The Franklin Square Museum is a portal to the past, with hundreds of artifacts that date back to the community’s beginnings.
Since the museum opened last spring, the Franklin Square Historical Society has only offered private tours to local schools and society members, but starting next month, members of the public will be able to stop in to see the hamlet’s rich history on full display.
Starting Feb. 5, the museum will be open to the community on the first Sunday of every month from 2 to 4 p.m., said Bill Youngfert, treasurer of the historical society.
“In the past, we took phone calls and appointments, and I would be here waiting for people,” Youngfert said. “It worked, but there were many times when I’d be sitting here waiting, and no one would show up — we’re all volunteers, so the board decided at our last board meeting that we should set up a time we’ll be open and anybody can come in.”
The museum has been in the works for over two decades. When the historical society was founded in 1976, it began collecting hundreds of donations, which included everything from German antiques to local veterans’ military uniforms to vintage classroom desks to family heirlooms.
As the collection grew, the next step was to find a place to store and showcase it. With permission from the Town of Hempstead, the historical society designed a museum in 2000, and built it on Naple Avenue, near Rath Park.
Paul van Wie, the hamlet’s historian and a former president of the historical society, grew up in town and got to know many local families. As a student, he began collecting historical items, some from people who had lived in Franklin Square in the 1800s.
“I think that this museum is one of the few museum that has been built on Long Island in a community from scratch in recent times,” van Wie said. “The people of Franklin Square have been very, very generous in making donations of objects — every resident who has come into the museum has been so happy, proud and impressed.”
Van Wie added that historical society members raised all the money for the building themselves. They began collecting money in 1993, and donors who contributed a certain amount were promised a plaque with their name on the wall when the museum was finished.
A donor tree with 300 “leaves” is now on display inside. The historical society plans to review all of its donor records so it can begin to add the names of its supporters.
In the meantime, the society continues to offer tours and activities for students from district schools. It has a close relationship with the district and Superintendent Jared Bloom, Youngfert said. He and some of the other members are former teachers, so their tours are often youth- and education-oriented.
Nancy Youngfert, the society’s president, said that elementary school kids are often astounded when they walk in. Recently, she said, more than 20 first-graders from the John Street School visited. They explored every hands-on station, and had plenty of questions, Nancy recalled. They poked their fingers into a rotary phone, ground coffee beans in the kitchen to bring home to their parents, made paper dolls and pretended to deposit money in an old-fashioned bank set-up.
“Everything was fascinating to them — their eyes went wide,” Nancy said. “It was wonderful pandemonium.”
Even some of the adults who stop by the museum can’t help but feel a wave of nostalgia. For example, van Wie said that those who attended the old Monroe Street School will remember the chandeliers that hung from the auditorium ceiling. Those 100-year-old light fixtures now have a new home in the museum.
In addition to offering more tours in the future, the historical society is hoping to build an educational room that can be used for classes and presentations. Bill Youngfert said the group has estimated the cost, but hasn’t yet hired an architect to do any planning.
Being able to welcome the public, however, will be a huge step in the right direction. “It’s going to be great for generations of Franklin Square people,” van Wie said. “It’s going to (lead to) a lot of good education in the community, and a lot of local pride. It’s going to maintain the village’s identity.”