2012-12-05 / Star Journal

Forging Ahead At The Close Of The 19th Century

The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal.

Welcome to December 1898!

In 1898, the boy grew into a formidable man. With the sun setting on once mighty Spain, America gorged on the remnants of a crumbling colonial empire gained in a relatively swift, decisive war fought on a global scale. The young nation planted its flag in such far flung places as the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In the same year, the United States emerged as a new global power, the City of New York joined with Brooklyn and the mostly rural communities of Staten Island and Queens to form the beginnings of the sprawling metropolis that we know today. And as the crisp autumn breezes of 1898 gave way to the biting winter chill of December, New Yorkers found themselves still digging out from a fearsome, post- Thanksgiving blizzard.

Twelve inches of snow fell on the beleaguered city, downing telegraph lines, paralyzing transportation and drawing comparisons to the mighty snowstorm of 1888. Queens was especially hard hit, with many communities completely isolated for days. With street trolleys stranded in the driving snow, members of the Riker family and others out at North Beach took in chilled conductors and passengers, kindly offering coffee and sandwiches.

The good people of Queens, however, would never let a little snow dampen the coming holiday excitement. Timeless traditions of family and gift giving wouldn’t have been the same without a sumptuous feast. Some undoubtedly stocked up at Mitchell’s Market on Vernon Boulevard, which offered an assortment of turkeys, geese, chickens, Long Island ducks, grouse, quail and rabbits for all tastes and budgets. Steiner Liquors was one of many outlets in the borough offering a wide selection of fine wines and spirits to accompany the feast and provide some warm holiday cheer. For the little tykes, Charles Zimpfer on Borden Avenue offered the “Greatest Display of holiday Goods in the City”, including “the largest stock of toys, candies and all other good things of Christmas tide”. Local churches greeted the festive season in song and celebration. Santa Claus was on hand for youngsters at Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Reformed congregation on Remsen Street could barely contain joyous strains of “Shout the Glad Tidings” and “There Were Shepherds”. Not to be outdone, the 700 Sunday School students at the Church of the Redeemer were in for a special Christmas treat: 2,500 presents and 350 pounds of holiday candy.

The season’s eatings and the intemperate December chill simply proved too much for some locals. Many turned to patent medicines advertised in the Long Island Weekly Star to rid themselves of a range of ailments from chest colds to gout and sunburn. One such nostrum was Sunray Liniment, “The Wonder of the Age” and a “guaranteed cure for sunburn, bruises, sore throats, chest colds, lumbago, gout and skin diseases”. Others afflicted with indigestion, dyspepsia or catarrh of the stomach may have turned to Dr. Williams Pink Pills for Pale People, “The Great Blood Builder”. Hood’s Sarsaparilla, another popular turn of the century remedy, trumpeted its miracle cure with this ad:

Is essential to health.
Every nook and corner
Of the system is
Reached by the blood, and on
Its quality and condition
The condition of
Every organ depends.
The surest way to
Have good blood
Is to take
Which by its power as a
Blood purifier
Cures Scrofula, Dyspepsia,
Rheumatism, Catarrh,
That Tired Feeling,
Loss of Appetite, etc.

In the grip of this snowy, wintry chill, Queens retreated indoors, with the hotels and casinos providing gay 90s amusement, refreshment and a social outlet. Locals enjoyed the bowling alleys at Strack’s Casino, and others frequented Strobel’s Exchange Hall with its billiard parlors and the “Finest Ales, Wines, Liquors and Cigars”. Wm. Klobutscheck’s Hunters Point Hotel was another favorite, offering “toothsome cold lunches” and parlors and meeting rooms for discreet conversations. Those of a more intellectual bent may have attended Professor J.A. Stiver’s cinematograph lecture on “Our American Navy” at Reverend Steinfuhrer’s Reformed Church. The cinematograph, a new invention, was a motion picture film camera and projector that made its American debut in 1896 at Keith’s Union Square Theater.

As 1898 drew to a close, the relentless pace of progress was fast rendering Queens unrecognizable to those who recalled its picturesque, rural past. Development would soon sweep aside many of the gracious churches, hotels, farms and country homes familiar to many. With the Commissioner of Bridges receiving $50,000 to conduct surveys for the long anticipated bridge to connect the borough with the bustling island of Manhattan, developers were quick to snap up Long Island City land. The Casina Farm was purchased by a syndicate of men associated with The New York Gas, Electric Light, Heat and Power Company, forerunner to today’s Con Edison, to make way for a giant power plant. Commenting on their Queens land acquisitions, one developer proclaimed “the section will become one of the greatest manufacturing centers in the United States”.

The location is now the former Charles Poletti Power Plant.

That’s the way it was in December 1898!

We are open to the public, Saturdays, noon until five at “Quinn’s Gallery,” 4th Floor, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City. Additional hours Monday and Wednesday two to five! Visit our gift shop on line. For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278- 0700 or visit our Web site at www.astorialic.org.

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