Written by Betsy Abraham Wednesday, 01 May 2013 00:00
Before the malls, apartments, industrial buildings and paved roads, Westbury was a much different place. Settled by the Quakers in the 17th century and now a developed village of over 15,000 residents, there aren’t many traces of the original Westbury. But, that’s where the Historical Society of the Westburys comes in.
The Historical Society aims to preserve historical materials related to Westbury, Old Westbury, Carle Place and New Cassel. Housed in a small brick building attached to the Westbury Children’s Library and a few feet away from the main library, passersby might not even notice the red “open” sign hanging inconspicuously in the window of the old white door. The cottage, as it is aptly named, was built in the 1940s as a home for the children’s librarian, which can be evidenced by the kitchen, fully equipped bathroom and door that leads into the adjacent children’s library. Various librarians lived in the building up until the early 1970s. In the late part of the decade, interest for a historical society arose and with the cottage unused, it was deemed the perfect location.
Today, Susan Kovarik, a former Westbury librarian, is president of the historical society. A history lover and 40 year Westbury resident, Kovarik took over the society in 2001 and has loved learning about the area.
“I like to know how people lived in the past and what the place and people looked like. Here, I get so excited,” Kovarik says. “I’ve always enjoyed history and the history about how people lived. Not just the battles, but the everyday things.”
And the everyday things are celebrated at the historical society. Cottage visitors get the chance to step back into a time when Westbury, Old Westbury and Carle Place were nothing more than open fields and farmland. Visitors can see an old water pump, oxen yoke, clothes wringer, a railroad lantern and antique dishes and jars. There is a school bell from 1903, numerous pictures and much more of the Westbury of long ago.
The society also provides a great resource for researchers. The cottage houses old Westbury and Carle Place yearbooks, as well as reference materials on businesses, organizations, schools and churches that used to be in the area. People can also find out about different events that took place and the biographies of different Long Islanders.
For Kovarik, helping people get excited about history is the most rewarding part of the job. She tells the story of a woman who regularly comes into the society to do research. One day, the woman started looking at different resources and got so engrossed, she and Kovarik soon found themselves exploring something completely unrelated to the original topic.
“When she left, she said she didn’t get done what she had to but she had fun,” Kovarik says with a smile. “That’s the type of thing I like, when people come in here and see stuff and get so excited they just want to look through it more.”
The library supports the society by maintaining the building and paying for additional research material, but most of the nonprofit’s funding comes from memberships, which go toward different events and programs. The society has events once a month from September through May on various historical topics, which are open to the public.
Kovarik invites people to come to these events and to the cottage, saying the society has a lot to offer for people of all ages.
“Young people, and especially children, don’t know life was a lot different back then and that people didn’t have all this technology and had to do things by hand. It’s important for people to realize that’s where we come from,” Kovarik says. “I want people to take away an appreciation for the history of the place and how people lived and what it looked like.”
The society’s next event is Saturday, May 18 at 2:30 p.m. There will be a talk on the different celebrations that have gone on in the village. The cottage is open the first Saturday of the month, from noon to 4 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays 1 to 5 p.m. The week preceding the Saturday opening, Thursday hours are 2 to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays are closed. Call 333-0176 for details.