The photo above with its rustic windmill and weathered farmhouse could be in Kansas or upstate New York. But if you look closely, in the background behind the windmill, high rise apartment buildings dot the landscape, not forests or other farms. We’re not in Kansas. We’re in New York City. The farm in the photograph is in Floral Park, Queens. This is a photograph of the Queens County Farm Museum. This is the largest tract of undisturbed farmland in the entire city, and has been a working farm continuously since 1697. Hard to believe, and even more astounding that not all that many people know about it.
1697- that’s 317 years. For America, that’s the equivalent of medieval times. While this may be a tourist attraction and an anomaly now, this is what vast portions of Queens looked like, right on up to the turn of the 20th century. For some parts of Queens, this farm is typical of life up until after World War II. Queens was the breadbasket of New York City, the borough of farms.
It makes sense, this was rich land; carved, flattened and enriched by glacial activity and the receding ocean. The Native Americans lived well off this land, and when the Dutch and English took over, they established farms, both large and small. As soon as there were decent roads, farmers began taking their produce to market, crossing Brooklyn to get to the piers at Fulton Landing, or going across Queens to the piers in what is now Long Island City. From both locations, goods could be brought to Manhattan, or sold to local wholesale merchants.
The farm first belonged to the Adriance family. They farmed here from 1697 to 1808. Elbert Adriance bought the land from John Harrison in 1697, and farmed here until his death in 1704, when the land was passed to his son, Rem. In total, five generations of Adriances farmed here. In 1772, the third generation of Adriances, in the person of Jacob, built the earliest portions of the house that is known as the Adriance farmhouse. It was originally a three room house. Jacob and his wife Catherine did not have any children, so upon Jacob’s death in 1797, the house was sold to his nephew, Hendrick Brinkerhoff.
Hendrick’s son Albert was the last Adriance to own the house. He sold the farm to John Bennum in 1808. Two owners later, in 1833, the farm now belonged to Peter Cox. His family owned it for most of the rest of the 19th century. They were very successful farmers, and it was Peter Cox who enlarged the farmhouse in 1855, doubling the space. This is the house we see today. Peter’s son Henry was ahead of his time, and ushered in a period of great success for the farm.
In 1872, he joined the Queens Agricultural Society, which introduced farmers to modern farming methods and crops. Taking their advice, Henry began concentrating on market-garden crops, doing so a good ten years ahead of everyone else. The result was phenomenal. By 1879 he was the largest market-garden producer in Queens County, which at that time included what is now Nassau County. He got out at the top of his game, selling the farm in 1892 for $20,000. The buyer was Daniel Stattel.
The Stattel’s were professional farmers. By the dawn of the 20th century, they had continued Henry Cox’s market-garden crops and were now the second largest farm in Queens, and came in first in terms of total profitability. The Stattel’s were farming during the “golden age” of truck farming, also called market gardening, where Queens and Long Island farmers send truckloads after truckloads of farm produce to the wholesale markets of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.
Daniel Stattel built the windmill now on the property, and he also introduced the most modern farming technology to the farm. He improved the farm’s buildings, added new outbuildings, and bought new farm equipment. In 1919, Daniel’s son Daniel purchased the farm from his father, and continued to farm it until 1926. The Stattel’s were the last private owners of the farm. Their descendants still come to the museum and have contributed vast amounts of historic and family information to add to the history of this remarkable place.
By the end of the 1920s, most of the farms in Queens were fast disappearing, as developers bought farm after farm to create new communities, and new towns within the borough. Daniel Stattel, although sitting on a very valuable farm, couldn’t resist the offer, and sold the farm in 1926 to a developer named Pauline Reisman. She did not break it up into lots, but immediately flipped it to Creedmoor State Hospital, which wanted the farm as occupational therapy for its patients, and as a source for vegetables and fruit to feed the institution, and to grow ornamental plants for transplant to other parts of the large institution.
Creedmoor kept the farmhouse, but tore down all of the other outbuildings, replacing them with 1930s buildings that better suited their needs. The hospital owned and worked the farm until 1975. During that time, it was known as the Creedmoor Farm Complex. In 1975, the State deeded it to the New York City Department of Parks for the specific purpose of establishing a museum.
Today, the farm consists of 47 acres of land, surrounding the Adriance Farmhouse, which was landmarked by the city, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Other historic farm buildings are on site, as well as many of the 1930s buildings built by Creedmoor. Most historic farm museums only have Colonial or Victorian era buildings, but the QCFM is unique in utilizing all of the periods of the farm’s history in its farm and museum operations. The farm also has a greenhouse complex.
Today’s farm also has sheep, goats, chickens and other livestock, planting fields, and orchard, those aforementioned greenhouses, an herb garden, and all kinds of farm vehicles and equipment. It’s the longest continuously farmed site in New York State. Fruits and vegetables grown here are sold on site and in New York City. They also sell honey, herbs and eggs. Vegetables, flowers and herbs are sold at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays, and produce is also sold to restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Anything left over is donated to City Harvest and community food banks. The money goes back into the farm. Needless to say, the entire operation is operated on sustainable practices, including composting, and is pesticide free.
The Museum has all kinds of interesting programs for school children and adults. The various exhibits in the museum chronicle the history of the farm, farming in Queens and the growth of the borough. Children can see how the plants are grown, can help out under supervision, and watch various farm tasks and chores. This time of year, they have hayrides, cider pressings and kids can pick pumpkins in the farm’s pumpkin patch. There are also adult programs.
Please check the Queens County Farm Museum’s website for more details and directions. The farm museum is located at 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, in Floral Park. Where else are you going to find a farm only a subway and bus ride away? This is the best time of year to enjoy the harvest, pet the animals, and walk around a real working farm. So go!
(Photo:Jim Henderson for Wikipedia)