HVVA NEWSLETTER, August 2003

HVVA Newsletters


The John Bowne House
Flushing, Queens County, New York
Preliminary Architectural Analysis Report
Prepared by John R. Stevens


View of Flushing (Long Island) North America
Lithograph. View of the Bowne House: as it was in 1822.
From: A Series of Picturesque Views in North America: Paris 1825
Mr. Bowne's House. It remains in the possession of his family
since 1661 time it was built."
J. Milbert Del.------ Lithog. de C. Motte

The oldest house in Queens County, the original section was built in 1661 by John Bowne, a member of the Society of Friends. Bowne's successful opposition to Governor Stuyvesant's religious intolerance restored freedom of religion to the colony of New Netherland. It is believed that the house served as a station on the Underground Railroad.


(Click on graphics for larger view.)

Stage I. The main part of the house was built in three or four stages. The front of the eastern part (that faces south) may date from the 1660s or it may date to circa 1680. Dendrochronology could settle this. Borings have been taken, but the analysis of these was not carried out under proper conditions. The results are not satisfactory and the procedure needs to be done again.

The earliest surviving part of the house measures about 31-feet in length, east-west, by about 20 feet in depth. The framing is entirely of oak. It is built in the Dutch style with seven H-bents. The from the top of the first floor joists to the top of the second floor anchorbeams is about 8-feet, 5-inches. From the-top of the beams to the top of the plate is 3-feet, 9-inches. The exterior anchorbeams measure about 10-inches deep by 8-inches in thickness.

The bottom of the western internal anchorbeam was hewn off in Stage III for a level lath-and-plaster ceiling. This was very likely the hood-beam for a jambless fireplace. Further support for this is the evidence of braces on either end, like the hood-beam in the original part of the Pieter Wyckoff house in Brooklyn. The fourth bent from the east end also had braces. A partition had been located here. The first-floor boards are jointed in this location, and the anchorbeam has mortices in its underside, toward the west side of the beam, for the jambs of a door near the center of the partition wall.

As far as can be seen, the first floor joists, that are set flatwise, about 11-inches in depth by 12- to 14-inches in width, extend the full width of the house. The sills, that are 8-inches in width by about 6-inches in depth, are let into the ends of the joists about 2 1/2-inches so that part of the sills are exposed in the rooms. The first-floor boards are of oak, about 1 1/4-inches thick and random 12- to I5-inches wide, laid square-edge, and fastened with oak pins. The floor boards were jointed under the partition. Dust strips, about one-inch by 4-inches are gained into the joists below the floor boards where they join.

The wall posts measure about 8-inches in width, matching the anchorbeams, and about 6-inches in depth. The spaces between the north and south wall posts are infilled with clay with a binder of pine needles worked around horizontal sticks on about 6-inch centers set in holes in the sides of the posts. The end walls may also have been infilled this way. The interior of the panels was smoothed with a skim of plaster, revealing about one inch of the posts. The only other example of this construction the author has seen is in the Coeymans Secondary House in Albany County, although reused wall posts have been seen with holes for horizontal sticks and infill in the Peter Cooper house at Hempstead Long Island (now at Old Bethpage Village Restoration). and the stone wing of the Winne-Creble house at Bethlehem, Albany County.

The first cladding of the original section of the house is not known. In the 1660s John Bowne had a barn built that was to be clapboarded and it is possible that the house was covered with this material also. Inspection of the exterior facing of t.he wall posts might determine what the original cladding had been.

The roof has six pairs of rafters numbered from west to east. Rafter pair one was not part of the west gable, It is approximately 5-feet east of the original end-wall location. There were two tiers of collar ties. The lower collars for rafters marked "V, V, and VI" remain. The upper collar for rafter pair VI (gable) survives. The lower collars are mortice-and-tenoned to the rafters. The upper collars were square-gained into the east side of the rafters.

Marriage marks are also on the east side (see appendix I) The rafters are pit-sawn. Also pit-sawn are the shingle lath, set on about 16-inch centers and trenched into the rafters. About half of the shingle lath of the south side of the roof survives, including the topmost (ridge) lath.

The barn built for John Bowne in the 1660s had a thatched roof and it is tempting to think that the steep roof of the house was similarly covered. An inspection of the accessible outside surface of a length of the shingle lath was made with a flashlight and a mirror by the writer with the assistance of William McMillen of Richmondtown Restoration. A pattern of nail holes, and several broken off nails were found, indicating that the roof had been shingled from the earliest period. When the stage II addition was built (circa 1680 or circa 1698) shingle lath was not used, and instead the whole roof was covered with mill-sawn oak boarding, only about 5/8inches in thickness. It was laid on top of the shingle lath of the Stage I part of the house. Since the shingles that were removed to install the boarding were relatively new, it would seem probable that they were the original roof covering.

The nature of the west (fireplace) wall remains in doubt. It could have been mostly of masonry, more likely stone than brick. The hood beam for the jambless fireplace has been mentioned, but there may have been some kind of jambed fireplace in consideration of John Bowne's English background. Mortices for hearth and hood trimmers have not been found. Where they would be is presently inaccessible.

The Nature of exterior wall construction has already been discussed. There were probably two windows and a doorway in the south (facade) wall. The windows would likely have been Dutch-type cross windows, and there would probably have been a mullioned transom opening over the doorway, which, like the upper openings of the windows would have been filled with small lights (about 4 by 6-inches) of leaded glass. The easternmost window is a problem because the spacing of the second and third bents from the east is not known and remains to be determined.

Much investigation needs to be done on this part of the house which is the most important historically. Exploratory openings in the walls are required, as was recently done for the writer in his investigation of the lefferts house in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.


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