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Heading to the past for a look to the future

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In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

Welcome to May 1886.

The Star printed an article by the Hartford Times that contained prophetic thoughts about the future: “Some enthusiasts about the future say there will be a plan someday to arch over the East River, lay streets and build houses on a vast structure supported by piers and cables, as the Brooklyn Bridge is, without interfering with navigation, and make New York, Brooklyn and Long Island City a single city, the largest in the world. This may seem a bare-brained notion, but so did the Brooklyn Bridge when it was first proposed. And if a man had said 20 years ago that families would now be living on the top floors of 10-story buildings, he would have been called a fool.”

A Star reporter interviewed a Dr. Woodhull (no first name mentioned) of Brooklyn in Fischer’s Washington Park, a house which had become a pub at the foot of Webster Avenue (37th Avenue) in Ravenswood. Woodhull, the owner of the property, said that the house had been built in 1669, five years after the end of Peter Stuyvesant’s reign as governor.

During the revolution, it had been headquarters for British generals. The door of the house, which bore the crow’s foot cut by the British on all property confiscated by the Crown in the Revolutionary War, was the property of the Long Island Historical Society, as was the fireplace.

The house was built by Johannes Manning. The Blackwell family came into possession of the house through intermarriage or descent. Woodhull was not sure which. Col. Gibbs (one of the founders of Ravenswood) obtained the property from the Blackwells.

In an editorial about the house, the Star seemed to be in favor of landmark preservation. It read: “... what hallowed memories cluster around this ancient structure; what happiness and misery it has been the silent witness of... In this age of improvement, it is undoubtedly only a question of time when this building (unless something is done to prevent it) will be torn down to make way for some more imposing and modern structure. Would it not be well for some concerted action to be made to save this house—hallowed by age and associations—from such a fate?” [NOTE: The house was demolished in 1901, but the Astoria Historical Society acquired the door in 2008 and has it on display in their gallery.]

Work began on new track along Riker Avenue (19th Avenue) to the new pleasure resort (North Beach) on Bowery Bay. At the same time, the Steinway family also proposed to make some important additions to their already extensive stables on Steinway Avenue (Steinway Street). The stables were to be enlarged, additional horses purchased and orders issued for the construction of a dozen entirely new “double decker” cars of the “latest and most approved pattern.”

The contract for construction of the pavilion and bathing houses for the North Beach amusement park was awarded to Henry Schaeffer of New York. It called for completion of 104 bathhouses by June 19 at a cost of $6,000. The pavilion was to be 100 feet long by 75 feet wide. On the grounds was to be a magnificent fountain, sending a stream 150 feet high. Until the completion of the pavilion, the old Douglas mansion was to be fitted temporarily so liquid and solid refreshments could be sold there.

It was the intention of Mr. Henry A. Cassebeer, President; William H. Williams, Vice President; William Steinway, Treasurer; and George Steinway, Secretary of the Bowery Bay Land and Improvement Company, that this park be “second to none, as a place of resort of respectable people seeking recreation.”

On May 21, the Star reported that over 500 people had been seen strolling on the magnificent beach the previous Sunday.

That’s the way it was in May 1886.

Posted 12:00 am, May 12, 2018
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