The man who built Woodhaven
by Ed Wendell
Jan 19, 2012 | 4578 views | 0 0 comments | 149 149 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Florian Grosjean
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It was John Pitkin who bought the land that was eventually christened Woodhaven and for that he is generally regarded as its' founder. But it was a man who came here from Switzerland (via France) who can rightly claim the title "The Man Who Built Woodhaven." That man, Florian Grosjean, his family, his factory, his accomplishments and the tragedy of what could have been will all be part of a presentation at this month's Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society meeting, on Wednesday January 25th at 1 p.m. at Emanuel Church (91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard).

A hundred and twenty-five years ago, there wasn't a resident of Woodhaven who wasn't aware of who Mr. Grosjean was. His factory employed most of Woodhaven and many of his workers lived in houses that he built for them. Many of these row houses still exist along 95th Avenue behind the Pathmark Supermarket parking lot, where different versions of his factory once sat.

The original stamping factory, in which large machines cranked out kitchenware such as pots and pans and utensils, employed just over 300 workers when it burned to the ground early one morning in February 1876. Considering that the population was still comfortably under 1,000, that meant that about a third of Woodhaven's residents found themselves out of work overnight.

While most residents began to pack up and make plans to move elsewhere, Mr. Grosjean encouraged them to stay, keeping his workers on at a partial salary, enough to convince them to stay until a new factory could be built. And by August of that year, the new factory was opened, topped by a beautiful clocktower that could be seen from miles around. That clocktower still exists, on Atlantic Avenue, along with a good portion of the rebuilt factory.

One wonders what kind of community Woodhaven would have turned out to be had it been allowed to be abandoned and the factory never rebuilt. Instead, the business continued to grow, employing over 3,000 workers by the turn of the century. Along the way, Florian Grosjean helped build several churches (some of them still active), a library, and a park. He helped bring street lights to Woodhaven and, in one of his most important acts, he brought the railroad to Woodhaven (along the surface of Atlantic Avenue).

He was very influential in politics and hosted many important people at his large mansion, which sat at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, stretching east as far as 96th Street and as far north at 91st Avenue. Coincidentally, the location of our meeting (Emanuel Church) likely sits either on, or right next to, the land where this mansion used to sit.

Today, a historical marker (placed by our Historical Society) stands outside of the old LaLance & Grosjean stamping factory, and there are plenty of other remaining signs of his influence. If there were ever to be a statue erected in Woodhaven, in anyone's memory, Florian Grosjean would be a very worthy candidate for that honor.

The Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society will meet on Wednesday, January 25 at 1 p.m. at Emanuel Church, located at 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.

Ed Wendell is the President of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society.
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