Once It Was Peopled by Knickerbockers, but Now the Germans Hold Sway.
The old Harper homestead, where the ancestors of the members of the famous New York publishers lived, has recently undergone so many changes that it would be recognizable to few of the inhabitants of Middle Village of fifty years ago, if they should get an opportunity to visit their old locality. Middle Village population of fifty years ago was different than that of today. Indeed, the great change has come within thirty years. In the old days, the residents were old-fashioned Yankees. Fifty years ago there was only one Irish family living in Middle Village, and not a single German could be found. Now the place is occupied almost exclusively by Germans. The big German cemetery occupies the greater portion of the two sides of the most important street. The rest of it is dotted with saloons. There is also a considerable number of florists and marble cutters, all necessary adjuncts of the famous burial ground.
Among the old time residents were the Harpers. Joseph Harper first kept a store in the village. This he abandoned to become a farmer. He was a devout Methodist, as was also his wife, Elizabeth Harper. They attended the little Methodist church on Metropolitan Avenue, which, by the way, was the second Methodist church established in the United States by John Wesley, the old John Street church in New York antedating it by only two years. The house they lived in is at present occupied by the superintendent of Lutheran cemetery, and is a part of that corporation's property. When Mr. Harper died the house shortly afterward became what was then known as a tavern. When the projectors of the cemetery bought over 200 acres the old house was on the ground. The material was of such good quality that the house was not torn down. It was renovated, and during the past year has been still further improved, until it now presents as good an appearance as most of the suburban residences.
Joseph Harper's son James, who afterward became Mayor of New York, was a teacher in the Sunday school of the Methodist church. In the small graveyard behind the church are buried the remains of the elder Harpers. The inscription on the stone marking the father's grave reads:
IN MEMORY OF JOSEPH HARPER
For more than 60 years a member of the M.E. Church,
Who died December 26, 1847, in the eighty-second year of his age.
"A devout man and one that feared God."
Elizabeth Harper died November 7, 1854, aged 74. After recording these facts, the quotation follows: "And Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life."
Maria Harper, a step-daughter, is buried nearby and other relatives of the Harper family buried in the little churchyard are the Rev. John Lyons and his wife.