Friday, December 10, 2010

helpful neighbors

Autumn 1880, the Windmuller family closed up its country home in Woodside and moved into winter quarters at 19 W. 46th St.[1] Louis Windmuller had fenced his property and reportedly kept dogs loose on it to discourage intruders; he had also installed a burglar alarm in the main dwelling.[2] Undaunted by these security measures, a burglar broke into the place on November 7th of that year. A neighbor heard the alarm and, with the help of another neighbor, caught the thief red-handed. Here's the report of the break-in which appeared in the local paper that week. From the Newtown Register, November 11, 1880:

The report names George and Gustav Sussdorf who lived next door, and Walter Bowne (with his working man) who lived nearby. The Sussdorfs were old friends of the Windmullers. The Sussdorf and Windmuller estates stood side-by-side, of approximately equal size with a long common boundary.[3] Both families lived in large, imposing houses. The heads of both families were immigrants from Germany and business men with offices in Manhattan. The two men worked together on causes which German-American New Yorkers tended to support. The families of both men socialized with each other and were active parishioners of the local Episcopal church which Sussdorf and Windmuller had helped found and whose lay offices members of both families filled from time to time.[4]

This map shows the Sussdorf and Windmuller estates.

{Queens, Vol. 2A, Double Page Plate No. 6; Part of Ward Two Newtown. Map bounded by Jackson Ave., 13th St., Polk Ave., Lenox Ave., Woodside Ave.; Including Skillman Ave., Greenpoint Ave., Astoria Rd., Dickson St.]; Subplan; [Map bounded by Fisk Ave.; Including Lenox Ave., found in the Atlas of the borough of Queens, city of New York : based upon official plans and maps on file in the various city offices; supplemented by careful field measurements and personal observations, by and under the supervision of Hugo Ullitz (E. Belcher Hyde Map Company, 1913); source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

Walter Bowne, who came with his workman when he heard Sussdorf's gunfire, is not named on Woodside property maps of the time which probably means his house was not so imposing nor his property near as large as Sussdorf's or Windmuller's. He earned his living as an undertaker, but also, at least for a time, ran a knackery business.[5] The Bowne family were well known for their hospitality. The local weekly newspaper reported on small evening dance parties known as a "sociables" which they held at their home. These were polite gatherings where young people could freely mix with appropriate adult supervision.[6]

Five years after helping to foil Windmuller's burglar, Walter Bowne and his family were participants in an event which was the anti-type of the American dream (the one in which a young person's tenacity, hard work, and clean living leads him from poverty to (eventual) wealth and happiness). The rags-to-riches story which involved them starred a penniless boy, but not one whose true grit gained him success. Instead, it was his good fortune to be an heir to an estate of great value. It's interesting that this drama played out just before Little Lord Fauntleroy began to be serialized in St. Nicholas Magazine. Here's the account from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of March 10, 1885.

{Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 10, 1885}

Here's a transcription of the item.
£37,000 Sterling for a Penniless Boy

In the family of Walter Bowne, at Newtown, L.I., resides a boy named Thomas Rawlings, who a year ago was found in Woodside, homeless and hungry, by Walter Bowne's son. Fifteen years ago Thomas James Rawlings came to this country from Birmingham, England, bringing this boy, his son, with him. Mr. Rawlings died at Woodside three years ago, and the boy was lost sight of for two years until found as stated. Last Sunday Mrs. Bowne read a solicitor's notice in a newspaper, asking for information as to the whereabouts of Mr. Rawlings or his heirs. Mrs. Bowne had heard the boy remark that if a law suit pending in England should be decided in favor of his father's family they would be made rich. She questioned the boy and inquired if he had any proof that would establish his identity. He produced a lot of papers, some of them 200 years old, which had been intrusted to him by his father just before his death, and these papers prove to valuable now as establishing young Rawlings' right to his father's interest in a large estate in Wales, England. Mr. Bowne and the boy have seen the solicitor, who said that young Rawlings' share in tho property would be equal to £37,000. The estate has been tied up in the Chancery Court for twenty years.

Two more maps

I've previously shown another version of this map of 1852 showing the area in which Sussdorf and Windmuller would place their estates. It's the wooded area to the left of the "T" in the word "TRAINS" and to the right of "John W. Morrell." Sussdorf's would be roughly where the map says "Place late of T. Cumberson" and Windmuller's would be in the area labeled "R. Bragaw."

{Map of Newtown, Long Island : designed to exhibit the localities referred to in the "Annals of Newtown" ; compiled by J. Riker, Jr., 1852.
from The annals of Newtown, in Queens County, New York / James Riker, Jr.; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This map of 1913 identifies the Sussdorf and Windmuller properties and gives their acreage as 9.64 and 12, respectively. Jane Sussdorf was the widow of William who had died a few years earlier. The map was made just before Windmuller's death in the fall of that year.

{Plate 13: Bounded by Astoria Road, Middleburg Avenue, Woodside Avenue, Bowery Bay Road, Jamaica Avenue, Grand Gleasonville Avenue, Charlotte Avenue, 10th Street, Jackson Avenue, Trains Meadow Road, Forest Street, Worthington Street, Woodside Avenue, Fisk Avenue, Maurice Avenue, Bowne Avenue, Shell Avenue, Greenpoint Avenue, Clinton Avenue and (New Calvary Cemetery) Thomson Avenue; part of the Borough of Queens, New town, Ward 2., from Atlas of the city of New York, borough of Queens, Long Island City, Newtown, Flushing, Jamaica, Far Rockaway, from actual surveys and official plans (George W. and Walter S. Bromley, 1913); source: NYPL Digital Gallery}



[1] Windmuller did this most winters. Residents of Queens were then dependent on ferry service to cross the East River and that service became unreliable in the cold months. I've previously written about the skinny building at 19 West in which the family spent most winters. See 19 w. 46th St. and 19 w. 46th, again.

[2] Regarding the fence and dogs, one source says the heavily wooded property was guarded by a pack of dogs. See Woodside: a tour through the past, present, and culture of a historic urban community.

[3] When the Sussdorf estate was sold off in 1919, the developer was able to put up 50 apartment buildings on the land (see Sale of Sussdorf property New York Times, 18 May 1919). The former Sussdorf property is outlined in red and the old Windmuller property in blue on this Google satellite map.

[4] On their socializing, see for example this article from the New York Times of November 12, 1884.

And on their support for St. Paul's, see for example this extract from the Newtown Register of October 12, 1876.

[5] Here are some news items on Walter Bowne as undertaker. (unless otherwise noted, source of news accounts is

{Newtown Register, August 7, 1873}

{Newtown Register, April 19, 1877}

{Newtown Register, October 7, 1880}

{Newtown Register, August 7, 1883}

This report describes his knackery business as a local nuisance.
Report of committee on effluvium nuisances, 1884.
Nuisances under accusation by Citizens and the State Board of Health.

(17.) Walter Bowne ; knackery for dead horses, woods between Old Astoria road and Greenpoint avenue, Woodside.

The business carried on by Walter Bownes should be forbidden in the locality he occupies. The local board of health is competent to see that an executive order to this effect is strictly complied with. The premises should be cleansed, disinfected and covered with dry earth forthwith.
-- Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York (New York (State). Legislature. Assembly, 1884)
[6] A couple of examples of news accounts of sociables:

{Newtown Register, April 4, 1878}

{Newtown Register, February 23, 1882}

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