This week’s selected photo hangs on the wall at the Greater Astoria Historical Society in Queens.
The view looks north towards Bowery Bay from the community of Steinway, a “company town” in northern Astoria. A convenient old map matches the 1869 landscape above. Berrian’s Island is on the far left while Rikers Island is on the far right.
Where it was
Relying on an 1891 map for a view of the vicinity, Steinway appears to the north of Astoria, a unit within Long Island City (LIC), the short-lived municipality formed in 1875 with the merger of Dutch Kills, Hunters Point, Ravenswood, Astoria, and Steinway.
LIC was absorbed into New York City in 1898. It became just another neighborhood, but one whose name has “city” in it, preserving a small measure of civic independence. Other examples within NYC include Grant City on Staten Island; Starrett City in Brooklyn, and City Island and Co-op City in the Bronx. But LIC alone has the distinction of actually having been an incorporated city at one time.
The neighborhood of Steinway was founded around 1870, when William Steinway relocated his Steinway & Sons piano manufacturing firm to Luyster Creek. Steinway’s village housed nearly 400 workers in Victorian style townhouses along a street named after Steinway. The village had a free kindergarten, public library, and the Steinway Reformed Church at 41st Street and Ditmars Boulevard. Steinway also funded a trolley line linking the village to Astoria and the ferry to Manhattan. To the east of the village, Steinway funded North Beach, an amusement park that later became the site of LaGuardia Airport. The piano factory offers tours by reservation.
What’s there today
The only remnant of the tidal creek that separated Luyster Island and Berrian’s Island from the mainland of Queens is a channel flowing between the Steinway property and the Astoria Generating Station. With so much security around the power plant, the only publicly accessible point on its shoreline is a dead end on 19th Avenue one block west of 36th Street, where the avenue hits the stream.
I covered the pre-Steinway history of Luyster Creek and Bowery Bay including the nearby Steinway Mansion back in 2010 for Forgotten-NY.
Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman visited Luyster Creek in 2013, writing about its dangerously polluted water.
Since then, I learned a few additional elements about this forgotten corner of Queens, including the namesake of Berrian’s Island. At the stream’s western mouth was Berrian’s Island. The Berriens were French Huguenots who settled in the Netherlands and later relocated to New York. Settler Corneulius Berrien purchased the island in 1727 was buried on the island four decades later. The family cemetery has long disappeared and the island is fused to the mainland as part of the Astoria Generating Station.
What it could be
In 2011, the nonprofit organizations Green Shores NYC and Trust for Public Land proposed a waterfront plan for Long Island City and Astoria that would create a boat launch at the dead end of 19th Avenue at Luyster Creek.
Other than colorful renderings of the proposed dock, there has not been any momentum to push the project forward. In contrast to Newtown Creek, this stream is isolated from residential and commercial centers, far from public transportation, too close to security-risk sites, and severely polluted. The scene above will not likely become reality for a long time.
In the news:
DNAinfo reports on the difficulties involving land acquisition for Bushwick Inlet Park in Brooklyn.
This Sunday July 10 at 11 a. m., there will be free public tours of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as part of the volunteer docent program.