Construction on the new Education Annex at Raynham Hall Museum, the former home of Culper Ring intelligence operative Robert Townsend, began on July 11. The annex will be right next to the museum’s main building, at 30 W. Main St. in Oyster Bay.
Built in the 1740s, the structure was once home to Townsend, an American spy during the Revolutionary War, and many of his family members. Townsend played a vital role in leading the nation to its eventual victory in the American Revolution. Walking through the museum feels like walking through a time machine, because it features accents from both the Colonial and Victorian eras.
The Education Annex was approved by the Town of Oyster Bay at a meeting on June 26. It will provide new space for children’s workshops, adult lectures, exhibitions and a gift shop that will be visible from the street.
“With this new center, students will have a modern space to experience interactive programs and engage in innovative workshops that will deepen their understanding of the Townsends’ unique place in Revolutionary War history,” said Claire Bellerjeau, the museum’s director of education. “The new building will also provide space for gatherings, lectures and public workshops for both children and adults. Having a space that is dedicated to the visitor’s learning experience will foster fun and engagement for students of all ages.”
The museum has been planning to build the annex since 1973. “The reason for that ambition was so that Raynham Hall could open spaces to the public that are currently used as storage and office space,” said Executive Director Harriet Gerard Clark, “and have those [rooms] open as children and servant and slave rooms.”
State Sen. Carl Marcelino, a Republican from Syosset, supports the project. “I think it’s great that the annex is finally being built,” he said. “This is an area where a lot of historic things occurred.”
There was a press conference to celebrate the groundbreaking on July 11 outside Raynham Hall, attended by Marcellino; Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino; Councilwoman Michele Johnson; Rob Albanese, owner of Albanese Construction; and John Collins, president of the board of trustees of Friends of Raynham Hall.
“The preservation of our history and the ability to educate our children on the past is so incredibly important in the Town of Oyster Bay, and we are blessed with historical treasures such as the Raynham Hall Museum,” Saladino said. “Raynham Hall is visited by thousands of students each year, often as part of their studies on the Revolutionary War. I’m proud to assist Raynham Hall with their efforts and do our small part to ensure the preservation of our local history.”
To raise funds for both the restoration of the museum’s main building and the construction of the annex, members of the museum initiated the Capital Campaign. “We started this campaign, which encompasses two broad areas,” said Clark. “One is the complete exterior restoration of the museum building, which had rotting wood and chipped paint, and then we’ll have to complete the interior restoration, which will happen if we move the office and collection spaces to the Education Annex.” She added that there are plans to restore the outside of the annex to make it appear as it once did when it was a poultry market.
The Town of Oyster Bay paid $550,000 to buy the house that is now the annex. The remaining grant was given to the museum by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.
The annex is anticipated to be completed by next year. “We hope to have the public space of the first floor ready in 2019, with the second-floor office space a few months after that,” said Theresa Skvarla, the museum’s director of public relations. “By the end of the year, we hope to also have completed the third floor, which will provide additional collections storage.”
Marcelino said he believed that the abundance of new space the annex will provides will be beneficial for the museum and its visitors. “Raynham Hall is a rather small building in its own right,” he said, “so by expanding, we can get more exhibits open. They have a lot of great stuff that’s hard to see, so this would give the general public more access to the exhibits.”