Event celebrates the first American valentine

Raynham Hall Museum hosts Valentine’s Day Poetry Contest


With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the time has come again for Raynham Hall Museum’s annual Valentine’s Day Poetry Contest. The museum, known as the home of Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe during the Revolutionary War, takes a poetic turn each February to honor the legacy of America’s first documented valentine.

The museum’s director, Harriet Clark, explained that the facility held a Presidents Day writing contest in years past. But for the past five years, it has instead hosted a poetry contest celebrating Valentine’s Day, an opportunity for local children to show off their writing skills as they express their love for family members, pets and classmates.

“We realized that we’re better known for being the home of America’s first valentine,” Clark explained. “Plus, Valentine’s Day is a little more well-known than Presidents Day.”

The first documented valentine in America was composed by Simcoe, a British officer who took up residence in what became Raynham Hall during the Revolutionary War. He composed romantic verses for Sarah Townsend, the daughter of the house. Although the original is lost to time, it was published in 1825, giving modern readers a glimpse into the romantic sentiments of that era.

“The publisher of that history book was Dennis Miller,” Clark said. “He had, for some reason, a copy of the poem from Simcoe himself. They actually exist in the Brooklyn Public Library.”

The poetry contest focuses not only on celebrating love, but also on connecting students with the rich history of the first valentine, and of Oyster Bay. Tami McElwee, the director of humanities in the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District, shed light on the educational aspect.

“As a former principal of the Theodore Roosevelt School and now the director of humanities, one of the beautiful things about our community is connecting kids with local history,” McElwee said. “We are currently working on a project with book clubs and local history for the kids. I love when we can connect them with local organizations and make it really relevant for them.”

McElwee found the story of Simcoe to be a captivating way to bring writing and local history to life for students. The contest serves as a way to blend the charm of Valentine’s Day with the historical significance of the museum.

The unique cross-disciplinary nature of the contest also adds depth to students’ learning experience, according to McElwee.

“It deepens their learning,” she said. “It helps them make connections, because reading is writing and writing is reading. When kids can make cross-disciplinary connections be-tween everything, it makes the learning richer.”

The focus on local history, especially tied to Raynham Hall, creates a meaningful connection for students. McElwee emphasized the district’s commitment to fostering such connections with various local organizations, including the waterfront center and the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

“The more we can connect our kids to history,” she said, “it makes things more relevant for them, brings it to life, makes it more meaningful.”

So, the poetry contest is a way for students to explore their creativity while delving into the historical tapestry that is Oyster Bay. The blend of poetry, history and education is an immersive and enriching experience for students, which, educators hope, contributes to a love of learning that extends beyond the classroom.

The first-, second- and third-place winners of the contest will be honored in a ceremony on Feb. 13, at 4 p.m., with their families, friends and teachers, at the museum. They will also receive a town citation from representatives of the Town of Oyster Bay government.