Remembering William Payntar Sr.
With the recent passing of William Payntar Sr., residents in Dutch Kills lost an important link to the history of the Long Island City community.
Payntar, 79, passed away on April 2 at his home in New Port Richey, Florida following a long battle with health issues, his wife, Isabella said. Payntar moved to Florida following his retirement some years ago, but he never lost his connection with Dutch Kills, she said.
Payntar was born on Christmas morning, 1931, a direct descendant of one of the oldest families in Dutch Kills. William Payntar’s ancestors are recorded as among the first settlers in Queens.
It was in this role, just one year ago, that Payntar threw his support behind the Dutch Kills community in its quest to hold on to a pair of historic millstones that originated from a gristmill established in the area in the 17th century.
The millstones date back to 1648 when German immigrant, Burger Jorrisen, settled with his family on a farm near Bridge Plaza and Jackson Avenue, where he built a dam across Dutch Kills, now 40th Avenue, and constructed a water-powered gristmill that employed the two millstones.
Upon Jorrisen’s death his sons sold the farm in 1671 and ownership of the farm changed hands several times over the years, until the Payntar family purchased the property.
Jorrisen’s mill remained at the Dutch Kills site for a century and a half after his death and the remains of the gristmill were clearly visible until 1861, when 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 their home at 30-55 29th Street in Astoria. When the home was demolished years later, the city moved the stone to a sidewalk in front of a Long Island Savings Bank branch at Bridge Plaza North.
Long Island Savings Bank officials located the second stone in the mid-1980s and paid to move both stones to a permanent home within a traffic island located adjacent to its Bridge Plaza North branch. The difficult task of moving the stones proved too much for one of the artifacts, which suffered a large crack during placement in the traffic island, bank officials said.
Concern for the condition and future of the millstones resurfaced when the city kicked off its massive redevelopment project in the fall of 2009 at Queens Plaza. Entrenched in a battle to keep the millstones in a permanent home within the Dutch Kills community, local leaders reached out to William Payntar for his support. Payntar responded with a true passion for the historic significance of the millstones, maintaining his family’s belief that they must remain in the community.
Payntar’s backing brought an end to the battle over the millstones, which are currently on display at the new Long Island City branch of the Queens Library. When redevelopment is completed at Queens Plaza, the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC) will display them safely encased at a Green Space located within walking distance from the gristmill once owned by the Payntar family.
“Bill was so looking forward to the dedication of the millstones,” Isabella Payntar said. “I will take his place, this I promised him.”
Isabella Payntar said she would attend the dedication with the couple’s son, Bill Payntar Jr., and their grandson, Bill Payntar III. “We know Bill will be there with us in spirit,” Isabella Payntar said.
“Officials and members of the Dutch Kills Civic Association are saddened by the untimely passing of William Payntar,” group president Gerald Walsh said.
“It was his wish to be here when ‘his’ stones are returned to their proper place near the original Jorrison’s Mill,” Walsh said. “We are sure he will be there in spirit to welcome the stones home to the center of the community.”
Walsh said Payntar was concerned that the stones be protected and be fully understood. “He firmly believed that the stones should be displayed for future generations. He wanted people to understand their significance to the history of Dutch Kills.”
The civic group will remember and honor William Payntar Sr. and the Payntar family, at the dedication service, George Stamatiades said.
Stamatiades, who is executive director of the civic group, said William Payntar Sr. and the Payntar family would always hold a special place in the heart of the Dutch Kills community.
“It has been our great, good fortune to know William Payntar and share with him, his knowledge, passion and love of our neighborhood,” Stamatiades said.