“Want to come see my cemetery?”
That was all the invitation Marion Duckworth Smith needed to accompany her date to his historic home in East Elmsworth, Queens, New York, near LaGuardia airport in the fall of 1979.
The fact that the house dates back to times before airplanes, heck, before the United States was even a country, had something to do with Marion throwing caution to the wind and accompanying her date Micheal to tour his old house and the cemetery in the backyard.
House Crazy Sarah too would have shoved aside all thoughts that her date might be a serial killer and happily visited his home; not just to gawk at the historic backyard cemetery, but to tour the home that is older than United States.
After her love at first sight experience (with the house and property) Marion eventually married the homeowner, Michael Smith in 1983.
You see this isn’t just any old house. The Lent-Riker Homestead dates back to 1654. Yes, you read that right. Not only does the house pre-date the Revolutionary War, it goes back to the time before the New England witch trials, just after the time of the Pilgrims! Back when what we now know as New York City was freshly settled by Dutch farmers who named the settlement “New Amsterdam”.
Historians have verified that the house was built between 1654-1656 by a Dutchman named Abraham Riker (also known as Abraham Rycken Van Lent). The dining room and the kitchen are the original part of the building. The second story and additional rooms are “newer” – they were added in the year 1729.
The house is said to be the “oldest inhabited private dwelling in the city” and, perhaps, the entire country, although that is a difficult claim to verify.
The property had been in the same family for centuries – the Rikers (namesake for the infamous Rikers Island) and the Lents owned it until it was rented to Mr. Smith in 1966.
After the last of the Rikers passed away, Michael Smith was able to purchase the home from the estate. Once Marion entered the pictured, she set about restoring the home and making it hers as well. Michael knew: happy wife – happy life!
Inside the Lent-Riker Homestead
Marion, now in her late seventies, has decorated the house with the most adorable and breath-taking finds.
Not everything in her décor is period appropriate, but that is just part of the magical charm of the place.
It’s comfortable, cozy, but oozing with history!
Marion has the kitchen set up so that it resembles an antique store more than a kitchen. It’s completely adorable and has everything you need in a functioning kitchen.
Some have criticized Marion for not decorating in a purist, house-age-appropriate primitive fashion. But House Crazy loves the kitsch and whimsy of the place!
Marion is a collector of “everything” but is partial to creepy vintage dolls and puppets.
House Crazy Sarah is a huge fan of creepy vintage dolls!
The Backyard Cemetery
The cemetery is situated off to one side of the 1 acre lot.
As was customary back then, the family cemetery was plotted out back of the Dutch homestead.
The Lent-Riker cemetery contains 132 marked graves, many dating back to the 1700’s.
It’s not just the cemetery that is intriguing. Look closely at this photo:
Yes that is actually a tree growing out of the roof! All part of the kooky charm of this place.
Surrounded by busy highways, parking lots and industrial buildings, the Lent-Riker Homestead property is like a secret garden – a homestead holdout amongst the hustle and bustle of modern urban life.
And look at this sweet little back yard she-shed Marion had built to match the main house:
Sadly, Michael Smith passed away in 2010 but Marion has been contentedly keeping house by herself for the past decade and has no plans to leave any time soon. She gives occasional tours to help off-set the cost of keeping the house going and she is seeking non-profit status for the historically designated home.
If in a few years from now, Ms. Duckworth Smith decides it is time for her to leave this endearing historic home, House Crazy Sarah would be more than happy to step in and become the new eccentric lady of the house!
Oh, and as for Mr. Smith…. yes, indeed: Marion had him buried in the backyard.