On a cold November afternoon, a group of Queens writers and history-lovers attended Newtown Literary's "Walking and Writing Through History" tour of Elmhurst with Adrienne Onofri. Author of Walking Queens: 30 Tours for Discovering the Diverse Communities, Historic Places, and National Treasures of New York's Largest Borough (Wilderness Press, 2014), Onofri helped us see the historical footprint that lay beneath what is currently one of the top Chinatowns in New York City.
Elmhurst was part of "Newtown," one of the original colonial townships of Queens. Onofri led us from the oldest surviving church building in New York, St. James Episcopal Church (which began as a mission in the 1700s), to the Flemish Renaissance Revival-style Newtown High School, which has towered over residents since the early 1900s. We also paid respect to less conspicuous historical sites, such as the recently-rediscovered site of a former African American burial ground, and the first Jain Center in America, a four-storey structure on Ithaca Street serving all traditions of Jainism. We were even treated to a bit of literary history at Moore Homestead Playground (known locally as "Broadway Park"), which has a long colonial history as the former estate of the Moores (a founding father of Newtown), including Clement Clark Moore, the author of "A Visit From St. Nicholas," more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas."
At each spot, we wrote in response to prompts inspired by the history around us: we wrote a letter to our former high school selves, set a scene in a cemetery, imagined founding a brand new town, and wrote dialogue between characters from two different cultures meeting for the first time.
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