OHNY 2007: Voelker Orth Museum

Saturday, October 6th, 2007 | All Things, Events, NYC History

Site #2: The Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden in Flushing.

The historic house was built in the 1890s and eventually purchased by Conrad Voelcker, a successful printer who emigrated from Germany in 1881 with just a wooden trunkful of possessions. For the next century, the house remained in the family until his granddaughter Elizabetha Orth’s death in 1995. Orth, a never-married retired schoolteacher with no descendants, left the house and its grounds (and a rather substantial sum of money) to the Queens Historical Society, the Queens Botanical Garden and the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary of the National Audubon Society in Oyster Bay, Long Island, stipulating in her will that her legacy was to be used to promote local history, Victorian gardening, and bird sanctuaries. The house – which had been looted and vandalized in the years immediately following Orth’s death – was restored with great attention to original period detail, and opened to the public as a museum in 2003. House tours are now conducted weekend afternoons throughout the year.

Voelker Orth Museum

Voelker Orth Museum

As we waited in the foyer for our OHNY guided tour to begin, I had a chance to talk with the museum’s caretaker, a young man who actually lives inside the house on a part of the upper floor, which has been converted into a separate (modern) studio apartment for that purpose.

Our guide brought us through the first floor rooms, which included a parlor outfitted with a still working victrola and a baby grand piano (not a Steinway, though), an intimate library, formal dining room and kitchen. Upstairs, we were able to view Orth’s bedroom, decorated as it would have been during her childhood, with her original bed, dresser and dolls.

Voelker Orth Museum guide

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the museum is the prize-winning Victorian garden, which is overseen by the Queens Botanical Garden. The period plants – including those inside the house — are not only landscaped in the Victorian style, but maintained using 19th century propagation methods and gardening techniques, such as hand pruning and natural fertilization.

J and C were able to join in on the tour of the house, which prior to this afternoon, none of us had any idea even existed — just another random glimpse into Queens history.

Voelker Orth Museum garden

Check out the rest of the Voelker Orth Museum photos on flickr.

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