Astoria, Queens was named after John Jacob Astor, who was once the wealthiest man in America. You might imagine therefore that Mr. Astor was born in what was then known as Hallett’s Cove and the village renamed themselves in his honor. That would be understandable and frankly quite boring.
In reality, Mr. Astor never set foot in the neighborhood. The village renamed themselves with his name in a desperate attempt to persuade him to give them some money. Mr. Astor, at best a token gesture, at worst a blatant screw you, donated a measly $500 to the area, and promptly bought a summer home across the river in Manhattan where he could literally see the newly-named village of Astoria. But he steadfastly refused to visit.
It’s Mr. Hallett I feel sorry for. He founded the village, called it Hallett’s Cove, a most lovely name where everyone presumably picnicked together under a willow tree on a midsummer’s day, but then he had his name forcibly removed for some shameless (and failed) self-promotion.
Desperate Mr. Astor’s lack of investment, the area still thrived in the second half of the 19th century. Immigrants arrived, notably from Germany, including Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, patriarch of the Steinway family. The Steinways wasted no time building a sawmill, a foundry, a streetcar line, a piano company, and sure, why not, a whole new neighborhood too — called Steinway Village, which may or may not be an official neighborhood of Queens today.
Then in 1870, Astoria, Steinway, and a few other places too dull to mention were incorporated into Long Island City, which was itself eaten by New York City in 1898 as the next rung of the urban food chain.
Today, Astoria is thriving. It has great restaurants of many cuisines, varied shopping, is very safe, is well connected to the rest of the city, and is a wonderful place to call home. So even though Astoria is just a small part of Long Island City, a tiny part of Queens, and a minuscule part of New York City, you can call yourself an Astorian and people, both inside the city and out, will be envious. And it’s no thanks to John Jacob Astor, you jerk.
(I’d still rather live in Hallett’s Cove though.)
Further reading if you really want to: