• McKinley is inaugurated as President of the United States.
• College basketball is born
• The first US Marathon is held in Boston
• Grant’s Tomb is dedicated
• Brooklyn born Wee Willie Keeler hits .424 for the Baltimore Orioles.
• “Dracula” is first published
• “Peter Pan” opens in New York
• The New York Times adopts the motto “All the news that’s fit to print”
• The movie camera is patented
• And on December 31st Queens County mourns its becoming part of Greater New York City.
Oh, and my family sets up housekeeping on Vienna Avenue which later became Winifred Street and then 62nd Road in Middle Village.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, East Williamsburg was becoming too crowded and noisy for my great grandparents, John and Rosina Landsiedel. He had emigrated from Hochspeyer, Germany, in the late 1870’s and procured employment at the Bossert Lumber Company, the largest in the city of Brooklyn. He eventually rose to foreman of the firm and was successful enough to handily support his spouse and five young children. With a growing family, they needed to escape the suffocating Catherine Street apartment they occupied. After much searching they purchased a home of their own, a two-story four-room home in Middle Village, two blocks off of the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Metropolitan Avenue.
He chose the area because of the relatively easy commute to work at Union and Johnson Avenues via the Metropolitan Avenue trolley and because of the constant flow of healthy air from the south provided by Atlantic Ocean breezes colliding with the terminal moraine in Cypress Hills, a natural relief from the summer heat.
The property was expansive and allowed the family to have a large garden, chickens, goats and a milk cow. Water was drawn from a pump located at the kitchen tub. The main floor was heated by steam generated by a coal-fired furnace in the small basement. The warm air then rose to the second floor through registers located in the ceiling. Every night in the winter, John had to descend into the basement and bank the furnace. This chore consisted of closing the air vents so only a slight draft entered and covering the hot embers with a layer of new coal which, if done properly, would burn until the morning. He’d always bring his pipe with him to enjoy a final bowl of tobacco before retiring. The morning would bring another visit to the furnace to open the vents, rake the coals, remove ash and add more coal.
The first floor contained a large kitchen where the family congregated and ate their meals and a smaller formal parlor where they entertained guests. The second floor contained a master bedroom and a larger bedroom shared by the five children – and soon to be sixth – in 1903. There wasn’t a restroom but an outhouse located in the rear of the yard.
The children were healthy, made lifelong friends in the sparsely settled neighborhood, received a solid education at PS 71 on Forest Avenue and some secondary education at Newtown High School. They attended Sunday Mass and made their first communion and confirmation at St. Stanislaus in Maspeth.
Life was very good and my great aunts, uncles and grandmother had an idyllic life in then bucolic Middle Village.
As time journeyed forth, the children grew. The boys found trades – one actually ran away and joined the circus – and the girls remained at home, helping their increasing ill mother keep house. In nineteen-eleven, my great-grandmother passed away, leaving a hole in the family home that wouldn’t be filled for five years until the arrival of grandchildren.
Several years later, worry again filled the home with the advent of World War One. Three of the boys served in the Army: two fought in France and Germany and the other was stationed in the west. All returned home safely but one of them suffered exposure to mustard gas which affected him throughout his remaining years.
In the late nineteen-teens my great-grandfather purchased a large lot adjacent to his property and made plans to erect his retirement home. It was to be a two-family frame home with a large basement, an attached greenhouse, a three car garage and an even larger garden than before. However the chickens, goats and cow made a permanent exit at this time.
Being foreman of Bossert Lumber, he possessed knowledge of the construction disciplines and acted as his own general contractor. His employer gave him a very good deal on all needed lumber and his son-in-law manufactured the cement blocks for the foundation and garage. He recruited the males of his family to assist in the digging of the basement which was accomplished by pick, shovel and a team of horses attached to a medieval dirt scoop. This unbelievable feat was accomplished in a weekend.
John, three of his sons and a daughter moved into the first floor and hall bedroom. His other daughter (my grandmother), her husband (my grandfather), and their children (my father and his brother) moved into the second floor.
Life went on, and they suffered through the Great Depression as did most. In the mid nineteen-thirties, John became ill and expired at age 74. Before he passed, he and my father planted two London Plane trees in front of the house where they majestically continue to rise to this day.
My great aunt and her husband purchased the house from her siblings and my father’s family continued to reside in the upstairs apartment. After several years, my grandmother fell ill and passed away while another war introduced itself to our nation. My father, already in the service, and his brother were assigned to officers’ candidate school and then sent to Africa and Europe. Both served honorably and were discharged as captains.
Post war, my father and his brother returned home to find that their father had remarried and moved to a different home in the neighborhood. My father joined his dad in the florist business and soon married a local girl. My sister and I were born in quick succession and we lived on sixty-second avenue around the corner from the family homestead. In the early 1950s, my great aunt informed my dad that a two-family home on the block was for sale at a good price. He and my mom purchased the house and we resided there for eight years before they purchased a one-family across the street where we remained for another eight years.
At the age of eight I was relegated to lawn mowing, street sweeping, leaf collection and snow shoveling under my great aunt’s ever watchful glaze. In the late 1960s, her health began to fail and she quietly passed away in her home of almost fifty years on the block where she resided for seventy-two years. Her will decreed that my father would be the one to purchase the house from her estate which he gladly did. The house of my father’s dreams and desires, the house he was raised in and that his grandfather built, finally became his.
He made many improvements without affecting the integrity of the structure and relished work in the impressive garden growing copious amounts of every type of vegetable imaginable. He also raised flowers in the greenhouse as his grandfather did. They rejoiced with the birth of grandchildren and entertained family and friends in their home and on their beloved brick patio. My parents loved their life there for the remainder of their years.
My special attachment to 62nd road and Middle Village remains today. My grandmother, my father and I grew up on the same street, I maintain the same structure my great-grandfather built, walk the same sidewalks and breathe the same backyard breeze my family has for parts of three centuries.
But now it’s time to leave and I am sure the next family to occupy this beautiful dwelling will develop and share the same emotional attachment to it that I have.