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Bowne House to fete 350 yrs

Borough President Helen Marshall speaks at a press conference at the Bowne House in 2009 announcing that the city's Historic House Trust had taken over the historic Flushing home.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Bowne House in Flushing celebrates its 350th birthday this year, and even though it is in a state of severe disrepair, the future looks bright for an edifice many people contend may be the oldest one left standing in New York City.

The Dutch colonial serves as a memorial to nine generations of the Bowne family, whose patriarch John was arrested by Gov. Peter Stuyvesant in 1662 for allowing Quakers to worship there, sparking a critical debate in the young fight for religious freedom in America.

But it is closed to the public because it is in dire need of work to repair or replace its roof, side shingles, windows and more, and its interior needs to be repainted and plastered, according to Rosemary Vietor, president of the board of directors of the Bowne House Historical Society, which works to protect and promote the home, which was taken over by the city Parks Department’s Historic House Trust two years ago.

That partnership has borne fruit, and through a combination of private donations and monies allocated by local elected officials, the funds to restore the building to its former glory have been secured, and roof work is expected to begin within a year. A visitor’s center replete with an office, classroom, collection space and more will also be built on the grounds.

“It’s going to be a complete restoration,” Vietor said. “The architect’s plans are complete, we’re just waiting on the city to put the work out to bid, then the bids have to be reviewed and they have to pick a contractor. City Landmarks has to review the project also.”

But seeing the home restored within a couple years after the 350th anniversary of its 1661 construction will be a glorious accomplishment, according to Anne Paul, a volunteer who works to take care of the house and its gardens, as it is a unique historical treasure that should be open to the public.

In celebration of the astounding milestone — only the Wyckoff House in Brooklyn is said to be an older building in the city, though some experts say that is a dubious claim in light of wood tests — a gala 350th birthday celebration for the home will be held on the roof of the Parks Department’s Arsenal in Central Park Oct. 6.

And a beautification event is scheduled for the morning of Oct. 15, during which local residents and elected officials will work to clean up and improve the Bowne House’s yard and other historical sites nearby.

Paul says all the hoopla about the anniversary should hopefully bring some attention to the important social and botanical history of the site, which was once home to a nursery that supplied exotic trees to locations up and down the East Coast, where they keep the home’s legacy alive to this day.

“If this house is restored soon, all these young people will have an additional site for augmenting their American history education,” Paul said while giving a tour of the home’s gardens. “It would be great, this house is an asset and this is a critical time in history for tolerance and telling the story of the Bowne family, which is eye-opening for people today.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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