Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lawrence Pike Steinway Riker Lent Moore Jackson

So the whole reason that I started this blog was actually because of a walk that I took early this fall to visit the three sites that I'll discuss here. I needed some exercise and figured a destination would be nice so I picked out three relatively close landmarks that I found in the Guide to New York City Landmarks, Third Edition. I now have the new edition (Thanks, Santa!). Overall I was disheartened by the lack of identification and access to these sites. I understand the difficulty of these sites being private property so I thought I'd look around and see what I could find out about them on my own since I couldn't actually get in. Sharing the information with you all is the next step. I've enjoyed living in Queens for the past two years and want other people to see some of the history out here that they might not be aware of.

I didn't have my camera with me on this walk, but I'll give you some links that should provide photos if you're interested.

And so, without further ado, the sites, in the order that I visited them:

Lawrence Family Cemetery - 20th Road and 35th Street (1703-1975)
Basic info from the Guide to NYC Landmarks
"This small private cemetery is the resting place of eighty-nine members of the distinguised Lawrence family, including twelve high-ranking American military officers. Oliver Lawrence, who died in 1975, was the last family member buried at the site".
Long before I had the idea to start this blog I was leafing through my Landmarks Guide, found this place, and decided to use it as a destination for a nice walk. I think I had just moved to Queens and just wanted to get out and see something. The walk was nice, if the destination was a bit of a disappointment. As much as I love old stone walls, (seriously, I'm not kidding, I do love old stone walls) I thought that at least I'd be able to look through a fence at this resting place. No such luck. I'm not tall and I figured the neighbors might not take too well to be trying to scale the wall just to get a look inside. There is a historical marker on the fence at one point but I was hoping for a bit more. As I understand it, the cemetery is kept up by the Bayside Historical Society and I'm glad that it has a caretaker. Maybe someone will see this blog post and let me poke my head in some day... is that why I'm doing this? Hmm...

Pike Mansion - 18-33 41st Street (c. 1858)
Guide to NYC Landmarks:
"Pike, a manufacturer of scientific instruments, erected this magnificent Italianate stone villa, with its  tall square tower and cast-iron porches, on what at the time was a beautiful riverfront site. The house  was purchased in 1870 by William Steinway, whose piano factory is still located nearby".
When I looked up this house and found the NYTimes articles (linked below) I got really excited. I mean, man oh man, what a granite edifice! It looks like it belongs somewhere else. Where did they GET all that stone? The walk to this house is definitely on the sketchy side, not a lot of people around, big warehouses and factories and you will never stumble upon it accidentally. This fantastic house sits atop a hill with some great views, most notably of LaGuardia Airport, probably not a great selling point. The house was listed for sale a recently as a year ago but I can't find the listing anymore so I'm not sure of the status. The landscape around the house is unkempt and by the way I reached it the most notable features were the aging cars parked in front of a dilapidated garage. You can't really get a good view of this place without being on the actual property and, of course, there's a fence. Anyone out there know if this place sold? I'm going to try to keep an eye on this place so you may see updates about it here in the future.

Abraham Lent House (Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead) - 78-03 19th Road (c. 1729)
Guide to NYC Landmarks:
"One of the few surviving dwellings in Queens built in the Dutch Colonial tradition, the Abraham Lent House has walls of rough stone and contrasting wooden shingles and steeply sloping roof with deep  front and rear overhangs. The west side of the house, built by Lent's grandfather, Abraham Riker, may date to 1654".
There's a lot of information out there about this house, thanks to Laura for alerting me to that! I won't say much the history of this house since you can find it all on the websites that follow. The Riker name should have clued me in but I was still surprised when I went looking for this house just how close it is to the entrance to Riker's Island. It's literally right around the corner. The house is a little hard to see, especially in the summertime with everything in full leaf, but I know it's in there and I know it's cared for. There's even a plaque by the front door! This is the really basic stuff that I'm looking for, can I see it, is it identified, is it cared for. This one's a winner!

Moore-Jackson Cemetery - See below for location (c. 1733-)
Guide to NYC Landmarks:
"Located midblock between 31st and 32nd Avenues, this small private cemetery extends from 51st to 54th Streets at what was once the outskirts of the village of Newtown. A rare example of a colonial,era burial ground with visible headstones in Queens, it was established by Samual and Charity Hallet Moore and continued to be used by family members until at least 1868. From the fifty-one burials that took place here, fifteen grave markers survive".
I've added this one because it's taken me so long to write this darn post that I visited a new landmark before I posted it. In case you don't know Queens well enough to not take the street names for granted I have to add that 51st and 54th streets don't have a 52nd and 53rd between them so they're only a block apart. I think that I found this place on a walk with Nick, but honestly I can't be sure. We didn't see the sign shown on the links below, but maybe we should have approached on 54th instead of 51st. What we did find was an overgrown lot between apartment buildings with a rusting chain-link fence in front of it. No marker, clearly not cared for, couldn't spot a single gravestone amongst the shrubbery. This cemetery was designated over 10 years ago and it appears to have been forgotten long before that. Being in the field that I'm in, I feel like I have to ask what are we saving here? I don't know what this place looked like before it was designated or if there were development pressures that caused the designation but it seems to me that the preservation of the history of this place is not being executed. Do those fifteen grave markers still survive? Considering the outward appearance I wouldn't be surprised if the answer were that we'd lost another one or two since designation. But hey, while I was just writing this I found some good news! From the Queens Historical Society website:
The Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, is a 270-year old colonial cemetery. It is a landmarked cemetery, long neglected, but about to be restored. The work will begin in June, with the first phase to last up to two weeks. If you like hard work with no pay, and believe that the results are worth it, then this project is for you. The Moore-Jackson Cemetery is a family member of the Queens Family Cemeteries, and its restoration is crucial to the history and heritage of Queens. Please contact .
I guess this restoration work was done last June but I'll be sure to check in with LeahJane to see if a phase 2 is coming. Just when I was getting really down about this place, things might be a bit better than I'd thought. Apparently I definitely should have approached on 54th, there are some great photos here:

Okay, so that was a big one. Hopefully since I'm writing this blog now I can dedicate a bit more time to each individual place rather than running through so many so quickly. I got the new landmarks book for Christmas so I can see that there are more Queens landmarks that I'll have to add to my project. On top of landmarks, there are all these little things that I notice when I'm wandering around, going to the gym, going to the doctor, etc. and I'd like to include some of those here as well. There are some great old steel casement windows in my neighborhood that I want to put up photos of! At some point I also need to do a bit of basic Queens history here, but I'll have to research that first. The fresh snow is so pretty outside, maybe I'll go for a walk this afternoon and see if I can't find something interesting.

Happy New Year!