To the north of downtown Flushing is the Korean commercial corridor on Northern Boulevard, and north of that, the suburban blocks of Broadway-Flushing, where one may still find sizable unattached homes with grassy lawns. Century-old restrictive covenants preserve the neighborhood’s historic appearance in a borough where undecorated brick boxes and glass condo towers are becoming the norm.
In the center of this quiet neighborhood is Bowne Park, an 11.8-acre green space with a pond that was a private estate until 1925. For more than two centuries prior, it belonged to the Bowne family, which has roots in Flushing going back to John Bowne, who arrived in 1631.
About the Bownes
The Bownes were Quakers, a pacifist Christian sect. In 1657, the Quaker residents of Flushing wrote the Flushing Remonstrance, a document that demanded religious tolerance from the government. Although Bowne’s name does not appear among the signatories, his home was used for prayer gatherings in defiance of Dutch authorities. Located a mile to the south of the pond, Bowne House was inhabited by his descendants until 1945. Since then, it has operated as a museum under the care of Bowne House Historical Society.
Bowne’s descendants owned substantial land around Flushing and among them was Walter Bowne, who served as the mayor of New York from 1829 to 1833.
He kept a summer residence near the southern shore of the pond. During Bowne’s administration the city suffered an outbreak of cholera. Not knowing how to combat its spread, Bowne ordered quarantine for the city, closing its port and barring vehicles from coming in. The attempt failed and hundreds died in the summer of 1832.
A decade later, the opening of the Croton Aqueduct brought clean water to the city, greatly reducing cases of waterborne illnesses among residents. He died in 1846 and is buried with his family members at Flushing Cemetery.
Bowne’s summer home was purchased from the family in 1907 by the Rickert-Finlay Realty Company, which transformed the estate into an upscale suburban development.
Bowne Pond was left undisturbed by the developers as an unofficial park. This undated postcard comes from James Driscoll’s book Flushing: 1880-1935 Postcard History Series.
By 1925, Bowne Park was a holdout as the surrounding area was mapped for development. The vacant mansion burned down in March of that year. Three months later, the city condemned the land and acquired it as a park. Below is a report on the mansion by Brooklyn Daily Eagle from March 13, 1925.
In a pattern similar to Kissena Lake and Jackson Pond, the shoreline was lined with concrete and two fountains were installed at the center of the pond. Instead of a natural spring, the Croton-Catskill-Deleaware Aqueduct now provides the pond’s water supply.
The earliest map that I’ve been able to find with Bowne Park depicted is the 1873 Beers Atlas, where it appears on the eastern border of Flushing, just north of Walter Bowne’s House. The street to north of the pond is Bayside Avenue, which runs from Flushing to Bayside. Most maps prior and subsequent to Beers did not show the pond as it was small, shallow, not significant enough to mention. The map above also includes other hidden waterways: Kissena Creek on its southern edge, Flushing Creek on the west, and Mill Creek flowing from College Point.
Condition of Bowne Pond
Too small to merit a boathouse, it is used primarily for catch-and-release fishing, ice skating, and admiring its resident turtles. Without its two fountains, water in the pond becomes warm and stagnant, resulting in algae growth. Alongside water quality, pollution and poaching have also affected wildlife in the pond.
Restoring the Park
This past October 20, Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Paul Vallone, and local civic leaders broke ground on the reconstruction of the park’s comfort station and playground. The design includes play equipment with turtle sculptures evoking the local wildlife.
The master plan for the park proposes a third fountain for the pond, dredging its sediment and installing a new weir on the shore, all designed to keep the water oxygenated, free of algae and hospitable to wildlife.
In the News:
Guardian reports on its new virtual reality platform, Underworld, that takes a glimpse into London’s lost River Fleet.