Kingsland Homestead: A History
Built between 1774 and 1785, the Kingsland Homestead is one of the earliest surviving examples of residential style construction common throughout Long Island, specifically Queens, in the late 18th and 19th centuries. A Long Island half-house, it is characterized by a wide side hall and double parlors off to one side. Other features include a central chimney between the side parlors, a dependent kitchen wing, and three front windows on the second floor.
The design of Kingsland exhibits a blend of Dutch and English features brought to America by colonists from Europe. One such Dutch characteristic includes the divided entry doors, more commonly known as Dutch doors. English colonial features are the central chimney and the round-headed and quadrant windows in the gambrel-end. The gambrel or double-pitched roof formed a spacious attic, sometimes used as servants' quarters.
Captain Joseph King purchased this Flushing farmhouse from his father-in-law in 1801, his family and their descendants would live there until the 1930s. Captain King named his rural estate "Kingsland," and made improvements such as: adding gutters, installing window shutters, and plastering and painting the upstairs rooms as well as the kitchen wing. Upon returning from a voyage in 1805, Captain King continued to upgrade his estate. He covered most of the original clapboard siding with wood shingles, added a front porch, flush board siding that ran the length of the building, and constructed three out-buildings: a chicken coop, a mill, and a carriage house.
Captain King was a sea merchant and also a commercial farmer. He raised livestock and grew such staples as corn and wheat for profit. Hired laborers did most of the work on his sixty-acre farm. Although his father-in-law had resorted to using slaves, which was a common practice at that time, Captain King was opposed to slavery, and he sometimes employed fugitive slaves on his farm.
Captain King's daughter, Mary Ann, the first of his children to be born at Kingsland, married Lindley Murray at the Flushing Meeting House on what is now Northern Blvd in 1831. Mary Ann's oldest daughter, Mary (later known as Aunt Mary), devoted herself to the cause of helping African-Americans gain an equal footing in American life. She taught at a number of African-American Sunday schools and, in 1851, joined the Flushing Female Association, a Quaker group that established the town's only school for African-American children.
In 1839, Captain King's son - Joseph Harris King, married the daughter of James Bloodgood, owner of the Bloodgood Nursery. In the mid 1840s, he purchased a controlling interest in his father-in-law's nursery. Soon after he moved the nursery onto the Kingsland property, which was better situated on less expensive land. By the late 1850s, Joseph had brought his nephew, William King Murray (Mary Ann and Lindley Murray's second son), into the business.
William King Murray married Annie Cornelia Mitchell in 1868 and the couple moved into his childhood home, Kingsland, where they raised their children. William created an attic apartment for his older sister Mary, (Aunt Mary). Annie and William King Murray had five children: May, Edith, Joseph-Harris, and twins - Charnley and Ernest, who grew up at Kingsland in the late 1800s.
Aunt Mary resided in her attic apartment until 1908 when her nephew Joseph-Harris Murray moved in with his family. She then relocated to a house on Franklin Place where she died in 1920 at the age of eighty-eight. Much of what we know of Kingsland comes from the surviving fragments of her diary. It reveals, for example, that a telephone was installed in the house on January 15, 1903 and electric wiring on June 5, 1906.
The Murrays struggled to hold onto the old family property. Joseph Harris Murray moved out of Kingsland in 1911 and rented it out. Flushing had changed dramatically by 1920. Most of the land near Kingsland had been bought by real estate developers. Houses, largely one family, were being built all over. Apartment buildings and new, numbered streets were beginning to appear. In 1926, Kingsland was moved a few hundred feet south on the property so the Murrays could build a luxury apartment building which they would call "Kings Court" to capitalize on a proposed subway stop nearby. Joseph Harris Murray then moved his family back into Kingsland.
Unfortunately for the Murrays, the new subway stop was never built, and tenants were scarce due to the high rent at Kings Court. When the Great Depression came, Joseph Harris King moved into a Kings Court apartment, and in 1937 sold the house to the Dixon family.
Kingsland Homestead, one of the few surviving 18th century homes in Queens, was declared a New York City Landmark in 1965. It was the first structure in Queens to receive this honor. Threatened by the development of a shopping center and new houses, a group of concerned citizens, the Kingsland Preservation Committee, assisted by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, had the historic home moved in 1968 onto a modern foundation in Weeping Beech Park. Since the park was originally part of the Parsons Nursery and the historic site of America's first weeping beech tree, it was an appropriate location.
In 1971, the Kingsland Preservation Committee merged with the Queens Historical Society and by 1973, after extensive restoration work, the house was opened to the public as a museum owned and operated by the historical society. For more than three decades Kingsland Homestead has served as the headquarters of the Queens Historical Society. Its rooms are used for exhibitions, a meeting place, and as an archive and library. As a historic house in a city park, it is a member of the Historic House Trust of New York City.