Ye Olden Tavern, known as the Fountain House, was built in Flushing, Queens, New York about 1756. According to old newspaper reports, it was, as the name suggests, a traditional American hotel and pub. I suppose that means it was akin to a 19th century Cheers plus a hotel. Situated on the corner of Broadway (now Northern Blvd.) and Main St., it was appropriately named for the fountain across the street. In its 160 years, the tavern had a busy history. One newspaper source says “the Fountain House had an exclusive clientele.” Besides being a popular hotel for visitors, it served as a residence. Flushing mayor William Gaynor actually lived there. It was a meeting hall for local groups and Masonic organizations. Cornucopia Lodge, No. 563, F. & A.M., who’s members included none other than my ancestors, William Henry Dickson Nimmo and James Henry Tagg, held meeting at Fountain House. The tavern once served as a temporary courthouse and town hall. Politicians were among the tavern’s most prominent patrons. The Fountain House was well-known to both Long Islanders and out-of-staters. New Yorker Teddy Roosevelt visited the house. One newspaper article stated that Queen Victoria’s uncle once paid a visit. By 1900, it was an old but iconic landmark.
But like all things old, even well maintained items, decay is inevitable. The Fountain House, showing major signs of age at the turn of the 2oth century, would become a casualty of the modern age. In 1914, Jacob “Jake” Haubiel, the establishment’s owner since 1892, was offered a deal he could not refuse. Janice Amusement Company offered Haubiel a ten-year land lease at $10,000 annually to build a “modern moving pictures theater.” Seeing as he purchased the property for the equivalent of one year’s income on the offered lease, Jake happily accepted the company’s offer and retired. The Fountain House’s days were numbered.
So it was on a summer day in June 1914, when a few dozen Flushing citizens assembled in front of Ye Olden Tavern for one last commemorative photo before the 160-year old structure was razed. Chronicled by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on 23 June 1914, Flushingites Jake Haubiel, George Pople, Ira L. Terry, John Geddes and about fifty other men and boys stood for a citizen portrait. It was the Flushing landmark’s final farewell. The grainy photograph taken that day is included with the article. The faces, in the newspaper’s copy, are impossible to see. To most reading this piece, these names and faces are just people from a bygone era. To my family, however, these men were neighbors, close friends, Masonic brethren and business associates. The Fountain House is part of my family’s history; a fact I discovered only a week ago, thanks to the original photograph from the NYC Archives.
Last year, I discovered that the NYC Municipal Archives Photography Unit had an 1870s photograph of my third-great grandfather, the aforementioned Capt. W.H.D. Nimmo. It was an amazing find for my family considering no one alive today had seen a picture of the man. Given Capt. Nimmo’s Flushing links, I was hopeful my Peck ancestors, who were well-known Flushing citizens, would be part of the archival record. To my surprise, I haven’t found any of them (as of today). I wasn’t convinced W.H.D. Nimmo was the only ancestor in the collection. They must have more!
Though tedious and time-consuming, I occasionally looked through the city’s digital archive searching for genealogical gold. It was a long shot that I’d find any family members considering the condition of many photos. Some negatives are over a hundred years old. Last week, I discovered the Fountain House photo in their collection. The following day, I found the Daily Eagle article with the identical image on Old Fulton New York. Closer inspection of the Archives photo revealed a familiar face. Among the gathering on the tavern’s front porch is a tall gentleman, mid-20s, standing directly in front of the right column. There’s a discernible white line on the right side of his jacket running from his lapel to the front pocket. That’s not a scar on the negative, it’s a pocket watch chain used by railroad engineers. He has a thin, narrow face with a serious but good-natured smile all his own. That’s my great-grandfather, LeRoy Westervelt Tagg.
LeRoy was born in Brooklyn in 1889. Making this discovery when I did was fortuitous timing too. Today is LeRoy’s 125th birthday. At the turn of the 20th century, Brooklyn and Manhattan families began moving north and west to the Bronx, Westchester and New Jersey while others moved east to Queens and the first nascent suburbs of newly-created Nassau County on Long Island. The Taggs moved to a new home on Cypress Ave. (now Cherry Ave.) in Flushing about 1898. Roy, as the family called him, was railroad engineer. About 1914, much of LIRR’s Port Washington rail line was rebuilt below-grade. If you’ve ever commuted to and from the city on that line and lost cell reception traveling through below-ground Murray Hill station, you can partly thank Roy. He was an engineer on that project.
Roy may have frequented the Fountain House, given its proximity to Flushing’s Main Street station and the Tagg home. On the other hand, the Taggs were friends with some Flushing citizens mentioned in the Daily Eagle article. Perhaps, Roy just wanted to be part of the old building’s history alongside family friends. Whatever the case, LeRoy is immortalized as part of Flushing history and tradition. What more could New York City’s photographic archive be holding? Hopefully, more family photos!