Elmhurst (formerly Newtown) is a working/middle class neighborhood in the borough of Queens in New York City. It is bounded by Roosevelt Avenue on the north; the Long Island Expressway on the south; Junction Boulevard on the east; and the New York Connecting Railroad on the west. The neighborhood is part of Queens Community Board 4.
The village was established in 1652 by the Dutch as Middenburgh (Middleburgh) and was a suburb of New Amsterdam (Nieuw Amsterdam) in New Netherland (Nieuw Nederland). The original European settlers of Elmhurst were from the nearby colony of Maspat (now called Maspeth), following threats and attacks by local Native Americans. When the British took over New Netherland in 1664, they renamed Middleburgh as New Town (Nieuwe Stad) to maintain a connection to the Dutch heritage. This was eventually simplified to Newtown.
Among the English settlers in the present Elmhurst section of Newtown was Gershom Moore, who lived at what is now the intersection of Broadway, 45th Avenue, and Elmhurst Avenue. A chance seedling eventually produced the Newtown Pippin, Colonial America's most famous apple. The village of Newtown was established as the town seat for the township in 1683, when Queens County was reorganized as a "one county, five towns" model. The Town of Newtown, which had a town hall, jail, tax office, and town clerk's office, was the center of a municipality that comprised the villages that were located north of present-day Forest Park and west of Flushing Meadows.
More concentrated residential development was spurred by completion of a horsecar line, the Grand Street Line, which reached New Town in 1854. The Long Island Rail Road's Main Line was built through Elmhurst in 1876, attracting more residents to the neighborhood. Cord Meyer bought land at Broadway and Whitney Avenue in 1896. He proposed that the town be renamed "Elmhurst", meaning "a grove of elms"; in 1897, one year before Queens County was incorporated in the Greater City of New York, the town was renamed. The renaming was done partially to disassociate the town from nearby Maspeth and the smelly, polluted Newtown Creek, and partially to celebrate the elm trees (Ulmus americana) that abounded in the area.
Elmhurst developed as a fashionable district due to a housing development built by the Cord Meyer Development Company between 1896 and 1910, north of the Port Washington Branch railroad station. They expanded their holdings between 1905 and 1930, including Elmhurst Square, Elmhurst South, Elmhurst Heights, and New Elmhurst. Elmhurst also was the site of the Grand Street LIRR station just west of the current Grand Avenue – Newtown subway station. The Grand Street LIRR station was served by the Main Line and the former Rockaway Beach Branch. In 1936, the Independent Subway System's Queens Boulevard line was built through the neighborhood, spurring economic development but also destroying many old buildings.
Prior to World War II, Elmhurst was an almost exclusively Jewish and Italian neighborhood. Following the war, Elmhurst evolved into what has been considered one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in New York City. By the 1980s, there were persons from 112 nations in residence in the neighborhood, which has continued to further diversify since then. Among the largest ethnic groups that have settled in the area are Latinos and Chinese Americans.
For many years, the Elmhurst gas tanks, a pair of large natural gas storage structures built in 1910 and 1921 on 57th Avenue between 74th and 80th Streets, were well-known landmarks, standing 200 feet (61 m) high. Because the Long Island Expressway frequently became congested in that area, "backup at the Elmhurst Gas Tanks" became a familiar phrase in radio traffic reporting. The gas storage facilities were removed in 2001, and the site was redeveloped and opened as the Elmhurst Park in 2011.