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. 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 Gov. Peter Stuyvesant dubbed the
area Rustdorp in granting the 1656 patent. The English, who took it over in
1664, renamed it “Yameco” after “Ahmeco” the Carnarsie word for beaver. The
British called it “Jameco.” And so, Jamaica was born.
Colonial Jamaica had a band of 56 Minute Men that played an active part in
the Battle of Long Island, whose unfortunate outcome led to occupation by
British troops during most of the Revolution. “George Washington slept here”
is indeed true for Jamaica — in 1790, in William Warner’s tavern. Rufus
King, a signer of the Constitution came to live here in 1805. He added to a
modest 18th century farmhouse, creating the manor which stands on the site
today. King Manor has been restored to its former glory, and serves as an
enlightening, attractive 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 public school system started in
1813, funded for $125; a year later, Jamaica Village was incorporated. By
1834, the Brooklyn and Jamaica Rail road Company had completed a line to
In 1850, Jamaica Avenue became a plank road, complete with toll gate. In
1866, tracks were laid for a horsecar line, and 20 years later it was
electrified for trolleys, the first in the state. In 1898, Queens — of which
Jamaica was the county seat — became part of the City of New York.
The Long Island Rail Road Station was completed in 1913, and the Jamaica
Avenue El arrived in 1918. Business boomed as never before, and as parkways
were constructed thousands more people came by car. The ‘20s and ‘30s saw
the building of the elegant Valencia Theatre, the “futuristic” Kurtz
Furniture Store and La Casina.
Reuse of Historic Buildings
Several historic buildings in Jamaica Center have been restored and put to
new uses. Perhaps the most startling is La Casina, a former nightclub on
160th Street designed in the Art Modern style. Now fully restored, it is the
home of the Jamaica Business Resource Center. The Former Queens Register
Building on Jamaica Avenue, has been the home of the Jamaica Center for Arts
and Learning since JCAL was founded in 1972. Through a series of renovations
it is now functioning in first class space. Along with Black Spectrum
Theater and Cultural Collaborative Jamaica, JCAL is restoring and converting
the former First Reformed Church into a new performing arts center. A three
bay Firehouse, on 162nd Street built in the 1920’s, has been converted to a
small office building housing two non-profit agencies. The Valencia Theater
has been restored and now functions as the Tabernacle of All Prayer. A
magnificent Street Clock has also been rescued and restored; it now stands
outside Chase Bank on Jamaica Avenue.
Suggested Walking Tour
Museum In King Park /Jamaica Avenue at 153rd
Once the country home of Rufus King (1755-1827), was a signer of the U.S.
Constitution, Senator from New York, and Ambassador to Great Britain under
four presidents. Call 718 206-0545/Fax 718 206-0541
Grace Church • 155-15 Jamaica Avenue
Built in 1862, English Gothic Revival architecture.
La Casina Night Club • 90-33 160th Street
Built in 1934, streamlined Moderne Style. Recently renovated, the building
is now occupied by Jamaica Business Resource Center.
First Reformed Church • 153-16 Jamaica Avenue
Built in 1859, Early Romanesque Revival Style.
Former Register • 161-04 Jamaica Avenue
Built in 1898, the building is now occupied by Jamaica Center For Arts and
Former Kurtz Store • 162-24 Jamaica Avenue
Built in 1930’s, this former furniture store is a fine example of Art Deco
Valencia Theatre • 165-11 Jamaica Avenue
Built in 1929, the Valencia was one of the several atmospheric “Wonder
Theatres”. The building is now occupied by Tabernacle of Prayer.