View Full Version : Bowne House: New York's oldest?

October 21st, 2008, 12:18 PM
Experts gathering evidence to put Bowne House in battle for designation

Daily News Staff Writer

Monday, October 20th 2008, 7:03 PM

Timber-frame expert Rudy Christian holds up white oak twig for students at Bowne House.

The Wyckoff House in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, was built around 1652. It's considered the city's oldest home right now.
Prepare for the historic house smackdown.

New research suggests that construction of a 17th-century Queens home may have begun before work on a notable 1652 Brooklyn house - possibly launching an interborough battle to stake a claim as the city's oldest building.

Experts who are studying the Bowne House in Flushing believe the high quality of its timber-frame design means parts were built prior to 1661, the long-accepted foundation date.

"We're confident we'll find the information that will put it in the 1650s," said timber-frame expert Rudy Christian, who has spent more than a year examining the home's structure with his wife and business partner, Laura Saeger.

State-of-the-art computer analyses that can date wood should be able to pinpoint the Bowne House's age, Christian said.

He estimated it would take a few years for scientists to run those tests.

Such studies could propel Bowne House into a war for tourists and grant money with the Wyckoff Farmhouse in Brooklyn, the first building landmarked by the city in 1965.

Rosemary Vietor, president of the board at the Bowne House Historical Society, boasted it would be "nice to say you have the oldest."

She also took a jab at Wyckoff.

"Wyckoff never had anything happen there," Vietor said. "It was a farmhouse and the family lived there."

Bowne House, meanwhile, became a symbol of religious freedom after owner John Bowne's 1662 arrest for letting Quakers worship there against New Amsterdam law - and his triumphant fight to overturn that rule, Vietor said.

Her comments angered the Wyckoff Farmhouse's education director, Shirley Brown-Alleyne.

"We did have something happen here," Brown-Alleyne bristled. "We had everyday life [from the 1600s on], which happens to be the story you don't hear too much in history."

The East Flatbush landmark was home to farmer Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, who got the land thanks to connections with New Amsterdam Gov. Peter Stuyvesant. Nine generations of the Wyckoff clan occupied the house.

Wyckoff's Brown-Alleyne and Bowne House caretaker Anne Perl de Pal stressed the value of identifying their sites as the city's oldest when applying for grants and attracting sightseers.

"People will want to see the oldest in the city," Perl de Pal said.

But Brooklyn's borough historian, Ron Schweiger, downplayed the Bowne-Wyckoff debate and stressed Brooklyn-Queens unity. "Look, we're both part of Long Island," he said with a laugh.

Bowne House is now closed amid a major restoration and plans to erect a visitors' center in the adjacent garden by 2010.

Christian was studying how to maintain the house when he discovered the white-oak frame was older than expected.

"That's part of the reason buildings like this need to be preserved," he said. "There is so much knowledge in them that has yet to be interpreted."

Assemblywoman Ellen Young (D-Flushing) has secured $125,000 to help stabilize Bowne House and repair its ceilings, floors, pipes, roof and wires.