YOUNG FARMERS LIGHT GUARD
SOCIAL ACTIVITIES IN FOSTERS MEADOWS
A number of years ago my curiosity was aroused by stumbling across a group of young Fosters Meadow German-American males who organized themselves in a shooting club or militia called the “Young Farmers Light Guard”. The more I found out about them they seemed to closely associate with the Central Avenue Hotel during much of their existence. For most of that time the Hotel was operated by the Herman family so it was locally referred to as Herman’s Hotel or simply Hermans. What was called a hotel in the late 19th century would soon be called a tavern and later a bar & grill. What seemed to differentiate Hermans from its substantial competition in the area was that it had a large hall that could accommodate a large meeting or dance or ball or political gathering that smaller hotels could not handle. And they assumed that all who came to those gatherings would be thirsty.
So I started to look at the local newspapers of the late 1890s and ten years hence to see what was reported about Hermans. The Queens County Sentinel (QCS) was published in Hempstead but had to change its name to the Hempstead Sentinel (HS) when the three western towns of Queens County (Newtown, Flushing and Jamaica) voted to join the City of New York and the three eastern towns (Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay) voted no and eventually formed the new county of Nassau.
The following excerpts from the papers indicate some of the social activities that were planned in the area.
QCS 9/30/1897 The Young Farmer’s target excursion and ball will be held Monday 4th. Extensive preparations are being made and it will undoubtedly be a successful event.
QCS 9/30/1897 A number of the local young people met Tuesday evening at Herman’s hotel and organized a club, which will be known as the “Past Time Social Club”, with headquarters at Herman’s hotel. The officers elected are: William P. Herman, president; William Kalb, vice-president; J. M. Herman, secretary; Joseph Krumenacker, treasurer; sargeant (sic)-at-arms, Frank Hoppenhauer.
QCS 10/7/1897 The 27th target excursion and ball of the Young Farmer’s Light Guard, held at J. Herman’s hotel Monday, was the most successful and enjoyable event ever held by this organization. The parade was started about half past eight, with an unusually large number of wagons present, decorated with a great variety of farm production. The line of march was from this place to Franklin Square, Hyde Park, Springfield and Jamaica. In the afternoon, target shooting by the members was a feature. First prize was awarded to Louis Heiss; second prize to John Dubone(sic). In the evening the reception was attended by a large crowd. The ball room was tastefully arranged with Chinese lanterns, flags and bunting. The following are the names of the officers: John Dubon, 1st lieutenant; Benjamin Rottkamp, 2nd lieutenant; Louis Heiss, Secretary: Henry Karkheck, Treasurer.
QCS 1/27/1898 The Pastime Social Club has postponed its meeting, which was to be held last Saturday evening , to this Saturday evening. The meeting is to be held at the headquarters at John Herman’s Hotel. An entertainment will be held after the business meeting, with music and refreshments. An interesting feature will be a friendly fistic bout between two of the local sports.
QCS 4/28/1898 Proprietor John Herman has had the interior of his hotel improved. The rooms are being stained and painted.
QCS 5/19/1898 The members of the Pastime Social Club are arranging for a pleasant time to be held at their headquarters, John Herman’s Hotel, June 7th.
HS 8/17/1899 A meeting of the Horseshoer’s Protective Association was held at this place on Wednesday of last week. Nothing of special importance was transacted. The next meeting of the Association will be held at Queens on Sept. 6.
HS 9/14/1899 The Fosters Meadow Young Farmer’s Light Guard will hold their 29th annual target excursion and ball on Oct.2nd, at Herman’s Hall. Committee of arrangements: Albert Schmitt, Capt.; AP Hoeffner, Jr,,1st Lieut.; L. Krummenacker, 2nd Lieut.; Joseph Dubon, Sgt-at-Arms; Louis Heiss, secretary and Henry Karkheck, treasurer.
HS 9/6/1900 The fifth grand ball of the Pastime Social Club will be held in Herman’s Hotel on Tuesday evening Sept. 18.
HS 9/6/1900 The 30th annual target excursion and ball of the Young Farmer’s Light Guard will be held in Herman’s Hall on Monday evening, October 1.
HS Oct. 1900 A concert and cakewalk is to be held in Herman’s Hall on Saturday evening next, under the auspices of “The Colored Coachmen” of New York.
HS Feb. 1901 The annual masquerade ball of the Young Farmers Light Guard will be held on Monday next at Herman’s Hall. The committee of arrangements is composed of Albert Schmitt, captain; John Lang, first lieutenant; Louis Heiss, secretary; AP Hoeffner, sergeant-at-arms; Henry Karkheck, treasurer.
HS 5/8/1901 Members of the Pastime Social Club are making preparations for a grand time next Tuesday evening when the twelfth annual ball of the club is to be held at Herman’s Hall. Tickets are 25 cents.
HS 1/9/1902 The 32rd annual masquerade ball of the Young Farmer’s Light Guard will take place on Monday evening, January 27th, in Herman’s Hall. The committee of arrangements is composed of Albert Schmitt, captain; Louis Finn, 1st lieutenant; Joseph March, 2nd lieutenant; Henry Felten, orderly sergeant; Henry Karkheck, treasurer; and Louis Heiss, secretary. The admission will be 25 cents. The Light Guard boys assure a good time to all who attend the ball.
HS 8/6/1903 Friends are invited to attend a Corn party at the Central Avenue Hotel, John M. Herman proprietor, Friday evening August 14th. There will be music and refreshments.
HS 8/16/1906 A meeting of the Young Farmer’s Light Guard is called for Saturday evening to make arrangements for a target excursion and ball. All members are requested to be present.
HS 1/10/1907 A grand hog guessing will take place at John M. Herman’s Central Avenue Hotel on Wednesday January 23. Tickets will be 50 cents each with social ceremonies.
Prior to the Civil War, it was fashionable to form militia groups or Schuezenvereine (shooting clubs) in German sections of large cities in the North. There the recent immigrants could wear colorful uniforms and practice military drills while speaking their native language. Yet the organizations tended to be more social than military. After the War, the popularity of these groups spread to the suburbs and then to more rural areas. In 1869, the Young Farmers Light Guard was organized in Fosters Meadow, with its name describing its members. Officers of the Guard were elected annually with the positions consisting of Captain, 1st Lieutenant, 2nd Lieutenant, Orderly Sergeant, Treasurer and Secretary. The guard had it’s headquarters at the Central Avenue Hotel, know as Hermans Hotel during most of it’s existence.
Members of the Guard were mostly in their late teens to mid-twenties, although a few participated into their late thirties; they met on a regular basis at the hotel to drill and practice target shooting. Fortunately, beer was always available for purchase at their headquarters. They would make an appearance as a unit at weddings and funerals and they sponsored two major events during the year. Each winter, which could be long and quiet in a rural farm community, they sponsored a masquerade ball open to the public at their headquarters. It was in October, at the height of harvest, that the Young Farmers Light Guard had its annual Turnout. Its description in a booklet issued for the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Valley Stream makes the event seem rather serene .”The Farmers Turnout was the way the farmers displayed their harvest. Fruits and vegetables were neatly loaded on wagons and paraded through the Village. The parade started at Herman’s Hotel on Elmont Road, circled through the village, and ended at the same place. The Turnout ended with a Turkey shoot, and prizes were awarded for the best decorated wagon.”
However, Edward Gunther, who worked as a bartender at his father’s Jamaica tavern from 1909 to 1917, painted a more robust picture in his journal. “There was a large dance hall in the rear of the saloon (Hermans). (T)his was headquarters for the Young Farmers Light Guard. (E)very fall of the year the boys had a turnout – they used three market wagons each drawn by a team of horses. (O)ne was used for the fruit & vegetables. (T)here were big racks on the side of the wagon about five feet high. (T)he fruit and vegetables were fastened to these racks – the name Farmers Light Guard was spelled out with white onions. (T)he boys spent several days getting this wagon in shape, it was also covered with flags and streamers. (A)nother farm wagon was used to carry the six or eight piece band……, the third wagon was used for prizes. (T)here were about thirty of the boys who rode horseback – the horses were decorated with streamers and flags. (T)here was a captain appointed every year. (T)hey would leave Dad’s place about nine o’clock in the morning stop at all the merchants these boys done business with, and they would get a prize; the captain would shout present and the band would play a tune and then to the next merchant. (T)he parade would leave the saloon, up Elmont Road to Hempstead Turnpike west to Queens Village, Hollis, Jamaica – at John Hatters in Richmond Hill which is also a saloon the boys had lunch. (T)hen they would start to return. I remember seeing them stop in later years when we had the saloon at South Street and Merrick Road Jamaica. (T)hen to Springfield, Rosedale, Valley Stream and back to Dad’s place. Most of the merchants gave money. (T)here was a group of judges appointed by the boys to set up prizes. Dad had a shooting gallery set up in the yard. (T)hey would shoot at targets the one got the highest score got first prize, which was a nice lot of money. (E)ven the low score didn’t do bad. Mother and several women worked all day preparing for two big meals – one for the judges in the late afternoon and the big supper at Midnight. (T)he dance would start about eight o’clock in the evening and would finish about five o’clock in the morning. (S)ome of the farmer boys had big heads the next day.” It is amazing to think that any of the boys could have hit the broad side of a barn much less a small target after visiting so many saloons, but maybe the real sharpshooters abstained. The first place prize was not always as generous as Gunther reported. In 1893 it consisted of $5 and a ton of fertilizer.”
The YFLG was not the only German-American militia organization in that vicinity. Newspaper accounts mention the Hempstead Farmers Light Guard in Franklin Square, the Old Farmers Light Guard and the Original Old Farmers Light Guard that met in Queens Village. However, Hermans Hotel and the Young Farmers Light Guard seemed to have a mutually beneficial relationship that lasted well into the second decade of the Twentieth Century. Two calamitous events occurred within three years of each other that had a disastrous impact on that relationship. On April 6 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Suddenly it was no longer socially acceptable for a group of young German-Americans to parade around in uniform carrying rifles. The last known reference to the organization is a newspaper item promoting their Masquerade Ball scheduled for February 17 1917. There is no report that it was ever held. Hermans had to sustain the loss of one of its oldest organizations to call the hotel its headquarters. But things soon got worse. On January 29 1920 the Volstead Act became law. The United States entered the era of Prohibition