Niederstein’s Restaurant is located at what is now 69-16 Metropolitan Avenue near 69th Street in Middle Village. Years ago 69th Street was called Juniper Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue was the Williamsburgh & Jamaica Turnpike. Land at this intersection was valuable for a restaurant, hotel or tombstone yard. Isaac Ferguson, who lived in Middle Village and who made his living as a market man or trader, owned slightly more than one half acre near the intersection. He decided not to sell his land on the Turnpike to the Geissenhainers of Lutheran Cemetery as he thought it was worth more than they were willing to pay.
Isaac Ferguson sold about one third of an acre with a frontage of 169 feet to John Heuss for $1,500. Heuss made the purchase as an investment and also as a possible site for a tombstone yard. Ferguson retained ownership of about one quarter acre to the west of the land that he sold to Heuss.
Later John Heuss sold the land to Henry Schumacher, a saloon keeper from New York City. Schumacher was 27 years old and was a native of Wurtemberg, Germany. He had two saloons in Manhattan and was married to Catharina, age 23. Schumacher sold his saloons and paid Heuss $5,000 for the land. He built a two story wooden building on the site and established Schumacher’s Lager Beer Saloon and Hotel. As soon as the building was completed he moved his family to Middle Village.
In 1864 Ferguson sold the one quarter acre of land to the west of Schumacher’s Hotel with 101 feet frontage on the Turnpike, for $1,000 to John Heuss. Heuss established a tombstone yard on the site. The population of Middle Village was growing. Public transportation was available with the North Second Street and Middle Village Railroad operating horse drawn cars on steel rails from the ferry in Williamsburgh along the turnpike to Dry Harbor Road. Long Island farmers were bringing their fruits and vegetables by horse and wagon along the turnpike to the ferry landing where they were loaded aboard and crossed the East River to go to the Catherine Market in Manhattan. The farmers patronized the hotels along the Turnpike. Also burials were increasing in Lutheran Cemetery and funeral processions were stopping at the hotels after graveside services.
By 1868 Henry Schumacher decided to expand and he paid John Heuss $7,000 for the one quarter acre to the west of his hotel. Schumacher now had 270 feet frontage on the turnpike. By 1880 Henry Schumacher was 44 years old and his wife was 38. They had five children. Henry Schumacher died and his widow Catharina continued to operate the business with the help of her children. Eventually she married John Sutter, who had a tombstone yard.
In the spring of 1888 Catharina Sutter decided to sell the hotel and restaurant. John Niederstein, who operated a saloon and hotel in New York City, decided the business opportunities on Long Island were better than New York City and he purchased the premises on May 24, 1888 for $28,000.
As per the custom he made the purchase in his wife, Apolonia’s (Pauline) name. Saloon and hotel keepers usually held their property in their wife’s name to protect them from law suits.
Johann (John) Niederstein was born in Bonn, Prussia in 1838. As a young man he served as an apprentice cook in the kitchen of Frederick Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia. After his apprenticeship was completed, he was employed as the head cook at the Hotel Masquardt in Stuttgart. Prussia had military conscription and we believe that Johann served his term in the army when he was 20 years old. After he was released he became head cook at the Duval Restaurant in Stuttgart. In 1864 Prussia and Austria fought against Denmark and Johann was called to active duty. He was 26 years old.
When Johann Niederstein was 28 years old, he emigrated to America. He got a job as head cook at the Metropolitan Hotel and the same year he married Apolonia Bauer, also a native of Prussia. Between 1868 and 1888 he owned three or four saloons and hotels in New York City. He and his wife eventually had six children, three of whom died in infancy. A son, John was born in 1871 and another son, Louis, was born in 1873.
In 1880 John, Jr., who was nine years old, was sent by his parents to Germany to receive a proper education. He traveled alone on the steamer Elba to Bremen and then continued on to Bonn, which is on the Rhine River, where he attended school for four years. Another son, Richard, was born in 1881.
In 1884, John, Jr. who was now thirteen years old, returned home on the steamer, Westernland. He then helped his father manage the saloon and hotel. In early 1888 Johann Niederstein became aware that Catharina Sutter wanted to sell Schumacher’s Hotel in Middle Village. He bought it and moved his family to Middle Village.
Wallabout Market had opened in 1884 in Brooklyn and Long Island farmers no longer had to make the long trip to Manhattan to sell their produce. Accordingly some of the farmers preferred to take Myrtle Avenue to Wallabout Market rather than Metropolitan Avenue. This probably accounted for Catharina Sutter’s desire to sell. John Niederstein decided that one way to overcome this problem after he bought the hotel, was to cater to the funeral processions after the graveside services at St. John’s, Lutheran and Mount Olivet Cemeteries. One of the meals he featured was pot cheese with sour cream, boiled potatoes and chives. For the entertainment of children visiting his restaurant with their parents, he installed in the back of his hotel a small zoo with monkeys and bear.
In 1888 John, Jr. met Minnie Siebs. Romance blossomed and on October 28, 1890 they were married. He was 19 and she was 22. They had two children: Henrietta and another child who died in infancy. Minnie became ill and on March 10, 1895, she died.
About 1895 Louis Niederstein married Katherine Walter. They had four children: May who married Leo Koller, Louis, Adeline, who married Mr. Lardon and Gladys, who married Francis Ludes.
In 1896 New York State passed the Raines Law which restricted the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday to hotels, and then only when served during a meal, or in the bedrooms of the hotel. Because most men worked a full six day week, Sunday was the only day for rest and relaxation and it was a big day for the saloons. As a result of this law a number of saloons became hotels by adding small furnished bedrooms.
On March 25, 1896 John, Jr. married Louise Reimers and a few days later his father turned over to him the active management of the restaurant and hotel, Apolonia and John, Sr. continued to live at the hotel along with nine of the hired help. John, Jr. increased the number of bedrooms to 32 and called it the Grand Hotel. Eventually, John and Louise had two children, Maxine and Lillie. In the early 1900’s as gas lines were laid along Metropolitan Avenue, gas lights were installed, replacing the kerosene lamps. Gas was also used for cooking.
In 1903 Richard Niederstein married Grace Reimers and he continued to help John run the hotel and restaurant. Richard and Grace had a son, Karl. Apolonia died in 1903 and John, Sr. died in 1905.
In 1904 the Bruckner Company installed a “central air conditioning” system to cool the restaurant during the hot summer months, one of the first of its kind. A large motor in the basement turned a heavy leather belt which ran through an opening in the ceiling to the main floor where (driven by elaborate series of mechanical drive shafts and belts mounted on the ceiling of the main floor) two bladed fans mounted on the ceiling in the restaurant rotated to cool the premises for the comfort of the patrons.
John Niederstein, in addition to running the hotel and restaurant, also operated the Prospect Park Hotel near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. John became actively involved in the Democratic Party in Queens County. In 1906 he and his brother, Louis, deeded to their brother, Richard, their share of Niederstein’s Hotel and Restaurant.
Subsequently John was elected County Clerk for Queens County in 1910 John died at the age of 40. In 1920 Henrietta Gabriel, daughter of Minnie and John, purchased Niederstein’s from Grace Niederstein for $18,000. With the decline in the use of horse and wagon by farmers to bring their produce to market, and the change to gasoline engine trucks which moved at much higher speeds, the hotel trade that catered to the farmers fell off sharply. It was no longer necessary for a farmer to stay overnight at a hotel as he journeyed from his farm and back.
In addition when prohibition started in January 1920 this affected Niederstein’s as it became more difficult to make an adequate profit without serving alcoholic beverages.
In 1927 Adeline Niederstein, cousin of Henrietta, started working at Niederstein’s. She was 24 years old. In 1940 Henrietta decided to lease it to her cousin, May Koller. In 1946 May Koller, with the permission of her cousin, Henrietta, sublet the premises to her cousin, Adeline Niederstein Larden and Marie Burke.
In 1969 Henrietta sold Niederstein’s Restaurant to Rainer Realty Corp. (Horst and Reiner Herink) they hired Agusta & Agusta, architects from Glendale, to draw up plans to modernize the building. The porch facing Metropolitan Avenue was enclosed, a new bar room and reception area was built, modern rest rooms and a modern kitchen were installed and the ceiling fans (with the exception of a few that were left for nostalgia) were replaced with a modern air conditioning system. The restaurant reopened in March, 1970. Adeline Niederstein Lardon for several years continued to greet guests at the restaurant.