at home in richmond Hill
Richmond Hill Historical Society
Home for the Ryans while Jack was growing up was 95-28 125th Street in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York. The semi-detached house was built in 1920. According to census records, the Ryans still lived there in 1940. In those days, the neighborhood was a quiet, middle-class one populated by Irish, Polish, Italian, and Jewish families. As the years passed, the neighborhood declined. Today, evidence shows that efforts are being made to restore the neighborhood to its earlier appeal. The house still stands, although its front facade has changed radically so that it hardly is recognizable. Until 1898, Richmond Hill was called Morris Park, and it was a part of Long Island, rather than being a part of the New York City borough of Queens.
Catching the Train into the City
The Ryan home was located a few blocks from the Morris Park train station, where the family caught the train to New York City to see Broadway plays and tour museums and art galleries. In the first two pictures, below, we see the station as it appeared in 1925. The tracks paralleled Atlantic Avenue, which was the main thoroughfare in Richmond Hill.
Just behind the train station is the World War I Memorial Park (see picture, below). The memorial honors the soldiers lost in that war. Can't you just imagine Jack and his siblings and friends climbing on the memorial and peering over the wall to watch the trains arrive?
The Family's Church
The Ryans lived about six blocks from St. Benedict Joseph Labre Church, where Jack worshipped. The family were very devout. They attended regularly, and Jack and his siblings all attended the adjoining church school during their early years. The church still exists and is very active. Richmond Hill Historical Society historian Carl Ballenas wrote,
Now that I know the dates of [Jack's] birth and attendance at SBJL parish and school,
I want to show you the church rail where he first received his first communion and
where he was confirmed by the bishop. If he attended SBJL school he was taught by the
Sisters of St. Joseph and prepared for both First Communion and Confirmation. I wonder
if he was an altar boy. In the photo [on the right] you are viewing the interior of SBL
Church completed in 1919, one year before his birth. This is the church interior he grew
up to. It was remodeled in 1939 so this is what he would remember. This is the altar he
and his family prayed at.
The 1892 wooden church [below, left] is seen standing behind the 1919 church (see
steeple in background). After the new church was completed, the old church was
used as the church hall. The next [below, right] picture shows some of the nuns, the
Sisters of Saint Joseph who taught at SBJL School. The nun at the right was the first
principal, Sr. M. Alipius Monroe. This picture is from 1916, nine years before Jack
started his first class but a number of the nuns remained at the school for many, many
years and one of them might have taught him. The sister at the very far left is Sister
Mary Agatha Hurley who wrote some letters about her time there and she was very
young entering the convent. This pic also affords you [a] great view of the school Jack
attended as a boy. The wooden church from 1892 has been moved to the left and now
they are breaking soil for the building of that brick church. But the war delayed the
completion of the church until 1919. All of the church furnishing, including altars,
railings, stations, statues etc. all came from the old 1892 church until all remodeled
in 1939. (Ballenas)
John Adams High School
Jack attended high school at John Adams High School (JAHS), located on Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park, Queens. He was very active (see Biography) and graduated in 1938.
JAHS was built between 1927 and 1930 and opened in 1930. It was, therefore, only a few years old when Jack first enrolled in the ninth grade. It is a large school, comprising 18 square blocks and offering classrooms, laboratories, a library, an auditorium, three gymnasiums, a swimming pool, and a cafeteria, as well as outside athletic fields.
After declining badly and nearly closing at the end of the 20th century, JAHS was brought back as a school of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Its physical plant is being modernized, and its departments are being brought into the 21st century with multiple computer labs, college preparatory and technology programs, special education, GED, and vocational training. Each Saturday during the fall months, students from JAHS participate in the Youth Market, held in Forest Park. There, they sell fruit, vegetables, grains, and honey that they have grown. Now, that's what I call a great comeback!
Also in the Neighborhood
Located just up the street from SBJL School was this candy shop (left). I bet you that little Jack sat at one of the stools drinking a tall ice cream sundae many times. (Ballenas)
The Morris Park Hotel (right), a grand structure of Tudor / Gothic / Victorian design, was on the north east corner of Lefferts and Atlantic. It is a shame that it was torn down for a gas station. (Ballenas)
I am also attaching a greeting card from Morris Park. It shows 118th Street and that steeple you see in the distance is SBJL church. (Ballenas) Notice that it says, "Morris-Park, L.-I." (Morris Park, Long Island) and not "Richmond Hill, Queens." That and the unpaved streets tell us this card dates to the 19th century.
Learn More About Richmond Hill
Ballenas, Carl and Cataldi, Nancy. Images of America: Richmond Hill. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
Forgotten New York / Richmond Hill, Queens.
All photographs on this page were donated by the Richmond Hill Historical Society. Many thanks go to their historian, Carl Ballenas, for his wonderful generosity in contributing to our knowledge of Richmond Hill as it existed in the 1920s and 1930s.