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Queens Historical Society merges past with present

Tucked away in a shady little park on 37th Avenue in Flushing, Kingsland Manor is one of those late-18th-century houses dotted throughout the borough, made of simple cladding with a generous porch and multipaned windows that used to look out on acres of farmland. There’s a peacefulness to the interior and the furnishings and the varnished floorboards pop a little when you walk over them. Kingsland Manor is also the headquarters of the Queens Historical Society.

Around since 1968, QHS is involved in a number of educational outreach programs, runs contests for schoolchildren, delves into the area’s historic scars (such as slavery) and manages to it all on less money in recent years.

“We’re just getting out a big mailing outreach to schools for several educational programs,” said QHS Executive Director Mitchell Grubler. “One is a program on local history for fourth grade and older classes. The teachers who book the program get a packet of pre-visit materials and then when the class visits each student gets a gallery guide, sketching opportunities and map hunt, all based on our current exhibit, ‘The 20th Century Borough,’ about changes and development in Queens.

“The students make postcards, and draw a picture of one of the buildings they’ve seen. They pick an older building — a house, house of worship, a library — make a picture of it, and write a paragraph about why they chose it.”

The fourth graders can then submit the drawing with a $1 processing free to compete in the QHS Annual Student Art and History Contest. “First prize is $100, the second is $50, the third is $25,” said Grubler. “There are 12 honorable mentions. We had over 300 drawings submitted last year and we want more this year!” All fourth graders in Queens are eligible and the deadline is Nov. 1. The awards presentation will be Nov. 16.

“We’re interested in instilling in young people an interest in history and historic preservation,” Grubler said. “That’s why the buildings should be at least 30-80 years old and have some kind of architectural significance. If the students want some help with the research they can go to our library and archives. Same thing with teachers.”

The QHS’ archives are made up mostly of 19th and 20th century material, though there are some items from the 18th century. A map of Queens and Kings County from 1852 is on display near the “20th Century Borough” exhibit.

“We also have an ongoing project about the antislavery movement and underground railroad in Queens and New York City,” Grubler said. “We’re doing outreach to education because we have the teaching aids, such as a supplementary textbook called ‘The Road to Freedom: the Underground Railroad In New York and Beyond.’”

The book is aimed at seventh graders and beyond. At the end of each chapter there are documents and vocabulary questions that help them prepare for the state exams.

“Teaching With Documents: Slavery in New York” is a QHS-sponsored teaching kit for fourth grade and up and has three original documents concerning slavery in New York. One is a runaway slave ad, the second is an 1812 manumission paper of a slave named Cato from Nicholas Wyckoff and the third is an inventory of Queens farmer William Tallman, which lists his possessions, including his slaves.

QHS Vice President for History Jim Driscoll spoke of some of the possible stops on the Underground Railroad in Queens. “We think the Samuel Parsons House — where Flushing High School is now — was a station, and maybe Bowne House, and the Macedonia AME Church in Flushing.”

Bowne House, just across the way from the manor, is under renovation. It’s not finished because funding has been cut. Bowne House isn’t managed by the QHS, but by the Bowne House Historical Society.

“We’re very disappointed about the funding from the City Council,” said Grubler. “The previous year we received additional sum of money and this year we didn’t get any of that. We’re $36,900 down from the last fiscal year.” Also, because of the Sept. 11 attacks, no school class visited the QHS all last fall, and that also cut revenue. “A councilman (he did not specify which) said they were going to look into it because it’s not the intention of the City Council to penalize us that way.”

“2003 is the 35th anniversary of the Queens Historical Society and I hope to make it a special year because of that,” Grubler said. “I hope people will be generous and support the Historical Society and I hope that we do have some kind of event that’s both a fund-raiser and a celebration of the 35th Anniversary.”

Along with contests and exhibits, QHS sponsors walking tours of Queens neighborhoods. There were tours to Sunnyside and Jackson Heights this fall and bus tours held in September visited a number of the buildings and sites in the “20th Century Borough” exhibition. One homeowner in Forest Hills Gardens even invited the tourists into her house.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. there will be a free slide presentation at the Flushing Library entitled “Counters, Stools and Booth Service: Queens Diners, Yesterday and Today” by Mario Monti.

If teachers want more information they can call 939-0647 Ext. 17. “The 20th Century Borough” will be on display until March 2, 2003.

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