THE FOLLOWING ARE LETTERS FROM VARIOUS ORGANIZATIONS SUPPORTING OUR VIEW:
From William Payntar, a decendant of the last private owners of the farm, the mill and the millstones:
“MY STATEMENT ON THE PAYNTAR MILLSTONES :
BESIDE THE FACT THAT THEY ONCE BELONGED TO MY ANCESTOR’S, THE HISTORIC HISTORY OF THESE MILLSTONES SHOULD BE SUFFICENT EVIDENCE TO HAVE THEM DECLARED HISTORIC, MOVED TO A SAFE PLACE AND POSSIBLY RESTORED. THE FACT THAT THEY ARE VERY OLD AND WERE USED TO MAKE FLOUR FOR THE CONTINENTAL ARMY, CERTAINLY IS HISTORY.
I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THEM EVENTUALLY MOVED TO THAT PLANNED PARK WITH A PLAQUE STATING WHAT THEY ARE AND WHO THEY BELONGED TO AND WHAT PURPOSE THEY WERE USED FOR AND THE PART THEY PLAYED IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. I WOULD THINK SOME KIND OF GUARD RAIL COULD BE PUT AROUND THEM. BUT IF YOUR SOCIETY FEELS THEY WOULD BE SAFER STORED IN YOUR BUILDING, THEN GO FOR IT.
WILLIAM HENRY PAYNTAR SR.
November 6, 2009
Hon. Frank Padavan
New York State Senator
89-39 Gettysburg St.
Bellerose, New York 11426
Dear Senator Padavan,
Thank you for informing the Queens Historical Society of the plan to remove the grist Mill stones from Queens Plaza to a temporary exhibit organized by the Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS). We support this temporary plan, especially in light of current major reconstruction of Queens Plaza and appreciate the effort of GAHS.
Meanwhile a permanent home or guardianship for the grist mill stones might be sought among several cultural institutions that are emerging or already flourishing in the Queens Plaza vicinity. Not far away in the Court Square area, two established institutions might be considered: P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center (PS1.org) and the Sculpture Center (sculpture-center.org).
Closer to the present site of the millstones, in the Queens plaza area, the Long island City Artists Association (licartists.org) has been showcasing a special exhibition at a number of modern or modernized indoor venues such as the building lobbies. One of these sites may also be suitable as home for the grist mill stones. Karen Fitzgerald of the LIC Artists organization would be a good person to contact about this idea.
President Pro Temps
November 15, 2009
Corey Bearak President
Q.ueens Civic Congress
Flushing, New York 11363
Re: Newtown Historical Society’s position on the millstones at Queens Plaza
The Newtown Historical Society, advocates for the protection and preservation of all historic resources within the area of Queens formerly known as Newtown, including Dutch Kills, does not support the city of New York’s plan with regards to the Payntar millstones at Queens Plaza.
The millstones are priceless historical artifacts that need to be carefully examined to fully understand and appreciate their history. Archaeologists cannot properly assess their historical significance or the damage they have suffered while they are embedded in a concrete sidewalk or crated behind a construction fence.
Judging strictly by the parts of the stones that are publicly viewable, they have sustained extensive damage while under the care of the City and State of New York and their various contractors throughout the years. The center of one has been worn away and thoughtlessly “repaired” with asphalt and has a visible crack on its face.
When this project was announced there was no money included in the budget for proper handling of the stones and no plan for their preservation, and it certainly shows. Heavy construction equipment has been stored on top of the embedded cracked stone and the stone that has been exhumed is in danger of being damaged, stolen or lost. “Don’t worry they’re insured by the contractor,” we’ve heard. How can the city possibly apply monetary value to its historical artifacts? The millstones have significance that cannot be judged in terms of dollars and persons expressing this sentiment clearly do not understand the purpose of preservation and should not be entrusted with their care.
The Queens Plaza millstones are believed to be the oldest manmade objects in the borough created by European settlers. They deserve to be treated with respect and researched, examined and restored by a team of historical experts. The citizens of Long Island City deserve the opportunity to observe and learn about them in their own community.
It is imperative that the millstones be removed from their current location and kept in a safe setting until they find a permanent home. The Greater Astoria Historical Society has offered their gallery space, time and expertise to ensure that this is accomplished. Their facility is secure and they are the historical organization most proximal to the spot where the millstones currently are located. Having worked with them on several projects/we are confident that the most appropriate temporary location for the millstones is at their gallery. No one understands their role in Queens’ history more than GAHS, no one would take better care of them and undoubtedly, GAHS is best prepared to present their story to the public.
At our last meeting, the board of the Newtown Historical Society unanimously voted to join the Long Island City Alliance in support of the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s proposal and we will actively work with them to preserve the millstones. We strongly encourage the Queens Civic Congress to do the same. Let us stand united to do what is in the best interest of our history and the people to whom it belongs instead of offering passive acceptance to a blind bureaucracy that has a history of mishandling and neglecting our historic resources.
FROM Forgotten NY
“Playing out this month in Queens is a debate about how best to protect two artifacts from a more pastoral past. For several decades, a pair of centuries-old millstones, once used to grind wheat to fine consistency, have been embedded in a traffic triangle in Queens Plaza, the nexus of two major elevated lines as well as the junction where Northern and Queens Boulevards meet.
In 1650, Dutchman Burger Jorissen constructed a grist mill that today would be on Northern Boulevard between 40th Road and 41st Avenue. The mill existed on the site for about 111 years, until 1861 when it was razed by the Long Island Rail Road. The Payntar family by that time owned the mill property (40th Avenue was called Payntar Avenue until the 1920s) and had placed millstones that had been shipped in by Jorissen around 1657 in front of their house. The Payntar house was razed in the early 1900s. When Sunnyside Yards, Queens Plaza and the Bank of Manhattan and the elevated were constructed, the millstones were fortunately preserved and embedded in the traffic plaza.
The traffic island where the millstones are embedded has been converted into a staging area for heavy construction equipment. Historians fear for the condition of the millstones, already compromised by years of wear and tear. One of the stones has been removed from the plaza and crated, while the other remains in place. A representative from the city Economic Development Corp, which is reconstructing the plaza, maintains that the stones will eventually be displayed in a 1.5 acre green space at the northeast end of Queens Plaza. But can they survive the manhandling they are receiving now?
Two Queens civic and historical organizations are debating what best to do with the millstones. The EDC holds that the stones are doing all right where they are now, and should not be moved at all until the reconstruction of Queens Plaza is completed, and the Dutch Kills Civic Association supports that view.
Meanwhile, the Greater Astoria Historical Society and Newtown Historical Society prefer that the two millstones be removed from the traffic plaza to a temporary space at the GAHS headquarters at 35-20 Broadway in Long Island City or a similar space elsewhere, where they can be inspected by the public and available for historical research, and then reinstalled at a permanent site with adequate protections from traffic, vandals and weathering, with informative signage.
The city’s track record in preserving historic structures has been spotty at best. Philip Johnson’s Tent of Tomorrow, the NY State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, is a rusted ruin. On the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge, trolley shelters and lampposts going back to the bridge’s earliest days mysteriously disappeared decades ago, never to reappear. The very first building constructed with cast-iron facing (on Washington and Murray Streets) built by the inventor of the genre, James Bogardus, was carefully dismantled, crated and boxed, but not sufficiently secured; the pieces were stolen soon after the building was taken down.
The Queens Plaza millstones deserve more respect as centuries-old artifacts than the city has so far been disposed to give them, and the GAHS and Newtown Historical plan to preserve them should definitely be given the greatest consideration.”
November 16, 2009
Mr. Richard Melnick, President
Greater Astoria Historical Society
35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor
Long Island City, NY 11106
Dear Mr. Melnick,
The Historic Districts Council shares the concern of the Greater Astoria Historical Society about the safety of the historic millstones currently embedded in Queens Plaza. HDC agrees that better precautions must be taken by the City in order to preserve these rare and important historic artifacts. The suggestion that they be temporarily relocated to exhibit space at the Greater Astoria Historical Society seems to be eminently reasonable.
Once removed from their current resting site where they are exposed to continued damage from construction activity, the stones can be further researched and, if need be, restored. Eventually, HDC believes that a new permanent resting place within the Long Island City community should be found, that is both safe from environmental damage and publically-accessible.
Please let us know how we may be of any help to the Society in this campaign.
“A number of Norwood Neighborhood Association members are very aware of the colonial mill stones at Queensboro Plaza and are 100% behind your efforts to find a special home for them in LIC for the community’s benefit and to have available for research.
It is regrettable that such important artifacts were inconspicuously embedded in a nondescript piece of pavement at QBP. Residents here are thrilled to think they will be properly displayed and protected from further weathering damage and feel this is a wonderful opportunity to find a proper home for the stones.
We hope to attend the meeting Wednesday night and wanted to send our support and appreciation for GAHS’s efforts to preserve our community’s special history.
Nowood Neighborhood Association. ”
“As I already noted in a previous e-mail, I cannot attend the meeting. However, my own personal opinion as a local historian (I am the official historian for Community Board 13), I believe the millstones should be moved permanently indoors so that will be protected against the weathering affects of climate change. Furthermore, I believe the stones should remain as close to the area from which they originated, rather than be moved, say, across the county to some other neighborhood.
-Jim Trent 11/16/09”
“To the Queens Civic Congress:
I am Brian Beard, President of the Long Island City Alliance. My Civic Association, which is a dues paying member of the Queens Civic Congress, is co-sponsoring a symposium with the community regarding millstones on Wednesday November 18th, 2009 at 6:30 PM at the Greater Astoria Historical Society (located at 4th floor of 35-20 Broadway). I would like representatives from your civic association to please come to this important meeting. We could always learn some things from other groups, and we would appreciate all input and questions other groups and people have about the issue of millstones.
Personally, I would like the Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS) to be the holder of these millstones. The GAHS has gained my respect through their other dealings with historical artifacts. For example, they have a wooden door dating back to the 1700s, known as “The Door from Blackwell House”. The door is 400 LBS and was donated from the Brooklyn Museum and brought over from a warehouse by the Gowanus Canal. The door has not received a scratch while in the custody of the GAHS. They have a professional staff who cares very much for the safety of historical artifacts from our community.
We are not taking an adversarial position against City Planning or NYS Economic Development Corporation, and believe they do not have to be alone in the work that will be necessary to revise their plan.
I hope you can send a representative to the symposium.
Thank you very much for your time
Brian Beard, President
Long Island City Alliance”
“I am writing on behalf of our organization to express our interest in the faith of the Millstones. Very few residents here are aware of this situation and that these are the combined heritage LIC, Sunnyside, Astoria as well as the greater boro.
Terri Adams, President
Hunters Point Community Development Corporation”