Since 1975, a white 19th-century schoolhouse has sat on Waverly Avenue, between Southard and Jackson avenues, in Seaford. Its bell tower, which used to call children to class, has become a pigeon roost. Its metal louvers have rusted. Its shingles are weathered and peeled, and the bell tower — once a pure, white accent on the schoolhouse roof — has brown patches.
Now the building’s deterioration threatens its tenant — the Seaford Historical Society Museum. A large gash in a side room’s ceiling invites water to move from the warped wood onto the floor — or possibly, onto 20th century furniture.
“People can see, if they just look at the building, that it is in disrepair,” Historical Society President Judy Bongiovi said. “It has to be addressed, and is of immediate concern.”
In what they call the “S.O.B.” — an acronym for the Save Our Bell Tower — campaign, the Historical Society will launch a fundraiser to repair its bell tower in early March.
While the fundraiser will not have a fixed goal, said Bongiovi, the first female president in the society’s history, the repairs are estimated to cost $15,000 to $20,000, and include removing the old shingles, replacing them with two new shingle layers, liability coverage and either extended scaffolding or an aerial work platform to reach the bell tower. All repairs are meant to preserve the building, and keep its aesthetic from when it opened in 1893, she said.
Bongiovi said that many forgot about the site since it was dedicated as a museum at Seaford’s bicentennial in 1976. “Many people in the community didn’t even know we existed,” Bongiovi said. “And still, to this day, we have people coming into the museum and say, ‘I didn’t know you were here.’”
Bongiovi pointed to the building’s decline after 1976, and its inactivity in the 1990s. For more than a decade, Bongiovi said, the schoolhouse sat in near-dormancy with no sign of a preservation group to care for it. That changed in 2006, when the Historical Society was revived, and the building underwent extensive renovations.
The repairs were sparked when current Historical Society Historian Charles Wroblewski returned to his childhood hometown in 2005, after serving in the FBI for 25 years. A conversation with Bill and Carla Powell, old friends of Wroblewski’s and also longtime Seaford residents, started the process.
“Carla said to me, ‘You know, the museum is closed,’” Wroblewski said. “It was locked up. It was filled with junk. The outside of the building had no paint. This was almost like a haunted house.”
The late Bill Powell and Wroblewski led the revitalization effort, forming a committee with many of the current board members that took ownership of the building. Although Powell died in 2011, the extensive interior and exterior work pressed onwards, and the museum reopened in 2016.
Those renovations included multiple Eagle Scout projects from Troops 239 and 581 that ranged from landscaping to a full renovation of the museum’s bathrooms and kitchen.
Due to liability concerns, a Boy Scout troop could not climb up to the bell tower to fix it. That left the job to an independent contractor. The society will use its fundraiser money for the tower’s restoration. “If it doesn’t get repaired,” Wroblewski explained, “it’s going to rot and leak.”
“We’ve already had leaks in the building from it,” Historical Society Vice President Frank Allaire said.
“And everything down here is going to be ruined,” Wroblewski added. “You can’t live in a house with a bad roof.”
Wroblewski and Allaire climbed up to the building’s attic, noting the old, narrow wooden steps that access it. Among the insulation material and debris lay more artifacts from the past century: an RC Cola cooler, an old pinball machine and flyers from past Harvest Festivals. However, the attic’s focal point is the ceiling. The shingles, as seen from the inside, are cracked and weathered.
Tucked behind some wooden beams is a rope next to an old ladder that leads to the tower’s belfry. Wroblewski and Allaire tug the rope that extends down from the tower, ringing the bell.
The Historical Society will send out fundraiser envelopes to all of its members, and will also accept donations by mail at P.O. Box 1254, Seaford, N.Y, 11783.