2017-06-07 / Star Journal

The Long Island Star Journal, 1881

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

Welcome to June 1881!

In the vast reaches of the Arctic Ocean near Siberia, the exploration vessel USS Jeanette was crushed like matchsticks in the unforgiving northern ice and sank. The flagship vessel of the ill-fated U.S. Arctic Expedition had set out two years before to find a fabled open water route to the North Pole. Stranded in desolate, brutal conditions, only 13 of the 33 sailors returned, where they were welcomed with a feast at Delmonico’s restaurant in Downtown Manhattan.

Back home on more hospitable ground, the Long Island Weekly Star unveiled a drawing of the “long-talked-of Blackwell’s Island Bridge” on the front page of its June 3, 1881 edition. Depicting sailboats and paddle steamers gracefully gliding on the East River under the proposed marvel of 19th century engineering, and horse-drawn carts leisurely ambling its eye-popping 9,000-foot length, the bridge would also boast rail tracks. Dr. Thomas Rainey of Ravenswood spearheaded the effort to bring the structure to Queens, but the project was ultimately shelved. The good doctor saw his dream realized in 1909 with the opening of the Queensboro Bridge, and his name lives on in Ravenswood’s own Rainey Park.


In the vast reaches of the Arctic Ocean near Siberia, the exploration vessel USS Jeanette was crushed like matchsticks in the unforgiving northern ice and sank. 
Photo Public Domain In the vast reaches of the Arctic Ocean near Siberia, the exploration vessel USS Jeanette was crushed like matchsticks in the unforgiving northern ice and sank. Photo Public Domain While such grand feats of human endeavor occupied the more civic-minded, many in Queens that month looked forward to the simpler summer pleasures of weekend excursions, baseball and beer gardens. For some, however, summer outdoor pursuits were just a little bit more than the law would allow. That month, reports reached newspapers of highwaymen waylaying farmers on the sleepy country roads of Queens. One Jacob Felton, Jr., of Foster’s Meadow, was ambushed by three bandits who emerged from the woods and robbed him of $50 he earned selling his crop of asparagus at a nearby market. Foster’s Meadow (now known as Rosedale) was a community of German truck farmers that flourished in the late 19th century in present-day eastern Queens.


The Queensboro Bridge undergoing construction. 
Photo Gazette Archive The Queensboro Bridge undergoing construction. Photo Gazette Archive For locals who chose to follow the law, Queens offered seemingly endless options for summer fun. 136 years ago, some may have headed out to the Creedmoor Rifle Range to take in some competitive shooting. The National Rifle Association sponsored numerous matches in Queens that month, including the Remington Gold competition, where the winner took home $300 in gold. Although the NRA gave the land back to New York state in the 1890s due to noise complaints and declining interest, historical memory of the range lives on in nearby street names including Musket, Range and Sabre.

Others in Queens who wished to steer clear of highwaymen and stray bullets may have headed to the Old Washington House in Ravenswood, right on the East River. The historic home operated as a beer garden that summer, and the Weekly Star touted its premises as “… among the best shaded and coolest in that handsome quarter of the city. …This ancient dwelling was once the headquarters of Washington, and its quaint architecture, together with the relics of Revolutionary days which are still preserved about the building, will make it attractive to seekers after the curious, as the grounds certainly will be to those who admire a quiet and pleasantly situated summer retreat.”

[Note: The house mentioned was the Blackwell Mansion, which may have been built by Captain John Manning about 1670. He is remembered by history for surrendering

Manhattan back to the Dutch in 1673, and as the step-father of Mary Manningham who married John Blackwell. The building stood in 1905. The door, which had an arrow mark carved into it by the British when they confiscated the house in 1776, survived and now is at the Greater Astoria Historical Society – a gift from the Brooklyn Museum.]

That’s the way it was June 1881!

Compiled by Dan McDonald, Greater Astoria Historical Society. For further information, contact the Society at 718- 278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

Return to top

Copyright 1999-2017 The Service Advertising Group, Inc. All rights reserved.