Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi, firstname.lastname@example.org Wednesday, 05 March 2014 00:00
Raynham Hall Museum, the “jewel in the crown” of Oyster Bay, recently honored one of the women who helped it gain prominence: Patricia Pulling Sands. The fully accredited house museum did so at their Valentine’s Day gala on Feb. 14.
Rebecca Fanelli, event co-chair (with John Collins), announced that honoree Patricia Sands, a board member for more than 40 years, was also part of the effort to acquire 30 West Main St., the Lincoln Market, a site they have been hoping to acquire over the years. She is chair of their development committee, which is spearheading the capital campaign project.
Fanelli added that Sands, “is always polite but she is not past taking down curtains and cleaning along with her sister Joan [Shepard].” In that, they are in keeping with the tradition of the women of the North Shore who were always willing to do whatever needed to be done with grace and charm: no deed was considered too small in getting the work accomplished.
Fannelli added, “It is good to bring people together tonight, to make good things happen,” as they worked to create the new education center and the Raynham Hall Campus, as well as continuing the restoration work in the mansion itself.
History Is Her Passion
Retired from her job with the Museum of the City of New York in 1960, Sands returned to focus on Oyster Bay. She had majored in political science and taken art history classes at Vassar, interned at the MCNY right out of college and worked there as an Assistant Curator of Prints, and in 1988 worked at the South Street Seaport Museum as Director of Volunteer Programs. She has served on the boards of the Museum Association of New York, the American Association for Museum Volunteers, the Heckscher Museum of Art and currently the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, and Raynham Hall.
Sands served as the president of the Friends of Raynham Hall for five years before a director was hired. In speaking at the gala at the Piping Rock Club, Sands said, “I was not yet living in Oyster Bay when the Friends of Raynham Hall was formed in 1953 but, when I joined the board in 1964, many of the first trustees were still very much involved. So it was my privilege to work with Bertha Benkard Rose, Sara Delano Redmond, Ethel Roosevelt Derby and so many more of the distinguished leaders from our community. They were dedicated to the task of furnishing the historic house and developing educational programs.”
The last members of the Townsend family left the Raynham Hall to the Daughters of the Revolution who still meet there the first Monday of the month, and who co-sponsor the annual President’s Day Contest. The DAR tried to support the upkeep on the house and for a while ran a tea room on the premises but when that failed to pay the bills, it was deeded to the Town of Oyster Bay that is now responsible for all the maintenance, as well as helping to support the museum financially. The board is in charge of the museum collections, which are extensive.
Sands said that in 1954 they began a series of lectures by distinguished experts in their fields such as Morrison Heckscher of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum, Joseph Butler of Sleepy Hollow Restorations, Rudy Favretti, expert on historic garden design. They were a start at both their adult education and fundraising from the very beginning, she said. They also received advice about furnishing, paint colors and appropriate plantings, she added.
The most recent restoration has resulted in a change of colors and it is worth mentioning that during that earlier exploration of what the original colors were, areas of paint were left standing so that future investigators would be able to work with the original material, which is what happened. Projects at the museum are well planned using expert methods.
Sands said that at first they only had a Town of Oyster Bay receptionist working at the museum and that the board itself made all the decisions. Their first professional director was Joan Baldwin, hired in 1980.
Over the years there have been several executive directors including Stuart Chase, Andrew Batten, Sarah Abruzzi, Walter Ritchie, and Theresa Skvarla who served as the interim director before Harriet Gerard Clark came on board in 2008.
They have also added professional staff members which now include: Theresa Skvarla, director of public relations; Alexandra Sutherland, director of education; Nicole Menchise, collections manager. There are also paid docents who lead tours for adults and children as well as volunteering for other events and projects. “It’s a very special place, and we like to take care of it,” said Sutherland.
It is the professional staff whom teach the docents who teach the fourth grade students who come to the museum to enrich their study of American History.
With Harriet Gerard Clark on board in 2008 she helped the museum earn their re-accreditation which allowed for the creation of a Strategic Plan. It will bring to fruition the plans for the Education Center at 30 West Main St., the neighboring building, which will include offices and collections on the third floor. Moving those items will free up the mansion itself for further interpretation including the story of the Victorian servants, the children’s bedrooms and play room.
They restored the Victorian herb garden with the help of North Country Garden Club members.
Sands said, “It has been exciting to see our museum gaining in community support, growing in recognition of its significant role in the American Revolution, and being restored and renovated along with our to be Education Center next door. I have so enjoyed working with my able colleagues on our board and our talented professional staff and volunteers. Thank you for being here to support Raynham Hall and for honoring me and the Oyster Bay Main Street Association [whose grant helped in the façade restoration of 30 West Main Street].”
She added, “If you are lucky you get to find an interesting place to experience and help go in a new direction.” She said they tried to get the Lincoln Market building in the ‘70s but it took until now for all the pieces in the puzzle to come together.
John Collins, FRH board president said, “You’ll see a lot of progress in the next 10 days. [The windows went up as expected around Feb. 19.] The contract has been given to Albanese Construction. They have a full service mill shop and are a cut above. They are going to do the door, transom and windows of the 1915 Lincoln Market. The front façade has a door that used to lead to an apartment on the second floor [but will not be functional].”
Collins said, “I let the building tell me what it was, looking at the in-framing and floor construction to see where the door was.” As a result there will be two doors in front as well as a large front window for the market. The needs of the façade restoration paralleled the MSA grant mission.
While the physical research has been done for the site, they have not completed a full title search to see why the Townsend’s sold the land originally, he said. The family owned an apple orchard and land down to the water. They carved Audrey Avenue out of their own property.
Carol Silva introduced the story of Raynham Hall Museum as she spoke as Master of Ceremony. She grew up in Levittown, attended Holy Trinity and took driver’s education in Oyster Bay that she saw as a special place where “others want to live in and others don’t want to leave. It is a place of living history. Carol and Cathy Reed, her Girl Scout co-leader, took their girls for a Haunted Tour of Raynham Hall. She added, “The 26th President said it was good enough for him and it’s good enough for me.”
Demonstrating the value of Raynham Hall Museum, she said, in 1740 Samuel Townsend left Jericho where his family lived, to establish his homestead in Oyster Bay where he then owned an apple orchard and a meadow that lead down to the water. “In this 117-year-old house we know that the “good” spy ring, the George Washington Spy Ring’s spy Robert Townsend, [known as Culper, Jr.] was from.
“The Battle of Long Island was not good for us; the Brits won the day and moved into Raynham Hall where Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe of the Queen’s Rangers was enchanted with the American heiress Sarah Townsend, 19, and wrote the first recorded Valentine in 1779. He talked about the difficulties of loving the enemy and the difficulties of getting along in good and bad times. Sarah or Sally as she is sometimes called, never married and died at age 83. The original Valentine is part of the Raynham Hall Collections.
“Thousands of fourth-graders come to visit the house to learn, among other things, that in 1861, they had the only kitchen in Oyster Bay with running water (there were no indoor bathrooms at that time),” explained Silva.
Main Street Association Helps
The Main Street Association formed in 2001 by several local residents including David Lamb, landscape architect, who attended the gala with his wife, Daria. The MSA recently donated grant money to the museum for the restoration of the façade of the Lincoln Building. That adds to their list of projects MSA in the hamlet of Oyster Bay including the street lamps and flower baskets in the historic downtown area, as well as the saving of the Octagon Hotel.
In accepting the award for the MSA, John Bonifacio, president, said as a 14-year resident of Oyster Bay, he grew up in Westchester and therefore felt very much at home here. His wife’s father lived in East Norwich. His children are the fourth generation of that Oyster Bay family.
“I am an educator; I love history,” he shared. He has been with Main Street for 14 years and most recently the MSA honored the work of the North Shore Alliance and the Taglich Family for their amazing success saving and renovating the Trousdell House on East Main Street. For information about Rayham Hall Museum please call 516-922-6808.