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Plaque to mark Washington’s visit

Students in the Aquinas Honor Society at the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates show off the plaque that will soon adorn the Joseph P. Addabbo federal building in Jamaica. Photo courtesy Carl Ballenas
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On a victory lap across Long Island nearly 225 years ago, President George Washington spent a night at a “pretty good and decent house” in Jamaica, and now a group of prolific young historians want to mark the location.

Students from the Aquinas Honor Society at the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates plan to hold a ceremony at their school next month when they will dedicate a plaque to be hung outside the Joseph P. Addabbo federal building in downtown Jamaica honoring the president’s stay in 1790.

“The students did a book on the history of Jamaica that made note of this historic building,” said Carl Ballenas, a social studies teacher at Immaculate Conception and moderator of the Aquinas society.

“[Washington] actually wrote about it in his diary,” he said. “The kids were very proud of that fact.”

While traveling across Long Island to thank his spies for their efforts in the Revolutionary War, Washington stayed at a hotel on the corner of what is today Jamaica and Parsons avenues.

He wrote in his diary that the tavern kept by a Mr. Warne, which would later hold rallies at the beginning of the Civil War, was “a pretty good and decent house.”

The bronze plaque marking the historical spot shows a small building, which was razed in 1906, with a wrap-around porch and details about the president’s visit.

Students had planned to dedicate the plaque in October, but the government shutdown put the move on hold.

Ballenas said the students have already dedicated plaques adorning the gate house at Jamaica Estates and one marking a 3-acre glacial lake that was drained near Utopia Parkway to make way for the Grand Central Parkway.

As part of their extracurricular activities with the honor society, the students have previously authored a book on Fresh Meadows and plan to publish a third tome on the history of Kew Gardens.

Ballenas, who also heads the Richmond Hill Historical Society, said students make use of the archives at the Jamaica branch of the Queens Library and, to his chagrin at times, online resources.

“The Internet can be a curse. Understand, I’ve been a teacher for 30 years. Sometimes it’s just kind of like cut and paste,” he said. “But there are some great sites out there.”

All told, Ballenas said his young pupils have accomplished a lot.

“I’m very proud of these kids,” he said. “They did a remarkable job writing these three books.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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