Students of The Aquinas Honor Society at the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates have had a difficult time erecting a plaque honoring President George Washington’s visit to Jamaica 223 years ago.
Since 2011, the students, along with historian and moderator Carl Ballenas, have been gathering information and vintage photographs of a hotel and tavern where Washington dined and slept during a visit to Queens in 1790.
Their discoveries led to the creation of a bronze plaque for the site, where the Federal Addabbo Social Security building stands today on the southwest corner of Jamaica Avenue and Parsons Boulevard.
But the students have been denied the opportunity to have the plaque placed on the building.
“We can’t put it up until we get permission from them,” Ballenas said. “All we want to do is put a plaque on a building to show that George Washington was actually here.”
The tavern was opened during the colonial period with a number of owners and various names since then. It was also the starting point for sporting events such as horse, automobile and bicycle races. During his Presidential Tour of Long Island in 1790, Washington wrote in his diary about his stay at the tavern, which was razed in 1906, according to Ballenas.
Eighth-grader and President of Aquinas Honor Society, Gabrielle Hollant, 14, said gathering the information on something they didn’t know about was fun.
“During their research for the Jamaica Book, they were fascinated with the history of this building and started to collect so many newspaper articles, maps, drawings, and photos that filled two large binders,” said Ballenas.
On Long Island the students found markers and plaques denoting the places the President spent a night. But the site in Jamaica, a historic colonial village, had no such marker. They took it upon themselves to write the text, found a bronze foundry and raised the money to purchase a plaque.
Eighth grader Kimberly Ramcharitar, 13, said the plaque is important because people don’t know about the history, and don’t believe that the Father of our Country visited the area.
“I just want the plaque to be there so it can tell them that George Washington did dine and slept here, because I do think it’s really cool that the first president stayed here,” she said.
Ballenas hopes they will be able to have a plaque at the site soon with support from Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) before they graduate, so they can witness the plaque being placed on the building.
Meeks spokesman Jason Hilliard said it was a disappointment when the General Service Administration denied the plaque because of a legal technicality. They are continuing to work with the students and Social Security Administration to accomplish their goal.
The plaque shows an 1840 engraving of the hotel, and an inscription about Washington’s visit and its importance during colonial times.