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By Alex Robinson

Officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency that oversees federal parkland, threw their support behind legislation last week that could pave the way to putting two historic Flushing sites under the National Park Service.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) introduced the bill, which would require the department to study the viability of adding the John Bowne House, at 37-01 Bowne St., and the Old Quaker Meetinghouse, at 137-16 Northern Blvd., to its national register.

At a hearing last week, National Park Service officials said the department backs the bill and, if it passes, they will launch a study on the sites to determine their significance, suitability and feasibility.

The National Park Service safeguards more than 400 sites of national parkland.

The Bowne House was built in the 17th century by a pioneer in religious freedom whose principles contributed to the Bill of Rights.

The exact date the house was built is up for debate, but John Bowne, an English immigrant who became a Quaker, first bought the land the house sits on in 1653. Bowne House’s historical society first thought it was built in the 1660s, but timber professionals recently told them it might have been earlier.

In 1662, Bowne was arrested for allowing Quakers to hold religious services in his house and banished to the Netherlands. At the time, Quakers were not allowed to practice their religion in what was then a Dutch colony.

A few months into his banishment, he appealed his punishment to the Dutch West India Co. and was allowed to return. This laid the foundation for Quakers to practice their religion freely.

The Old Quaker Meetinghouse was built in 1694 by Bowne and it is a National Historic Landmark for architecture and religion.

“I am thrilled that the Department of the Interior supports looking into whether sites connected to the signing of the document could become part of the National Park Service,” Meng said. “Their study could lead to the spots becoming a National Historic Park or a National Historic Site. I urge Congress to pass my legislation so that the process can get underway.”

Meng’s bill, introduced in September, is pending before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

The study to determine whether the sites should become part of the National Park Service would take $200,000 to $300,000, according to the bureau’s estimates.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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