Bowne House Historical Society, a landmark and museum where visitors can learn about the abolitionary work and supposed Underground Railroad activity that once took place there, has been admitted to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
The Bowne House is the only Network to Freedom designation in Queens.
Rosemary Vietor, vice president of the Bowne House Historical Society’s Board of Trustees, said that being recognized is a great accomplishment because of the weight of its history.
“The Underground Railroad and manumission are important history to our country,” she said. “So the point of the application was to get that material in one place to be recognized by the National Park Service. Now, we can plan a series of educational programs and on-site visits around this particular theme.”
Because people could be prosecuted for being abolitionists, the research materials surrounding the Bowne House were secretive by nature.
For the same reason, other houses in the area that are alleged to have a similar history disappeared as the community grew — but the Bowne House remained.
Vietor said that they are fortunate in that the Bowne House has roughly three centuries of archival materials from the family, which has been continuously owned the house since it was built in the mid-1600s, that have been saved.
The Board of Trustees has maintained contact with Congresswoman Grace Meng over the years, as she proposed the Flushing Remonstrance Study Act, which authorized the Secretary of the Interior to conduct research on sites associated with the signing of the Flushing Remonstrance in 1657.
The Flushing Remonstrance, which declared freedom of religion in the one-time Dutch colony, is believe to have inspired the Bill of Rights.
“I look forward to this recognition creating even more interest in the Bowne House, and bringing more visitors to our borough,” said Meng. “It will help more people learn about the Underground Railroad and Queens’ long tradition of fighting for freedom and liberty.”
The Bowne House opened as a museum to the public in 1947, and continues to offer interactive tours to guests to this day, with much of the house’s original character in tact.
Vietor said that before COVID-19, the Bowne House saw about 6,000 visitors per year.
During the pandemic, they converted the museum experience into an online format, including a virtual tour, podcasts and various online educational programs, such as the history of Juneteenth, and even cooking demonstrations.
“We do hope to have an education center on site, which is where we could hopefully have a separate series of programs on the Underground Railroad and the story of abolition,” said Vietor.