The Town of Hempstead Landmarks Preservation Commission announced its efforts to secure a historical marker at the border of Franklin Square and West Hempstead to commemorate the legacy of famous American writer Walt Whitman. Paul Van Wie, of the commission and president of the Franklin Square Historical Society, said that Whitman had been employed as a teacher in the old District 17 Schoolhouse in the spring of 1840.
“Although his time there was brief, we’ve unearthed several photographs that support his significance there,” Van Wie said.
The school was located at the intersection of Nassau Boulevard and Dogwood Avenue and served children from all over Franklin Square and West Hempstead. Adelphi University English professor Thomas Heffernan, who wrote a paper on Whitman’s time in the area, wrote that although Whitman lamented the state of Long Island schools at the time, criticizing their inability to keep teachers around for more than a few months, Whitman was seen as a rather popular teacher.
“A well-known comment by one of Whitman’s former students, Charles Roe, gives a picture of an imaginative and innovative teacher whose methods matched his above-cited philosophy and would have been broadly approved of in educational circles today,” Heffernan wrote.
But another of Whitman’s students, Sandford Brown, seemed to notice that Whitman was happier when he was working on his own writing rather than teaching others. “He warn’t in his element,” Brown had written. “He was always musin’ and writin’ ‘stead of tending to his proper duties.”
As the town Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the installation of a historical plaque for the area, the group’s next step will be to speak to the current property owners of the site to discuss where they can best place the plaque. The commission hopes to have the project set by May 31, which will coincide with Whitman’s 200th birthday.