Over 350 years ago, land was cheap around here. Land could be bought for a song and a dance…or at least for a shilling or two.
When James Way came to America, he decided to settle in Newtown. Along with 51 other families, he participated in the Newtown Indian Purchase of 1656 where, for two shillings, he purchased two acres of land. The land was at the western end of Maspeth and bordered on Newtown Creek. When Mr. Way lived there, the creek was a stream filled with clear water and bountiful with fish.
The Way family originally came from Somersetshire, England. They had lived there since the time of William the Conqueror and were an aristocratic family. So James continued to enjoy his elevated place in society with his large land holdings in Newtown, and later with an elected position, when his fellow residents elected him town overseer in 1676. James, together with three other men, was responsible for, among other things, advising the other residents on how to teach their children and servants about religion and laws, offering advice about the potential for future employment for the children. The town overseers were sort of a moral and spiritual police, assuring that the townspeople towed the line. They were also responsible for appointing the meat and fish inspectors.
It is interesting to note that James Way was a Quaker. His father initially left England because they were not permitted to practice this religion there. But in Newtown, he could do so freely and without admonishment or punishment from the other residents.
James Way had six children; James, Francis, John, Hannah, Elizabeth and Martha. A short time before he died, James gave half of his entire estate to his son John. The other half went to his wife and would go to John once his wife died or remarried (which she did, in 1713). In addition to his father's lands John also acquired land from his sister Elizabeth's husband, Arthur in 1683. This inheritance consisted of 50 acres of land and a house on the property that is now Calvary Cemetery. John Way lived in this house until he inherited his father's property. He married Sarah in 1687 and also had six children; Elizabeth, John, Samuel, Sarah, Mary and James.
His son James married into the Alsop family, another prosperous family in this area. James amassed a large fortune with his inheritance and investments. A large portion of this fortune was left to his fellow Quakers. James was a prominent member of the group and generous supporter. The local Quaker meeting house during James' time was at the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Queens Boulevard.
In 1760 the Quakers decided to move their meeting house from Queens Boulevard to Maspeth. James gave them the land at Fresh Pond Road between Maspeth Avenue and Grand Avenue.
James died in 1788. In his will, he left 1,000 pounds to the Quaker Society in Maspeth, and an additional 1,000 pounds to establish a charity school in charge of the Quaker Society. He also gave the Quakers 13 acres of land next to their meeting house and 10 additional acres at another location. He gave his grandson, Thomas, 500 pounds and several houses and acres of land. To his brother John, he gave 50 acres of land with houses.
John gave his grandfather's lands to his cousin Samuel, who held this land until his death in 1798 when the land passed to his only child, his daughter Jane. In 1815 after almost 200 years of the property belonging to the Way family, the land passed out of the family and was purchased by Judge Garret Furman.
Throughout the many generations, the Way family lived in Maspeth, but some of them made Middle Village their home, or operated their business here. The property at what is now 78-30 Metropolitan Avenue was registered under Oscar B. Way Realty in 1926.
Another famous home in Middle Village, the Morrell House, went from the Morrell family to the Way family.
The property on the southwest corner of Fresh Pond Road and Metropolitan Avenue, now a convenience store and Long Island Railroad land, was in 1862 owned by Joseph H. Way. This land was part of the Charles F. Way Farm, which included 36 acres and which Charles Way purchased in 1811 for 750 pounds.
Another property owned by Samuel Way is the current C-Town at 75-43 Metropolitan Avenue. Samuel built his Brick Tavern here in 1845. The Tavern was three stories high and very sturdy, its foundation over one foot thick. It also had a basement for storage. The tavern was on the first floor and the sleeping quarters were on the second and third floors, 22 bedrooms in all. Each room had chamber pots, but there was a bathroom on both the second and third floor, equipped with a tin bathtub, the first on Long Island. Cold water was pumped into the bathrooms from a well in the rear of the property, but hot water still had to be heated on the stove in the kitchen and brought up by buckets to fill the tubs.
Samuel Way died in 1848 and his executors rented The Brick Tavern out. During the Civil War, the basement of the Tavern was used briefly to house confederate prisoners. (Authors note: I would imagine that the basement of C-Town is still the same basement the building had in 1848. If walls could talk, the stories they might tell..)
In 1868 The Brick Tavern was sold to John Schneider of Middle Village for $4,000 and it was renamed the Middle Village Hotel. John Schneider was the grandfather of Joseph Seiz, another well-known family in Middle Village. It remained in the Seiz family until 1910 when Andrew Seiz decided to change it into an apartment. It stood that way until 1940, when the Building Department advised Joseph Seiz, Andrew's son, that the building did not meet code, and that new plumbing had to be installed. Joseph decided that, with 1 foot thick walls, it was not cost-effective to install new plumbing and tore it down in 1941. Ten years later, Joseph sold the property to Bohack and the property became a supermarket. The bricks from the Tavern were used to build the apartment building that is directly behind C-Town now.
John B. Way, born in 1843, lived to be 93 years old and voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1864, remaining a life-long Republican. He was born in Newtown and moved to Jamaica, making his home at 92-15 172 Street. He was also a Republican County Committeeman and election inspector.
Oscar Way was a resident of Middle Village. He lived to be 88 and was known primarily for his historical pursuits and antiquarian interests.
A very prosperous family indeed, and very important to the development of some of the properties here in Middle Village.
Dorothy Speer contributed to this story.