Forward to the past

Museum gives a taste of vintage RVC


A nearly century-old radio plays today’s talk show.

The Phillips House Museum on Hempstead Avenue is a slice of life in 19th and 20th century America. To keep the rich history of Rockville Centre alive, the museum boasts a working 1920s radio among other Victorian antiques.

The house, originally on 191 North Village Avenue, was owned by Captain Samuel Phillips in 1882. After commanding his first ship at 21, Phillips became a civic leader in RVC. He purchased the land for the first high school on the South Shore, the original South Side High School, which became Village Hall.

By 1975, the house had become a rickety rooming house on the verge of demolishment for more parking spaces. The village physically lifted and relocated the house to 28 Hempstead Ave., where it stands today.

However, none of the pieces in the museum belonged to Phillips.

“There was very little of Captain Phillips’ presence when we got the house,” said Marilyn Devlin, archivist for the RVC Historical Society, which runs the museum. “There were none of his furnishings or anything like that.”

It’s believed that Phillips brought his possessions with him when he and his family moved to Oceanside in 1908.

Over in the kitchen was a collection of more than 200 vintage cooking utensils. One of them was a raisin seeder.

“Today they don’t even bother with them because you can only buy seedless raisins,” said Frank Seipp, president of the Historical Society.

Devlin opened what appeared to be a two-section mahogany closet. It was actually a 1920s refrigerator. Ice would be delivered and stored in the top compartment to keep the food fresh.

The adjacent room contained a parlor set designed in a Little Bo Peep theme complete with porcelain dolls. The chairs were composed of rosewood frame, which was bent using steam.

“Ikea doesn’t know this,” Seipp said.

Devlin walked over to the fireplace. The ornamental design on the top wooden panel was once masked with paint.

“It had so many coats of paint on it that when we had it stripped and redone, this appeared,” said Devlin, pointing at the decorations.

Upstairs was an exhibit commemorating the many sailors who settled in RVC.

“The sea captains first came here about 1860 and 1870 when the advent of the railroad brought them out to Rockville Centre because they wanted a safe haven for their families while they were out at sea,” Devlin said.

Enclosed in a glass case was a handcrafted wedding basket made of white sea shells. Resembling a bouquet, the sailor’s masterpiece was covered with flower adornments also composed of shells.

Seipp gingerly dropped the needle in the famous Victrola, an antique record player housed in a cabinet. A rustic ballad echoed down the corridor as Devlin opened small doors in the base of the cabinet, which amplified the sound.

Down the hall in the toy exhibit, Seipp pulled out an original Crayola crayon set from the 1920s. A description on the mustard-colored box read ‘An Artist’s Crayon at Scholar’s Price.’” Lying on a model replica of the Phillips House was a doll with its face carved out of a walnut.

Amid the collection of lead cars, a doll of an African American girl sat in a chair by the corner. It was a topsy-turvy doll, and it was in fact, two dolls in one. The black doll wore a red polka-dotted dress and its face was painted to give it a minstrel appearance. Seipp demonstrated the hidden feature of the handmade toy by turning it upside down to reveal a white doll with blonde hair and blue eyes.

“They weren’t allowed to have black dolls, the servants,” said Devlin. “So when the master or the mistress was in the house, the servants would play with the white doll and then it would be flipped over when they were alone and it was a black doll.”

Ever since the museum opened its doors in 1978, it’s been free to the public. Recently, the museum received a $110,000 grant—$80,000 from the State of New York and $30,000 from the Nassau County hotel tax. The museum plans to waterproof the basement and install new windows and air conditioners.

The renovations will help preserve the house and its contents for future village residents to enjoy.

“I feel it’s a part of my giveback,” Seipp said. “This is just a way of passing on our heritage, which I’m proud of.”