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Queens Chronicle

Signage will explain 1600s millstones

Historical society wonders if plaques will attract vandals

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Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:03 am, Thu Sep 13, 2012.

The public will soon know the historical significance of the two Colonial-era stones embedded in Queens Plaza, with the installation of plaques, said a Parks Department spokesman.

The 250-foot-wide triangular plaza at the base of the Queensboro Bridge at the junction of Northern and Queens boulevards is filled with flowers, grass, walking paths, benches and the two historical landmarks — the millstones. The busy Queens Plaza gets substantial foot traffic from the surrounding businesses, and employees from large employers such as JetBlue and the city’s Department of Heath located in the vicinity frequent the outdoor space.

“I’ve never noticed them,” one woman from the DOH said last Friday afternoon while sitting in the plaza.

The Economic Development Corp. was in charge of putting the stones in their new home, but the city’s Parks Department is taking the lead on signage. Plaques that describe the historical importance of the millstones will be submitted to the Public Design Committee this fall, a Parks Department spokesman said, with the hopes that they will be in the plaza by the end of the year.

“There’s some signage coming,” said Jerry Walsh, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association. “They are working on that now.”

According to historians, the stones date back to 1650, when Dutch settler Burger Jorissen constructed a gristmill near present-day Northern Boulevard between 40th Road and 41st Avenue. In 1861, it was razed to make way for the Long Island Rail Road.

The stones were then moved to the nearby Payntar farmhouse, until around 1920, when the expansion of Queens Plaza caused the farmhouse to be torn down. At that time, the stones were cemented into the sidewalk at the plaza’s eastern end. The most recent move came this past spring when the millstones were taken to the newly renovated plaza. The plaques are the next step.

However, Bob Singleton, executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, isn’t sure that pointing out the relics is such a good idea.

“We have mixed feelings about the signage,” he said. “It would be good to mention their importance, but on the other hand calling attention to these irreplaceable artifacts could be an invitation for vandalism.”

Singleton would like to see fake millstones with plaques put in the plaza so that passersby could learn their history. The real stones could be housed in the GAHS building away from the elements.

“They have suffered substantial wear and tear over the last decades,” he said.

One stone has asphalt in its center and the other has a chunk of concrete attached to its side.

When EDC spokeswoman Jennifer Friedberg was asked if the stones would ever be moved, she said the relics were in the Parks Department jurisdiction; however, the Parks Department said that the EDC would be in charge of a move.

And the Dutch Kills Civic Association is glad that they seem to be in the plaza for good.

“Queens Plaza is where they belong,” Walsh said.

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