From: The Nassau County Historical Society Journal, 76 (2021):
The President’s Message
This is my first year as President of the Nassau County Historical Society. There has been a learning curve to learn the responsibilities of this very important position. I have been very fortunate to have the Past President Natalie Naylor advise and assist me during the past year. Natalie served as President for 12 years and has been Editor of our Journal for 25 years. We are very fortunate to have had her many contributions to the Society over the years.
I must thank all Board members and officers for their strong support. Without the Board and officers, there would be no Nassau County Historical Society. Special thanks go to Janet Bergholz (Recording Secretary), Stephanie Bird (Publicity Chair), Dave Doucette (Zoom and Webinar Engineer), and Lawrence Jones (Treasurer).
I must take this opportunity to express our gratitude to Denward (D en) W. Collins Ill for his services to the Society. Den has been a trustee for more than two decades and developed the Society's webpage in 2005. He soon also assumed responsibilities of Membership Chair and created the Announce list, which reaches members and others via emails. Den has also maintained the Society's Facebook page. Den stepped down from these responsibilities this year but is continuing as a trustee.
Billy Florio has assumed the duties of Communications Secretary (the new position includes the webmaster). Ceu Arantes is now performing the responsibilities of Membership Chair.
The past twenty months have been very difficult due to the Covid virus. The Society has conducted its meetings and business via Zoom to ensure the safety of members and Board members. We will return to in-person programs in the near future and have our annual luncheon in 2022.
We are actively pursuing a location for a Nassau County History Museum. The residents of Nassau County deserve to have a top-quality museum devoted to its more than four hundred years of history. Nassau County has a rich history that should be on display. The Society’s historical collection is scattered and stored in different locations and not available to be viewed by the public. Frankly, this is unacceptable. Over time items will be forgotten and lost if something is not done. Any person who has any suggestions on this subject can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, we wish everybody wonderful and happy holidays which are upcoming and a fantastic New Year in 2022.
— Scott Fairgrieve
This issue is dedicated to Edward J. Smits for his vision, leadership, and work in the creation of Old Bethpage Village Restoration and other Nassau County Museums (see Contents, p. iii). OBVR opened on June 27, 1970. It did not commemorate its fiftieth anniversary due to the Covid pandemic closings. Our Journal is belatedly recognizing its anniversary with Gary Hammond’s lead article, “Old Bethpage Village Restoration Reaches a Milestone.” An Editorial, “Securing a Future for Old Bethpage Village Restoration,” appears on pp. 40-41.
This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the Nassau County Historical Museum in Eisenhower Park on June 15, 1961. Edward Smits, who was Museum Curator from 1955 to 1971, recorded the beginning of that museum in his 1961 article, “A Museum for Nassau” in the NCHS Journal (vol. 22, no. 4: 12-19). The Nassau County Historical Society’s Museum Committee became involved in the mid-1950s when planning for the museum was underway. The Museum recorded its 100,000 visitor after ten months. Renamed Bicentennial House in 1976, and then the Museum in the Park in 1978, it closed in the late 1980s.
Nassau County had also restored the Manhasset Valley School House, which was moved to Manhasset Valley Park and opened in 1959. (The 1826 schoolhouse is now at OBVR.) The Saddle Rock Grist Mill, bequeathed to the Nassau County Historical Society, was given to the County, restored, and opened in 1961. (An article on this tidal gristmill was in the 2018 NCHS Journal, 73:39-45). The mill has been closed for many years and has suffered extensive damage from storms in recent years. The Museum’s Historical Reference Library opened on the second floor of the Historical Museum in 1962 with books, manuscripts, and other material that had been collected by the Historical Society. It was named for the former County Historian Jesse Merritt, who had been a staunch advocate of an historical museum beginning in 1938. (The Library moved to Hofstra University in 1985 to create the Long Island Studies Institute.)
Edward Smits was Director of the Nassau County Division of Museum Services from 1970 to 1992. He wrote other histories of OBVR and the County’s Museums in this Journal: “Nassau County Establishes a Museum System,” 37 (1982): 1-27 and “Old Bethpage Village Restoration: A Perspective on its Twentieth Anniversary,” 44 (1989): 1-19. From 1994 to 2004, he played a major role in creating the Cradle of Aviation. His accomplishments for Nassau County and its Museums are immense and are only briefly touched on here.
In her article, “Introducing Quokko: An Enslaved Person’s Journey Through Revolutionary Times,” Amy Vacchio traces the elusive story of an African American from Newport, Rhode Island to Rock Hall in today’s Lawrence. The election of Marion Hollins to the Women’s Golf Hall of Fame this year led to my brief article, “Marion Hollins, Long Island’s Star Sportswoman a Century Ago.”
—Natalie A. Naylor
Editorial: Securing Old Bethpage Village Restoration’s Future
It is no secret that Old Bethpage Village Restoration (OBVR), a cultural crown jewel of Nassau County and Long Island, is in danger. The systemic problems which face Old Bethpage have been long in coming, and at this time it is not appropriate—and certainly not constructive—to blame any person or administration. It is more important that something be done to secure this irreplaceable repository and sanctuary of Long Island’s history and heritage.
Old Bethpage Village Restoration was designed and brought to fruition by visionaries, led by Edward J. Smits, then a County Museum Curator and later the Director of the Nassau County Museum System. The idea of moving threatened historic structures to a museum village on the county-owned site, rather than simply demolishing the buildings, was a brilliant and timely idea in the frenetic 1960s. Future citizens, young and old, would benefit from these farsighted plans.
After several decades of welcoming families, students, history buffs, and a growing roster of historic structures, OBVR was deeply affected by Nassau County’s fiscal crisis beginning in the 1990s. Nassau’s financial and budgetary issues affected every branch of county government, even threatening essential public services. In such a situation, cutbacks at Old Bethpage Restoration Village were understandable and necessary. After all, the preservation of history, while important, was less critical than essential social and public services. It was expected, however, that the budget cuts at Old Bethpage would be more or less temporary, and that funding would be restored in due time. As we all know, the fiscal situation of Nassau County in the past quarter century has been anything but simple, with many necessary and important public services competing for resources in a tight budget situation.
OBVR’s chronic underfunding was further compounded by the untimely demise of the Friends for Long Island’s Heritage in 2004. The Friends had carried out a number of key support functions at Old Bethpage, enabling the Village (and other County Museums) to better carry out their mission. As a consequence, Old Bethpage Village Restoration was further stripped of personnel, funding, and expertise.
In recent decades the County has made notable efforts to keep the Village open and functioning, with limited staff and dedicated volunteers. The County has tried to stretch limited resources to maintain an extensive collection of buildings on a spacious site. Much, however, needs to be done. A number of buildings are in dire need of substantial repair. A few have been entirely lost. Capital projects have been deferred for years in some cases. Parts of OBVR have been threatened by inappropriate use. In 2021, there are no history museum professionals on staff. Old Bethpage Village, therefore, is at the crossroads of its existence, and its future is anything but ensured.
What is to be done to secure the future of this unique place that interprets the heritage of our Long Island home? The following suggestions are the basis of an action plan:
- The Nassau County government should create and appoint an Old Bethpage Village Restoration Advisory Commission. Such a Commission would include elected officials from both major parties, a liaison from Nassau County’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Museums, and most important, representatives from Nassau’s historical and business communities. The dozen or so members would serve on a voluntary basis.
- The Commission would be charged with the following tasks:
- Analyzing the present physical state of OBVR and drafting a comprehensive plan for the future. The findings and recommendations would be presented to the County.
- Studying the financial condition, needs, and revenues of OBVR, and identifying additional public and private revenue streams, which will enhance its long- term sustainability within the ongoing fiscal constraints.
- Considering the feasibility of hiring qualified museum professionals, e.g. curators and historians at OBVR.
- The Old Bethpage Village Restoration Commission’s charge would be limited to gathering information and forwarding advice and recommendations to the relevant County offices and officials, in the spirit of the Village’s creators.
All members of the Nassau County community, public officials and residents alike, are united in the belief that the County must continue to move forward. Together, regardless of community of residence or political party, we have made great strides in the right direction. As we continue to build a stronger future, it is time to pause and consider our County’s rich past, which grounds, centers, and enriches us as a people. Ensuring the future of Old Bethpage Village Restoration is an essential starting point.
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