A $100,000 state grant to help renovate the Bowne House was announced last Friday by Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik at a luncheon of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce.
“This is such an important institution,” Grodenchik said. “I think it is as important as Mount Vernon and Monticello.”
Closed to the public for the last three years after funding for restoration dried up, the historic Bowne House at 37-01 Bowne Street, needs $700,000 to begin the first stage of work. Rosemary Vietor, president of the Bowne House Historical Society, attended the luncheon and said most of the needed money has been raised. “We are now less than $100,000 away from starting,” she said.
Once the money has been raised, ownership of the landmark house will be transferred from private hands to the city’s non-profit partner, the Historic House Trust. It oversees house museums throughout the city and will provide technical expertise on the renovation and running of the house.
Day-to-day management of the house will remain with the historical society, which also owns the contents that include furniture, toys, books, household artifacts and historic clothing.
The switch in ownership will allow access to public funds not usually available to the private sector. An additional $700,000 in city and state matching funds has already been promised to the house museum.
The Bowne House was built in 1661 by farmer John Bowne, who later allowed Quakers to meet in his house, which was against the Dutch law at the time. Jailed for his actions, he fought his case in the Netherlands and won. The house is considered the cradle of religious freedom in the United States.
“John Bowne made Flushing a better place to live,” Grodenchik said.
Total renovations are expected to cost $2 million with public and private funding to continue to be sought after renovations begin. The work is expected to take two years to complete.
The first phase involves stabilizing the structure by halting deterioration of the supporting beams, walls and foundation. This work was partially completed before the money ran out.
The second phase will include replacing the plumbing and furnace and will bring the building up to fire code. The final work calls for interior improvements including plastering walls and fixing wood floors.
Vietor expects up to 300,000 visitors when the house reopens as a museum. She hopes it will become the centerpiece of Flushing’s Freedom Mile, which celebrates the community’s role in establishing religious freedom.
That mile includes the nearby Quaker Meeting House on Northern Boulevard. It is located on land that Bowne sold to the Quakers as a place for their silent worship. The meeting house was built in 1694. In the rear is a burial ground where many of the Bownes are buried.
Another aspect of the Bowne House that makes it so unique is that it was lived in by nine generations of Bowne descendants until the historical society bought it in 1945. Recent research shows that even when the family lived there, it was opened up for tours on a regular basis as far back as the 1890s.
Grodenchik also announced other state grants he was able to secure for Flushing. They include $100,000 for the Queens Botanical Garden, for exhibits in its new administration building; $100,000 to Queens College; $50,000 to Flushing Town Hall, and $50,000 to the Flushing Library for improvements in checking out books.
He also said that the Pomonok and Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Centers will receive funding for new kitchens.
Grodenchik was honored by the chamber for his two years of helping the community while serving in the Assembly. He received the group’s Public Service Award.
“I have known Barry for 20 years and he is a great supporter of Flushing,” said Myra Baird Herce, co-president of the chamber. “As assemblyman, he has done so much for the community.”
Grodenchik lost his bid for reelection when Jimmy Meng beat him in the September Democratic Primary. Although he has not announced his future plans, they include continuing to help Flushing.
“I am truly honored to serve my hometown,” he said. “Some thought (in the past) that Flushing was undergoing a slow death, but it’s a remarkable place.
“You have to keep moving forward and I hope to continue working with you.”
Two other awards went to State Senator Toby Stavisky and her late husband, Senator Leonard Stavisky. The couple’s son, Evan, a political consultant, accepted the posthumous award for his father.
Herce described Toby Stavisky as someone who was able to fill her husband’s shoes in Albany. “She was an able companion to her late husband and has provided outstanding service to Flushing,” she added.
Senator Stavisky took the opportunity to praise the outgoing assemblyman, saying Grodenchik has been “such a positive force for Queens County.” She pointed to such projects he has been involved in including a new elementary school for the downtown area, Queens Crossing, a proposed multi-use building, and reuse of Municipal Parking Lot 1.
She also talked about her late husband, who was so involved in education. “The naming of PS 242 after Leonard meant so much to us since education was so important to him,” she said.
Richard Gelman, another chamber co-president, described the late senator as a brilliant man. “Your husband was dedicated and a terrific man,” he said.
Leonard Stavisky died over five years ago at the age of 73 due to complications after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. His wife won a special election to succeed him in Albany and has been reelected ever since.
The posthumous award was for distinguished leadership. “There has been no greater force in education,” Herce said. “He would be so proud of his wife and son carrying out his legacy.”