Vander Ende Onderdonk House


Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 37 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Before January, 1769 the towns of Newtown and Bushwick disputed the exact disposition of their border — and therefore the border between the counties of Kings and Queens.  

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens

A survey line finally settled the issue, and Arbitration Rock, now located on the grounds of Onderdonk House, helped mark the divide.

In the flatlands of Queens near the Brooklyn border, where hipster Bushwick transitions into less-gentrified Ridgewood, amidst warehouses and tawdry wholesalers, stands one of New York’s historic houses. Unlike several of its fellows (which tend to get moved to less valuable real estate), the Vander Ende Onderdonk House still stands on the site where it was built over 200 years ago. 

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens

The Story of the Vander Ende Onderdonk House

Paulus Vander Ende, a Dutch farmer in English New York, built a house around 1709, in a fittingly hybrid Dutch/English style.  Most of the current sturdy stone building dates to 1775.

The Vander Endes lived in the house throughout the 18th century, including during and after American Revolution.  Then the Onderdonk family, also Dutch farmers, came into the picture.  They bought the place in the 1821, and occupied it through the early 1900s.

The house’s life after that gets surprisingly varied and interesting.  It was:

  • a scrap glass business and livery stable
  • a speakeasy
  • the office of a greenhouse company
  • “a factory for spare parts for the Apollo space program”

I wish the house said more about that part of its life.

However, as with much of New York, the Onderdonk House was abandoned in the 1970.  It suffered a huge fire in the mid-70s. Fortunately, a group of local residents established a society to reconstruct and care for the place, and it’s been a museum since 1982.  

Today’s Museum

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens
Today’s museum is a little haphazard.  It tells a bit about the families, as you’d expect, and also has an interesting display on archaeological excavations at the house.Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens

But the house also has some weird exhibits, too, including one on the Dutch tulip-mania of the 17th century.  I have “random” and “cluttered” in my notes.  While the house has a cellar and an upstairs floor, only the ground floor is open to the public.

John Adams Gets in the Way

I couldn’t get a comprehensive sense of the Onderdonk House.  Unbeknownst to me, the Saturday afternoon I visited the house hosted a 2-hour-long monologue by a guy in character as President John Adams.  Mainly about his wife, Abigail.

While that’s one way to spend a sunny, unseasonably warm weekend afternoon in November, it’s not the way I would spend it (either giving the monologue or listening to it).  Now, if it had been a monologue by a guy in character as Hamilton…

However, Adams and his the small audience of Adams-philes meant that I couldn’t check out two of the rooms of the house — which constitute a high percentage of the total rooms available to check out.  The need for silence out of respect for the second president also precluded conversing with any of the house’s staff, which would have helped inform my thoughts about the place.

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens
Not Abigail Adams

Great Gardens

That said, I throughly enjoyed the garden of the Onderdonk House, which has somehow managed to hold onto a very respectable plot of land.  It includes a small hillside with lawn and some trees, a kitchen garden, ornamental plots, and a few adorable (and beloved) chickens in a coop.  Sadly it seems not all visitors have been exactly nice to the fowl, necessitating a sign.

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens
Beloved Chickens

In one of those unexpected ties that I love, the Onderdonk Garden also has an ornamental urn that came from Lewis Latimer’s house. I wish I knew the story as to how it came to be here.

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens
View from the Onderdonk backyard

Should You Visit?

Historic house fanatics should definitely visit Onderdonk House.  For more general visitors, I hesitate.  What I saw of the displays was interesting, but not interesting enough to justify a trip out to Ridgewood.  The lawns and gardens and chickens are terrific; I liked the outside of this house far more than the inside.  However, Arbitration Rock notwithstanding, they have little historic interest.

I’m glad the Onderdonk House survived, but I think you can skip seeing it.

One note: Onderdonk House is an easy walk from hipster Bushwick, including the Bushwick Collective street art program.  That is well worth seeing, and there are some interesting places to eat and drink nearby, too.  If you happen to be heading to that part of Bushwick in nice weather, consider balancing that by paying a call on the ghosts of the Vander Endes and the Onderdonks.

Vander Ende Onderdonk House, Queens

For Reference:

Address 18-20 Flushing Avenues, Ridgewood, Queens
Cost  General Admission:  $3 (Recommended Donation)
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