The Rey Family - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

The Rey Family

Nancy Schneider

Rey family home on Metropolitan Avenue

The first of the Rey family came to Middle Village in l847. Jean Baptiste de Rey was born in l80l in Toulon, France. He attended the University of Toulon and earned a degree in chemistry. With his wife, Elizabeth Lorraine, he immigrated to America in l830. They entered through Ellis Island and settled on l4th Street in lower Manhattan. Jean Baptiste became a real estate agent but he longed to have a piece of land and a garden as his family had in France. He used to take the Williamsburg ferry across to the open countryside of Long Island (the trip cost two cents at that time).

Finally, he found four acres to his liking in Middle

Village on the south side of Metropolitan Avenue between

73rd Street and 78th Street. It had a pond and reminded

him of his father's orchard. He was determined to go into

business for himself and erected a two-story factory where

he began to produce chocolate for the bakers' trade as

well as elixirs and remedies from recipes that he had

brought with him from France. The necessary machinery was

run by a one-horse-power treadmill.

The family moved to Middle Village in l847 to a two

story house that was part of Scheinfeld's Department

Store. From the cupola atop that house, the family could

watch the 4th of July fireworks going off in lower

Brooklyn. Jean Baptiste De Rey, was very happy in the

open countryside that was Middle Village. His business

prospered and he had his garden planted with grapes and

young fruit trees.

The De Rey Family (now Rey) was growing: J.D. was born in

l844; J. Rodolphe in l845; George Washington in l86l.

Later, George owned a hardware store in Maspeth and

helped the Mt. Olivet Cemetery to get started by supplying

the tools.

The second son, Rodolphe, was two years of age when

the family moved to Middle Village. When he was sixteen,

the Civil War was on and he ran off to join the Grand Army

of the Republic to fight for the Union. He enlisted in

the l02nd Infantry Co. of the New York Volunteers at the

recruiting office in Cypress Hills. His mother knew what

he intended to do but did not try to stop him. She gave

him a Bible and her blessings.

Rodolphe fought through every major campaign of the

Civil War. He served under Stonewall Jackson at Cedar

Mountain where l50 men were lost; he was in the second

battle of Bull Run; at Antietam in October of '62; with

Greens' Brigade in the Chancellorsville campaign in '63.

At Fredricksburg he dug trenches with his bayonet, the

only tool at hand. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he fought

at Culps Hill which was on the left flank of General

Meade's command. He was part of the pursuing Union Army

that chased Lee's armies south through Harper's Ferry all

the way to Tennessee. He was in the Battle of Chattanooga

and at Lookout Mountain, Georgia where the mists were so

heavy that they couldn't even see the enemy.

In November of l862, Abraham Lincoln was re-elected

President. The "old campaigner", Rodolphe Rey was able to

vote for him because he was now eighteen years of age. In

December of the following year Lincoln asked all the Union

volunteers to re-enlist until the end of the war. Those

who answered the call were given a furlough in Washington

and were greeted by President Lincoln. Rodolphe Rey was

amongst them.

In l864, the l02nd joined the Atlanta campaign under

General Sherman. They fought through the battles of

Kennesaw Mountain and Peach Tree, Georgia. They lost 55 of

their men and the l02nd had to be consolidated with the

78th Company. Sherman's army spread out over a fifty mile

width, laid siege to Atlanta. Rodolphe was now a

Corporal. After the Confederate forces finally withdrew

from Atlanta, the New York Volunteers returned home.

On April 9th, l865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the

Confederate forces to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appamattox

court house. The Civil War had ended and Rodolphe Rey had

survived. By the time he returned to Middle Village his

mother had passed away. His experiences during the war

led him to seek a place for spiritual growth and he found

it with the Methodist congregation right across

Metropolitan Avenue from his home. He became active in the

church and on November 30, l870, he married Adelaide Losee

whose father worked as a stone cutter in Middle Village

and whose mother was a Remsen, one of the first families

to settle on Long Island. The Remsen family cemetery,

l735 to l790, is situated just off Woodhaven Boulevard

near Metropolitan Avenue. Colonel Remsen was Commander of

the American forces at the Battle of Long Island during

the Revolutionary War.

Now that he was home, Rodolphe worked in the family

business preparing "hooping" cough medication and an

effective pile remedy but the new Food and Drug

Administration began limiting access to some of the

ingredients, such as morphine, so the production of

remedies and elixirs was discontinued and a macaroni

factory was established at l06-l08 Furman Avenue.

Rey's macaroni factory may have been the first one of its

kind to be established in America. An l895 price list

shows that 25 pounds of packaged macaroni sold for 5 l/4

cents and 25 pounds in bulk was 4 l/2 cents. When Jean

Baptiste died around l895, at the age of 96, Mr. Rey was

the oldest inhabitant in the village.

Rodolphe Rey carried on the business. During l0 months of

the year that the factory was in operation, he used about

2,000 barrels of flour. Each pound of flour made a pound

of macaroni, so that fully 392,000 pounds of the food was

shipped every year to wholesale dealers exclusively.

Rodolphe and Adelaide had four children, Frank, Adelaide,

Bertha and Joseph Rodolphe, Jr. Rodolphe, Sr. became a

Trustee and Superintendent of the Sunday School, a

position he held for over 50 years. He also taught the

senior boys class and could hold the teenagers enthralled

with his stories of the Civil War.

Adelaide Rey passed away in l905. Rodolphe lived until

l926. He finally was awarded his Civil War pension of $50

a month in l920 and received it for the last five years of

his life.

J. Rodolphe Rey, Jr. married Helen (*Nellie) Wesser and

they had three sons; Durwood, Alfred and Milton. At

first, they lived on 79th Place but in l924 Rodolphe, Jr.

built an extension onto his father's house on 79th Street

and the young Rodolphe Rey family moved into the newly

created two family home. Al Rey had vivid memories of

climbing up on the roof where you could see the open

countryside for miles around. He remembered going to

Juniper Swamp to shoot muskrats for which he was paid l0

cents a piece. He remembered the huge turtle that was

found in the swamp and carted it off to Niedersteins to be

made into turtle soup. He also remembered the trip on the

trolley to Batterman's Department Store in Williamsburg.

Al worked each summer from the age of l2 until he was l5

years old for a Mr. Wilson who owned a ten acre farm on

80th Street across from P.S. 87, not a part of St. John's

Cemetery.

When he was old enough, Al learned the plumbing trade but

he developed an interest in being a fireman, perhaps

because of the admiration for his uncle, Fred Wesser, who

drove the horse drawn fire wagon for the Fearless Hook and

Ladder Company #7, located on Metropolitan Avenue across

from the Lutheran Cemetery.

Al married Josephine Giel in l938 and in l937 he became a

fireman. He retired in l970 after 32 years of service.

Al and Josephine had three children; Thomas, Mary Ann,

and Daniel. Thomas and Daniel both became firemen.

Daniel died tragically, in the line of duty, in October

l966. After this tragic loss, Al Rey was transferred from

his active duty as a fireman to the post of Curator of the

Fire Museum at l04 Duane Street in Manhattan. There his

life-long interest in history was put to very good use in

the service of the Fire Department and the City of New

York.