LONG ISLAND CITY — Two centuries-old millstones that were embedded in Queens Plaza may have gotten lost in the shuffle, but the city’s Parks Department is looking to get them out from under foot — adding signage that would explain their historical significance to passersby.
The stones currently sit in the newly-opened Dutch Kills Green, a 1.5-acre park at the eastern end of Queens Plaza, after being extracted from the pavement, but their history is mysterious, said Bob Singleton, executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
Some say they may have been ballast on a Dutch West India company ship, and that the stones might be the oldest European artifacts in Queens, Singleton said. Others say that they might have come from the Hudson River Valley or date back to the early 1800s.
Singelton said he believes the stones were first used in a grist mill constructed by a Dutchman, Burger Jorissen, in 1650 in the area that today would be on Northern Boulevard, close to Queens Plaza.
The mill was open until about 1860, before being razed to make space for the Long Island Rail Road, said Singleton. The stones were rescued by the Payntar family, which lived in the area and placed them in the sidewalk next to their home.
After the family moved out, the city took control of the stones, which were later embedded in a traffic triangle in Queens Plaza in the early 20th century, before recently being moved to the newly opened park.
Currently, the city’s Parks Department is working on a “description to communicate the millstones’ history to park-goers,” said a Parks Department spokesman.
“These millstones tell us 350 years of New York history,” Singleton said.
In the area, New Yorkers can find colonial millstones, a railroad built more than a century ago, old industrial buildings and modern high-rises.
But Singleton worries that Queens Plaza is not a good location for the valuable and irreplaceable artifacts. In his opinion they should be placed at the Greater Astoria Historical Society where they could be examined by scholars and kept protected from potential damage and vandalism.
“Over time they deteriorated and the curving on the millstones have changed,” he said.