Push to preserve early 19th century farmhouse on the hill gets big backer
By John Lauinger
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
The Civil War was nearly four decades in the future when the Cornell family built a farmhouse on a hillside in the vast breadbasket of Queens.
The farmhouse still sits atop the hill today, but its sweeping view of a once-bucolic countryside is now dominated by strip malls, several modern houses and the Long Island Expressway.
As unrelenting development threatens to bulldoze all vestiges of the area's agricultural past, the small farmhouse has recently become the subject of an intensifying preservation push.
Last week, previously stalled efforts to save the farmhouse from possible development were resurrected by the Queens County Farm Museum - and backed by a top Queens elected official.
The Farm Museum - keeper of 47 mostly agricultural acres in nearby Bellerose - is interested in buying the 1.7 acre property, once part of a massive Colonial dominion deeded to the Cornell family by the British crown.
Farm Museum president James Trent made a request for $5.8 million - the property's current price tag - at a Queens budget meeting on Tuesday.
Trent's pitch - to buy the property and use it as a Farm Museum annex - won over Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who has included the proposal in the borough's list of budget priorities, said Marshall's spokeswoman Alexandra Rosa.
Because a portion of the property lies in Nassau County, Marshall's office said it would soon initiate discussions with its neighbor about Nassau acquiring the other half, Rosa said.
Marshall's support of the Farm Museum was praised by local preservationists.
"It's an amazing, amazing piece of history," said Kevin Wolfe, president of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society. Wolfe marveled at the rarity of an 1820s farmhouse in 21st century New York City.
"There are a handful of farmhouses from that era that have survived - most of them are museums," he said.
The farmhouse, now owned by the Patrey family, is flanked by a stone wall and a cobblestone driveway that climbs up the windswept hill. The white paint covering the house's weathered, wooden shingles is flaking heavily with age, and two rotting wagon wheels lean against a pair of maples guarding oppposite sides of the driveway.
Ken Patrey, 43, said his family decided to sell the property after his father, who married into the Cornell family and ran a nursery business on the property, died in 2003.
The city Landmarks Commission wrote to Patrey last fall in an effort to designate the circa 1826 farmhouse a landmark, but he bristled at the agency's overture, noting that the house has received multiple additions over time and is in poor condition.
Though he has received several offers for the property, Patrey said he was interested in the Farm Museum's proposal.
"We would absolutely be interested in that," he told the Daily News. "I would hate to see the place go. I love the place."
Trent, hopeful that the deal will get done, said the Farm Museum's plan is to preserve the farmhouse, along with its 1870s barn and a greenhouse dating to the turn of last century.
Yet that is not all.
"It might be possible," Trent said, "to take a piece of that land - maybe half an acre - and grow some crops there - return it back to its historical purpose.
Some questions to ponder:
Helen wants $5.3 million to prevent development of HALF of the Cornell farm, but wouldn't entertain $10 million for a full-sized 1.5 acre property which is entirely within the confines of Queens? At St. Saviour's, remember, Helen thought housing was a great idea. Why not "compromise" by allowing condos around the Cornell farmhouse, Helen?
Why couldn't the Queens County Farm Museum have an annex at St. Saviour's? Plenty of room for corn growing there.
And LPC felt that St. Saviour's, which was designed by a famous architect, was altered beyond recognition, but a worn down house with multiple additions must be calendared immediately?
Is this the Queens version of the caste system - east on top, west on the bottom?
THEY BOTH SHOULD BE LANDMARKED AND MADE INTO PARKS.
The city's biggest bureaucrats live in eastern Queens, while the laborers live in western Queens. Western Queens is the home of second-class citizens who are not afforded equal protection. So why not have one standard and leave everyone open to having their neighborhood and historic structures bulldozed? Either that or protect them all.
Photo from Forgotten NY