Though Bowne House in Flushing has been closed for extensive restorations , it opened its doors to the public last weekend for a holiday party to remind Queens residents of a place that housed a family who fought for religious freedom in the United States hundreds of years ago.
“This is the oldest house in Queens,” Rosemary Vietor, president of The Bowne House Historical Society, said at the holiday party Sunday afternoon. “We’re definitely the oldest place associated with the freedom of religion in America. It’s a microcosm of three centuries of American history.”
The house at 37-01 Bowne St. in Flushing was built around 1661 by John Bowne, a Quaker who emigrated from England to Boston in 1649 and then settled in Flushing, when New York was under Dutch rule. Bowne was arrested in 1662 for allowing a Quaker meeting to be held in the house because the Dutch governor at the time had ordered that Quakers were not allowed to practice their religion.
He was tried in Holland and was exonerated, after which he returned to Flushing, which became a symbol of religious freedom, thanks to Bowne.
Nine generations of the Bowne family lived in the Flushing home, which has operated as a museum since 1947. It closed around 2000 for restorations, although it continues to hold tours for groups that request them. A group of high school and college students interned a
t Bowne House over the summer to learn how to do historical research.
Peter Kostmayer, chief executive officer of the Manhattan-based Citizens Committee for New York City, which provides grants for neighborhood-based groups, presented a $500 check for the Downtown Historic Flushing Beautification Projectat the holiday party. As part of the beautification project, volunteers clean up the Bowne House area.This is a very important house,” Kostmayer said.
City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) also praised the house at the holiday gathering and stressed the importance of preserving the structure.
“We have to make sure younger generations can come here and have a historical perspective,” Koo said. “The Bowne family has contributed a lot, and it’s important to see how people lived here several hundred years ago.”
Beverly McDermott, whose relative John Townsend was a founding father of Flushing and, in addition to his son Henry, a signer of the Flushing Remonstrance, joined the holiday celebration at Bowne House, where she worked for 16 years as a volunteer.
The Flushing Remonstranceis a 1657 document that became the forerunner to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives people the freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
“This house is about a man who did the right thing, about a family who produced many important people,” said McDermott, a Flushing resident.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson
©2010 Community News Group
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