Ascan William Christian Backus (originally Backhaus) was born in Saxe-Gotha, Germany in 1814 and landed in America at the age of 15 in 1829. He and his older brother, Charles, who had arrived a year earlier in New York, farmed the land that later became Old Calvary Cemetery in Woodside.
Whenever he had enough money saved, Backus would buy another farm. He was known as “The King Farmer” of Long Island. His homestead was at the northeast corner of Queens Boulevard and 69th Road, in what was then called Whitepot.
His first son, John E. Backus, born in 1846, was the first deputy bridge commissioner of Queens and was involved in the construction of the Queensboro Bridge linking Queens and Manhattan in 1909.
Ascan’s other son, Frederick, born in 1850, lived his entire life at the big homestead on the boulevard. He switched from farming to real estate in 1897 and soon joined forces with another German, Cord (Cordt) Meyer. Backus and Meyer began development in Whitepot and renamed the area Forest Hills.
Frederick had a son, Ascan II, born in 1878 and named in honor of his immigrant grandfather. In 1909, when Frederick Backus cut a road from Queens Boulevard to Metropolitan Avenue, he named it Ascan Avenue, also in memory of his father the farming king.
Frederick Backus died at home at age 86 on Feb. 14, 1937. Viewing services were conducted there. Neither Ascan II nor his sister, Wilhelmina, ever married. Wilhelmina died at age 62 in 1940 and Ascan II in August 1948. They too were laid out at the family home at 104-55 Queens Blvd.
A mysterious fire engulfed the house in 1950 and it was razed, with a shopping center, still there today, quickly taking its place.
Members of the Backus family are buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, where their plots are among the highlights of the tours of historical figures’ graves.