The twin communities of Forest Hills and Kew Gardens face one another across the combined roadways of Union Turnpike and Interborough Parkway in the Borough and County of Queens, City and State of New York. It is between these two neighborhoods, in the early 1900s, that the story of The Kew-Forest School begins.
Imagine a time when Kew Gardens was a fledgling residential area with only a few apartment buildings on its perimeter and a scattering of large, well-designed homes on hilly, tree-lined streets; when it was linked to Forest Hills along a “Toonerville Trolley” line, replete with hills and hollows strewn with wild flowers for the picking; when businessmen and local residents traveled through Queens via open trolley in the summer, and in closed conveyances with pot-bellied stoves once the weather turned cold.
Given its proximity to Manhattan, this lovely neighborhood soon became a haven of artists, actors, authors, musicians, scientists, business executives, and professionals–many of whom had children who needed to go to school.
At the time, the educational options for area residents were limited. There was P.S. 101, of course, but it only ran from kindergarten through third grade. It consisted of a four-room wooden schoolhouse heated in the winter with a round coal stove located in the middle of its main hall. In addition to being drafty, the building had inadequate plumbing and needed to be moved to a different part of the grounds each year. After third grade, pupils had to either travel afield for public schooling, or commute to Garden City, Long Island or Manhattan to find a private school of good quality.
In view of these hard facts facing the parents in the Twin Communities, several concerned local citizens began to seek an alternative. After much discussion and planning, they engaged Louis Durant Marriott and Guy Hinman Catlin, both teachers at St. Paul’s School in Garden City, Long Island, to become co-headmasters of a new school that straddled the communities of Kew Gardens and Forest Hills. The group then purchased a two-acre block of land and instituted a local sale of bonds to finance the construction of three buildings, made from brick and stucco, with white trim and green roofs, to be beautifully and faithfully executed in the Georgian style.
On September 25, 1918, The Kew-Forest School opened its doors to local youth from kindergarten through high school. Its stated mission was “to exert all its energies, to use every means at its command…to make every child an efficient worker, a helpful citizen, and a power for good.”
There were 50 children in attendance on opening day. The very first students enrolled were David Millar, Jr. ‘24, who eventually became an advertising executive and journalist, and his sister Mildred, who became Mrs. Mildred Millar Graff, a famed horticulturist and park conservator.