This Flushing park is bounded by 29th and 32nd Avenues, and by 155th and 159th Streets. It is named in honor of Walter Bowne (1770-1846), who served as a State Senator and as New York City Mayor. Mr. Bowne's summer residence stood on this property until March 1925, when fire destroyed the building. As Mayor (1828-1832), Bowne is remembered for his strict policies aimed at preventing cholera epidemics. Following reports of an outbreak in a neighboring town during the summer of 1832, Bowne established a stringent quarantine policy regulating travel in and out of the metropolitan area. Bowne, like others of his time period, believed that cholera was spread through direct human contact. He required that all ships maintain a distance of at least 300 yards from municipal ports and that carriages remain at least 1.5 miles from the city limits. Bowne's well-meaning attempts to prevent a cholera outbreak failed, and hundreds of New Yorkers died of the disease. It was not until 1883 that the German physician Robert Koch discovered that cholera spreads through contaminated water or food. By that time, cholera epidemics had been largely contained by the construction of the Croton Aqueduct and the provision of clean water for consumption and bathing.
John Bowne, who was the first representative of the Bowne name in this area, settled in Flushing in 1631. As an early Dutch immigrant, John lived peacefully under the administration of Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant (1610-1672), who was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. By the 1640s, however, the Dutch and English were vying for control of the region as well as control of religious practice. While the English promised religious toleration, Stuyvesant waged war on the Quakers. Following increased persecution during the 1650s, several Quakers drafted the Flushing Remonstrance(1657), a document calling for religious freedom. John Bowne provided the protesters with the use of his home for religious services. In 1662, Stuyvesant's administration arrested Bowne for harboring Quakers and deported him to Holland. Bowne was released in 1664 following a successful appeal of his case. He returned to his home in Flushing while Stuyvesant's proprietor, the Dutch East India Company, ordered the persecution of Quakers to cease. The Flushing Remonstrance is widely recognized as a precursor to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Parks acquired this property on June 1, 1925, by condemnation. On June 10, 1969, Bowne Park made headlines as the first City park with an instant playground. This creation, developed by Mayor John V. Lindsay and Parks Commissioner August Heckscher, provided ready-made modular playground equipment to communities lacking adequate recreational facilities. Donated anonymously, Bowne Park's units consisted of eight-sided colorful fiberglass play-cubes.
In 1994, Bowne Park underwent an extensive, $800,000 renovation funded by Queens Borough President Claire Schulman. The renovated park offers recreation for all age groups; it boasts a bocce court surrounded by benches and tables, modern playground equipment, slides, swings, a spray shower, and basketball courts. The parkhouse, crowned by a weather vane, includes a community room that doubles as a nursery. Beautiful bench-lined walkways provide space for relaxing. The park features a pond that is home to families of turtles. A cement turtle, set atop the rolling hills overlooking the pond, stands guard above his more lively counterparts as they navigate the waters below. Two weeping willows, measuring nearly fifty feet in height, lie adjacent to the pond. In addition, American Elms and Oaks shade the park during the summer months with their wide canopies. The John Bowne homestead, located at 37-01 Bowne Street, lies south of the park and remains the oldest private residence in the borough.
The community has always been active in the affairs of Bowne Park. The Bowne Park Civic Association has remained true to its motto "A Better Community through Civic Action", by maintaining relevant historic documents and providing a center for information and action.