Nassau County Historical Society

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The President's Message 2008

Change is inevitable and 2008 has been a year with many changes. Changes in government, the economy, and careers are affecting all of us. Some changes occur beyond our control and others are planned to improve our lot. While some changes have immediate results, others will have long-term consequences. Ultimately, it is history that judges which changes have been positive or negative. History has taught us when we govern ourselves in freedom, openness, and honesty, we survive and grow. When we follow the laws and principles as set by the founders of our great nation, we do prevail. Some changes cannot be avoided, but how we deal with them determines whether the results are for better or worse.

Interestingly, the programs presented by the Nassau County Historical Society during 2008 involved changes affecting our aspirations, culture, and day-to-day lives. We were reminded how individuals can make a difference and inspire others toward fuller, more fulfilling lives.

"Planting Fields: A Long Island Gold Coast Story" was our January program by Ellen Cone Busch, former Director of Coe Hall and Planting Fields Foundation. Between 1918-1921, William Robertson Coe and his wife, Mai Rogers Coe, re-developed the James Byrne estate into "Planting Fields," which is representative of the great estates on Long Island's North Shore Gold Coast. With the estates, farms were transformed and small tranquil villages were infused with new money. Thousands of new jobs were created in construction, landscaping, supplying provisions from local vendors, and staffing of the great estates. Planting Fields is now a 409-acre Arboretum and State Historic Park, and Coe Hall is an historic house museum.

Summer seaside homes were the subject of our February meeting. Architect Gary Lawrance presented a program based on the book he co-authored with Anne Surchin, Houses of the Hamptons, 1880-1930. Mr. Lawrance chronicled the evolution of large, elaborate South Fork country homes. Originally referred to as the "American Riviera" or "the Island Newport," the area is now known as "The Hamptons." Changes were similar to those of the Gold Coast.

A much broader scope of change was presented at our April meeting by Natalie Naylor. Her slide presentation covered Long Island history and heritage from Native American Indians through seventeenth-century settlements by the Dutch and English to the twenty-first century suburban metropolis. Dr. Naylor used landscape and genre paintings, lithographs, and photographs to illustrate changes over four hundred years, supporting a very interesting program.

The meticulously restored historic 1901 Nassau County Court House in Mineola was the site of our June meeting. Members of the Garden City and Mineola Historical Societies shared the evening with us. We met in the restored Court Room where Edward Smits, Nassau County Historian and Society trustee, spoke of the creation of Nassau County in 1899 (a year after the western towns of Queens joined New York City), and the building of its courthouse. Governor Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the laying of the cornerstone of the new county's first building, which was renamed for him a few years ago. Natalie Naylor enlightened us on the historic WPA murals added in the late 1930s on the second floor of the rotunda. We were impressed with the very positive change in the condition of our cherished landmark, which reflects the significant change in our local government.

We returned to Westbury Manor restaurant for our annual dinner meeting in October, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner and warm fellowship. We were honored to host William Floyd of Mastic in the person of Gene Horton in period costume. Mr. Floyd spoke of his life and times (he lived from 1734-1821). He said, "Signing of the Declaration of Independence was the most famous thing I did." Floyd was the only Signer from Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Mr. Horton, a retired teacher and local historian, distributed facsimile copies of the Declaration of Independence, which he read in its entirety. Obviously the Declaration brought enormous changes that have affected the lives of every American since 1776.

At the dinner, three new trustees were welcomed and introduced to the membership. Corinna Martone Fishman of Plainview and Rose Martone Polakowski of Garden City had been appointed to unfilled one-year positions in the Class of 2009. John George of East Norwich was elected to a full five-year term in the Class of 2013. We look forward to working with these new trustees. Trustees in the Class of 2008, Natalie Naylor, Robert Rushmore, and Margaret Webster, were re-elected and are now in the Class of 2013.

Further changes occurred within the Board at the annual re-organizational meeting on November 13. Dr. Natalie Naylor was elected president. She had been vice president and is editor of our annual Journal. Natalie has always been willing to assist me as needed and is an invaluable asset to the Society. She has written numerous articles and edited many books published under the auspices of Hofstra University's Long Island Studies Institute. Since retiring from Hofstra, Professor Naylor has become more widely known for her excellent, interesting, and well-documented programs on various aspects of local history and culture.

Edward Smits was elected vice-president. Former Director of the Nassau County Museum system and currently Nassau County Historian, Ed is author of Nassau, Suburbia, U.S.A. He has presented various programs to the Society during his more than forty years on the Board. Denward Collins III was also elected vice president. Den, my son, has been a trustee for eight years and has been of great assistance to me with Society activities for even longer. He set up and has been serving as our Webmaster at

Other officers were re-elected to their positions: Treasurer, Gerald Rugg; Recording Secretary, Irmgard Tuechler; and Corresponding Secretary, Robert Rushmore. Three other trustees, although not listed as officers, also have important responsibilities in the on-going activities of the Society. Sarah "Pat" Dalton has been responsible for the planning and success of our traditional annual dinner. Margaret Webster maintains our membership records and requests dues renewals. (She appreciates early renewals to save time and cost of mailing reminders.) Stephanie Bird is responsible for publicizing our meetings in newspapers. Regrettably, Trustee Mildred Roessler is unable to continue as a trustee. She served for more than twenty-five years in various capacities. Primarily she assisted Muriel Tatem with hospitality at all programs and board meetings. Upon Muriel's retirement from the Board, Mildred took on the supervisory position. We will miss her quiet, gracious manner at Board meetings, but look forward to seeing her at our programs.

Finally, I wish to recognize someone who, while not a trustee, gave nineteen years of encouragement, support, and dedication to the task at hand. Her professional assistance with typing letters, agendas, reports, and historical research on the computer, and advising on priorities made my tenure possible and enjoyable. The very successful raffles in recent years were initiated and organized by her, assisted by enthusiastic volunteers. Those who know her know I'm referring to my life-long friend and partner, my wife Ruth L. Collins. Thank you, Ruth!

This year the trustees again decided not to have a program for the membership in December, which is always a very busy month. We thought a talk on Jones Beach would be a refreshing program in the dark days of winter. John Hanc will speak on the history of Jones Beach on Sunday, January 11, 2009. This and other meetings scheduled in 2009 are listed inside the front cover. Mark your calendars now.

Nassau County has always been my home. Remembering the clearly defined villages, separated by miles of farms, dairies, and woodlands, I have many cherished memories of people and places from my childhood. Always interested in local history "before my time," I also remember the effects of the end of the Great Depression and World War II.

I became involved with the Nassau County Historical Society through a friend, Sam Underhill Mitchell. To be invited to be a trustee and subsequently be elected president has been a great honor. The resulting acquaintances, new friends, and opportunities led to further interest in our local history, remunerating me far beyond what I could have hoped for. My heartfelt thanks to all who offered friendship and support during my tenure.

After nineteen years as president, I have looked forward to stepping down. I plan on remaining active with the Society and support our new and continuing leadership. I ask that you continue to support the Nassau County Historical Society and encourage other like-minded friends to join and discover what we have learned about the value and pleasure in the knowledge of our past.

Denward W. Collins, Jr.

Other Messages:
2019 Message
2018 Message
2017 Message
2016 Message
2015 Message
2014 Message
2013 Message
2012 Message
2011 Message
2010 Message
2009 Message
2008 Message
2007 Message

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