Metropolitan Avenue, 1976 – Photo by Middle Village artist Doug Leblang
By CHRISTINA WILKINSON
Forgotten NY correspondent
THE Williamsburgh-Jamaica Turnpike was completed in 1814 and operated as a toll road between the towns of Williams-burgh in Brooklyn and Jamaica in Queens, two major centers of trade in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
By 1820, the part of Newtown best known for its 100-acre swamp was being called ‘Middle Village’ because it lay midpoint on this road.
Its growth hampered by the presence of the large swamp, Middle Village found itself in a strange combination of niches – it became renowned as both a stagecoach stop and a place to bury the dead.
The Turnpike became Metropolitan Avenue, a free road, by 1873. The western part of Middle Village which today borders Ridgewood was also called “Metropolitan” prior to WWI, but it is unclear whether the avenue named Metropolitan or the community named Metropolitan came first.
Let’s wax retro down Metro…
Hess-Miller Funeral Home
This building dates from 1902 and was originally the summer home of a local politician. In 1920, John Miller purchased the home and established his funeral parlor here. When Arthur Hess partnered with him in the 1940’s, it then became the Hess-Miller Funeral Home. It is still in business under the same name, although it is no longer owned by either family.
Lutheran-All Faiths Cemetery
A law was passed in 1847 that banned future cemeteries from being opened in Manhattan. As a result, Lutheran Cemetery was founded in Middle Village in 1852 by German churches located in Kleindeutschland, Manhattan. Many of the victims of the General Slocum tragedy were laid to rest here. A monument dedicated in their honor at which an annual memorial ceremony takes place is found within the confines of the cemetery’s southern portion.
General Slocum monument at Lutheran-All Faiths can be seen on the FNY North Brother Island page.
Today, the cemetery is open to people of all faiths, and has been renamed to reflect that fact. For now, German Lutherans remain the predominate group interred here. The NYS Division of Cemeteries bestowed upon the cemetery the distinction of being “exceptionally well operated and maintained.” Lutheran-All Faiths Cemetery is bisected by Metropolitan Avenue, and the New York Connecting Railroad tunnels under a portion of it.
Scenes from Lutheran-All Faiths Cemetery
Fresh Pond Crematory
The landmark Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium has been in business since 1893.
[The building is actually off of Metropolitan Avenue, on Mount Olivet Crescent.]
Christ the King High School
The site of the behemoth that is the Metro Mall(BJ’s, Big K, Toys ‘R Us and Levitz are among its tenants) actually has a pretty interesting history.
The M train
The Myrtle Avenue subway line replaced a former horsecar route, the original purpose of which was to shuttle visitors between Lutheran Cemetery and Myrtle Avenue. This is what the line’s first el terminal looked like in 1906, back when you could ride all the way to Manhattan for just a nickel.
This is the modern-day M train terminal. Today’s inbound riders are more likely venturing to Christ the King or the Metro Mall than to the cemetery. Today the fare is $2, and half the time on the weekend one is forced to take an overcrowded shuttle bus just to get to Wyckoff Avenue…
Frank T. Lang Building
The Frank T. Lang Building at 69th Street was built by a mausoleum and monument manufacturer in 1904. Recently during renovations, a Bohack gasoline station sign was revealed there.
The gargoyles and carved faces along the top of the building were intricately detailed by artistic hands. Its cathedral windows are also quite unique. This building is a fine example of art deco architecture.
Building detail. (Are those lions? What cat has a tail like that? –your webmaster)
Forgotten Fan Peter Koenig:
Those long-tailed creatures on the Lang Building are indeed cats. My family owned a knitting mill on the second story (and also in the rear). The one-story wing (to your left when viewed from across Metropolitan Avenue) was occupied by another knitting mill. As a child, I was fascinated by the sculptures, and looked them over with a pair of binoculars. They also have big teeth! I don’t know their significance, if any. I was told that the building originally housed a monument works (gravestones) serving the local cemeteries. There was also a huge overhead trolley crane at the rear of the building, which was once used to move the stonework. I was not aware that the building (also) housed a funeral home, though it would be compatible with the location and the monument works.
Built by Henry Schumacher about 1854, this building became John Niederstein’s hotel andrestaurant in 1888. It originally served as a rest stop patronized by those hauling their goods between Jamaica and Williamsburgh via the turnpike. In the 1970’s the hotel was modernized by its new owners, who removed the porch and carriage sheds to make way for small parking lots. It ceased functioning as a hotel many years ago.
Niederstein’s Restaurant (April 2005). Niederstein’s served typical German fare and in recent years catered mainly to funeral and wedding parties as well as loyal locals. There was no joy in Midville when the restaurant closed in February of 2005 and was sold to a fast food franchisee. Arby’s eventually razed the building.
Niederstein’s was torn down as threatened by the fast food franchisee in September 2005. Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, Inc. sent this letter to Jordan Krolick, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Arbyâ€™s LLC, who stated that “the community doesn’t seem opposed to it.Â In fact, they’ll be the first ones in here looking for coupons for free food.”
Unfortunately Niedersteinâ€™s was torn down yesterday (Friday). It was a sad day for Middle Village, Queens County and all of NYC.
Arbyâ€™s was insensitive, misleading, untruthful and we hold Arbyâ€™s responsible for destroying our beloved pre-Civil War landmark. The owner of the property, Tom Clarke told me he would at least save the old original wooden flagpoles. When I arrived at the site I was shocked to find both flagpoles destroyed and the demolition foreman said he had no directions whatsoever to save the flagpoles. Arbyâ€™s has shown a profit-only mentality and we will remind the entire community of Arbysâ€™ insensitivity and unresponsive behavior on the issue.
I sent you an e-mail on Tuesday asking you to step in and use your influence to at least postpone demolition. You chose not to respond. Arbyâ€™s now has a much deserved negative reputation in the community and we will remind people of their total lack or respect for our neighborhood and its history. This community does not respond well to profit-only and heavy-handed business techniques. You and Mr. Clarke may find this out sooner than later.
The Arion showed its last flick in the mid-1980’s. Most of the theater’s original structure is still there, but you would never be able to tell by its outward appearance. A pharmacy now occupies the building.
Methodist Episcopal Church of Newtown
The first Methodist church in Middle Village was built in 1769 at the crossroads of what are today Dry Harbor and Juniper Valley Roads. It was originally called Methodist Episcopal Church of Newtown.
In 1836, after several disasters, the church was moved to its present site on Metropolitan Avenue. It was rebuilt a couple of more times since then, the last time being in 1926. Today, it is called United Community Methodist Church.
The elaborately detailed structure to the left was built in 1930 on Metropolitan Avenue. Signage above the entrance, half-hidden by the awning says, “Artistic Building.” Today, vinyl and neon announce alterations by a tailor, which most would agree is an art unto itself.
Next door to and behind the Artistic Building is a hidden wall (above) which features friezes of biblical scenes. What this building once was is a mystery, although given the area, it’s quite possible that it was either a floral shop or a monument company.
St. John Cemetery
Yes, yet another cemetery! Sorry to be so focused on death, but you just can’t escape it here in Middle Village… Just as it does through Lutheran Cemetery, Metropolitan Avenue runs right through the heart of St. John Cemetery.
The Catholic Church opened St. John in 1880. Today, it’s the city’s best known mobster burial ground. However, artist Robert Mapplethorpe, bodybuilder Charles Atlas, and a number of politicians are also buried here.
Met Ave. house marked ‘1913’.
A Met Ave. institution, Kopp’s Bakery. Picture from 2004.
Ancient Coca-Cola ad near 73rd St. on Met Ave., and above, Juniper-Elbow pipe and watertight closure manufacturing company near 72nd St. “Elbows” are curved pipes used in furnaces and for other uses.
Off the Beaten Path
Having toured Middle Village’s largest commercial strip from one end to the other, we will now venture into the residential area.
During the 18th, 19th and (the early part of the) 20th centuries, the large marsh in the valley about a 1/2 mile north of Metropolitan Avenue was known as Juniper Swamp. ‘Juniper Round Swamp Road’ was a colonial path that skirted along the southern perimeter of the swamp. In 1915, the swamp was drained. By the 1920’s, residents had decided that the area’s name needed a bit of a facelift, so it was changed to Juniper Valley. Juniper Round Swamp Road then became Juniper Valley Road, part of which still exists today.
The following photos were taken in or around the Juniper Valley area…
Juniper Valley Park
This was one place where American soldiers hid from the Redcoats after the British took Long Island in 1776. The swamp and surrounding area were blanketed by a thick forest of juniper and white cedar trees.
In the 1920â€™s, notorious gangster Arnold Rothstein (the man responsible for the 1919 Black Sox scandal) bought the swamp and attempted to sell it off in land parcels by erecting houses that were mere empty shells.
Before the current site of Juniper Valley Park was improved for recreational purposes, it was used variously as a farm, a cemetery, a garbage dump, and a source of peat moss. The peat taken from here was removed by squads of WPAworkers during the 1930’s and it was used by the city in parks and on highways. From 1941 to 1942, the WPA transformed the then barren land into one of Queensâ€™ most beloved parks. The sloping landscape of the park reveals its past as a swamp. To this day, this part of Midville turns into Mudville after a rainstorm.
Pullis Farm Cemetery
Thomas Pullis bought a 32-acre farm in Middle Village in 1822. He, his wife and at least one of his children were buried in a small plot of land on the farm. Other unknown family members are also thought to be buried here. In his will, Pullis prohibited the sale of the cemetery, and he left instructions to his three sons to build a brick wall around its perimeter to protect it.
For years, the Pullis Farm Cemetery sat in Juniper Valley Park, unmarked and overgrown with weeds, but gated. In 1996, restoration of the graveyard was completed, with the addition of a new headstone donated by Lutheran Cemetery. The Pullis Cemetery is one of the few surviving farm burial grounds in New York City; its oldest known grave dates back to 1846.
Trinity Lutheran Church
Trinity Lutheran Church on Dry Harbor Road was founded in 1851. The building, however, is obviously not quite that old. The church went through several incarnations before settling into this postmodern type of structure.
The bells and cornerstones are all that are left from the previous two churches, the first of which was located in Lutheran Cemetery.
This park at Gray and 77th Streets honors the veterans of Middle Village who fought in World War I (1914-1918), World War II (1939-1945), Korea (1950-1953), and Vietnam (1964-1975). It features a large granite monument, erected by the citizens of Middle Village and the Property Owners’ Association of Middle Village Inc. It was originally erected to honor the men of Middle Village Post 784, who fought in World War I, and now honors all wartime servicemen.
Morrell House (RIP)
Thomas Morrell was one of the first settlers in the area. He came from the landed gentry of England and hoped to find a fortune here in America in 1663. He built this house, in a style called “saltbox architecture” in 1719 along what is today Juniper Valley Road. It was the last original house left standing along the colonial road.
The house was lovingly taken care of by its subsequent owners until 1985, when it finally met the bulldozer. In an oft-repeated outer-borough tragedy, the Manhattan-centric NYC Landmarks Commission rejected pleas from the community to save it, even though it was verifiably one of the oldest structures in the entire city. This hideous twelve-unit dwelling took the one-family’s place.
In 2005, the Juniper Park Civic Association won a lengthy battle with the city zoning commission, and this area along with the rest of Maspeth and Middle Village was finally rezoned to prevent more of this type of overdevelopment. Future construction will be required to be done in such a way as to preserve the character of the community, not run roughshod over it.
Photos from “Our Community, Its History and People: Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood,” Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, 1976.
ABOVE: Kinsey House – demolished in 1996; Pleasantview Street house – demolished in 1986, replaced with 49-unit apartment building.Photos from “Our Community, Its History and People: Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood,” Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, 1976.
Furmanville Avenue farmhouse
In 1759, Jonathan Furman settled in Middle Village (then part of Newtown) along Dry Harbor Road. The area surrounding his land soon became known as ‘Furmanville.’ The old colonial road that led to this part of town is still named in its honor.
This old farmhouse on Furmanville Avenue dates back to the 1890s. At one time, it was surrounded by vast acres of farmland. Although no longer a working farm by the early part of the 20th century, ponies frolicked in the yard as late as the 1950’s.
St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church was built in 1860 (above) on land once owned by Thomas Pullis. A school was built a few years later. During the Civil War, priests from St. Margaret’s administered to Rebel soldiers being held in a Metropolitan Avenue tavern serving as a makeshift jail.
The church was rebuilt in 1907(above) and remains standing today, behind the current church building. The school was rebuilt in 1899. (photos left and above fromJuniper Berry)
The third version of the church was built in 1935.They decided on a rather efficient design the last time…the school is actually above the church, in the same building.
St. Margaret is the patron saint of farmers, appropriate considering the line of work of its first parishoners.
Our Lady of Hope
One hundred years after the founding of St. Margaret’s, Middle Village Catholics felt they needed another church.
The new Our Lady of Hope, with its distinctive hexagonal design and bell tower, was built on Eliot Avenue just north of the NY Connecting Railroad tracks about 1983. Here is a photo of the roof of the church under construction.Jewish Influence
In 1901, a group of wealthy German Jews living in Manhattan founded an organization to move poor Jews out of the crowded slums of the Lower East Side. Over the next 10 years, about 60,000 were resettled. Jewish-friendly realtors introduced them to Middle Village, which, with its open lands, must have seemed like paradise.
Hebrew Institute of Middle Village
The structure which houses the the Middle Village Adult Center, on 75th Street, harkens back to the early 20th Century. Today the building serves as a senior center.
The top of the building reveals a hidden past. This was once The Hebrew Institute of Middle Village, a rabbinical seminary built in 1919. The first area synagogue, which dated from 1906 and next to which this was built, was torn down in the 1970’s. The letters inside the stars likely represent the initials of the schools founders or major donors.
Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Tucked away on another side street, we find the Holy Archangels Michael & Gabriel Romanian Orthodox Church, which tends to the area’s most recent influx of immigrants. The church moved into this building in 1997.
Examining the top of the church reveals something peculiar. The Ten Commandments and the words “Congregation of Brotherly Love (Ahavath Achim)” are inscribed in Hebrew above the entrance to the building, which was built in 1921. This was the second of the three orthodox congregations that flourished in Middle Village during the first half of the 20th Century.
Forest Hills West
The Congregation of Forest Hills West is Middle Village’s last remaining synagogue. It was founded in 1935.
Forest Hills West? Hmmm… Middle Village was never called that to the best of our knowledge, and to get to this part of town from Forest Hills, one first has to traverse through Rego Park, so the reason for the name is a bit unclear. Maybe someone thought ‘Forest Hills West’ sounded really chic.
Most people here today are proud to call themselves Middle Villagers. The town grew in both population and land size when the area known as ‘South Elmhurst’ seceded from Elmhurst proper and officially became part of Middle Village in 2003. The debate over the pros and cons lasted for several years. Despite this, and, of course, the bureaucratic red tape, it finally did happen, though.
Having the last digit of their zip code changed from a 3 to a 9 made some people very happy.
Brooklyn Genealogy Information Page
Doug Leblang, Artist
History of New York State
The Encyclopedia of New York City, by Kenneth T. Jackson, et al, Yale Univ Press, 1995
Special thanks to:
City Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s office for supplying back issues of the Juniper Berry
Doug Leblang for donating his photos and artwork
Mayer Spilman for the Hebrew translations
The above photos were taken on March 26th and 27th, 2005, and the page was completed on April 15th, 2005 (addition January 21, 2006) by Forgotten NY correspondent Christina Wilkinson.