2009-09-30 / Features

Community Seeks To Preserve Dutch Kills History In Millstones


Community leaders in Dutch Kills are up in arms after learning that two 17thcentury millstones, unique to the history of the Long Island City community, are being stored in a mix of construction materials and rubble at a Queens Plaza renovation project.

The millstones date back to 1648 when German immigrant, Burger Jorrisen, settled with his family on a farm near Bridge Plaza and Jackson Avenue and built a dam across Dutch Kills, (now 40th Avenue), where he constructed a waterpowered gristmill that employed the two millstones.

Jorrisen's sons sold the farm upon his death in 1671. Ownership of the farm changed hands several times over the years, until the Payntar family purchased the property.

Jorrisen's mill remained at the site for a century and a half after his death. The remains of the gristmill were clearly visible until 1861, when the construction of Long Island Rail Road tracks erased all traces.

The Payntar family rescued one of the millstones from the Long Island Rail Road construction and set it in a sidewalk in front of a house at 30-55 29th Street in Astoria. When the house was demolished, the city moved the stone to a sidewalk in front of a Long Island Savings Bank branch at Bridge Plaza North.

In an effort to preserve both stones, Long Island Savings Bank officials paid, in the mid-1980s, to move the millstones to a permanent "home" on a traffic island adjacent to its Bridge Plaza North branch. The difficult task of moving the stones proved too much for one of the relics, which suffered a large crack during placement in the traffic island.

When the city's $52 million Queens Plaza revitalization project began last fall, an area including the traffic island, was turned into a staging area for contractors. The millstones are currently lost in the middle of construction materials and machinery being stored at the site.

Alerted by recently published reports detailing the state of the stones, officials at the Dutch Kills Civic Association are calling on city officials to move the millstones to a safer, more secure location until they can be properly displayed.

Gerald Walsh, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association said the civic group has repeatedly urged the city to secure the stones at a location that provides a brief explanation of their historical significance to Dutch Kills and New York City.

"We have tried, on numerous occasions over the past 20 years, to encourage the city to find a way to preserve the integrity of the millstones and their link to the past," Walsh said.

Officials at the Astoria Historical Society, who recently expressed concern over the fate of the stones, did not return Gazette calls for comment.

Officials at the city's Economic Development Corporation reportedly are planning to display the stones in a 1.5- acre "green space" that will be created at Queens Plaza North, as part of the revitalization project. An agency spokesperson told the Gazette that, until then, the stones are "safe and secure" at the Bridge Plaza location.

"Hopefully, the millstones will be moved to a permanent location when the revitalization program is completed," Walsh said. "Equally as important, hopefully, the site will include a sign or a stone explaining their history."

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