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Queens Chronicle

Bowne House on target for restoration funds

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Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009 12:00 am

The historic Bowne House in Flushing is alive and well with restoration work expected soon after the state approves a property transfer.

Rosemary Vietor, president of the Bowne House Historical Society, and board members want to reassure Queens residents about the circa 1661 dwelling, which is known as the cradle of religious freedom in America.

Over recent weeks, rumors have circulated that the city had withdrawn hundreds of thousands of dollars in promised funds for the repair and restoration of the landmark located at 37-01 Bowne St. But board members and the Parks Department dispelled those notions last week.

Delays in funding and carrying out the work are blamed on paperwork, according to Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) who allocated $628,000 for the project. Liu noted that the Historic House Trust of New York City, a nonprofit arm of the Parks Department, is in the process of taking over the property. However, work cannot begin until the state attorney general signs off on the transfer.

Board member Wellington Chen said on Thursday that since the Bowne House Historical Society is a private group, it was hard to get public funds and even harder to allocate them once given. “Everything takes time to do in New York City,” he said. “You need a public-private partnership.”

Liu agreed. “The funding is in place, but my allocation cannot be used until 2013, when actual work is scheduled to take place,” he said. “There is a mountain of paperwork to begin with for using the funding and it makes you want to pull your hair out.”

He called it “an incredible challenge” for the Bowne House board members, but said the structure is not in imminent danger. “The funding is timed for when it’s needed,” he said. “That’s primarily why the city moved the allocation to 2013.”

Patricia Bertuccio, spokeswoman for the Parks Department, said $1.7 million is available in the department’s budget this fiscal year for the Bowne House to restore the roof, siding, windows and door and to stabilize the structure. Once the attorney general approves the house’s transfer to the HHT, capital restoration work can begin.

There is no opposition expected from the state, but neither Vietor or the Parks Department would speculate on when approval will be granted. Under the switch, the Historic House Trust would oversee the structure, but the day-to-day management and its contents remain the responsibility of the historical society.

Vietor said the society’s architects are working on plans for a new education center and the restoration project. The proposal calls for the center to be installed in the property’s garage, which will be expanded. It will provide display space, a lecture area and staff offices. Because the house’s interior is small, the center will serve larger groups and can have changing exhibits after the landmark reopens.

Bowne House has been closed since 2000, when restoration work began but just proved too costly to continue. Fundraising efforts have been ongoing since then.

The house was built by farmer John Bowne and expanded through 1695. It is the oldest dwelling in Queens and the second oldest in the city. Part of its uniqueness lies in the fact that nine generations of Bownes occupied the house, keeping the furniture, clothing and artifacts intact.

It was purchased by the Bowne House Historical Society in 1947 and was open on a regular basis for tours until 2000.

Bowne paved the way for American religious freedom because although he was not a Quaker, he allowed members to meet at his home, which was against Gov. Peter Stuyvesant’s ruling. Eventually, Bowne was thrown in jail and later deported to Europe.

Bowne was gone two years, leaving his Quaker wife, Hannah, to run the farm. He went to the Netherlands and fought his case for religious tolerance before the Dutch West India Company and won. He returned to New Amsterdam where Stuyvesant was ordered to allow people of all faiths to worship freely.

Responding to the future outlook of the house, Vietor was positive, saying, “All is well. Rumors seem to go with the territory.”

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