The Queens Historical Society has stated that the Greater Astoria Historical Society is the most reasonable place to keep the millstones:
“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…”
President Pro Temps
And in a recent online question and answer session, the new Queens Historian, Jack Eichenbaum refered a question about the millstones to G.A.H.S.:
Q. “What is your position on the Millstones at Queens Plaza? These are said to be the oldest European artifacts in Queens – dating from the 1650’s if the story is correct. Do you feel that the city’s plan to display them outdoors exposed to the elements is wise, given the damage that salt, freeze-thaw, etc. has already caused them?” –
=Terence Bolger, LIC
A. ” I am no expert on preservation of artifacts, so I defer Terence Bolger’s question about the LIC millstones to Richard Melnick, president of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.”
-Jack Eichenbaum, Queens Borough Historian*
*Source: WNYC.org :
EMAIL COUNCILMAN VAN BRAMER TODAY! TELL HIM YOU AGREE WITH THE EXPERTS!
Profile of Queens Plaza Millstones
Greater Astoria Historical Society / 718-278-0700 / http://www.astorialic.org
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.
This week, William Payntar, a direct descendent of the owners of the old mill and the land that eventually became Queens Plaza corresponded with NYC Councilman Van Bramer concerning the Millstones:
Monday July 26, 2010
Dear Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer & Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.
I am a direct descendant of the Payntar/Skillman Family, who once owned most of the land in and around what is now called Queens Plaza, formerly Dutch Kills.
The Historic Payntar Millstones, were used to made flour for Washington’s Continental Army and is indeed a Treasure and worth Preserving. The Millstones are priceless and played an important part not only in the Revolutionary War but the old way of life in Dutch Kills. They are now languishing on a Queens Plaza construction site.
The Greater Astoria Historical Society has done much research on these Millstones. My family and I really feel that these two Colonial Era Millstones, should be moved to an Exhibit Space within the Greater Astoria Historical Society Building, where they can be exhibited and studied. They care about History and you should too. They are not just two pieces of stone.
It is my hope that our families Millstones will find a home with the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
William Henry Payntar Sr.
Wed. July 28, 2010
Thank you for reaching out to our office with your suggestions on the Millstones. The Council Member is taking this issue very seriously and appreciates your concern as well. Over the course of the last few month the Council Member has met with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Economic Development Corporation and many other interested civics, community groups and individuals who are interested in the preservation of the Millstones. Thank you for writing.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
Terry Osborne today left a message at the Greater Astoria Historical Society mentioning that negotiations are underway to transfer the LIC millstones to the library. We can only reiterate what we have already said: The millstones belong in a museum, not a library.
The Greater Astoria Historical Society has an exhibit space that is run by historians who know how to exhibit the stones and how to study them. It is the intention of GAHS to have scholars examine the stones to close all of the gaps in our knowledge of their history. GAHS can potentially put to rest all questions of their origin and age if they’re allowed this opportunity.
The library has no such expertise. What it does have is budget constraints. Any funds spent by the library on this transfer (even if donated) would be better served funding programs the library is already administering. Furthermore, as the chart below indicates, the library is open to the public for half the amount of time that The Greater Astoria Historical Society is.
Decisions are being made this month about where to move the millstones for safekeeping. It is imperative that you contact Councilman Van Bramer at his email address:
and councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. through his official website
Please do it today!
Tell them that the millstones belong in a museum, and the fact that only one – Greater Astoria Historical Society – has even expressed an interest in them makes the decision a no-brainer! G.A.H.S. has asked to host these stones in a temporary exhibit. At G.A.H.S. they can be at examined by experts and scholars (for the first time!) and also be viewed by school children and community members in the context of an historically educational exhibit. If they are just moved to a warehouse this opportunity is wasted.
While an alternate proposal is also on the table to move them to a nearby library for safe-keeping, it is our contention that a library is not as well equipped to exhibit them as is the Historical Society’s exhibit space. Library hours are being cut, and it is a burden on the library to take on this extra responsibility. Libraries are not run by preservationists and historians. The city should save the taxpayers some money for a change and send the stones to G.A.H.S.
In a recent (6/15/10) meeting in Dutch Kills, Penny Lee of City Planning said that they were open to suggestions concerning the final placement of the stones. We feel that the current plan to leave them exposed to the elements is a bad idea. Stone experts agree that water and salt are the enemy. Two elements that will be in abundance in a park in the middle of a busy crossroads! Tell the councilmen that the current plans are unacceptable, and that an indoor display is the only answer.
– photo by Mitch Waxman
These photos were shot on April 20th, 2010, down in Queensboro Plaza. As mentioned in earlier posts, I regularly use the pedestrian lane of the Queensboro bridge as I transit back and forth from Manhattan to Astoria, and I often pass by the triangular lot where the LIC Millstones are being housed.
– photo by Mitch Waxman
The devastating designation of the Millstones as “a distinctive sidewalk” by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, in this letter addressed to Robert Singleton of the Greater Astoria Historic Society (below) is merely a setback.
the actual letter courtesy scribd.com
– photo by Mitch Waxman
In a Queens Chronicle article of April 15th, 2010- EDC spokeswoman Libby Langsdorf stated that the Millstones are actually too fragile to be moved. Which is apparently not true, as the photos above show. Compare with those of the millstones in other posts, and you can clearly see that SOMEONE was embarrassed enough by the photos of them published at this blog to actually move them. Who was the “archeological resources consultant” that supervised this?
quoting from the Queens Chronicle article-
Project managers said they intend to consider the stones during construction work. “The city and EDC are fully aware of the historical significance of the Colonial-era millstones at Queens Plaza,” said Libby Langsdorf, spokeswoman at EDC. “They are secured at the site, where there is little activity at this time.”
At this time, the EDC believes that due to the excessive weight of and fragility of the stones, it might be safer to avoid moving them.
“We are in the process of engaging an archeological resources consultant to help us develop a longer term plan to ensure their safety,” Langsdorf said. “Eventually, the millstones are to be incorporated into the new public plaza to be constructed in the area.”
– photo by Mitch Waxman
One of the Millstones is now inside of this little arrangement of scrap lumber and orange safety netting, and has been moved around 10-15 yards from the spot it enjoyed under the tree in other times. Bravo.
– photo by Mitch Waxman
Best case scenario- the local politicos who read or heard that someone was making a stink about the Millstones decided to do “the least” that they could. Worst case scenario, and the likely one, is that a construction crew needed to make room for the delivery of construction materials and moved the Millstone for their own convenience.
The latter is exactly the sort of thing that the antiquarian community is concerned about.
– photo by Mitch Waxman
The erection of tower buildings, the continuing Second Avenue Subway Extension project, the tens of thousands of cars and trucks that pass by every day… even a “distinctive sidewalk” needs protection in this environment.
How about a pair of colonial era technological artifacts ? What will be said when they are crushed by a truck, or go missing?
Ring-a-ring-a-roses – photo by Mitch Waxman
Windmills must be tilted at, I always say, or in this case millstones. Witness with me, if you would, the state of the LIC millstones on the 26th of march, 2010. It is my habit, when time permits, to walk across the Queensboro Bridge. Often, I find myself walking back to Astoria’s rolling hills through Queens Plaza.
A pocket full of posies – photo by Mitch Waxman
The LIC Millstones remain in the little triangle in Queens Plaza, and continue to be shielded from the non stop truck and automobile traffic by a flimsy chain link fence. The netting affixed to the fence had been torn away by a recent squall of stormy weather.
Hush! hush! hush! hush! – photo by Mitch Waxman
Survivors of the 17th century, the artifacts housed here are an artifact of the agrarian industries that populated Queens before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. It is very likely that some number of the 163 African American slaves known to have been held in Newtown in 1755 were employed in operating these millstones. We won’t know for certain, because scholarly access to them is being denied for unguessable reasons by those municipal authorities who hold tenancy over them.
We’re all tumbled down – photo by Mitch Waxman
Local antiquarians have suggested that the millstones be removed from the street, and a local community supported and operated Historical Society have offered use of their own facility to house the millstones- free of charge to authorities. A public petition is available, and many have signed it, both physically and digitally. Be clear though, that this is no “artifact grab” by this local group, as has been alleged, and they would be quite content to just see the millstones safely indoors and verifiable to inspection. They’re just offering a space for it.
A ring, a ring o’ roses – photo by Mitch Waxman
Indignation is bred amongst those who cherish the story of Queens, and have seen generations of achievement and cultural history swept away by wave after wave of real estate speculation. Historic buildings, entire neighborhoods in fact, are swept away in the name of “development”. This is the way of things in New York City, of course, and it would be shambolic to believe that the process can be altered or halted.
A pocket full o’posies – photo by Mitch Waxman
What we can do, what we owe to the future, is to leave behind a few fragments of what was. Who knows, these millstones may be the Rosetta Stone that some future civilization uses to decode our own.These survivors of centuried tumult should be treated a little bit better than sitting in a box amongst a pile of industrial garbage in Queens Plaza.
Atch chew! atch chew! – photo by Mitch Waxman
Personally, all I can say is exposure to this issue, while illuminating and nauseating at the same time… has exhausted me. A microcosm of a larger issue, philosophy and politics have created fortress mentalities centered around turf. Can’t it be agreed by all to just take these things inside one of the many city or state buildings around Queens Plaza? Some neutral turf like a bank or PS1? Can’t we let a few experts have their first real look at these artifacts? Where are the universities in all of this? Columbia or NYU, these are archaeological remains of 17th century Dutch technology… and you folks have a LOT more pull with the City than anyone in Queens.
We all fall down – photo by Mitch Waxman