Phillips House museum celebrates 40 years


In a defining moment for the preservation of Rockville Centre history in the late 1970s, the deteriorating house of Captain Samuel F. Phillips was relocated and restored to become what is now the Museum of the Village of Rockville Centre.

Four decades later, the museum celebrated its 40th anniversary as a beacon of culture, education and history in the village.

“It’s a great resource for the community and a wonderful place to come and visit,” said former Rockville Centre Mayor Mary Bossart.

The Victorian home, known by many as the Phillips House, was built in 1882. Rockville Centre became an incorporated village in 1893 and began growing as a center of banking and commerce. Many sea captains moved in from Maine, including Phillips, who lived in the home with his family and contributed to the village’s founding and growth.

In the late-1970s, the Phillips House was nearly torn down, but not before a local realtor suggested it be moved and transformed into a museum. It was, and still remains, one of the last Victorian homes of its kind in the area.

Previously sitting dormant in a medical building parking lot, the house was purchased for $1 and relocated by truck as part of Rockville Centre’s American bicentennial celebration in 1975. It moved from North Village Avenue to its current location at 28 Hempstead Ave., and officially opened as a fully decorated museum in 1978.

Since then, it has grown and thrived as a community center, offering programming and working with local schools. The museum welcomes history students from Molloy College and Queens College to receive course credit by working at the house, as well as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to earn badges.

In December 2009, the New York State Board of Regents granted the museum its charter.

The museum holds at least 1,000 artifacts, including carpentry and cobbler tools, kitchenware, toys and furniture of the period, according to museum president Frank Seipp. Most of the collection is not kept behind glass, so visitors can touch the items and see how they work.

“It’s important to let people know what their past is,” Seipp said. “It gives people the opportunity to see how they lived in that time period. We take great pride in the collection.”

To celebrate the milestone anniversary, the museum hosted a Victorian tea party at the Church of the Ascension on Oct. 28.

The Dutch first introduced tea in Portugal in the 16th century, and from there it spread to Europe and the United States. The sea captains who founded Rockville Centre were important players in trade, commerce and bringing tea around the world.

“This [tea party] showed the linkage between sea captains and the commerce they were involved in during the time,” said Bossart, who led the presentation. “Tea was also a custom that came into fashion at the time. Women gathered and celebrated with tea in the late [1800s] to 1900s.”

About 100 people attended the sold-out event at the North Village Avenue church. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Mayor’s Youth Task Force, led by their adult supervisors, helped serve tea and keep the refined gathering running smoothly.

“One of our goals is to cater to the youth of our town,” Seipp said. “The volunteers were most helpful at this event.”

The museum had collectible and vintage tea items on display in the church, and guests were served their choice of tea, finger sandwiches and pastries, catered by Chat Noir on Merrick Road. Bossart guided the authentic afternoon tea, explaining the history of tea trade, the various types of tea and tea preparation.

“I hope that everyone in the village takes the opportunity to visit [the museum] and see how things have changed,” Bossart said. “It is a fine example of the fundamentals that make for wonderful family and community life in Rockville Centre.”