Some John Bowne High School students and their Dutch counterparts experienced some shared history in Flushing this week.
The Dutch exchange students and the American teens spent Monday afternoon planting tulip bulbs at the Bowne House at 37-01 Bowne Street, the 340-year-old home of Bowne High School’s namesake and an early pioneer of religious freedom in America.
The 10 Dutch students, all in their last year at the Lyceum high school in Amsterdam, had just arrived in the country last Friday. They are scheduled to stay with local families through October 24th.
Ten Bowne students had spent 10 days in Amsterdam in April as part of the program. It was the school’s first year in this particular exchange program, said Arlene Zuefle, coordinator of student affairs for the school.
The experience was something new for the Dutch students as well. Although the Amsterdam school has had an exchange program for six years, this is the first year they have done it with a school outside Manhattan.
“I knew Manhattan really well, so I thought I knew New York pretty well,” said Patrick van den Hanenberg, the history teacher leading the Dutch delegation. “But I didn’t know Queens. You think of George’s parents from “Seinfeld” and Archie Bunker, and it’s not like that at all.”
That’s not to say Manhattan wasn’t the first stop. “It’s so exciting to see everything, to stand in Times Square,” Anna van der Tas said. “I still want to stand on the Empire State Building and see everything.”
“The city is fast, it’s a very fast city,” Lisette Zeeuw said.
“But Amsterdam is too,” van der Tas replied.
The Dutch students will spend the rest of the week tailing Bowne students and pursuing independent study programs. For example, van den Hanenberg said one student was going to Italian neighborhoods to investigate Italian-American culture, while another was going to the Bronx to look into the hip-hop scene.
But Monday was a day for Queens history. Occasionally straining to hear over the sirens and jet planes, the students learned about how Bowne built the house in 1661 on the farm he had cleared out of the wilderness of Long Island.
Bowne’s historical significance came because of an incident the next year. Bowne’s wife was a Quaker, and he allowed the local Quakers to meet on his land and in his house. This was illegal under Dutch law, and then Governor Peter Stuyvesant had Bowne arrested. Bowne left the country to appeal his case in the Netherlands, where he won the right to return in a landmark case for religious freedom.
Bowne lived the rest of his life in the house. It ultimately passed through nine generations of his descendants until the Bowne House Historical Society bought it in 1945.
The house is currently closed to the public while the historic society raises funds for its restoration. Total renovations are expected to cost $2 million. The work, which will include stabilizing the walls and foundations and bringing the building up to code, is expected to take two years to complete.
Inside the house, students squeezed past plastic-covered boxes as historical society member Evangeline Egglezos pointed out architectural features, talked about Bowne’s family history, and speculated that the pacifist Quakers’ refusal to join the local militia was what aroused Stuyvesant’s ire. “I’ve read about John Bowne. For me, it’s very interesting,” van den Hanenberg said.
On the American side, Bowne senior Sarah Caltabiano said she was interested by the cultural differences she had seen with the Dutch students, like the differences in how they describe their family life. “They all sit down and eat dinner together. They’re a lot more family oriented.”
“They’re fun. They seem to grow up faster,” said classmate Deirdre Leby. “They seem to know a lot.”
Van den Hanenberg confessed there was one thing that was unfamiliar to the Dutch students; planting tulip bulbs. The Bowne students, who had been through the school’s agriculture program, were much more familiar with the procedure.