Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Cyclone that Struck Woodhaven

. Thursday, July 2, 2015

It came from the west, through East New York and Cypress Hills. The force of the winds uprooted trees and toppled tombstones in the cemetery before descending its force upon Woodhaven. It was just after 4 in the afternoon and in the space of just a few minutes, the storm would cut a path of destruction with tragic results.

It was 120 years ago this month, July 13, 1895, and Woodhaven was still renowned for its racetrack, though it had closed over 40 years earlier. In those days, much of Woodhaven north consisted of open farmland. Woodhaven south was more densely populated, with buildings, factories and a large recently-constructed school.

The storm appeared with no warning, first striking Woodhaven at Jamaica Avenue and Elderts Lane, near the home for truants (future home of Franklin K. Lane High School). Passengers on the Brooklyn, Queens County and Suburban Railroad, which had just been electrified the year before, huddled inside their derailed cars as telegraph and trolley poles came crashing down around them.

Images of Woodhaven from the damage wrought by a July 1893 cyclone. Images of Woodhaven from the damage wrought by a July 1893 cyclone. The storm cloud, which was estimated to cover an area of 300 square yards, moved swiftly south injuring residents who were being battered by a massive amount of debris that was flying through the air. Once the storm began to hit the houses in Woodhaven, the debris that began to fly became decidedly more dangerous.

Eyewitnesses described the cloud as massive and dark, and some said it was shaped like a funnel. Many others described a soft red glow within the cloud. They said that trees and chimneys were ripped from their foundations and flew through the air as if they were no heavier than feathers. Several persons found themselves lifted off their feet and carried through the air, landing a block or two away.

This office building at the corner of 83rd Street and Rockaway Boulevard Ozone Park stands in place of the former P.S. 59. This office building at the corner of 83rd Street and Rockaway Boulevard Ozone Park stands in place of the former P.S. 59. Newspaper accounts at the time described one woman who was in an outhouse at the time the storm struck. The outhouse was ripped from the ground and hurled a full block away. The poor woman was carried away with the outhouse, and was flung away from it before it crashed to the ground. That she suffered only a cut on her forehead was rightfully described as a miracle.

The worst scene of destruction was at the newly built two-story brick schoolhouse at University Place (present-day 95th Avenue) and Rockaway Road (today, Rockaway Boulevard). P.S. 59 had been built in 1890 on land purchased from manufacturer Florian Grosjean, whose legendary factory and clocktower still stands on the border of Woodhaven and Ozone Park.

The roof of the schoolhouse was ripped off and the upper half of the building collapsed. “I could see flying bricks and debris of all kinds, and then the whole landscape was obscured by clouds of dust,” said one eyewitness. “Great beams and roofs blew about for the space of fully half a minute.”
Only that this storm struck on a Saturday prevented this from being a far more tragic tale. No one was injured inside the collapsed school building. Outside, however, was a different story.

One block east of the school, at 3rd Avenue (84th Street) and Rockaway Boulevard, 16-year-old newlywed Louise Petroquien was at her sewing machine when she heard the commotion outside. Looking out the window, she saw the massive dark cloud overhead and ran outside to warn her mother.

She emerged from a side doorway but before she could shout out a warning, a large beam torn from the roof of P.S. 59 slammed into her head and neck, killing her instantly. It was her mother, returning after the storm had passed, who found her daughter’s body next to the steps leading to their home.

The storm moved south and out toward Jamaica Bay, leaving an eerie silence amidst the massive amount of destruction in its wake. Although there were close to 150 home damaged, accounts vary on how many homes were completely destroyed, and the number is probably somewhere between 15 and 30. in In the days following the storm, over 100,000 people came to Woodhaven via the Long Island Rail Road on Atlantic Avenue to view the damage. While locals bustled about, clearing away debris, visitors dropped coins and bills into barrels set up for the close to 300 people who lost everything, or nearly everything, to the storm.

The main attraction for the visitors, however, seemed to be the home of Ms. Petroquien. The family permitted visitors to enter her home, through the door which she had rushed out of, stepping over the spot where she lost her life. They were led into the parlor where they could view and pay respects to the young bride, who was lying in a rosewood coffin under a large pile of flowers.

For over 100 years, stories looking back on the storm of 1895 have referred to Louise Petroquien as the sole fatality from Woodhaven. However, one small victim of that storm has been consistently forgotten over the past century — 5-year-old Johnny Kolb.

The boy had been playing on Atlantic and Rockaway when the storm hit and afterward he was discovered lying under the rubble by P.S. 59 School Superintendent William F. Buckley. Buckley was also a member of the Woodhaven Volunteer Fire Department and had heard the cries for help from the young boy. He carried Johnny Kolb inside where a doctor examined him and found that the boy had broken both an arm and a leg.

However, the next day, his condition took a turn for the worse and he passed away, bringing the number of Woodhaven fatalities to two. Louise Petroquien and Johnny Kolb were buried in Cypress Hills cemetery on the same day.

Today, the intersection of 83rd Street and Rockaway Boulevard is now part of Ozone Park. There is nothing to indicate that this was once the scene of a powerful and destructive storm. An office building stands where the school once sat; for many years, this building was well known as a Friendly Frost appliance store.

What happened there 120 years ago serves as a reminder that we are forever at the mercy of nature and its tendency to humble us without warning.

Re-printed from the Times News Weekly (


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Queens Timeline 1642 - 1923

. Sunday, December 6, 2009

Union Course Race Track 1821

Beginnings of the towns of Queens

1642...Dutch charter issued (for Queens), revoked in 1645.
1645.Oct. 10...Town of Flushing (Dutch name Vlissengen).
1645...Settlement at Tew's Neck (College Point)
1652...Maspeth colony relocated further inland. Initally called
Middleburgh later Newtown and now Elmhurst.
1655...Town of Jamaica (Rustdorp).
1656.Mar.21...Charter for Jamaica.
1670...Settlement of Little Neck (Cornburg & Little Madnanas Neck).
1683...Queens County charted. Named for Catherine of Braganza,
Queen Consort of Charles II, embraced all of Nassau County,
including, Hempstaed & Oyster Bay.
1814...Jamaica became the 1st Incorporated Village on Long Island.
1821...Union Course Race Track laid out. (Woodhaven).
1825...Eclipse or Centerville Race Course laid out, east on Woodhaven Blvd.
1839...Astoria is issued a charter.
1840-50...Middle Village
1852...Laurel Hill
1854...Winfield (Lost it's identity to Woodside in the 20th c.)
1854...West Flushing (Corona).
1867...College Point incorporated. A merger of College Point,
Flammersburg, & Strattonport.
1869...Richmond Hill
1869...Whitestone Incorporated.
1870.May 4...Long Island City Incorporated. (Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point,
Dutch Kills, Blissville, Middletown, Bowery Bay).
1871...Queens Village begun.
1872...West Flushing became Corona.
1872...Douglaston (originally laid out in 1835)
1882...Ozone Park laid out.
1884...Morris Park
1884-5...Hollis developed. (was East Jamaica)
1887...John Lewis Child settled in Hinsdale & founded a nursery so
big the town changed it's name to Floral Park.
1892...Edgemere developed (as New Venice).
1897...Elmhurst... (Newtown Hill)
1898...The borough of Queens created. Flushing, Newtown, Jamaica,
and the Rockaway Peninsula.
1892...St. Alban's laid out. (was Francis Farm).
1901...Auburdale divided from 90 acre farm of Thomas Willets.
1906...Beechhurst laid out, formerly Whitestone Landing.
1906...Forest Hills, originally White Pot.
1901...Belle Harbor
1907-11...South Ozone Park
1908...Sub dividision of Kissena Park laid out.
1909-16...Jackson Heights
1911-12...Howard Beach
1912...Kew Gardens, originally Hopedale.
1920...Cambria Heights begun, named in 1924.
1923...Rego Park, (acronym for Real Good Construction Co.)

The above information was from reserach Guide to the History of the Borough of Queens and it's neighbors. Put out by the Queens Tricentennial...Hewlett Library.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lalance & Grosjean Stamped Tin Factory

. Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lalance & Grosjean Stamped Tin Factory

In 1850, Florian Grosjean started a small importing business in New York City and partnered with Charles Lalance. Grosjean brought in sheet metal and cooking utensils from Europe, when the American hardware market was dominated by manufactured goods from Europe. Lalance and Grosjean opened a small pioneer factory in New York City and finding themselves successful, were forced to look for a larger facility.

In 1860, Grosjean began purchasing real estate in Woodhaven and gradually accumulated lots in the original Sharpe Chisel factory block through the beginning of 1866. This area is described as being between Atlantic and 95th Avenues, 91st and 92nd Streets and is known today as Ozone Park.

The Lalance and Grosjean factory started a great growth period of Woodhaven Village. As the factory grew, so did the thriving community. Hotels, shops, churches, a market and a school were established in the village. By 1873 the village of Woodhaven was important by Long Island standards.

In 1876 a devastating fire consumed all the wooden buildings of the Lalance and Grosjean plant. The setback was only temporary and was rebuilt with modernizing and enlarging the facilities. Lalance and Grosjean was said to be the most popular cooking utensil company in the United States with an international market as well.

By 1882, the factory employed 500 people. The village of Woodhaven was comprised of about 175 houses and had a population of 1,122. By 1893, the population had climbed to 6,000 people supported by 14 churches and 4 schools.

By 1899, Woodhaven Village would have registered the largest expansion of its population when Lalance and Grosjean increased the number of their employees from 1,300 to 2,100.

In the late 1920's Lalance and Grosjean switched their production line from the original enameled "agateware" to a newly popular type of kitchen utensil called "Crusader Ware". In order to accomplish this changeover, nearly all of the original factory machinery was replaced with new equipment.

In 1955, Lalance and Grosjean went out of business after nearly a century of manufacturing in Queens County. The unused buildings still stand today as what is now know as Ozone Park.

Lalance & Grosjean Kitchen Utensils

Credits: Queens Historical Society, Ellen Fletcher Rosebrock, Queensboro Public Library