Soils are history, material, living networks, and metaphor.
Matinecoc peoples, a part of the larger Algonquin linguistic group along the Eastern seaboard, thrived in areas of what would become known as Queens for centuries until Dutch colonists headed from Manhattan to tidal tributaries such as Westchester Creek, Flushing Creek, the Gowanus Canal, and Newtown Creek in search of fertile soil. As the Matinecoc also recognized, the landscape adjacent to Flushing Creek offered beneficial soils and protection from both flooding events and invasion.
When the Matinecoc flourished here, the territory was filled with Eastern Red Cedar, Beach Plum, Staghorn Sumac, Blueberry, Bearberry, Little Bluestem Grasses, Seaside Goldenrod, Pasture Rose and Pitch Pine, Chokecherry, Elderberry, Boneset, Joe Pye Weed, and Black Cherry for example.
In 1645, the Dutch chartered Vlissingen, now known as Flushing. A group of predominantly English settlers also lived alongside about 30 Matinecoc families; they lived along the coast of Flushing Creek and in the area along historic Mill (Kissena) Creek now marked by Kissena Lake and a series of underground streams. A smallpox outbreak, what many now recognize as a kind of biological warfare against Native Americans, in 1662 devastated much of the native population, already hit hard by colonization, displacement and direct conflict. The Matinecoc numbered under 200 at around 1788; at this time, they joined the Oneida in northern New York.
Flushing, a long time Matinecoc territory, then became a famed center of scientific horticulture amongst Europeans and European Americans up until the early 20th century. The first commercial nursery in the colonies was founded in 1735, at its peak covering 80 acres near the intersection of Flushing Creek and present day Northern Blvd, by father and son pair Robert and William Prince. The Price Nursery was later named Linnaean Gardens after Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. Until its closure in 1869, the Gardens flourished by selling plants both domestically and internationally and by focusing on horticultural research, ornamental trees, fruits, and roses.
In 1839, the Parsons and Company Nursery was established by Samuel Bowne Parsons. Until 1906, the nursery specialized in trees and shrubs from Eastern Asia, and in evergreen production. Many rare and non-native trees found throughout the entire United States once passed through the Parsons Nursery, with Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux as regular customers. The historic, 14 acre area of Parsons grove in Kissena Park is home to over 100 different species of tree.
Throughout the 1800s, other colonial familiess including the Bloodgood, King and Murray established and operated nurseries, occupying spaces that are now the Flushing Cemetery and areas around the Murray Hill Long Island Railroad Station. All of the nurseries closed by the early twentieth century, giving way to Flushing’s commercial district. Much of Flushing’s colonial horticultural legacy can be recognized in the names of 15 avenues (running north of the Parsons Nursery site); names such as Rose, Holly, and Oak mark an era of colonization, transformation of landscape, and of rapid botanical change and exchange.
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