Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Borough President Marshall Wants Bowne House to be a National Landmark by Connor Adams Sheets -

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Borough President speaks at a press conference at the Bowne House last year.

One of Queens’ most historic structures, the Bowne House in Flushing may have federal protection soon if Borough President Helen Marshall gets her way.

Marshall has asked that the 1661 house, believed to be the best-preserved example of Anglo-Dutch vernacular architecture in the United States, be designated a National Historic Landmark.

The house at 37-01 Bowne St. is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a New York City landmark, but the national recognition would make the building eligible for grant money, free inspections and other protections that only federal landmark status can bestow.

“The house embodies how a 17th century early settler in the colony of New Amsterdam lived and serves today as a window into the past for young and old to appreciate and enjoy,” Marshall wrote in a letter to Director Paul Loether of the National Historic Landmark Program at the National Register of Historic Places. “Today, more than ever, we need to keep in mind what has happened in the past, so that we build a better future.”

The house, the oldest building in Queens and one of the oldest in New York City, was home to John Bowne, a Quaker who established the principles of religious freedom later codified in the Bill of Rights.

In 1662, while New York was under the rule of Dutch Gov. Peter Stuyvesant, John Bowne openly defied a ban on practicing any religion other than that of the Dutch Reformed Church and allowed Quakers to hold services in his home.

Bowne was arrested and jailed and when he refused to pay a fine or plead guilty, Stuyvesant banished him to Holland, where he successfully argued his case before the Dutch West India Co. Stuyvesant was ordered to permit dissenting faiths to worship freely and Bowne returned to the Bowne House in 1664.

Despite its illustrious history, the home — a museum since 1947 filled with its original furniture — needs extensive work to be restored to its full glory. Plans for a three-phase restoration are under city review and work should begin next year, according to Anne Pal, the Bowne House’s volunteer coordinator.

“We’re really excited about getting National Landmark Status. It will help us finish the restoration because we will have access to federal funds,” Pal said. “Bowne House is an important place historically and this is a big step forward.”

The house was transferred to the city in 2009. Once the drawings are complete, the work will be put out for bids and the exterior improvements will begin, followed by plumbing, electric, fire safety and other interior renovations.

Funding for the project has come from the city and state and more than $1 million in private donations has been raised by the Bowne House Historical Society.

For more information about the Bowne House or to plan a visit, log on to, e-mail office at or call 718-359-0528.