Talk by Doug Leblang
at “Middle Village of Old” exhibiton

Welcome to Middle Village and the Middle Village Library!

Sometimes when I am walking through Middle Village, I say to myself “I really like it here.”

Then I remember my father telling me that my family felt the same way in 1912. In 1930 when my father married my mother, my mother’s whole family moved here from Brooklyn. They must have liked it too. When people moved to Middle Village in 1912, they really felt they were moving to the country, although it was only six miles from the lower east side. There was rolling farmland, gaslit lamps that had to be lit every night and put out every morning. And there were no sewers. A wagon came around regularly to collect the sewage and I’ll bet that driving that wagon was not on the preferred job list.

But actually, people were enjoying Middle Village as far back as 1652, when it was part of the town of Newtown, getting its charter from the governor of New Netherlands. It got its name from the fact that it was halfway between Jamaica and Williamsburg . In fact, Metropolitan Avenue was once called the Jamaica Williamsburg Turnpike. The turnpike was built in 1840 and became Metropolitan Avenue in 1896. It was originally used by Long Island farmers to bring their produce to city markets and one of the early borough presidents of Queens had his residence at 78th St and Metropolitan Avenue.

Metropolitan Avenue was served by trolleys, first horse drawn and then electric until 1949. Although I hate to admit it, I actually remember those trolleys screeching and sparking down the street.

Middle Village always had a certain serenity about it. The possibly was due in part to fact that there are cemeteries in every direction. Cemeteries began appearing in Middle Village in the middle and late 1800’s due to the law passed in 1850 that prohibited any further burials in Manhattan. The lands used for the cemeteries were too swampy or hilly for farming. I recently heard a speech by borough President Marshall where she said Queens was the most diverse place in the entire world. In Middle Village we take this a step further. Besides all the different backgrounds, the living peacefully co-exist with the formerly living. The first church was built in Middle Village in 1671. The Methodists erected a church on what is today Dry Harbor Rd and Juniper Valley Rd. After several disasters they moved to the present site on Metropolitan Avenue in 1836. The original church was destroyed by fire and replaced with the present structure in 1926. The Lutherans in Middle Village worshipped in a chapel they built in their cemetery in 1851. This chapel was destroyed by fire in 1905 and the present Trinity Lutheran Church was built in 1907. Ground was broken for St. Margarets in 1860 with 70 families in the parrish. St John’s Cemetery was built in 1880.

The Congregation Sons of Israel was the first synagogue in Middle Village. It was built by hand by its members in 1901. My grandfather, Abraham Leblang was its president from 1917 to 1928. He and others felt strongly that the synagogue needed a community center and school. He went door to door to raise money for the building and the Hebrew Institute was built in 1919. It still stands today as the Middle Village Adult Center and serves nearly two thousand clients. The head of the Middle Village Adult Center, Rabbi Levy, is with us tonight. The synagogue eventually merged with the Wayne Street Synagogue In 1980, I was attending that synagogue when the rabbi was telling us how The Cossacks in Russia used to come and take people away never to be seen again. Just as he said this we heard the sound of sirens which stopped outside the synagogue. We ran to the door not knowing what to expect. Six motorcycles, followed by two limousines, followed by six more motorcycles pulled up. The door opened and out came Lillian Carter, the Presidents mother and Geraldine Ferrara, our congresswoman who was also the first female vice presidential candidate in 1984. Mrs Carter came inside, sat in the women’s section, and then addressed the congregation. I couldn’t hear her too well but I remembered she said ”some of my best friends are rabbis” which made everyone hysterical.

I would just like to say a few words about my dad, David Leblang. In 1924, he had graduated from Columbia University and opened his pharmacy. In those days it was more like a general store in a country town. He lived above the store was on called 24/7 to dispense hand made medicines and first aid. In 1924 you didn’t go to the emergency room-you went to see Dave. He also provided ice cream sodas, and advice of all types for his flock. In 1951, he and a local barber, Harry Drexler, were the air raid wardens for south Middle Village during the Korean War. I actually remember him putting on his civil defense helmet and conducting air raid drills where all the cars had to be off the street. When he closed the store in 1974, he helped found the City-Meals-On-Wheels program at the Middle Village Adult Center and delivered up to fifty meals a day with his partner Harry Sunshine. In 1985 he received the Borough President’s Award for Volunteerism from Claire Shulman.

My family has lived on 78th Street and Furmanville Avenue for fifty years. I never stopped to think if the name Furmanville had any significance, Does it ever. In 1624 John Furman came from Wales to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1631 he moved to Hempstead, LI.and in 1677 his grandson Gabriel moved to of all places, Dry Harbor Road. Gabriel’s son, Howard, born in 1719, was a soldier in the French and Indian War and later became an activist in the American fight for Independence. Howard and his brother Gabriel signed the List of Grievances against the English King and the names William, Ezekiel, Howard, Gabriel and Jonathan Furman were signed to the petition that sent Jacob Blackwell as deputy to the second Continental Congress in Virginia. After the Revolution, another Furman descendant, Robert, became town supervisor. After I heard all this, I never looked at the Furmanville Road sign the same way again.

The first school in the area was PS 6 located at 69th St and Juniper Valley Road. Prior to this school education was offered by parochial schools or by making the trek to Newtown High School. PS87 was built in 1901 to serve the growing community.

The Great Juniper Swamp which is today Juniper Valley Park and the surrounding areas was a place where American soldiers hid from the British after they took Long Island in 1776. The swamp and surrounding area were blanketed by a thick forest of Juniper and White Cedar trees. Before the site of Juniper Valley Park was improved for recreational purposes, it was used variously as a farm, a cemetery, a source for peat moss, and a garbage dump. In the 1920’s the notorious gangster Arnold Rothstein bought the swamp and attempted to sell it off in land parcels by erecting housing that were mere empty shells. It was called Rothstein’s Phantom Village and did not fool the locals. From 1941 to 1942, squads of Works Progress Administration workers transformed the barren land into one of Queens’s most beloved parks. The park is also known for its majestic view of the Manhattan skyline.

I hope you all enjoyed this excursion into the past of Middle Village. I hope all of you who live here continue to enjoy it as I do and our beloved town continues to flourish for many years to come.

Thank you.

Click here to see Doug’s incredible website
 


Mel Emelock – Mar 14, 2005

Attaboy, Doug!

Cousin Mel


Harold Kohn – Mar 14, 2005

Dear Douglas,

You did a super job.

Harry Kohn


Paula Lintz – Mar 14, 2005

Wonderful article about the great Middle Village!!! Lot’s of information I’m sure many of us are reading for the first time. Thanks so much Doug … and I just love your artwork.


Douglas Leblang – Mar 15, 2005

Thank you for your kind words.

Doug


Deborrah Blakley – Mar 30, 2005

This morning I visited the Middle Village Library to see Doug Leblang’s exhibit – it was worth the trip from Ft. Salonga!

I especially enjoyed seeing the picture of David Leblang in his pharmacy – he was, of course, our pharmacist. I remember him making a special liquid makeup for my mom as she was allergic to commercial brands.

Doug, your artwork captures the Middle Village we all remember. Thanks for an enjoyable trip down memory lane.

Debby


Douglas Leblang – Mar 31, 2005

You’re welcome, Debby.

Of course this exhibit and talk is yet another service provided by Leblang’s Pharmacy.


Bernard Handin – Mar 31, 2005

Doug,

Many thanks for this Great, Great article; I just can’t imagine the research you put into it.!!! I guess it’s the love for good OLD MIDDLE VILLAGE. BUT don’t we all have it. I guess it’s in our roots and in our blood.

THANKS AGAIN for this Wonderful article.

Bernie “Bep” Handin.


Richard Spindel – Apr 1, 2005

Hi Doug,

Thanks so much for the complete history of Middle Village. Although it’s been 50 years, I do remember you dads’ drug store and the empty lot across the street (I understand there is a building in that lot today).

I remember my uncle, Eddie Mareno, telling me that the land that St. Margeret’s Church and St. John’s cemetery sit on was a potato field when he moved there. The more I read in everyone’s comments, the more my memories come through.

Thanks again.

Rick Spindel


Alan Taub – Apr 1, 2005

I remember Middle Village as being a great place to grow up in. I could ride Flatow’s bike delivering his fruits & vegetables and know just about everybody I saw. When houses were being built on the “Marble Lot” I knew Middle Village would not be the same.

Alan Taub


Jeffrey Braverman – Apr 2, 2005

Douglas,

Thank you, that was great. I enjoyed it and it took me back. Very best to you.

Jeffrey Braverman


Harold Wile – Apr 15, 2005

This was a great Middle Village history lesson. Our family lived on the other side of Juniper Valley park and have many fond memories of the baseball games we played with our friends from Middle Village in the 50’s. We also played hockey in the Juniper Swamp in the winter. Your family has an amazing Middle Village history.


Susan Weiss – Apr 30, 2005

Great article.

My mother was born on Cooper Avenue in l910 and remembered the rolling farmlands and she seemed to know everyone. She loved “the village”.

I have been going to Middle Village on her birthday in July for the past few years to walk past all the houses she lived in with her parents and my father and all the houses we lived in and all the houses my friends and other relatives lived in.

Anyone who cares to join me has only to contact me.

Susan Weiss Schultz


Annette Abraham – May 2, 2005

Thank you, Douglas. You are apparently the Middle Village historian.

Annette Abraham Heller


Spencer Wulwick – August 14, 2014

The Juniper Park Civic Association has written a “Short History of Middle Village,” that I also found interesting.

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at “Middle Village of Old” exhibiton

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