The Newtown Pentacle

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LIC Millstones updates

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To begin with, the so-called “LIC Millstones” are a pair of colonial era industrial artifacts, which have incontrovertibly survived into modernity- in Queens. Quite a controversy is afoot about them, which I’ve been actively involved in. Recent developments bear some attention, and the whole story needs a roundup:

First, an explanation of the importance of these items- from a Newtown Pentacle posting of 3/23/10

I’ve been helping out on the fledgling LIC Millstones blog, and have just uploaded a little history lesson from Bob Singleton of the Greater Astoria Historical Society that explains just what the heck a millstone is and why it matters that a significant and totemic piece of Queens from the colonial days is sitting in a construction zone in Queens Plaza. Here’s the vid:

Second, from an LIC Millstones Blog posting of 3/18/10, by your humble narrator:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, after all the noise and argumentative tumult of a public meeting- here’s where the LIC Millstones are being stored. Rephrase that as where they’re being left.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Are due diligence and respect being paid to these historic artifacts? What else, all around our community, is being treated so roughly?

Third, from an LIC Millstones Blog posting of 3/23/10. also by your humble narrator:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yes, the Millstones (actually one of them, the other is still embedded in the sidewalk) are in this crate, the one at the center of the shot.

No, there has been not a single move made by any of our elected officials to protect these colonial era artifacts.

Observation tonight (it was raining too hard to risk the camera) showed that a delivery of construction materials has been piled around the crate.

This is kind of a hard issue to evangelize our busy neighbors about, as we are all struggling to make our rent and find time for friends and family, let alone give two ****’s about a pair of 400 year old industrial artifacts. There is something wrong though, in our community, isn’t there?

You can smell it in the air, whether the breeze is coming off the Newtown Creek or Big Allis. A disconcerting sense of change, with long time residents being swept away by progress. What is being lost, and who is profiting from it?

Fourth, from an LIC Millstones Blog posting of 4/2/10, also by your humble narrator:

Ring-a-ring-a-roses – photo by Mitch Waxman

Windmills must be tilted at, I always say, or in this case millstones. Witness with me, if you would, the state of the LIC millstones on the 26th of march, 2010. It is my habit, when time permits, to walk across the Queensboro Bridge. Often, I find myself walking back to Astoria’s rolling hills through Queens Plaza.

A pocket full of posies – photo by Mitch Waxman

The LIC Millstones remain in the little triangle in Queens Plaza, and continue to be shielded from the non stop truck and automobile traffic by a flimsy chain link fence. The netting affixed to the fence had been torn away by a recent squall of stormy weather.

Hush! hush! hush! hush! – photo by Mitch Waxman

Survivors of the 17th century, the artifacts housed here are an artifact of the agrarian industries that populated Queens before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. It is very likely that some number of the 163 African American slaves known to have been held in Newtown in 1755 were employed in operating these millstones. We won’t know for certain, because scholarly access to them is being denied for unguessable reasons by those municipal authorities who hold tenancy over them.

Fifth, from a Queens Chronicle article of 4/15/10, for which I was interviewed

Hidden under a crate and surrounded by heavy construction material, the current condition of the already worn Colonial-era millstones in Queens Plaza has preservationists outraged. They say the lack of concern for these historic artifacts that have been part of the streetscape since the 1600s is shameful.

“The manner in which these historical artifacts are being handled and stored is ludicrous,” said Mitch Waxman, an Astoria resident and contributor to the Long Island City Millstones blog, which was formed by Dutch Kills community members.

In the past, millstones drove the economic wheel of Western Queens. In pairs, they were designed to be used in wind or watermills, to grind staple foods like corn or wheat into flour. According to the LIC blog, in the mid 1600s the millstones were part of the Jorrisen’s Mill. Some disagree and claim the stones arrived from Holland, acting as weight on a West Indies trading ship.

Now, the 400-year-old artifacts remain in the triangular intersection of Queens Plaza, behind fencing, trapped in the midst of the construction that is currently underway.

“Given the way they’re being stored and handled, they’ll either be crushed by a truck or just disappear,” Waxman said.“Ultimately, who will care? This seems to be the governing principle over their handling right now.”

According to Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, the millstones are believed to be the oldest man-made objects in the borough created by European settlers.

Wilkinson is one of the preservationists who have been actively seeking to have the millstones removed from the location at Queens Plaza and be placed in a museum gallery where they can be protected.

Sixth, from this STUNNING POST at Queenscrap, dated 4/19/10- in which the response from the Landmarks Preservation Commission is revealed:

Here was the response to an application for review from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Note these are not colonial artifacts, but a “distinctive sidewalk” (even though they will not be in the sidewalk for much longer)- and the actual letter courtesy

View this document on Scribd

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 20, 2010 at 1:50 am

One Response

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  1. Truly an astonishing response from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Committee.

    The colonial era millstones upon which New York was built from a swamp into the thriving megalopolis it is today referred to as a “distinctive sidewalk” by the very group put together by “We the People”, “We the taxpayers” and “We the voters” of NYC is appalling.

    What constitutes an artifact of historical importance to the Landmarks Preservation Committee? Who decides what is worth saving and what is not? If 400 year old millstones from the birth of our great city are NOT historical artifacts worth preservation, than what are?

    I am filled with dismay.

    Mai Armstrong

    April 22, 2010 at 11:58 pm

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