Revisiting late 19th-century development

The Greater Astoria Historical Society

Welcome to May 1886.

International ports of call were tallied for ships arriving at Newtown Creek ports between Long Island City and Greenpoint. Some of the visitors were “Quatteo Fraletti,” a bark from Spezzia, Italy, loading with oil for Spain; the schooner “Ida C. Schoolcraft,” from Brunswick, Ga., arriving with railroad ties for the Long Island Rail Road; and another bark , “Nomad,” about to take on a deck-load of lumber bound for Buenos Aires.

Work continued on 19th Avenue to the new resort North Beach on Bowery Bay. The pavilion and bathing houses for the North Beach amusement park called for 104 bathhouses to be completed by June 19. The pavilion was to be 100 feet long by seventy-five feet wide. On the grounds was to be a magnificent fountain sending a stream 150 feet high. On May 21, the Star reported that over 500 people had been seen strolling on the magnificent beach the previous Sunday.

At the same time, the Steinway family added to their stables on Steinway Street (now the site of the new apartment building at 20th Avenue and Steinway Street on the former bus depot). The stables were to be enlarged, with additional horses purchased and orders issued for the construction of a dozen entirely new double-decker cars of the “latest and most approved pattern.”

A Star reporter wrote that a Dr. Woodhull had converted the old Blackwell Mansion into Fisher’s Washington Park, a pub/beer garden. That formerly stood at the foot of 37th Avenue in Ravenswood. Dr. Woodhull, the property owner, said that the house had been built in 1669, five years after the end of Peter Stuyvesant’s reign as governor.

During the American revolution this was the billet for British generals.

“In this house, Washington Irving wrote his amusing ‘Knickerbocker History of New York,’ when he was about twenty-seven years of age,” Dr. Woodhull said. “Later, [James Fenimore] Cooper, the great novelist, wrote the novel ‘Water Witch’ here. The scene of the celebrated chase of the ‘Water Witch’ by the British gunboat was right in front of this house.”

The door of the house, which bore the crows foot cut by the British on all property confiscated by the Crown during the Revolutionary War, was the property of the Long Island Historical Society (now the Brooklyn Museum), as was the fireplace.

The house was built by Johannes Manning. The Blackwell family came into possession of the house through intermarriage or descent (Dr. Woodhull was not sure which). Col. Gibbs (one of the founders of Ravenswood) obtained the property from the Blackwells. After Gibbs, the property passed to General Hughes and then the Woodhulls. The house had been a private residence continually since its construction until five years before, when it became a public house.

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; what historic personages it has sheltered and what crimes have perhaps been plotted under its roof. 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?”

Although the house was demolished in 1901, the Greater Astoria Historical Society has the door and it can be seen on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays when the society is open to the public.

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