JACKSON HEIGHTS – The letters that make up the sign marking 35th Avenue where it meets 81st Street in the neighborhood’s historic district are–if you look more closely than you’d ever really look at a street sign–accorded numbered points below each letter, Scrabble tile-style. The sign honors the fact that the beloved geeky pastime–according to Hasbro, three out of every five American homes harbor a Scrabble board–was invented right here in Queens by the Poughkeepsie-born Alfred Mosher Butts in 1931. Butts was an architect, and as history tells us, an architect generally needed to find an alternate way to keep busy during the Great Depression.
The story behind the game was given its well-deserved day in the spotlight in the 1990s by a Jackson Heights resident in collaboration with a descendant of Alfred Butts. The two found the history and its family and neighborhood ties fascinating. Jeffrey Saunders worked with the elder Butts’ great-nephew, Robert R. Butts, to fill in the blanks.