Around Queens: The Voelker Orth Museum
Through the experience of an immigrant family's 1890s home, the Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden, preserves and interprets the cultural and horticultural heritage of Flushing, Queens and adjacent communities to engage their ever-changing populations. The Museum is a welcoming place to relax, learn, and recharge. Through its period rooms, rotating exhibitions, and garden, the Museum yields stories and serves as a setting to explore, connections to our recent past and local environment. The Museum opened to the public in 2003 —just seven years after the passing of the family’s last surviving member, Elisabetha Orth. She donated the property in her will with the stipulation that her family’s home become a museum promoting local history and providing a Victorian-styled garden offering a sanctuary for wild birds. The house remained the home of the family for nearly its entire history and its appearance has changed little. Click to learn more about the family. The Voelker Orth Museum offers house tours, exhibitions, performances, talks and workshops, and educational programs year-round. The property became a New York City Landmark in 2007 and was added to the National Register of Historic Sites in 2020, ensuring that this small corner of Flushing's history endures to be studied, experienced and simply enjoyed by generations to come. Click to learn about the Museum & the Property. The Voelker Orth Museum operates as a private non-profit organization. Its programs receive funding from public and private sources. The Museum acknowledges support from Con Edison, Councilman Sandra Ung, the Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the Museum Association of New York, with funds from NYSCA. Programs are supported in part by New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs, Materials for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Art. About the Family Born in 1861, Conrad Voelcker (later spelled Voelker) emigrated from Edenkoben, a small town in Germany's Palantine region, near the Rhine River. He arrived in New York in 1881, at the start of a decade that would see more than 1.4 million Germans emigrate to the United States. Conrad became a successful publisher of German language newspapers. In 1899, the year after Queens became part of New York City, Conrad, his wife, Elizabeth (1875-1919), and their young daughter, Theresa (1898-1992), moved to Flushing, purchasing the property for $4,500. The neighborhood, just beyond Flushing's bustling downtown, was developing as a new middle-class suburb called Murray Hill, offering comfortable living with an easy commute into Manhattan on the Long Island Railroad. After Conrad’s death in 1930, his daughter, Theresa, her husband, Dr. Rudolph Orth (1887-1948), and daughter, Elisabetha (1926-1995) moved into the house. Dr. Orth, the son of German immigrants, graduated from Cornell University Medical School in 1909. During World War I he served in France with distinction as an army surgeon. In 1921 he was appointed as a police surgeon with the New York City Police Department and served in that capacity until his retirement. In 1935, the Orth family adopted a second daughter of similar age to Elisabetha, who they named Barbara. She became a nurse and raised a family. Elisabetha trained to be a teacher and loved gardening, birding, the arts and history. She remained her mother's life-long companion. All three generations of the family were philanthropic. Conrad provided funds for his hometown of Edenkoben to establish a foundation that still exists today. Theresa was active in Flushing community affairs and with her husband donated a building to serve as the Queens Police Post of the American Legion. Elisabetha ensured that her family's legacy would be remembered by donating the Voelcker Brothers newspapers to the Pfalz regional archive in Germany. She later bequeathed her estate to establish the Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden.