Jamaica is a neighborhood in the borough of Queens in New York City, New York, United States. It was settled underDutch rule in 1656 in New Netherland as Rustdorp. 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. Jamaica is patrolled by the NYPD’s 103rd Precinct.
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, Russians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Filipinos 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 Lenape were the Native Americans living in the area when the English took it over in 1664, and named it “Jameco” after a Lenape language word for “beaver”.
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. 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 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).
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 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.
King Manor along Jamaica Avenue
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 has recently been restored to its former glory, and now 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. Union Hall Academy for boys, and Union Hall Seminary for girls, were chartered in 1787. The Academy eventually attracted students from all over the United States and the West Indies. 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. By 1834, the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad company had completed a line to Jamaica.
Jamaica railroad stations in 1873
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. 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 sizeable 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 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 is a complete reflection of this trend. Along 150th to 161st streets, much of the stores and restaurants are of South American and Caribbean culture. Heading 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.
Economic development was long neglected. In the 1960s and 1970s, many big box retailers moved to suburban areas where business was more profitable. Such retailers included brand name stores, commercial strips 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 brought in the crack epidemic which created even more hardship and crime. Prime real estate spaces were filled by hair salons and 99 cents 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) is a long-standing nonprofit organization that has done an excellent job in promoting development. They have acquired valuable real estate and sold them to national chains in order to expand neighborhood opportunities for advancement. 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 once 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
Jamaica Station: Airtrain JFK and LIRR
Currently Jamaica has great potential to be a premier business center in New York City following the examples of major redevelopment occurring in Long Island City, Flushing, and Downtown Brooklyn. In 2005, the New York City Department of City Planning drafted a plan that would rezone 368 blocks of Jamaica in order to stimulate new development, relieve traffic congestion, and shift upscale amenities away from low-density residential neighborhoods. The plan includes up-zoning the immediate areas around Jamaica Station to accommodate passengers traveling through the area. To improve infrastructure the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has agreed to create more greenery and open spaces to allow pedestrians to enjoy the scenery. At the same time, the city has reserved the right to protect the suburban/residential charm of neighboring areas. Several blocks will be down-zoned to keep up with the existing neighborhood character. On September 10, 2007 the City Council overwhelmingly approved the 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. As of today, there are a few up and coming projects. 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” has been the first ever declared 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.
North American Airlines has its corporate headquarters in Building 141 on the grounds of John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Grupo TACA operates a Jamaica-area TACA Satellite at 149-16 Jamaica Avenue.
When Tower Air existed, its headquarters were in Hangar 17 on the grounds of Kennedy Airport.
Interstate 678 in Jamaica
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 asHicksville 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.
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), and Sutphin Boulevard, as well as the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678) and the Grand Central Parkway.
Neighboring areas are Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, 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. South Flushing, and Woodhaven.
Jamaica Avenue or sometimes known as the “Ave” is Jamaica’s busiest thoroughfare. The route actually begins at Broadway Junction in Brooklyn, near the boundary of the East New York neighborhood. The Avenue enters Jamaica east of the Van Wyck Expressway, and it brings the traveler to the Joseph Addabbo Social Security Administration Building, courthouses and the main building of the Queens Library, along with many discount stores offering a variety of goods. Jamaica Avenue also sets the tone for historical and cultural amenities. The 200-year-old King Manor Museum, once home to Rufus King, a founding father of America, is located at the corner of 153rd St. and Jamaica Ave. It includes a 2-story museum with over an acre of land and a public park. Directly across from the Museum is the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, part of the JCAL, represents a long sought adaptive reuse of the landmark, 150 year old former Dutch Reformed Church. It was completed in 2007.
Hillside Avenue is located along the northern boundary of Jamaica. It is served by the F train, which runs all the way from Sutphin Boulevard to 179th Street, where it terminates. Hillside Avenue starts off in the Richmond Hill area and runs east bypassing Ozone Park, running throughout Jamaica, and into Queens Village and Long Island. It consists of a wide 6 lane street with numerous commercial activities. The Q43 Bus runs its entire length starting off in Sutphin Boulevard. Today, Hillside Avenue is actually the line that separates Jamaica from Jamaica Hills, Jamaica Estates and Brairwood on the southern boundary and Union Turnpike from Flushing on the northern boundary. The enormous cultural diversity is well foreseeable in this region. Within every couple or so blocks, there is a unique transition of one ethnic group 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, there is an unprecedented amount of groceries and restaurants pertaining to the West Indies. Mainly of Guyanese and Trinidadian origin, these stores serve their respective population living in and around the Jamaica Center area. Lastly, advancing east from 167th Street to 171st Street, there is an enormous amount of 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 actually refer to this area as being another “Little South Asia” similar to that of Jackson Heights.
Sutphin Boulevard is Jamaica’s second busiest throughfare. It is home to 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 downward connecting with Jamaica Avenue, Archer Avenue, Liberty Avenue, South Road, Linden Boulevard, and finally terminates at Rockaway Boulevard. At first it is a small four-lane street, but when reaching the downtown area it curves into a complete six-lane passageway. At 95th Avenue, it reemerges from the LIRR underpass and becomes a four-lane street once more until its endpoint.
Colleges and universities
Several colleges and universities make their home in Jamaica proper or in its close vicinity, most notably:
- York College, a Senior College of the City University of New York
- St. John’s University (Queens Campus), A private, Roman Catholic University founded by the Vincentian Fathers (Lazarists)
Primary and secondary schools
Jamaica’s public schools are operated by the New York City Department of Education.
Public high schools in Jamaica include:
- August Martin High School (Formerly Woodrow Wilson HS pre 1971)
- Thomas A. Edison Vocational and Technical High School
- Hillcrest High School
- Jamaica High School – The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building an official landmark on March 24, 2009
- Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
- Queens Gateway for the Health Sciences High School
- High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety
- York Early College Academy
Public Elementary and Intermediate (Junior High) Schools in Jamaica include:
- P.S. 50 Talfourd Lawn Elementary School
- P.S. 86
- P.S. 131 Abigail Adams Elementary School
- P.S. 160 Walter Francis Bishop
- P.S. 182 Samantha Smith
- P.S. 48 William Wordsworth
- J.H.S. 8 Richard S. Grossley
- I.S. 238 Susan B Anthony
- M.S. 72 Catherine and Count Basie
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 estate The Catholic schools are administered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.
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.
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, Parsons Boulevard
Notable current and former residents of Jamaica include:
- Cecily Adams, actress
- Paul Bowles, writer and composer
- Nelson DeMille (1943-), author
- Alan Dugan, poet
- Ann Flood, actress
- James P. Johnson, pianist and composer
- Crad Kilodney, writer
- Debi Mazar, actress
- Blanche Sloan, Jamaica Iland, NY Vaudeville actress and trapeze artist for Barnum and Bailey Circus, sister of Tod Sloan, jockey
- 50 Cent (Curtis James Jackson III), rapper from South Jamaica
- A Tribe Called Quest, hip-hop group
- Ja Rule, rapper
- D.GiFT, Artist/Actor South Jamaica @DdotGdot
- Ali Vegas, Rapper from South Jamaica & South Ozone Park
- Lloyd Banks, rapper from South Jamaica
- Yummy Bingham, singer from South Jamaica
- Phife Dawg, rapper and member of A Tribe Called Quest
- Grafh, rapper
- Milford Graves, free-jazz drummer
- Jam Master Jay (deceased), former DJ for Run DMC, shot in his studio in Queens who came from Hollis
- Darryl McDaniels, rapper and former member of Run DMC, also known as DMC from Hollis
- Talib Kweli, rapper from South Jamaica, born in the neighborhood
- Nicki Minaj, Rapper & Singer from South Jamaica
- Mr. Cheeks, Rapper, member of the Lost Boyz from South Jamaica
- Nuttin’ But Stringz, brothers Damien and Tourie Escobar who play violin
- Nyce (rapper)
- O.C. (rapper)
- Q-Tip, rapper, producer, and founder of Hip-Hip group A Tribe Called Quest
- Rev Run, rapper and founder of Run DMC from Hollis
- Superstar Jay, Hip Hop mixtape DJ
- The Lost Boyz, rap group from South Jamaica
- Tony Yayo, rapper from South Jamaica
- Metallica briefly lived here in April 1983 before recording their debut Kill ‘Em All
- Waka Flocka Flame, Rapper, So Icey Entertainment, 1017 Brick Squad who came from South Jamaica born in the neighbourhood but later move to Atlanta
- L’vel Maraj, Rapper & Singer from South Jamaica
- Caddillac Tah, rapper
- Mathematics, Wu-Tang Clan affiliated producer
- Rafer Alston, basketball player
- Ron Artest, basketball player
- Bob Beamon, Olympic gold medalist
- Mike Bruhert, New York Mets pitcher in the late 1970s
- Marc Iavaroni, basketball player, former head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies
- Lamar Odom, basketball player from Queensbridge & South Jamaica
- Heathcliff Slocumb, former pitcher
- Jimmy Breslin, author and columnist
- Sri Chinmoy, philosopher and spiritual teacher
- Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York 1983-1995
- Rocco DiSpirito, chef
- Ashrita Furman, most Guinness World Records holder (88 Guinness World Records)
- William T. Kane, physicist; born in Jamaica in 1932
- Rufus King, signer of the United States Constitution
- Gerald S. Lesser (1926–2010), psychologist who played a major role in developing the educational programming included in Sesame Street.
- Kenneth McGriff, gangster from South Jamaica
- Letty Cottin Pogrebin, writer/journalist
- Freddie Roman, comedian
- Donald Trump, real estate developer
- Marinus Willett, mayor of New York 1807-08