Volume 75, Number 27 | November 23 - 29, 2005

Villager photo by Bonnie Rosenstock

From left, Bill Van Winkle, president of the Holland Society, Philip Clough, president of Kiehl’s, and Nicholas Stuyvesant Fish, seventh-generation direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, at unveiling of plaque commemorating Peter Stuyvesant’s pear tree.

Peter’s famed pear tree plaque returns to its roots

By Bonnie Rosenstock

On a clear, brisk Thurs., Nov. 17 morning, in a low-key, but spirited ceremony, the bronze plaque commemorating the site of Peter Stuyvesant’s beloved pear tree was welcomed back to Kiehl’s after an absence of 46 years with a formal dedication accompanied by champagne, croissants and the cacophony of city street sounds.

Joining employees of Kiehl’s — the East Village store founded 154 years ago as an apothecary and today offering an array of hair and skin products — at the event were members of the Holland Society, the Society of the Holland Dames, St. Mark’s Church Historic Landmark Fund, the St. Mark’s Church community and a few invited guests.

The honor of parting the crimson curtain covering the plaque was accorded to Nicholas Stuyvesant Fish, a seventh-generation descendant of the former governor of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.

Fish flew in from Portland, Ore., where he now resides, to also preside at the kickoff of the first annual Five Dutch Days the day before, an event commemorating the contributions of the Dutch to the history of New York. He was born and raised in New York and has long and deep roots here. The Fish and Stuyvesant families are buried in the graveyard of St. Mark’s Church at 10th St. and Second Ave. His daughter, Maria Elizabeth Stuyvesant Fish, named after Elizabeth Stuyvesant, the governor’s daughter and wife of Nicholas Fish — a leading Federalist of his day and New York City alderman — was baptized at the church 12 years ago.

“There’s so much that the British wiped out. The victor gets to write history,” Fish said. “I’ve never been particularly conscious of my Dutch roots. It’s not something you go around advertising. As a kid I couldn’t even spell Stuyvesant, so I didn’t use it. I think what’s happening in terms of acknowledgement is that it is from the Dutch that we gained our tolerance, and so much of what made this a world-class city occurred because of the Dutch, not the English,” he said.

In a phone interview a few days before the official unveiling, Philip Clough, president of Kiehl’s Pharmacy, expressed his delight at the plaque’s return to the brick wall at the northeast corner of Third Ave. and 13th St.

On Nov. 12, 2003, during Clough’s first month with Kiehl’s, the company planted a pear tree and installed a small tablet in the tree pit with great fanfare to commemorate the original pear tree planted at this intersection by Stuyvesant in either 1647 or 1664. It bore “spicy fruit” for over 200 years until it was knocked down in February 1867 after two drays collided and smashed into it. City dignitaries, a mayoral proclamation and the granddaughter of Kiehl’s founder were in attendance two years ago, as “Pear Tree Corner” was rededicated. (The original corner pharmacy, known as The Pear Tree Drugstore, became Kiehl’s in 1851.)

“It was my initiation into Kiehl’s, and we are happy that we’re able to carry on the saga,” said Clough, an affable Englishman. “But this time we want to focus on our community and keep it very much a local event. It will be informal in the East Village spirit. There is so much development in the neighborhood, so we are pleased to be a part of the continuity. We might be one of the oldest continuous businesses in the East Village, and given our commitment to the community, we are pleased to return the plaque to its original position,” he added.

Bill Van Winkle, president of the Holland Society, the organization that originally affixed the bronze plaque to the building in September 1890, wore the society’s gleaming gold presidential medal, suspended on a luminescent orange sash, at the rededication. The Holland Society commissioned Tiffany to design and cast the medal in 1888. It has been worn by the society’s president at official functions since 1889. “I consider this an official Holland Society function,” declared Van Winkle. “This is very significant. When the pear tree met its demise, it was the oldest living thing in New York City. I feel very good about it going back to its rightful place. There’s nothing worse than history being misinterpreted,” he said.

Van Winkle acknowledged several people for their key roles in bringing the plaque home. He praised the perseverance of the society’s trustee emeritus James Van Buren for keeping the issue in front of the trustees. “He took me by the arm and brought me to the building and showed me the holes on the side of the building where the plaque had been,” Van Winkle said in a phone interview.

At the rededication, he also publicly thanked Charles Schlesinger, president of Bendiner & Schlesinger, for being a good steward of the plaque and for returning it to the Holland Society. As The Villager reported in an article on March 16 of this year, Schlesinger’s father obtained the plaque from St. Mark’s Church where it had been sent for safekeeping when Kiehl’s moved several buildings north while its building was undergoing renovation in 1958.

The plaque resided on the medical laboratory’s building on the northeast corner of Third Ave. and 10th St. until this spring. The laboratory, a mainstay of the neighborhood since 1834, moved to Brooklyn in January of this year. However, the walk-in medical clinic relocated to within spitting distance of Kiehl’s, on 13th St. between Second and Third Aves. That 13th St. building was, in turn, demolished a few months ago, and a new six-story rental apartment building is currently going up in its place.

Kiehl’s paid for the refurbishing and installation of the 115-year-old plaque. Remco Maintenance Corporation, a restoration company located at 500 10th Ave., brought the paint-chipped, oxidized, weather-beaten plaque back to life. “It will stay like this for about five to 10 years,” explained John Tokarski, Remco operations manager, of the gleaming, restored plaque. “It should be maintained every couple of months by wiping it down with soap and water and a soft 100 percent cotton cloth, so as not to scratch it. I would say ‘rag,’ but cloth sounds better.”

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