Greater Astoria Historical Society Executive Director Bob Singleton leads the tour.

Check out one of the first “company towns” in the United States.

Greater Astoria Historical Society Executive Director Bob Singleton leads a roughly two-hour walking tour of Steinway Village on Sunday, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m.

In 1870, Henry Steinway decided to move his booming piano-making business, Steinway & Sons, from Manhattan’s Varick Street to Queens. It was a time of heightened labor strife in the country, and the German immigrant was the target of anarchists, socialists, and union organizers. So he and his offspring set out to create a Utopian community where his workers would live right next to his factory — and far from the agitators.

The result was a 400-acre complex with a foundry (cast iron parts) and sawmill (lumber) in Astoria, which was rural at the time. The Steinway family planned everything: factories; housing; retail districts; water and sewer systems; schools; post office; shade trees; churches; streetcar lines; and even a fire company. They even built the North Beach Amusement Park, which competed with Coney Island, to provide local entertainment. (It didn’t survive Prohibition, and the land is now part of LaGuardia Airport.)

The undertaking was philanthropy with an economic interest. The employees lived well in their Victorian row houses, but the Steinways could evict anybody who organized or participated in a strike. The family also sold some of the two-story brick houses to non-employees for profit.

Singleton, who has written several books on Astoria, will explore the area – which is the vicinity of Ditmars Boulevard, 31st Street, Hazen Street, and the East River — and discuss its history, demographics, architecture and future.

It’s not like it way during its heyday, but remnants of the company town still remain. Steinway Reformed Church still welcomes worshipers on 41st Street and Ditmars Boulevard. The former Steinway Library is now a branch in the Queens Library system. Many original homes on 20th Avenue and 41st Street have been preserved.

Participants will see the Steinway & Sons factory, which still churns out high-quality pianos but is closed on weekends. They’ll also learn about Steinway Mansion, a 25-room Italianate villa near 41st Street and 19th Avenue. Though dilapidated and uninhabited these days, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (According to rumors, it’s haunted.)

Tickets cost $30. Upon registration, participants will find out the meeting place.

Images: Greater Astoria Historical Society


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