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Protecting a 17th Century Wooden Meeting House from Fire

Friends Meeting House, 37-16 Northern Boulevard, Queens

The Conservancy’s involvement with the Friends Meeting House dates back to 1988 – its congregation was one of the first grantees ($8,250) of the Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Matching Grant Program. Owned by the Flushing Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (“Friends”), a Quaker denomination, the Friends have worshipped at this location since 1694 when its Meeting House was built by John Bowne. Between 1716 and 1719, work was carried out to enlarge the wood structure to its current size.

One of only four National Historic Landmarks in the borough of Queens, it is the only surviving example in New York State of a typical seventeenth-century ecclesiastical frame structure of medieval design, and the oldest Quaker meeting house in the nation. Importantly, throughout its history, the site of the Meeting House has been the venue for an array of basic rights initiatives. Here, in 1657, Flushing officials and citizens signed the “Flushing Remonstrance” in response to Director General Stuyvesant’s persecution of the Quakers. This document is perhaps the earliest demand for religious freedom made by American colonists. In the next century, the congregation itself played an important role in the beginnings of the abolitionist movement with anti-slavery sermons and the founding by John Murray, Jr., one of its members, of the New York Society for the Manumission of Slaves in 1785.

That this wooden structure of over 300 years remains today preserved and unscathed by fire is a miracle of sorts. A Fund loan and grant, as well as another grant from the Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Fund and equity from the congregation, underwrote the costs of long-needed sprinkler and fire alarm and protection systems. Kaitsen Woo Architect was the project architect, and Burda Construction Corp., the general contractor.

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