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Our History: Judge Lawrence key link to Bayside’s history

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Judge Effingham Lawrence, who died in August 1850, was an important member of this community for over 70 years. The judge was more than successful as a farmer and was owner of three farms totaling hundreds of acres beyond the one on which his homestead stood known as "The Bayside Farm."In his early days he was an important breeder of thoroughbred cattle. Rufus King, who served as minister to England and later made his home in Jamaica, is said to have been the only other such breeder of cattle at that time.Judge Lawrence's books reveal that his interest in breeding Merino sheep led him to correspond with owners of that stock from places as divergent as Canada and the Carolinas, and his account books reveal that he originally spent $2,200 for a ram and two ewes, which in those days represented an unusual expenditure. He was eventually to own large flocks of Merinos which were to become the foundation of flocks in Vermont, Canada, and our Western states. These were said to be the progenitors of "Canadian mutton" sold in the early markets in New York City.At this time the borough of Queens extended as far as Hempstead. Even though he served several years as a judge of the County Court, Lawrence had the time to research and grow the finest apples, peaches and apricots in our region. Records show he was an early advocate of the liberal use of plant food and fertilizer in those early times.By 1817 Judge Lawrence was one of the prominent men to initiate the formation of the Agricultural Society of Queens County. Queens then encompassed an area that reached as far as Hempstead. Rufus King of Jamaica was elected the society's first president and Judge Lawrence served as one of two vice presidents. The stated purpose of the society was "to improve the method of farming and raising of stock and advancing rural economy." The first meeting was held in the old Mineola courthouse in 1819 and that year the first exhibition was also held.In July 1841 a Queens County Agricultural Society was formed to supplant the original society and at that time Judge Lawrence was selected as its president. Its first fair was held on Oct. 15, 1842, at Anderson's Hotel in Hempstead. Before the event, the poet, journalist, and horticulturist William Cullen Bryant composed an ode which was sung at a local church. Here we see three old worthies of the past all aligned in one endeavor that was a key to their lives. The number of visitors to these fairs ranged from 6,000 to 20,000 people, attracted as well by the racetrack. Fairs were later held also at Jamaica.Judge Lawrence was also known as a breeder of fine horses, and in his younger days he participated in the hunt. In season he would pack up his family and set off for a two day trip to Smithtown to visit his relative Richard Smith. The area around Lake Ronkonkoma at that time was ideal for fox and deer. After the two-day trip from Bayside a meet would take place with most of the local proprietors in the vicinity attending what in those olden days was considered "a manly outdoor pleasure."Judge Effingham Lawrence is buried in the Lawrence Cemetery, Bayside's first city landmark, located on what was once a choice parcel of land on the Lawrence farm. Located at what is now 42nd Avenue and 216th Street, it was set aside by Judge Effingham Lawrence for a family burial ground in those early days before public cemeteries. The parcel of land dates back to the original grant by Dutch Governor Kieft in 1645. The Lawrence family held this land for 300 years. Through the efforts of Joseph H. Brown, founder of the Bayside Historical Society, and members of his committee, a proposal for landmarking was submitted to the city. Landmark status was granted on Aug. 2, 1967. The cemetery is maintained by the historical society.Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian and freelance writer.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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