Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 24 July 2009 00:00
On Wednesday, Aug. 5 Ellen Russell will be giving a book signing at Sterling Glen of Roslyn, one designed to promote her latest book, Roslyn.
The volume, publishing date is July 27, is a picture history of the village, one published by Arcadia Publishing.
Roslyn is Ms. Russell’s second volume about life in the village. Her 2004 book, Roslyn Restored told the legacy of Roger & Peggy Gerry and their restoration attempts in the village, one that gained Roslyn’s a nationwide reputation in that field.
Roslyn Restored detailed the rise of the restoration movement in Roslyn from the early 1950s to present times. She noted that in the early 1950s, the development boom was rapidly reconfiguring Long Island. The Gerrys’ were attracted to Roslyn’s small town ambience and they spent decades working to both prevent overdevelopment in the village, while maintaining the historic nature of the village’s older homes.
Ms. Russell also noted that the Gerrys’ emphasized “authenticity and a tender respect for ancient buildings,” an attribute that allowed their efforts to become successful. During the ongoing postwar building boom, only a few historic buildings in Roslyn were victims of the times. Those that did survive also maintained their original architectural style, thus allowing Roslyn, according to the author, to “[retain] the clarity of its architectural and cultural landscape.”
And so, on the strength of that book, Ms. Russell has now published Roslyn. As with Roslyn Restored, this latest volume is collaboration with her husband, Sargent Russell, an historic-building carpenter.
Roslyn is a 128-page history of the village, one that details the history of Roslyn from the 1840s to present times. The town’s picturesque scenery attracted the first wave of settlers. Later, with the building of the Long Island Rail Road, the village began to attract the very wealthy of Long Island. The great estates of the North Shore were constructed, in the process giving work to local residents, many of whom helped to build and maintain those estates in the decades prior to World War II.
The early 20th century saw the birth of such villages as Roslyn Heights, Roslyn Estates, and East Hills, all of which include land from former farms and estates. Indeed, in the post-World War II era, many of the estates, including the Mackay family’s famous Harbor Hill mansion, were obliterated to make room for the postwar building boom, as Long Island now became suburbia.
By 1960, as the book jacket notes, the building boom “seemed set to obliterate Roslyn’s character.” As in Roslyn Restored, Ms. Russell chronicles the restoration efforts that have both preserved and beautified Roslyn Village, making it, as all local residents already know, “one of the most attractive and historic places on Long Island.
In researching this book Ellen has uncovered many old photographs that have not been published before. These include some of the oldest images ever made of the village and its people, including the families of the last paper mill operator, Myers Valentine, and the Irish immigrant family of O. W. Pollitz. The images also include a shot of the Roslyn clock tower under construction, William Cullen Bryant relaxing in front of Cedarmere, and the local history museum established inside the ancient gristmill in 1919. Other photos show a downtown with horse-drawn carts, streetcars, bicycles, and chugging delivery vans with merchants’ names on the sides. They show a place where ice was harvested on the millponds; a town where men worked at the local mills and the lumberyard. Other pictures show the people of the great estates of Cedarmere, Harbor Hill and Clayton.
The Roslyn Landmark Society is sponsoring the Aug. 5 dinner and book signing. Roslyn itself is another generous contribution of The Gerry Trust. Sterling Glen of Roslyn is located at 100 Landing Road. The cash bar with complimentary appetizer is at 6 p.m., dinner is at 6:45 p.m.- $10 for members and $25 for non-members; book signing is at 8 p.m.
In her career, Ellen Russell has been a museum director, architectural historian, and writer. Currently a resident of Frenchtown, NJ, she lived in Roslyn for several years. Ms. Russell studied at Columbia University and worked at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and the South Street Seaport Museum. Ms. Russell has said that Roger and Peggy Gerry were her own models and mentors in “the stirring enterprise that was Roslyn preservation in action.”