House Preservation Project is Underway
Bowne House Restoration Update - July 30, 2013
some exciting news: Queens Borough President Helen
M. Marshall has allocated an additional $500,000 in
funding for interior finishes for the Bowne House.
This allocation will allow us to make needed repairs
to the interior and is in addition to funding already
in place for exterior work.
The preservation project
at the Bowne House is underway. Exterior doors, windows,
and shutters have been removed to an offsite workshop
for preservation. Excavation work is underway along
the north, west and south sides of the house to allow
inspection of the foundation. Structural stabilization
will be done as needed.
Some interesting discoveries
have been made which help to unravel the alterations
history of the house. Nine generations of family occupied
Bowne House, and many of these made adjustments to
enlarge its size, update it in keeping with changing
tastes and styles, and add modern conveniences such
as gas, electricity and plumbing. The last major structural
alterations by the family appear to have been made
around 1845, when the Parsons family occupied the house.
for alterations has been made easier by the extensive
records kept by the family, starting with John Bowne's
meticulous records of construction as well as of local
history and family life of the 17th century. This custom
was observed by later generations, resulting in a rich
database of material covering over 200 years of social
history. Many of these documents remain with the museum.
They form a unique collection of materials from the
17th through the early 20th centuries.
investigations have uncovered brick flooring dating
from the time when an area on the north side near the
kitchen was used as an open porch; this area was later
enclosed and the brick flooring was covered up. Additionally,
the addition of a laundry, circa 1815, to the east
of the 1795 kitchen, resulted in the closure of an
old cistern. The cistern, located under the wood floor
of the laundry, was the repository for household refuse.
Recent archaeological explorations of this area by
the firm of Chrysalis, Inc., have uncovered
a rich variety of objects dating from the 18th and
early 19th centuries. These objects help tell the story
of the many occupants of Bowne House. Archaeological
materials will be preserved as a collection to be displayed
at the museum. Objects from previous digs on the site
have been the subject of several exhibits on the history
In order to determine finishes appropriate
for Bowne House, a paint analysis was performed. This
required inspection of various layers of paint remaining
on the exterior of a number of sections of the house.
The earliest remaining paint layers seem to be from
the 1840's. In accordance with these findings, which
are consistent with the dates of the last major alterations
to the exterior appearance of the house, a final selection
of colors will be made. These choices will also be
consistent with the period of interpretation for the
museum. Interior paint analysis was done some years
ago by the Bowne House Historical Society; interior
finishes here will be also consistent with the period
As work progresses, we will continue
to post regular updates and photos on the preservation
BOWNE HOUSE RESTORATION: REMARKS FOR GROUNDBREAKING
by M. HYLTON III
June 26, 2013
Bowne House is one of the most significant national,
state, and New York City landmark. An outstanding example
of late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Anglo-Dutch
architecture, the house has helped relay the story
of John Bowne and the Bowne and Parsons families to
the residents of Flushing and Queens and to visitors
from across the globe. In addition the architectural
heritage and social history, the house possesses a
remarkable collection of thousands of artifacts and
a storied landscape tradition dating back to the Parsons'
For seven years, I have served on the Bowne House
Historical Society Advisory Board and then the Board
of Trustees as member, vice-president, and now president.
I consider a true honor and privilege. Today marks
the culmination of years of planning and fundraising
to develop the approach and secure the resources to
restore the house and ensure its survival for generations
Many people made today possible. On behalf of the
Bowne House Historical Society Board of Trustees, I
would like to thank the many individual and other donors
who have contributed to the restoration project. Especially,
I would like to thank:
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall
New York City Comptroller John Liu
New York City Councilman Peter Koo
New York State Senator Frank Padavan
I would also like to recognize and honor Rosemary
Vietor, long-term member, past president, and current
vice-president of the Bowne House Historical Society.
Rosemary's dedication and termination are inspiring.
We are pleased to announce that our long-awaited preservation
work is underway. This phase is an exterior project
and will include removal, repair and replacement as
needed of siding; removal and repair of windows, shutters
and doors, replacement of the cedar roof, and some
structural stabilization as needed. We expect that
this phase of the work will take approximately 14 months.
Preservation work began April 1. The firm of AAH Construction
is performing much of the work; sub contractors are
being retained for specialized work as needed. These
include the firm of James Hicks, who is preserving
the windows, doors and shutters. A paint specialist
will be consulted to examine the many layers of paint
on the exterior of the house. Fortunately, an extensive
paint analysis for the interior was done for the Bowne
House Historical Society (the Society) in the early
1990's, so we have an idea of the decorative history
of the interior.
The discovery of an old cistern in the laundry room,
located off the kitchen on the eastern end of the house
led to a consultation with a professional archaeologist.
Chrysalis, Archaeological Consultants was very excited
about this find. The cistern has been covered by floorboards;
it probably pre-dates the construction of the laundry,
which is no later than 1815, perhaps late 18th century.
It had likely been located outside and was enclosed
at a later date. Cisterns, once common, were a source
of fresh water, and are now rare in Queens.
The cistern proved to be a repository of a large number
of varied, interesting artifacts in very good condition.
The items removed include, china of various periods,
bottles, animal bones, spectacles, a pocket watch,
charcoal, pipes and other items. This may be one of
the top finds in a historic house in the city, and
a major one in Queens.
These artifacts remain the property of the Society
and will join other artifacts found at the site in
prior explorations. Together they form an important
collection which tells the story of centuries of occupancy
of the site and teach us a lot about early life in
western Long island.
A discovery of timber with bark attached will require
additional dendrochronology work. The presence of bark
allows more precise dating of wood. While this wood
was located in the newer laundry area, so much of the
materials were recycled that it is possible this wood
came from an earlier area of the house.
Consultants for the Society working with NYC Parks
on the project include the firm of Jan Hird Pokorny
Associates and Robert Sillman Associates, structural
At this time, much of the exterior cladding has been
removed and the original timber framing may be seen.
It is very exciting to see this original framing, much
of it dating from the mid 17th century. We already
know a lot about the construction of the house; extensive
work, including dendrochronological studies, was done
for the Historic Structures Report of 2006. Additional
studies were done in 2007 by Rudy Christian of Christian & Son,
Inc. Mr. Christian prepared an extensive report on
the existing conditions of the structural framework.
Mr. Christian describes the structure as "an
extremely rare example of timber frame construction
in that it contains the work of four centuries of tradesmen." He
states that "although structures of this kind
are relatively common in the Old World, they are nearly
unknown in the New World and as such are an invaluable
part of American history".
The original one room circa 1660 structure was a type
of "H bent" framing typical for Dutch timber
framers. It incorporated a heavy "anchor beam" in
each bent with two posts joined in the "wall plates".
Christian states that the entire frame appears to be
cut from locally harvested white oak timbers. The markings
of Roman numerals may be seen on rafters; the use of
Roman numerals is not uncommon, but as used in the
Bowne House are an indication that the timber framer
was trained in Europe or in the European tradition.
A major addition to the Bowne House was built circa
1669. The quality of timber used in this addition was
of significantly lower quality that that used in the
ca. 1660 room, indicating a drop in the availability
of better quality trees as early growth forests were
depleted. Carpenters marks in this area show that the
timber framer was probably second generation and trained
in the New World.
Later modifications to the house as the family expanded
included the kitchen, which may be circa 1795, and
the laundry, circa 1795-1815.
Unfortunately, an infestation of termites in 1936
caused major damage to many areas of the house. These
conditions necessitated major alterations in the basement
and some poorly done repairs were made. These conditions
will be addressed during the preservation work now
As the work progresses, we will provide updates on
the web site and in our newsletter. We expect that
there will be additional interesting discoveries and
we will keep you informed of these finds.
We are very grateful to our elected officials for
helping to make this preservation project a reality.
We would particularly like to acknowledge the contributions
of Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall, Comptroller
John Liu, former NYS Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik,
former NYS Assemblywoman Ellen Young, and former NYS
Senator Frank Padavan.
(May 2, 2013)
We are pleased to announce that our long awaited preservation
project is now underway. This phase, the exterior restoration
of the 1661 house, is under the supervision of architects
Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, and Steven Foxworth, Project
Manager at NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.
The firm of AAH Construction, Inc. is performing the
preservation work, assisted by a team of professionals
with expertise in sub-sets of restoration techniques.
The process will be guided by the Historic Structures
Report (HSR), a comprehensive study of the structure,
its construction, the social history of the area and
the family, and existing conditions. The HSR was prepared
for the Society by Hartgen Associates, Albany, NY in
2007; it incorporates information from many sources,
including the Bowne House archives and family correspondence
dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
This phase, the preservation of the exterior, will
include the following steps:
- Structural analysis of the building and its foundation
by engineers to determine where stabilization is
- Strengthening of timber framing and replacement
of wood compromised by insect infestation, age and
- Removal and replacement of the existing cedar roof,
circa 1980’s, with new cedar roof shakes appropriate
in appearance and style with the period of the house.
- Removal of siding, assessment of its condition
and replacement of shingles as needed, preserving
as many original shingles as possible. The result
will be siding appropriate to the house and consistent
with the HSR.
- Removal and restoration of windows, preserving
as many original features as possible.
- Shutters will also removed to be restored offsite.
Existing hardware (shutter dogs) will be repaired
and reinstalled, with new hardware fabricated as
needed to match the existing materials.
- The columns supporting porches have been removed
and will be replaced with new columns; the benches
on the front porch familiar from images of the house
have also been removed for restoration. At the same
time, similar benches which were located on a north
facing porch have been located and will be restored.
- Finally, appropriate finishes will be applied to
the exterior siding, doors, windows and woodwork.
This phase, the exterior preservation of the house,
is expected to take approximately 14 months.
We have already made some exciting discoveries. For
example, original weatherboard (clapboard) was visible
under the shingles in one wall of the house. Virtually
the entire footprint of Bowne House dates from the
17th century, with the exception of the laundry area
located to the east of the kitchen. The laundry was
constructed sometime between 1795 and 1815. Weatherboard
may have been the original siding, prior to installation
of shingles. All images of Bowne House, however, depict
Weatherboard or clapboard is also visible in the laundry
area, where it may be seen on the original outer wall
of the kitchen, now forming the western wall of the
laundry. The laundry also contains a large cistern.
Removal of an area of shingles next to the front door
revealed very old and large 32” shingles under
a layer of more recent shingles. At that location,
timber faming original to the 17th century may be seen.
The wood timbers were sealed with cobbing, probably
a mixture of clay, sand and animal hair.
We do know that Bowne House was constructed with timber
most likely felled on-site. John Bowne’s brother-in-law,
John Feake, Hannah’s brother, worked to help
build the house. Bowne House was most definitely in
existence in 1661, a date that has been confirmed by
dendrochonology studies. Additions and modifications
were made in 1669, 1676 and again in 1684 and in the
1690’s as the Bowne family expanded and prospered
financially. These and later additions followed the
fashion of the time; parlor addition, second story,
kitchen wing, center hall and stairway. All show the
evolution of Bowne House during its period of occupancy
by the Bowne and Parsons families. Changes were made
to the interior as well, with fine paneling installed
in the parlor circa 1750 and other upgrades and modernizations
as the house changed hands within the family and new
generations made adjustments to suit their needs.
We will be watching for features which may add to
the body of knowledge about Bowne House and its occupants.
We are one of the very few surviving structures from
the 17th century, and we may be the only one currently
undergoing preservation work, certainly in the metropolitan
area. As such, this is a unique opportunity for historians.
One feature we will be on the lookout for is timber
retaining its original bark covering. While our dendrochronology
has confirmed the 1661 date, the timbers sampled lacked
bark; the presence of bark enables the dendrochronologist
to fine-tune the age of the timber; this may allow
us to confirm an earlier date of construction.
We will look forward to new findings and will post these
on our website. Please check for updates on the progress
of the preservation work.