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History of Elmhurst

Map of Elmhurst

Established in the early 1600s, Elmhurst was the first town in the county of Queens. Originally a Dutch settlement called Middleburg, it was the first town that became successful and was not abandoned (Queens).

Until most of the 20th century the population of Elmhurst was predominantly white, of German, Italian, Irish, Polish and other European ancestry. However, in the early 1900’s the population of Elmhurst started changing as new immigrants moved into the area (Sanjek).

The transition from a white majority to a white minority in Elmhurst was very evident throughout the 1900’s. The percentage of whites in Elmhurst went from 98% in 1960 to 67% in 1970, 34% in 1980, and 18% in 1990 (Sanjek). Immigrant populations in Elmhurst started increasing drastically from around 4,000 between 1970 and 1974, to 11,738 between 1985 and 1989, to more than 20,000 between 1995 and 2000 (Sanjek). As new populations of Africans, African Americans, Chinese, Colombians, Cubans, Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Filipinos, Haitians, Indians, Koreans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans started moving into the area, many of the old residents moved out.

Signs written in languages of immigrants who live in the area

Although many of the white residents moved out with the influx of immigrants, there is still a considerably large population within Elmhurst today. The most prominent race populations are Asians and Hispanics, followed by whites and blacks (City-Data).

With the arrival of many South and Central American immigrants specially to Queens, we saw a difference between Queens and many of the other boroughs. In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Bronx there is a very definite separation of the whites from the new Hispanic immigrants while in neighborhoods like Elmhurst, the white and Hispanic populations coexisted together. Because of this diversity, the New York Department of City Planning called Elmhurst, “the most ethnically mixed community in the world” (Sanjek).

On our walking tour of Elmhurst the first thing we saw was the Queens Center Mall. The people were very diverse but the stores didn't cater to minorities at all, no signs in any Spanish or Asian languages. From there we reached a very Asian sector of the neighborhood, not only signs being half in English but some not in English at all. We encountered the Newtown Church across from the St. James Episcopal Church, and it was intriguing to see that the Newtown Church's sign was half in Chinese, but the Episcopal Church's was entirely in English despite that they were neighbors. As we continued walking we noticed that there were clusters of ethnic communities that were not mutually exclusive from other cultures. We expected that there would be large sections of Elmhurst where a single ethnic community would have made their niche, while in fact every few blocks it seemed the clustered ethnicity of the residents changed; in the Asian neighborhoods there were still a few signs that read "Dentista" or a church emblazoned "Cristo Es La Luz", and on the way to the Moore Homestead Playground near Elmhurst Avenue a group of Asian girls walked past us speaking quickly in Korean, and a few seconds later a group of Hispanic boys of the same age came by speaking English.


Queens Library. "Elmhurst Community Information" <>. 23 Feb 2010.

Sanjek, Robert. "Color-full before color-blind: The emergence of multiracial neighborhood politics in Queens, New York City."American Anthropologist. 102.4 (2000): 762-772. Platinum Periodicals, ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb 2010.

City-Data.Urban Mapping, Inc, 2010. <>. Feb 23 2010.

To continue learning about the history of neighborhoods in Queens, click next. To move on to the next topic, click on How is Queens Branded?

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