Written by Christy Hinko, Hicksville@AntonNews.com Friday, 10 May 2013 00:00Just steps away from the hustle and the Hicksville Train Station and the roar of Broadway, sit the Gregory Museum, tucked in a little nook between mechanics’ garages and a municipal parking field. The building has seen its share of practical use, and now serves as a historical structure, the once county courthouse, is home to thousands of fossils, moth specimens and more, belonging to the late Gardiner E. Gregory (1917-2005).
The Gregory Museum, was once called the Heitz Place Courthouse, and is possibly the last remaining judicial building in Nassau County dating from the days when Nassau was actually Queens County. On Aug. 19, 1893, Arnold Heitz donated the present Heitz Place site to be used as a village hall. The main building was completed in 1895.
Between 1895 and 1920 the village hall served a variety of governmental and meeting purposes. At first the building, heated by potbellied stoves, had a two-cell jail on the north side. Justices of the peace, who were also town councilmen, held court once a week. Assistants were elected as part-time constables and caretakers of the jail.
By 1915 the existing jail was deemed inadequate and a bid was accepted from the Pauly Jail Company of St. Louis, Missouri to furnish, adjacent to the hall, for the sum of $828, a brick three-cell jail. One cell has been retained by the museum and can still be viewed by museum patrons.
During World War I the Heitz Place Courthouse served as headquarters for Selective Service for Eastern Nassau County. The justices who presided in Hicksville over the next 40 years were a varied and memorable group. Judge Charles Stoll, a big game hunter, succeeded the long-tenured, respected Judge Joseph Steinert in 1919. Judge Stoll met the growing volume of cases with the introduction of a court stenographer, for which he was criticized as “extravagant”. During this period the constables lived upstairs, and the judge’s chamber was a small room at the rear of the main courtroom.
The 1930s, most court cases reflecting the hardships and despairs of the times. A new judge’s chamber was added in 1930 on the south side of the building. After the death of Judge Heberer, the long tenure of Judge Joseph Lebkuecher began. During his term the Heitz Place Courthouse acquired the status as Nassau County’s Fourth District Court. Judge Lebkuecher held his seat from 1935 to 1957.
With the commencement of World War II, the courthouse resumed its function as a Draft Board Headquarters. In the post-war years, the building served several new purposes. The parole officers were located there, and the town’s veterans agency official, Joseph McCarthy, counseled returning servicemen.
By the late 1950s, the district court’s jurisdiction had changed. Cases were limited to those of non-jury disposition. Judge Francis Donovan presided until 1967 when Nassau County closed the district court in Hicksville and moved to new quarters in Mineola. The Heitz Place Courthouse fell prey to vandals until 1970, when arrangements were made between officials of the Town of Oyster Bay and the trustees of the museum for a long-term lease of the facility to Gardiner Gregory, to serve as a Long Island Earth Science Museum.
The United States Department of the Interior recognized the building as a National Historic Place on July 30, 1974.
Some of the display pieces were Gregory’s, but many are donated from other collectors. Museum Currator Donald Curran told the Hicksville Illustrated that collections on display are mostly from local collectors, but some have been donated from collectors in Wyoming and Arizona. Curran said the museum does receive new donated pieces a couple of times each year.
Annually, a couple thousand visitors come to the Hicksville Gregory Museum, although most visitors are school tours.
Curran said Gardiner Gregory was the curriculum materials director for the Hicksville School District in the late 1960s and early 70s. Privately, he collected moths and butterflies, which he lent to the district teachers as specimens for the schools. Eventually, Curran said, Gregory began collecting minerals; his collection was in his own private residence, which his wife would host field trips at their house for the schoolchildren. It was then after 1970 when the Gregorys moved the collection to the museum.
The most recent pieces that have been received which are on display are an Allosaurus bone and some new dinosaur eggs. Displays include mineral collections, fossils, local artifacts, moths, butterflies, fluorescent rocks and minerals.
The museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays. It is free to members of the Gregory Museum and Hicksville residents. Additional information can be found on the museum’s website at: http://www.gregorymuseum.org or call 516-822-7505.