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Now home to an increasing number of young millennials and beer gardens, Astoria has a long, written history spanning all the way back to 17th-century colonial times. Here’s a brief summary of what happened and how the area has evolved over the years.
Not much is known about the native tribes that lived here for centuries before the European settlers arrived, but by the time Henry Hudson paid a visit to Long Island in 1609, about 13 tribes were living on the island. The area was sparsely populated and had an abundance of natural resources, both inland and by the water.
As a result of the Dutch East India Company’s activities, the first European settlers in the region were the Dutch, who lived alongside the indigenous people for a time. According to reporter Liz Goff at the Queens Tribune, the first white person to see Astoria was the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block. By the mid-17th century, the English arrived as well, buying up much of the land in Queens and pushing out the natives. One such Englishman was William Hallett, after whom Astoria was originally named (Hallett’s Cove).
In 1776, after the British won the Battle of Long Island, they marched all the way from Brooklyn to Queens and occupied the area for several years, not leaving until well after the end of the war.
By the 19th century, Old Astoria became home to the Manhattan elite who built large houses. In 1839, one of these wealthy men, a fur merchant called Stephen Halsey, officially founded the neighborhood and named it Hallett’s Cove. Later, he petitioned to rename the region Astoria after America’s first multi-millionaire, John Jacob Astor, in return for his investment.
By the mid-19th century, German and Irish immigrants began to arrive in large numbers. One of the German immigrants founded the famous piano company, Steinway & Sons. In 1920, the first movie studio opened in Astoria, which later became known as Paramount Studios.
The aftermath of WWII saw a new wave of immigrants from Italy and Greece. By the mid-90s, Greeks accounted for approximately half of the population. Astoria also has a significant Arab population, and contains an unofficial area on Steinway Street called “Little Egypt.” In the 90s, Eastern European and South American immigrants arrived, further diversifying the neighborhood. Today, the diversity in the area includes immigrants from all around the world; however, it is still considered the go-to neighborhood for great Greek food.