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Press Release From The Greater Astoria Historical Society

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Profile of Queens Plaza Millstones

Greater Astoria Historical Society / 718-278-0700 /

Jorrisen’s Mill, built between 1643 and 1654, was the first tidal mill in western Queens. It was powered by ditch, called Berger’s Sluice, which ran just east of Northern Boulevard between 40 Road and 48th Street. The backbreaking work of grinding wheat and sifting flour was generally done by African–American labor.

We have a fairly clear record of ownership: Parcell, Bragaw, Polhemus, and Ryerson to the Payntar family which bought the mill in 1831. The mill and mill pond remained to 1861, when the Long Island Railroad drove tracks through the area obliterating the location. The Payntar family rescued the millstones and placed them in front of their home on Jackson Avenue some 300 feet north of Queens Plaza.

About the time when the home was torn down in 1913, the stones were transferred to the plaza in front of the Long Island Savings Bank at 41st Avenue and Queens Plaza North. A postcard from about 1925 shows tall light fixtures with circular bases that seem to resemble the stones.

When the Queens Plaza subway station was built (about 1930) the stones were again temporarily moved, this time to a nearby flower bed. A photo in a booklet published by the Long Island Savings Bank in the 1940s shows the millstones embedded in a traffic island where they remained until late last year. The booklet shows them, at that time, to be in pristine condition.

The historical society has inspected the millstones over 25 years and has noticed, exposed to vandalism and the rigors of the elements, a marked deterioration in the last decade. Their centers eroded (someone dumped asphalt in them.) One was cracked. As early as 2001 we went on record with the New York Times expressing our concerns.

As part of the multimillion dollar renovation of Queens Plaza by the NY City Planning and the NYS Economic Development Corporation, the millstones are to be moved to the center of the plaza and mounted to pedestals with four pins drilled through them. Their centers are to be filled with gout. In that location they will be exposed to the vibrations of one of the most congested traffic hubs in New York (elevated, subway, and vehicular).  Their planned siting, next to a bike lane, is not safe. Deserted at night, they be will exposed to vandalism. They will be subject to road salt and weathering.

An application for designation to NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, who called them ‘decorative sidewalks,’ was rejected. They are sitting in crates with large signs designating them as ‘Historic Objects Under Study.’

Custom holds them to be the oldest surviving European artifacts in the borough. Some claim they arrived on a West Indian merchantman. The design on their face is late (perhaps early 19th century.) The millstones are either replacements or originals with their faces rescored.  Even if not original, they are still remnants of a 17th century mill.

The Astoria Historical Society is seeking support to temporarily house them in our museum, to retain experts to study them to determine their origin and age, and to place them on exhibit for the community until an appropriate permanent local interior space is found. The historical society, with the professional expertise to house the artifacts in a secure location, would make them available twice as many hours as an alternative proposal, a branch of the cash-strapped Queens Borough Public Library.

Information is from James Riker’s Annals of Newtown (1852) and personal recollections of the Payntar Family. The Payntar Family, professional organizations as the Historic Districts Council, as well as the Queens Borough historian, have gone on record supporting our efforts at preserving the stones.


Written by licmillstones

July 29, 2010 at 2:51 pm

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