2006-07-13 / Little Old Canarsie

Little Old Canarsie

Meandering On The Parkway In The Early Years

John Denton

It's about time we talked about old time Canarsien, Fred Harms, and his good man Friday, Doot Devbensee, a member of one of Canarsie's Oldest families. Doot later became a truant officer and worked out of the Truant Home which stood on Jamaica Ave.

In the hall next to the barroom at Harms there were many shows put on, such as minstrel shows, Punch and Judy and some of Canarsie's leading talent of those days appeared there.

When P.S. 114, then a wooden building, caught on fire, the Harms property became the temporary home of the young pupils. Next to the hall was the home of the Flatlands Volunteer Fire Department, which had among its members some who later went into the city's paid Fire Department.

Among these were Peter Lou Bull-winkel, James Webb, George Miller, Charles Rumph, nor should we forget one of the greatest fire heroes of that day, Barney Van Houten, who performed heroic duties at the Grove fire at the spot now known as East 95th Street and Avenue M.

This fire was in a large hotel in the middle of a large tract of land with trees that were used as a picnic ground by Canarsie's churches in the good old summertime.

The grove was south of Ave. L and there was no East 95th or East 93rd at that time. Barney also drove the horses of Engine Company No. 257, which had the red hot fire going in its innards to maintain the pressure for the pumper to help extinguish the blazes.

Most fires, it appears now in retrospect, were in the meadows, which were east of Rockaway Avenue and West of East 87th Street.

We were spared excessive fires but I do recall two really big ones: The hotel at the Grove and the one at the original Holy Family Church at Conklin Avenue and East 93rd Street.

To continue with our walk now: we resume it at Rockaway Avenue and we now pass the Halfway House, an original spot owned by Jacob Tro-chelman who later sold candy and groceries.

I used to stop in often and enjoy his wares. He was a short man with a long beard and he had three daughters, one of whom married the scion of one of Canarsie's oldest families, the Skidmores.

John Skidmore passed away. He will be remembered as the man who used to blow the whistle every time the Canarsie shuttle, trolleys and buses left Rockaway Parkway station for the trip to the shore.

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