Students aid in restoration of historic Bowne property

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Students at Bowne High School have banded together to raise funds for the restoration of their school’s namesake, the Bowne House, the oldest structure in Queens.

Marie Monterroso and Stephanie Sarran, students at the high school, sent out 1,000 letters to religious groups and businesses over the holiday season in a fund-raising drive aimed at helping the historic Bowne House, which is currently undergoing repair.

“Why wouldn’t a person want to save the Bowne House?” Monterroso asked. “It’s a part of us, it’s a part of our history.”

The Bowne House, at 37-01 Bowne St., is one of the most historically significant places in Queens.

Thought to have been constructed in 1661, it was the home of John Bowne, whose name has become synonymous with religious freedom. Bowne allowed Quakers to attend religious services in the house, defying Gov. Peter Stuyvesant. Bowne was arrested, taken to Holland and thrown in a dungeon. Refusing to renounce the Quakers, he eventually was freed and returned to Flushing.

The money Bowne students have raised goes toward a restoration project which began 18 months ago.

The Bowne House Historical Society has closed the home, which has been used as a museum since the Bowne family sold it in the 1940s, to do a complete restoration of the structure.

The restoration includes replacing parts of the north wall, which has deteriorated due to termites; installing new heating, cooling and ventilation systems; and landscaping a new garden. Shingles might also be replaced, and a new paint job is also a possibility.

“It will be totally transformed,” said Rosemary Vietor, president of the historical society’s board of trustees.

In working on the north wall, the architect has made some discoveries about the building.

“The archeology has shown us some interesting things,” Vietor said. “Parts of the house may be older than 1661. Parts that we thought were older may be more recent.”

Vietor said studies of the timbers of the Bowne House might show it to be the oldest structure in New York City.

So far the Bowne students have raised about $1,000 for the house, and Monterroso said they planned other drives. When trying to complete a project when funds are tight, Vietor said every penny is appreciated.

“It’s very gratifying to see the local community is supporting us, particularly the students,” Vietor said.

Bowne HS Principal June Orchanian said she thought the fund-raising might be the start of a more permanent partnership between the two institutions.

“We have hoped to increase the relationship, to have our students serve as tour guides,” she said.

Arlene Zuefle, coordinator of student affairs at Bowne HS, said the school hoped to continue to bring publicity to the house since its board of trustees wants to reopen the museum as soon as possible.

“The Bowne House has a huge goal. Our goal is to publicize it as much as possible,” she said.

Zuefle credited Chuck Wade, a teacher at Bowne and a member of the Bowne House Historical Society, with linking the two institutions together.

Monterroso said Bowne’s legacy well fits the character of her school.

“Our school is extremely diverse. We have five different religious clubs. We have so many different races in the school. And John Bowne fought for religious freedom. I love John Bowne, so why not?”

Anyone interested in donating to the Bowne House should call Chuck Wade at (718) 263-1919.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 1-718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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