2010-10-20 / Features

Millstones Find Temporary Haven

BY JASON D. ANTOS

Queens Library Board of Trustees Member George Stamatiades, Penny Lee of the Department of City Planning and Dutch Kills Civic Association President Gerald J. Walsh stand proudly behind the Payntar/Jorrisen Millstones currently on display at the Queens Library’s Long Island City branch. Photo Jason D. Antos Queens Library Board of Trustees Member George Stamatiades, Penny Lee of the Department of City Planning and Dutch Kills Civic Association President Gerald J. Walsh stand proudly behind the Payntar/Jorrisen Millstones currently on display at the Queens Library’s Long Island City branch. Photo Jason D. Antos Two millstones that have been a part of Long Island City’s Queens Plaza since the 17th century, have found temporary refuge at the Queens Library.

On October 14, the two millstones, each weighing more than 400 pounds, were removed from the traffic island near Northern Boulevard and for the first time in a quarter century were relocated to the Long Island City branch.

“We are very proud that this piece of Long Island City history has been put in a safe place,” Dutch Kills Civic Association (DKCA) President Gerald J. Walsh said. “For all these years, the millstones were completely unnoticed by people and hopefully this will change all of that.”

Photo Gerald J. Walsh, Dutch Kills Civic Association. Workers deliver the 400 pound 350 year old millstones, which were embedded in the ground in Queens Plaza for a quarter of a century, to the Long Island City branch of the Queens Library. Photo Gerald J. Walsh, Dutch Kills Civic Association. Workers deliver the 400 pound 350 year old millstones, which were embedded in the ground in Queens Plaza for a quarter of a century, to the Long Island City branch of the Queens Library. After much debate about the future of the millstones, the DKCA with the support of Economic Development Corporation (EDC), rescued the historic stones after the revitalization project in Queens Plaza, which began last fall, threatened their future. The area, which included the traffic island, was turned into a staging area for contractors.

The millstones are located to the left of the main entrance inside the library, 37-44 21st St., where they are encased in plexi-glass. The millstones will remain on the premises for the next 18 months awaiting reinsertion into a permanent display at the 1.5-acre park that will be located on the site of the old traffic island. The park is being built with the help of $59 million that was secured by Congressmember Carolyn Maloney. The funds were also used in the temporary relocation of the millstones.

“I am pleased and proud to be a part of this historic moment,” Queens Library Board of Trustees Member George Stamatiades said. “This is a very good arrangement.”

DKCA worked in conjunction with Stamatiades to support the displaying of the millstones at the library in Long Island City.

During the construction, the millstones were completely obscured by building equipment and concealed behind a poorly constructed blue fence that was used to protect them. It was this incident that prompted officials at the (DKCA) to make a motion for the millstones to be removed to a safer, more secure location.

The stones sat imbedded in the ground where they were completely invisible to the 500,000 people who walk and drive through the plaza each day. The LIC branch receives more than 210,000 visitors each year and plans are underway for the stones to be exhibited to school children, local residents and visitors to the library who are unfamiliar with their history.

The millstones date back to 1648 when they were originally part of Burger Jorrisen’s homestead. A German immigrant, Jorrisen and his family lived on a farm near Bridge Plaza and Jackson Avenue and built a dam across Dutch Kills, now 40th Avenue, where he constructed a water-powered gristmill that utilized the two millstones. Jorrisen’s sons sold the farm after his death in 1671. Several years later the Payntar family purchased the property. Jorrisen’s mill remained at the Dutch Kills site for more than a century. 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 St. in Astoria. When the house was demolished, the city moved the stone to a sidewalk in front of the Long Island Savings Bank at Bridge Plaza North in the early 1980s. One of the stones suffered a large crack during the placement in the traffic island.

“The millstones have been in our community for more than three hundred years and will now get the proper recognition and protection they deserve,” Walsh said. “I know that this is the right decision.”

For more information, visit www.queenslibrary.org or www.dutchkillscivic.com.

Liz Goff contributed to this article.

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