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Our History: Historian recalls memories of pastoral Bayside

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In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Bayside and the surrounding villages were rural entities vastly different than the bustling communities they have become. Farms and horticultural businesses were prominent and dated back to the historic interests of our early settlers the Dutch and the Huguenots, especially, who had an avid interest in developing nurseries such as the famous Prince nursery visited by President George Washington in the 18th century.

My husband’s paternal grandparents came to this country in the 1870s, and in 1884 they established a small farm on West 137th Street in New York City. They operated that site until 1896, when they moved to Bayside and purchased a 19-acre farm that the family operated for more than half a century when Bayside began its metamorphosis.

His maternal grandparents came to New York City and established a small florist business at Oak Point in the Bronx prior to moving to Bayside in 1893, where they continued their florist business with a special interest in propagating chrysanthemums.

My husband, Henry, grew up in those more pastoral times, before Bayside emerged from its rural serenity to enter the metropolitan age. In going over family papers, I recently discovered a handwritten account by my father-in-law, Henry Wettingfeld Sr., of his impressions of the Bayside of his time.

He did this at the request of my father, Joseph H. Brown, in January 1965, a few years after he had founded the Bayside Historical Society. This is an example of how he began to collect and organize the Society’s archives. These recollections are presented in Mr. Wettingfeld’s own words.

“My family arrived in Bayside at 3 p.m., Aug. 5, 1896. My parents had bought the Bernard Egle Farm, situated at the northeastern corner of Bell and 48th avenues.

“At that time Bayside was intensely rural. There were some stores on the east side of Bell Boulevard, between Northern Boulevard and 40th (then Montauk Avenue). At that time Bayside was mostly a residential and farming community.

“Stratton and Storm Cigar Factory located between 43rd and 42nd avenues on the east side of Bell Boulevard probably contributed to both the growth and the economy of Bayside. The factory was not in operation when we arrived. Many of the homes in Bayside were large and had considerable land around them. To mention some of those families, we would include Leavitts, Lawrence, Bell, Gould, Garrison (who owned the Inn of that name), Willets, Thomas, Titus, Ahles, Taylor and many more.

“Among the farms in the Bayside community were Mettlers (now Rosewood); Van Dyke and Marquardt on Whitestone Road; Ed Lott on Little Bayside Avenue; Vincent Newman’s, which became the Bayside Golf Club; James M. Cain, which is now Bayside Hills; the Peck Farm between the Cain and Mettler farms; Weeks and Powell farms on Weeks Lane in the southwestern part of Bayside; the two Kowenhoven farms, one on each side of what is now the Long Island Expressway, fronting on Springfield Boulevard, formerly Rocky Hill Road; the O’Donnell farm west of Oakland Lake to the west of 216th Street from Northern Boulevard to the entrance of the Oakland Golf Club.

“There were also a number of small farms in the Bayside area. These small farms were mostly market gardeners while the large farms were truck farms. All of these farmers hauled their produce to either Gansevoort Harlem Markets in New York City or Wallabout Market in Brooklyn. From Bayside to Gansevoort Market was a four-hour trip one way by horse-drawn wagon, while to Harlem Market was about three hours by way of the College Point ferry.

“The roads in Bayside at that time were not too numerous. The main roads were Broadway (Northern Boulevard), from the Queens-Nassau line to Flushing Bridge; Bell Avenue, from Rocky Hill Road (48th Avenue) to Fort Totten; Rocky Hill Road, from Hillside Avenue to Hollis Court Boulevard; Crocheron Avenue, from the Crocheron House on Little Neck Bay to Flushing; Whitestone Road, from Broadway (Northern Boulevard) to Whitestone; Black Stump Road, from Rocky Hill Road (Springfield Boulevard) to Hollis Court Boulevard; Cedar Lane, from Rocky Hill Road (Springfield Boulevard) to Creedmoor; (and) West Alley Road, from Springfield Boulevard to Douglaston.

“This last named road is at present the Long Island Expressway. Little Bayside Avenue ran from Bell Avenue to Whitestone Road. Forty-eighth Avenue today runs from Springfield Boulevard to Francis Lewis Boulevard. All that is now left of old Rocky Hill Road is a two-block stretch from Francis Lewis Boulevard to 48th Avenue. Rocky Hill Road was at one time one of the oldest roads on Long Island. It was a link in the Post Road that started in Flushing and ran out to Eastern Long Island.

“Several sections of Bayside had streets laid out by developers, but these sections took years to develop and streets were ill-kept and unpaved. The first real developments, with paved streets and all improvements, took place in Bayside West on the Forbell Farm owned by the Richard Bells. All main roads were macadamized and stood up quite well.

“Public transportation was limited to the Long Island Rail Road for a few years after our arrival in Bayside. The trains ran from Port Washington to Long Island City, thence to New York by the 34th Street Ferry. Folks returned home by the same route. After the Pennsylvania (Railroad) tubes were completed, the entire system was electrified and all trains went directly into Penn Station. Grade crossings were gradually eliminated, thus ending the possibility of accidents.”

Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian and free-lance writer and can be reached at JBBAY@aol.com.

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