3. Last Remaining Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead, Astoria, Queens
Behind a white picket fence between the entry to Riker’s Island and a Tudor garden apartment community in Queens, lies the last Riker house: the Lent-Riker-Smith homestead. Built around 1655, the home has aged into an enchanting place. It is also the oldest private residence in New York City and has been almost continuously occupied since its completion. Its restoration and current incarnation is due to decades of hard work by current occupant Marion Duckworth Smith.
At the time Michael Smith (Marion’s husband) bought the home in 1966, he was only the third person to have ever owned the home – next only to the Riker family themselves and an accountant named William Gooth. Michael hadn’t planned to do much with the home, letting it become his warehouse, but then he met Marion. When Marion first saw the home, she had been convinced it had been sitting in disarray just waiting for her. It had been a childhood dream of Marion’s to bring such a house back to life.
The first project which Marion tackled was the attic. Marion discovered ledgers, wills, financial directories, diaries, photographs, and other documents which provided a lens into daily life of the Riker family. Marion felt as if she had discovered a time machine in her attic. By reading the daily correspondence and other documents, she was able to follow the lives of the Riker family members as they grew older. The majority of the papers were donated to the Long Island Historical Society (now the Brooklyn Historical Society), but Marion kept what she called “the good stuff.” Her prized documents include animal feed bills, canceled checks, and a last will and testament which left the family’s bed, its most prized possession, to the eldest son.