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Oyster Bay's Raynham Hall Museum debuts new website

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Raynham Hall Museum is one of Long Island’s most historic landmarks, having served as the home of Robert Townsend, one of George Washington’s key spies during the American Revolution. While the building itself is centuries old, the museum’s website, www.raynhamhallmuseum.org, has been completely revamped, making the rich history of the museum accessible to more people than ever.

In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, shifting safety precautions have given rise to a renewed reliance on the internet and virtual programming, said Harriet Gerard Clark, the museum’s executive director. Despite doors being temporarily closed for the sake of public health, she said, Raynham Hall has put much focus into reaching their target market online.

In updating its website, Raynham Hall has been able to reach far beyond its target audience, Gerard Clark said, with users from places like Tennessee and London immersing themselves in the Townsend family’s extensive history. The original website was created over 10 years ago, she said. It lacked the user-friendliness necessary to keep up with an increasingly digitized world, especially since the pandemic began.

“We have been able to reach about 5,000 kids through the internet since the pandemic started,” Gerard Clark said. “Usually, we reach that many kids in a given year through field trips.”

Gerard Clark said the development of the website was aided greatly by several grants from outside entities. Grants from Humanities New York, the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities combined to provide over $7,000 in funding for the website.

The new website offers features such as virtual tours, spy games and a digitized collections area, about which Gerard Clark said she is especially enthused.

“If you go to the collections page now, there’s a whole page about how to search for things,” she said. “Even if you can’t come to the museum, and even once the museum is open, we don’t just have everything set up. You can’t see everything at once, but with this feature, you can.”

Theresa Skvarla, the museum’s director of public relations, said she believes that, despite the pause on in-person visitation, visitors to Raynham Hall’s new website are still experiencing a well-rounded look into what the museum has to offer. She said that the depth and breadth of the website is beneficial to those who seek knowledge of the American Revolution.

Typically, most of Raynham Hall’s visitors are elementary school students who are learning American history and its ties to the North Shore community, said John Collins, the museum’s board president. House museums are static establishments, he explained, which are rarely revisited once seen for the first time.

Usually, Collins said, such museums do not offer much to entice visitors. However, he said recent ties to Raynham Hall in academia and in the media have considerably boosted the museum’s visitation rate. Despite the shift to virtual learning and research, he said he is optimistic that the museum will continue to garner an increasing amount of interest and visitors, albeit to its virtual platform.

Raynham Hall is the only house museum on Long Island accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, Collins said, which forces it to keep up with the high standards the organization demands. Making all of the museum’s programs and collections accessible through the new website is part of trying to do the best and most professional job of maintaining those standards.