The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for May 12th, 2014

courage and action

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Hey, that’s the Reformed Church of Newtown over there, the big white thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the other day, your humble narrator answered a question put to him by the long suffering Our Lady of the Pentacle with a sorrowful exhalation. Her query was “where are you going?” and my answer was simply “Newtown, the center of Newtown.” Quite used to such archaisms at this stage of the game, she said “Elmhurst?” and I said “yes, Elmhurst.”

Off I went and before long – one arrived at the navel, as it were, of ancient Queens.

from “Historic Churches of America” by Nellie Urner Wallington, courtesy google books

Of the Dutch Reformed families in early New York many removed from time to time beyond the limits of New Amsterdam securing for themselves broader sections of land for tillage and among them a number of such families settled in Long Island where they formed the hamlet of Newtown. Unable to support a minister and to maintain a church building of their own they joined hands with others of the same faith at Flushing and for a number of years worshipped there until December 2 1731 when a meeting of the resident members in Newtown was called to form plans for the establishment of a church organisation of their own and to devise means for the erection of a house of worship upon land contributed by Peter Berrien. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the facts – original structure built in 1731, but most of what we see here today was started in 1831. A “Historic Place,” there were later additions (a chapel, I’m told) constructed on in the 1850’s (which was repositioned on the lot at least once).

It’s on Broadway, at Corona Avenue.

You can’t miss it, as it’s the giant white thing on your left as you head east. The Internet makes some big deal out of the church offering Chinese language services, as well as English, but if you live in Queens – you know that sort of thing is usual, and not strange or unique in the slightest.

from “three years in north america” by James Stuart, courtesy google books

Mr. Schoonemaker is the minister of the Dutch Reformed church at Newtown, a very respectable person, who had succeeded his father in the ministry of the same church. The Dutch clergy in the neighbourhood of New York still retain the original appellation of Dominie, and Mr. Schoonemaker was, I observed, generally called in conversation the Dominie, or Dominie Schoonemaker. There was also an Episcopalian church at Newtown, and the number of carriages waiting during the period of divine service at this trifling village of 600 or 800 people ,was probably as great as at all the churches in Edinburgh put together; but no one coming from the country to the village ever thinks of walking. I remember mentioning to a lady in Long Island, how different were the habits of people in Great Britain in this respect, on which she remarked, that before she had children she used to walk; but upon questioning her how far she used to walk she admitted that a mile was her limit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It also wouldn’t be Queens if there wasn’t a graveyard nearby, and the Newtown Reformed has (what I’m told) around 111 people in their ground. There’s some pretty famous and historic names associated with this church – Duryea, Bragaw, Luyster amongst them.

The first baptisms were performed here on April 27, 1736. Ceremonies were performed upon and for Janetie Kounoven Luyster and Abram Luyster Lent, who seem to be cousins.

Everybody seems to have been cousins back then, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Interesting Newtown Trivia is offered – the original church building was used as gunpowder store by His Majesty’s troops during the American Insurrection and Mutiny of the 1770’s. Much ado was raised by the colonists, and appeals to the military from His Majesty’s subjects pled that the explosives be moved from the church, amidst fear of lightning strike or fire.

Check out this wonderful piece from an April 2, 1928 edition of the “The Daily Star” found over at for similar bits and pieces, and the perspectives of a century ago.



– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anyway, that’s what the big white thing in Elmhurst is.

Back to your day to day and ho hum.

– also – Don’t forget to throw black beans over your shoulder tonight while uttering “haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis.” It’s time for the Lemuralla again.


The Reformed Church of Newtown was founded in 1731 by Dutch-speaking farmers and tradesmen. New York had originally been “New Amsterdam,” a Dutch Colony, and although the early members of Newtown were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, they held their services in the Dutch language still common in the community then called “Newtown.” Later, some developers changed the name of the area to Elmhurst, but the church retained its original name, a name still carried also by the local high school and subway station. Some things did change, though. The original Federal-Greek Revival building, completed in 1735, had survived the struggles of the colonial days and the disruptions of the Revolutionary War days (during which the British seized it for use as an armory), but it was replaced in 1832 by the present Georgian-style sanctuary. On the church grounds is a historic cemetery. In 1975, the church was cited by the New York Historical Trust, and in 1980, the church was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. 

There are two public Newtown Creek walking tours coming up, one in LIC, Queens and one in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Glittering Realms, with Atlas Obscura, on Saturday May 17th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Modern Corridor, with Brooklyn Brainery, on Sunday May 18th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

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