Flushing Freedom Mile
Despite its current status as a solid working-class neighborhood at the terminus of the 7 train, Flushing, Queens has a long and storied history. To accentuate its past, the city has placed a number of colorful signs demarcating the "Flushing Freedom Mile," a pair of walking tours through a number of historic sites within a one-mile radius of downtown Flushing. The following descriptive commentary comes from signs along the trails.
St. George's Church
St. George's parish was founded in 1704 as part of the Church of England, and is the second oldest religious organization in Flushing. In 1746 the first church building was erected around the corner on Main Street. King George III granted the church a royal charter in 1761. An early rector of St. George's was Samuel Seabury, who became the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Francis Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, served as a vestryman and warden from 1769 to 1790. In the 19th century, St. George's founded two schools, the Flushing Academy and the Flushing Institute. Both of these schools were known for their academic excellence and attracted students from all over the country.
The current Gothic Revival building, erected in 1853-54, is a significant example of ecclesiological church architecture and is a rare surviving work of notable architects, Wills and Dudley. Ecclesiology was a philosophical reform movement that sought spiritual renewal by returning to the rituals and architectural forms of the medeval church. The building features two Tiffany stained glass windows. Later additions to the structure include an 1894 chancel wing and a 1907 neo-gothic parish house, designed by prominent architect Charles C. Haight. The graveyard contains gravestones and memorials dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (NY Landmarks Preservation Foundation)
RKO Keith's Theatre
The RKO Keith's theatre was a 2,974 seat atmospheric Moorish theatre designed by famed theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb. The theatre opened on Christmas Day, 1928 and remained in operation until the 1970s. The theatre was sold, stripped and partially gutted in the 1990s before demolition was stopped by the city. At the time I visited in the summer of 2007, it's fate was still uncertain. (Cinema Treasures)
Louis Latimer House
Louis Howard Latimer was a pioneer in the early days of electrical engineering. In 1879, Latimer invented the carbon filament, making incadescent lamps practical and affordable, and he went on to patent several additional improvements to the light bulb. In 1885, Latimer began working at the Edison Electric Light Company (now General Electric), eventually being named chief draftsman. Latimer authored Incadescent Lighting a foundational text for modern electrical engineering theory and practice. He was also the company's chief patent investigator and expert witness.
Latimer purchased this house in Flushing in 1902 and lived there until his death in 1928. The house is currently a museum with irregular hours. It was not open for it's scheduled hours when I visited and you would be well-advised to call and speak with someone before venturing here.
World War I Memorial
A lovely pink-granite memorial at a rather undignified location in the median of Northern Boulevard. Inscribed, "The World War - In memory of those who gave their lives".
Flushing Town Hall
This house, built by John Bowne in 1661, featured prominantly in the early struggle for religious freedom in America. It was the first place of worhip for Flushing's Quakers, who were forbidden by Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant to practice their religion.
Bowne was arrested in 1662 for allowing Quaker services in his home and was then banished to the Netherlands. During his exile he was granted a meeting with Dutch leaders in Amsterdam. He described Stuyvesant's persecution of the Quakers and argued for their right to worship freely. The Dutch responded by reprimanding Stuyvesant and declaring, "The conscience of men ought to remain free and unshackled. Let every one remain free." In 1664, Bowne returned to this house, where Quaker meeting were held for another 30 years, until the Friends Meeting House (just around the corner) was built.
This house is the only surviving example of 18th century architecture in Flushing. It was built ca. 1785 by Charles Doughty, a Quaker farmer, and was named "Kingsland" by his son-in-law, Joseph King. King was an English sea captain who bought the house in 1801.
Kingsland has been relocated twice since it was built. Originally located at 155th Street, the house was first moved in 1923 to allow for the building of an apartment house. Landmarked in 1965, it was moved to this location in 1968 to Weeping Beech Park, once part of the Parsons Nursery. Kingsland was the first building in Queens to be declared a NYC landmark and is currently home to the Queens Historical Society.
Weeping Beech Park
The weeping beech tree that once stood in this park was planted in 1847 by Samuel Bowne Parsons, a Flushing nursery owner, and was the first of its species to grow in this country. Parsons, who provided Manhattan's Central Park with many of its original trees, brought the Weeping Beech cultivar to America from Belgium. The tree was given landmark status in 1966 and was the first living landmark in New York City. Although the original tree died in 1998, its offspring can be found in Flushing and around the country.
This site was originally part of the Parsons Nursery owned by Samuel and his brother Robert Bowne Parsons. The brothers were active in the Underground Railroad and were known for their humanitarian works.
Margaret Carman Green
Situated in Weeping Beech Park, this plot was named in memory of Margaret L. Carman in 1976. A Flushing native, Carman taught at Flushing High School for 44 years and in retirement devoted herself to the maintenance of Flushing's history. Carman served as President of the Bowne House Historical Society and her efforts led to the creation of the Flushing Freedom Trail.
George Fox Stone
Englishman George Fox was founder of the Religious Society of Friends and spent two years visiting Quaker settlements around America in the late 17th century. When Fox arrived in Flushing, he planned to deliver a sermon in John Bowne's house across the street. But because the house was not large enough to accomodate the hundreds of people who came to hear him, Fox instead spoke at this location in Bowne's garden, underneath two large oak trees. The trees were destroyed by a storm in 1863 and the Flushing Historical Society placed this commorative stone in 1907.
Flushing High School
Flushing High School was the first public secondary school in New York City, receiving its charter from the State in 1875. At the time, Flushing was an independently-governed township with a population of 15,000. Until the opening of FHS, the only high school education available was at private schools that charged tuition.
The original school was located on Sanford Avenue, about a half-mile from the location of the current school. Growth of the student body necessitated construction of the current Gothic building in 1915.
Flushing State Armory
Under dictatorial Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant, only the Dutch Reformed religion was permitted to be practiced. On this site in December 27, 1657, a group of Flushing Quakers issued the "Flushing Remonstrance", a letter to Stuyvesant that spoke of their desire to "let every man stand or fall to his own Master." This letter was the first of its kind in the New World and served as an inspiration for the First Amendment to the Constitution, making this site the metaphorical birthplace of religious freedom in America.
The current building on this site, the Flushing State Armory, was built in 1905 to house various units of New York's National Guard. As of my visit in the summer of 2007, it serves as a police precinct.
Friends Meeting House
This church was built in 1694 and is the city's oldest house of worship in continuous use and the second oldest in the nation. The meeting house was built with 40-foot timbers of Oak trees from the area and features two sets of doors that were originally used as separate entrances for men and women. Until the construction of this building, the Quakers met in the kitchen of John Bowne (around the corner) and Bowne is buried in a graveyard behind the meeting house. The only interruption to its original purpose was during the American Revolution, when the British used it as a prison, hospital and stable.
Macedonia A.M.E. Church
The Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church is the third oldest religious organizaiton in Flushing, starting in 1811 as the African Methodist Society and welcoming a diverse congregation of blacks, whites and Native Americans. In 1816, the church became associated with the African Methodist Episcopal donomination, originally formed in 1787 in Philadelphia to provide African Americans with a church where they could worship without persecution from white parishioners. A larger building was built in 1837 and many of the members were active in the fight against slavery, possibly using this church as a stop on the underground railroad that helped fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada. The bulk of the current structure appears to have been built in 1931.