125 years of Nassau County: Much history to celebrate, much more work to preserve it.

Some rose a glass to history. Others reflected on how to preserve it.


Nassau County turned 125 earlier this year, and an eclectic grouping of politicians, artists and celebrities celebrated with the clinking of glasses at The Lannin catering hall at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow.

Last week’s party — hosted by Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman — saw a packed room filled with dignitaries like Hempstead deputy town supervisor Dorothy Goosby and Valley Stream painter Mike Stanko, alongside celebrity guests like actor Vincent Pastore from “The Sopranos” television series, and singer Taylor Dayne. 

“Nassau County was once known for agriculture, fishing, Gold Coast estates, and resort living,” Blakeman told attendees, during his toast. “Today, Nassau County is larger than 10 states in population. Our gross domestic product is larger than 146 nations in the United Nations. We are home to people of every race, every religion, every ethnic group, every lifestyle, and every ability. We are one of the healthiest — and thanks to our Nassau County Police Department, we are the safest.”

The county’s origin story was, in effect, an act of secession, according to historians. In 1898, when New York City annexed Queens County, its three eastern towns — Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay — pushed to split away, drawing an invisible boundary between itself and the newly expanded city. Thus, on Jan. 1, 1899, Nassau County was born with its suburban future firmly secured.

But for Alexandra Wolfe, chief executive of Preservations Long Island — a regional historic preservation nonprofit — the county’s historical value predates its official inception.

“You can find historical material as far back as the 18th century in Nassau County,” she said. “Every movement in history left an imprint on Long Island. But you’re not often aware of it. It’s hidden away, privately owned, or built around.”

It’s partly the reason why those like former Nassau County Historical Society president Natalie Naylor treated the milestone as less of a cause for celebration and more as an opportunity to underscore serious challenges in preserving the county’s much longer heritage.

“Nassau County once had a wonderful system of museums that, over the years, has deteriorated with less and less funding, staffing and expertise,” she said, pointing to the “county’s declining financial support and interest over the decades” as a main concern.

Naylor also mentioned that long-proposed projects like working with the county to bring back the Nassau County Historical Museum — formerly based in Eisenhower Park that shuttered in 1991 — have failed to get off the ground.

But the county still sought to make history a focal point of the celebration, commissioning Valley Stream artist Mike Stanko to create a rendering of the Theodore Roosevelt County Executive Building in his signature “pop-realist” style.

Stanko chose the subject matter for his painting after touring the building with Blakeman, who personally requested him for the occasion.

“It’s the office of the county executive and of many other elected officials and public servants, and it’s going to be prominently displayed there,” Stanko said. “It’s a classic historic building, and it’s a true honor and privilege to be selected for this work.”