This playground honors Walter Bowne (1770-1846), a state senator and 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, 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.
NYC Parks and the Department of Education jointly operate Bowne Playground, bounded by Union Street, Bowne Street, and Sanford Avenue. The City of New York acquired this land on September 9, 1943 and it opened on November 18, 1950 to supplement the recreational facilities of both the newly-constructed P.S. 20 and the local community.
In 2017, construction started to renew the playground, asphalt field, seating area, and swings at Bowne Playground. This site is part of Parks' Community Parks Initiative—a multi-faceted program to invest in under-resourced public parks and increase the accessibility and quality of parks throughout the five boroughs.