in the downtown area it provides six lanes. At 95th Avenue, it reemerges from the LIRR underpass and becomes a four-lane street to its southern endpoint.

Union Turnpike

Union Turnpike travels through, and serving as the northern border between the towns of Flushing and Jamaica. Though both towns were absorbed into New York City in 1898, the division is evident today in the addresses. Buildings on the north side generally begin with a 113- ZIP code, indicating Flushing, and buildings to the south side begin with a 114- ZIP code, indicating Jamaica.


Colleges and universities

Several colleges and universities make their home in Jamaica proper or in its close vicinity, most notably:

Primary and secondary schools

Public schools

Jamaica's public schools are operated by the New York City Department of Education.

Public high schools in Jamaica include:

Public Elementary and Intermediate (Junior High) Schools in Jamaica include:

  • I.S. 231
  • P.S. 80
  • P.S. 45 Clarence Witherspoon
  • P.S. 50 Talfourd Lawn Elementary School
  • P.S. 86
  • P.S. 131 Abigail Adams Elementary School
  • P.S. 160
  • P.S. 182 Samantha Smith
  • I.S. 238 Susan B Anthony
  • P.S. 48 William Wordsworth
  • I.S. 8
  • J.H.S. 72, Catherine and Count Basie

Private schools

Private schools in Jamaica include:

  • Al-Iman School, an Islamic PK-12 school.
  • Archbishop Molloy High School. Formerly an all-boys Catholic high school, now co-ed.
  • Immaculate Conception School, a co-ed Catholic school from pre-K to 8th grade. The school is a local landmark located on the property of Immaculate Conception Church and Monastery, run by The Passionist Congregation of Priests.
  • St. Nicholas of Tolentine a co-ed Catholic school from pre-K to 8th grade, run by The Sisters of Charity
  • The Mary Louis Academy, a private, Catholic, girls' high school run by the Sisters of St. Joseph.
  • United Nations International School, a private school in Jamaica Estates.

The Catholic schools are administered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.

From its 1975 founding to around 1980, The Japanese School of New York was located in Jamaica Estates,[20][21] near Jamaica.[22]


The Central Library of the Queens Borough Public Library, the nation's highest circulation public library system, is in Jamaica. The Baisley Park Branch and the South Jamaica Branch are also located in Jamaica.

Notable residents

Notable current and former residents of Jamaica include:


External links

New York City portal
  • Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (the source of much of the historical information in this article)
  • The Cultural Collaboration of Jamaica JAMS sponsor
  • York College Web Site
  • King Manor Museum, home of anti-slavery Founding Father Rufus King
  • A Road Not Taken, Much NY Times City Section, April 15, 2007
  • Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning
  • Queens Library
  • Map of Queens neighborhoods
  • 1873 map of Village of Jamaica
  • 1873 map of Town of Jamaica
  • History of Queens County: Jamaica New York: W.W. Munsell & Co.; 1882. pp. 193–257.

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