The Franklin Square Historical Society was founded in 1976 to preserve the community’s rich history. Once the group had collected artifacts of that history through the years, the next step was to find a place to store and showcase them. So, in 2000, the group, with permission from the Town of Hempstead, designed a building from scratch for the Franklin Square Museum, on Naple Avenue, near Rath Park.
After years of organizing its vast collection, the group was ready to open the museum to the public in March 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed its grand opening.
“Believe it or not, that gave each of us on the board an opportunity to work individually in the building and do some of the finishing work,” society Trustee Bill Youngfert said. “We managed to pick up a lot of showcases from stores that were closing, like Lord & Taylor and Sears. People have been chomping at the bit, because they want to get in to see the museum.”
After years of preparation, the museum officially opened two weeks ago. Dr. Paul Van Wie, the society’s founder and president, said that the process of establishing the museum dates back to the group’s inception. Van Wie explained that members had interviewed residents who were born in the late 1800s, and that some of the interviewees contributed treasured items that are now on display at the museum (see box).
“The Franklin Square Museum is truly a community project,” Van Wie said. “So many groups and organizations have helped the historical society to complete the project, and we are grateful.”
The community supported the project through garage sales, fairs, raffles, dinners and many other fundraisers over the years. In addition, students throughout the Franklin Square School District collected more than a million pennies. Tradespeople in the hamlet contributed labor and materials to finish the interior, and Eagle Scouts led projects such as painting the interior, landscaping and installing the flooring.
“Now we have a facility which will be a focus of community pride, a center for education, and an enriching experience for old and young,” Van Wie said.
Last week, Youngfert met with retired teachers in the community to discuss activities they could organize at the museum with the schools. He is also planning to meet with school principals and district Superintendent Jared Bloom about ways to include the museum in their curriculum. The society is now inviting its members to the museum in groups of three for 20-minute tours. Youngfert said he hoped that by August or September, they will be able to invite the public.
“It really takes our breath away,” Youngfert said. “So many people helped to make this a reality, so we do remember the work of the people that came before us. It’s going to be such a rich resource for people in the neighborhood and a great addition to the community.”
Future plans for the museum include an archaeological dig outside the site, the planting of vegetables that were once grown on truck farms in the community and field trips for elementary schools.