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The Chinese Farmers of Astoria

By the 1890s, there were 5-10,000 Chinese men living in New York (and about 100 Chinese women.) Among the things they missed most—no doubt well down the list from their women—were traditional Chinese vegetables. 

It wasn’t long before some of these immigrants realized the opportunity and set up farms in the outlying areas of New York. One Astoria farm is described in an illustrated article, “A Celestial Farm On Long Island”, found in an 1893 issue of Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. This one was to the east of the Astoria Silk Works, located at 23rd Avenue and Steinway Street. It is also mentioned in the 1902 book, New York Sketches, by Jesse Lynch Williams, from which the illustration at right was taken.

An article from 1906 mentions another farm located near Steinway. I’ve found other mentions of this farm and believe it was located along Bowery Bay, between Steinway and what was then called North Beach but is now LaGuardia Airport. I found the census page (image below) that lists these farmers. Their place was located on Bowery Bay Road, and their closest neighbor was a German piano maker, who obviously worked in Steinway.

You can see that several of these Chinese were married and had been in the U.S. for ten to twenty years. Their wives were waiting for them back in China—patiently, one hopes.

Bowery Bay Road was an old thoroughfare the remnants of which are 20th Road in Steinway and Bowery Bay Boulevard, located just east of the LaGuardia runways. North Beach was an entertainment center. A sort of low-end Coney Island, I believe, where gambling went on very openly.

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