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Valley Stream Historical Society looks ahead to preserve the past

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After the Pagan Fletcher Restoration closed for more than a year, it has reopened to offer visitors a glimpse into Valley Stream’s history. Offering tours by appointment only for now, Valley Stream Historical Society members say they look forward to continuing the group’s mission to preserve the village’s past.

“Like many places, we didn’t know . . . how long [the coronavirus pandemic] was going to last for,” Bill Florio, the society’s vice president, said.

He put up a sign in March 2020 saying the building would be closed until the end of the month. As the weeks wore on, he realized the homestead would remain closed for a long time, until finally the board decided to reopen in early May.

“This is a historic icon of Valley Stream,” Florio said. “The fact that we’re not here, there’s some absence of normalcy to that. We’re always here. We’ve been here since the ’70s.”

The Pagan-Fletcher homestead, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, dates back to the early 1800s. Having seen many inhabitants and various changes over its two centuries, the building was leased to the Valley Stream Historical Society in 1977 and is currently owned by the Village of Valley Stream. 

While the building was closed, Florio said, people had no place to deliver the Valley Stream memorabilia or ephemera they had grown accustomed to delivering to the restoration. He added that people seemed more interested in learning about their community’s history while they had more free time. He remarked that he saw many people sharing old photos and posting comments in Valley Stream’s several Facebook groups during the pandemic.

“It’s a way for us to engage the community in the history of Valley Stream and hopefully give them a window into what things were in the past and give them more of an appreciation for where they live,” Amy Bentley, a board trustee, who also serves as the society’s webmaster and researcher, said of the importance of reopening. “A lot of people don’t know things about Valley Stream or the homestead, and they’re just blown away when they hear the stories and what things were like 200 years ago.”

With several new projects on the horizon, the historical society is wasting no time in making up for the year that the homestead was closed, Florio said. The society plans to hire an architect who specializes in historic buildings to assist in learning more about the history of the house and dating the structure. Society members hope to obtain county grants to fund the project, he said.

Other projects in the works include new exhibits for Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Florio said he plans to create an exhibit centered on Booker T. Gibson, the first African-American teacher to teach in Valley Stream. The society also hopes to begin hosting monthly lectures again at village hall in the near future, and resume its annual events, such as the Halloween and holiday candlelight tours.

Bentley added that the society is working to compile a color postcard book of Valley Stream.

Now that the board has given the homestead the green light to reopen, the society is also looking to refurbish its gift shop and restore several antiques in its collection. Florio said that while the pandemic did not last long enough to have a significant impact on the antiques that were left on display for the past year, it’s time that the exhibits are rotated to prevent sunlight damage.

Mayor Ed Fare, the society’s board chair, said he is pleased the restoration is resuming operations. “The historical society has always been a great partner with the village, and it’s been a very steady force since 1974. So many civic organizations have gone defunct . . . and the historical society, through its partnership with the village, has been doing very, very well, even through transitions.”

The past year will undoubtedly go down in Valley Stream’s history books — those safely stored by “the keepers of the history,” as the society is known.

“If you don’t talk about these people or what happened, then it’s lost. People forget, and it’s lost, and it’s like they didn’t exist,” Bentley said. “So we just try to keep the history alive.”

Tours of the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration can be scheduled by visiting www.vsvny.org/tour. The society asks that visitors wear masks and maintain social distance.