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City excavated 50-acre Middle Village peat bog in 1935

TimesLedger Newspapers

On Aug. 1, 1935, the Star reported that Gustav Lindenthal, designer of the Hell Gate Bridge, had died at the age of 85 the previous evening at his home, the Lindens, in Metuchen, N.J.

Lindenthal was born in Austria and came to the United States in 1874. In 1904, Lindenthal, who oversaw the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge and the construction of the ongoing Manhattan and Queensborough bridge projects, was chosen as consulting engineer and bridge architect by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had just acquired the New York Connecting Railroad.

The Connecting Railroad was only 10 miles long when he set about to extend it over the East River to link up to New England. Bridging the Hell Gate was a problem that presented obstacles unprecedented in the history of engineering. The curved approach made impossible either a suspension or cantilever bridge.

Lindenthal, therefore, made it a braced steel arch with a span of 1,017 feet between the towers. When it opened in 1916, the Hell Gate Bridge was the longest steel-arch bridge in the world. It would hold that title until the Bayonne Bridge opened in 1931. The bridge today has the 17th longest main steel arch span in the world.

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The city purchased the 50-acre Juniper Valley — Middle Village — estate of murdered gambler Arnold Rothstein and began peat mining operations in a bog there. The city estimated that the bog contained 300,000 cubic yards of peat, worth about $315,000.

Juniper Valley peat was said to be superior to English or other American varieties. It assayed 90 percent organic matter, whereas its competitors assayed 40 percent. Excavations were carried out using drag lines with buckets. Trenches 30 feet wide would be excavated and then filled in with ashes.

The bog was estimated to be about 100,000 years old, and was thought to possibly contain some prehistoric bones and other relics.

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On Aug. 5, a fire threatened the huge Pratt works of the Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. on Newtown Creek in Blissville. It was contained to four huge tanks holding almost 400,000 gallons of crude oil. Although the blaze was under control in less than an hour, it painted the sky a lurid red and threw off a terrific heat.

An alarm was sounded at 1 a.m. and soon grew to three alarms. Fire companies from Hunters Point and Blissville were summoned, and the firefighting staff at the works chipped in with chemical extinguishers. In total, 12 engine companies, seven hook and ladder companies and two fireboats battled the fire.

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Strikers who were part of the Works Progress Administration, a government program during the Great Depression, were unsuccessful in attempting to hamper 28 construction jobs in Queens.

The paving and grading of Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing continued despite efforts by strike leaders to delay it. The strikers were protesting wages.

The American Federation of Labor executive council recommended to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that construction work assigned to the WPA be moved to the Public Works Administration, which paid a wage of $1.50 per hour.

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Former Queens resident Will Rogers and his pilot Wiley Post were killed in a plane crash near Point Barrow in Alaska.

Rogers, well-known cowboy humorist, philosopher, court jester and serious adviser to U.S. presidents, was a former resident of Forest Hills and Kew Gardens. He first came to Queens in 1918, when he leased a house in Forest Hills for a year.

While living there, he aided a local charity by putting on a cowboy show that was a success. He later rented another house in Kew Gardens.

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