The Northport Historical Society’s second decade, 1972-1982, proved to be an important one filled with major accomplishments. Board President, Howard Knowles, along with Rowley Bialla, applied for a permanent charter as the provisional charter was set to expire. The Board also revamped its by-laws, adopting a governing board of trustees that would be elected by Society members and serve three staggered three-year terms, a model still used today.
Mayor Peter Campbell cuts the ribbon to officially open the Museum, with Henrietta Van Siclen.
The Society made use of the empty old Carnegie Library, staging an exhibit of ship-building tools, which were donated to the Society by Leland Fox. The collection of artifacts, documents and photographs was steadily growing thanks to generous Northport families that saw the importance of preserving the community’s history. These items were still stored in members’ homes and at the Northport Public Library, but that would soon change.
In February of 1973, the Society was awarded its absolute charter. At the Annual Meeting in May, Dick Simpson was elected president and Henrietta Van Siclen as vice president. One of the very first things Simpson saw to was finding a permanent home, a museum, for the Society. He called upon the school district to lease the old library building to the Society for one dollar a year. However, the school district decided they wanted to sell the building to the Village.
On May 8, 1974, district voters voted “yes” by a four-to-one margin to sell the library building to the Village, with a price tag of $20,000, for use by the Northport Historical Society as a museum. Dick Simpson set Cow Harbor Day 1974 to be “opening day,” and hired Gay Wagner as the first museum director. Wagner thought the deadline, only four months away, seemed impossible, but she led a team of volunteers to scrub floors, wash windows, and paint walls. She hired local artisans to build shelving transforming the original bookcases into display cabinets. (Which are still in use today!)
On September 21, 1974, Cow Harbor Day, the parade was led down Main Street, making a stop at 215 Main Street, home to the new museum, where Mayor Jack Campbell cut a red ribbon and offered a ceremonial gold key to the building. The museum’s first visitors were able to view the very first exhibit, a collection of 18th-century documents, a display of shipbuilding tools, and early photographs.
Visitors enjoy our first exhibit on the opening day of the Museum, Cow Harbor Day 1974
A year later, in 1975, an anonymous benefactor, through Village Historian Cynthia Quackenbush Hendrie, proposed the idea that the Village should sell the building outright to the Society and this benefactor would donate the entire cost. The Village agreed and was paid the original price of $20,000 by the anonymous party. Coinciding with the museum’s second anniversary, it was revealed that the benefactors were Stephen and Frank Cavagnaro. The brothers made the gift in memory of their parents Anna and Giuseppe, who came from Italy and owned a grocery store on Main Street. The Cavagnaro family’s generosity is well known in Northport.
The Society says thank you to Village residents after they vote to make the old library building a local history museum.
Historic preservation continued to be an important goal for the Society and in 1976, thanks in large part to Howard Knowles, the Eaton’s Neck Lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark. Led by Gay Wager in 1977, an inventory of all the old houses in the Village was begun. The information and photographs of this historic house survey are now digitized and available to patrons of the museum.
Howard Knowles and other members of the Society celebrate after the Eaton's Neck Lighthouse is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Society kept its members and visitors busy with exciting new exhibits that were curated by Dick Simpson, Dolly and Ward Hooper. Dolly and Ward also helped to restore and decorate the dollhouse, a replica of the house at 63 Bayview Avenue, once home to Dexter Cole an oyster baron, now Seymour’s Boatyard.
To be continued next month…1983-1993 – The Society Hits its Stride