Just an interesting followup to our article about the old knocker from the door to the Blackwell House that Maud Stoutenburgh Eliot gifted to President Roosevelt, we present this bit of correspondence showing a “colorful” bit of the history of the door it came from. As quoted by Thomas Cogan in the Queens Gazette, Liz Reynolds of the Brooklyn Museum said: “That door has been through a lot.”
PUBLIC LIBRARY — 41-25 MAIN STREET
39-01 Main Street
November 22, 1940
Mrs. George W. Brune
Nova Caesarea Chapter, D.A.R.
254 Mt. Prospect Avenue
Newark, N. J.
Mrs. George W. Brune was kind enough to secure this information for Mrs. Walter Graeme Eliot.
Dear Mrs. Brune:
Your letter of November 11th, requesting information about the Blackwell Houses in Astoria, L.I., has been referred to me for reply by Mr. John J. Halleran, president of the Historical Society.
The following information is from our files:
Blackwell’s Island: Governor Van Twiller deeded it to himself in 1637; grant vacated in 1652. Purchased by a soldier named Flyn, who lost the property before cultivating it or building a house. 1668 acquired by Captain John Manning, British officer who surrendered New York to Dutch in 1673. He was taken to London and tried for cowardice but escaped execution, and retired to the island, where he became a lavish host. His daughter, Mary, married Robert Blackwell. Island was known as Blackwell’s Island until about 1920, when named Welfare Island because of city hospital erected there. Island had been purchased by city in 1828, for $32,000.
Robert Blackwell’s father owned a large tract on the mainland, on the eastern bank of the East River, in Newtown. This property was inherited by Robert’s son, an enormous man weighing over 500 pounds, named Jacob. Jacob Blackwell married Mary Hallett (Hallett’s Cove named for her family) and built stone house on the mainland tract. On Blackwell’s death, the entire door frame had to be removed in order to get his coffin out of the house.
Jacob’s son—Colonel Jacob Blackwell, was a prominent Revolutionary War figure. However, he "suffered bodily illness and mental anguish" because of confiscation of his property and died soon after the war. The stone house later became a private school and stood until 1870.
This stone house is probably the one you mention as having stood at the end of the 17th Century near the foot of Webster Street.
We do not have any information concerning the other houses mentioned in your letter. It is suggested that you write to Mr. Herbert F. Ricard, librarian, Long Island Collection, Queens Borough Public Library, 89-14 Parsons Boulevard, Jamaica, N.Y.
The Long Island Collection has very extensive genealogical records and probably the most complete historical data on Queens County available.
We shall be glad to have you call upon us if we can be of any further assistance.
Very truly yours