By Sarah-Beth White

A Taste of Victorian Times, in Flushing

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Nestled between gardens brimming with native plants, the pink Victorian house stands out like a peacock among pigeons in its urban neighborhood. Located in downtown Flushing, The Voelker-Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary & Victorian Garden joins the impressive number of historic landmarks in the borough of Queens. To launch the public opening of its newly renovated property, the Museum will host a Grand Opening celebration June 22, featuring guided tours of the turn-of-the century home, and an ornithological demonstration complete with live eagles and owls. Built in the late 1800s, the original house remained in the Voelker-Orth family for nearly a century. Conrad Voelker immigrated to the United States from Germany at age 16. Following an apprenticeship at a print shop, he established a chain of German-English newspapers and moved into the Victorian house shortly after the birth of his first daughter, Theresa, in the early 1900s. Theresa married Rudolph Orth, a prominent police surgeon who was active in community causes. Their only daughter, Elizabeth, inherited the house and resided there until her death in 1995. Elizabeth, a nature-lover, fulfilled her dream when she donated her home to become a museum, managed jointly by the Queens Botanical Garden, The Theodore Roosevelt Nature Sanctuary and the Queens Historical Society. “Our mission is to preserve and present to the public the history and culture of Queens, with special emphasis on its horticulture and ornithology,” says Catherine Abrams, director of the museum. The interior of the house is well appointed with rich carved wood details. Curios and photos provide visitors with a sense of what life was like in the home a hundred years ago. A well-stocked library includes weathered volumes reflecting the era: an encyclopedia from 1908 sits near the modern classics of Hemingway and James Michener. A piano poses prominently in the center of the music room, where the Museum will host musical programs. The roomy kitchen retains two sizable vintage wooden phones. “One phone is also a radio,” Abrams explains. “They’re both in working condition — the problem is finding a compatible jack!” Formal tea will be served in the main dining room, where arched windows, draped with sea-foam fringed brocade, overlook the gardens below. Authentic comestibles — from bon-bons to cucumber sandwiches — are included as diners are educated about the social history of tea. Upstairs a period room features an early 20th-century girl’s bedroom. Antique toys are stacked amidst the pale-green and blue hand-painted floral bedroom set. Ornate stained glass sends beams of warm light through the hallway. The Museum plans to hold lectures and slide shows on Queens history in the main house. It is also available for small conferences. “Our Victorian Garden will represent the local flora and fauna,” Abrams says. “Plans include rose and herb gardens and a wide variety of blossoming native plants.” A fishpond, surrounded by blue-gray slate, provides a place for musicians to play at outdoor events, including weddings and birthday parties. Trellises will be draped with sweeping vines, and bird feeders are hoped to attract a myriad of local bird species. “Lawn croquet will be available for outdoor events,” Abrams says. “We want to give visitors a true taste of Victorian life.” In the summer, you can escape the pulse of the city and lunch in this quiet, garden setting. The pastel shingled carriage house in the back of the garden is available for educational programs on gardening and ornithology. The carriage house is available for children’s birthday parties. “We hope to work with neighborhood schools and community groups,” Abrams says. “Our lectures and educational nature workshops will provide an historical perspective on the role of the nurseries that thrived in New York and introduced new species of plants across the country.” Advanced reservations are required for events. Contact the museum for more information.

Info: Where: 149-19 38th Avenue, Flushing For more info: Call (718) 359-6227, or access www.voelkerorthmuseum.org

 

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