The meeting takes place on Tuesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. at the Avenue Diner at 91-06 Jamaica Avenue. People will be able to hold items from Woodhaven’s past, such as products created in the famed LaLance-Grosjean factory.
Generally, Woodhaven Historical meetings consist of photographs along with some background. But this meeting will let you touch items that were first handled by fellow residents of Woodhaven many decades, and in some cases, over a century ago.
And if you can’t make the meeting next Tuesday evening, we’ll be doing it again on Wednesday, March 28, at 1 p.m. at Emanuel United Church of Christ at 93-12 91st Avenue.
The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society meets twice a month throughout most of the year; on the first Tuesday (in the evening) and on the last Wednesday (during the daytime).
And we also meet once a month (on the first Saturday) at the Wyckoff-Snedeker cemetery on 96th Street at 9 a.m. behind All Saints Church.
That’s three opportunities a month to attend meetings or activities that revolve around the rich and interesting history of Woodhaven. And over the past few months we began experimenting with a format which we will be seeing more of, one where we turn the responsibility of the storytelling to the audience rather than the hosts.
You see, that’s how history is best handed down through the generations, by word of mouth. And it’s also how we best learn about history, by listening to one another, and hearing what others have heard over the years.
One of the best interviews I ever took part in was with a gentleman named Bill Crawford, who was in his 80s and living in Arizona at the time. Bill’s father was a member of the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association, an organization that provided health and death benefits to its members.
As a side note, the word "exempt" indicated that due to their volunteer work with the fire department, they were exempt from certain things, like jury duty or the military draft. Volunteer Fire Departments began to die out with the advent of the Fire Department of New York and the employ of paid firefighters.
At the time it was in operation, the headquarters of the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association was considered to be the finest house owned by any organization of firemen in the entire country.
On the ground floor was a spacious hall in which meetings were held; the hall was also available to the general public for balls and parties. In the basement, besides an up-to-date kitchen was a battery of bowling alleys. And on the upper floor, there was an extensive reading room and library, as well as a billiard room.
Over time, membership began to dwindle as the only firemen who qualified for membership were the old volunteers, and many of them had started to pass away. Since there was less need for a physical headquarters, the building was converted into a library in 1935.
Where was this beautiful old building located? Today, you would recognize it as a medical center and archery range at 95-11 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, keeping in mind that Woodhaven used to stretch much further south in those days.
If you look at the top of the building today, you will see the head of a statue peeking over the roof, one that bears a remarkable resemblance to the statue that was atop the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association. Whether or not it is the same statue is not known.
But now you can astound and amaze your friends with this information whenever you pass by this building. And if you come out to meetings of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society on a regular basis you will learn more about this history all around you.
And this coming Tuesday at the Avenue Diner, you’ll actually be able to touch some of it. We hope to see you there.