It all began with two women, Midge Leonard and Margaret Aiken, who were studying painting in the early 1960’s Wantagh area. They found the 1885 Victorian railroad station in town to be quaint, brimming with charm and character, a perfect subject to hone their painting skills.
When they read in the newspaper that the Long Island Railroad had decided to elevate the railroad tracks and build new stations along the Babylon line, they both thought the Wantagh station should be saved. They expressed their feelings to others and found they were not alone. Pat and Harold Johnson, residents of the historical Jackson home on Wantagh Avenue agreed with Margaret and Midge that they must do something. A group formed, led by Margaret Aiken, united in the goal to save the station and make their dream a reality. They later formalized the group into the Wantagh Preservation Society. With perseverance and effort they were able to secure an agreement with the Long Island Railroad to donate the station as a museum based on two conditions. They had to have a parcel of land and a museum charter from the New York State Department of Education. With the help of Nassau County elected officials, they secured both conditions and the railroad moved the station to land on Wantagh Avenue at no cost to the society.
This was only the beginning of a massive effort by citizens, students, businesses and union locals over many years, to make this dream a reality. Below is an incomplete list of those that helped make the dream come true.
To prepare the wooded land for the station, Harder Tree Service cut down certain trees while DelBalso and Posillico construction companies leveled the land with help clearing the area by Boy Scout Troop 96. Local 138 0perating engineers dug and prepared the foundation. Local 66 Laborer union prepared the footings and poured the concrete donated by Colonial Sand & Stone company with the help of the Wantagh High School Key Club. Once the station was moved it was cribbed in the air with wooden blocks over the excavation site. Nassau-Suffolk lumber and Wallace Post supplied materials and Horn construction provided scaffolding.
By January 1967, Bricklayer’s union local 30 laid the cement blocks for the walls of the basement. The Carpenter’s union local 353 replaced all the rotted sills of the building. Wantagh High School industrial arts students assisted with the project, waterproofing the new basement walls. Once the walls were finished the building was lowered onto the basement walls and the cribbing was removed. Kampfer Brothers Plumbers installed the water service and Electrician Warren Horneck provided the electrical installation. All this work was donated.
During September 1968 professional painter Al Hanlon supervised the exterior painting of the museum with much help from society members, Francis McGloin, Marcia Yeates, Margaret Aiken, Warren Hiltonsmith and his son and others. High school students Billy Stegmeier and Richard Shaw under the guidance of shop teachers Mr. Staten and Mr. Davis restored the station platform benches.
In March 1974, the preservation society entered into an agreement with Nassau County Parks Department to cede ownership of the museum to the county. The county would then complete the restoration of the exterior and assume responsibility for the maintenance of the building in the future. In 1976 the society was granted $17,500.00 by the New York State Historic Trust to complete the restoration. This grant was matched by Nassau County and after many delays work was begun. County museum specialists Edward Smits and Bert Howland guided the interior restoration to a nineteenth century appearance. The museum was open to the public after sixteen years of constant effort on May 17th, 1982, with a large celebration attended by Wantaghites, public dignitaries and the school band.
On September 23rd, 2016, the preservation society celebrated the 50th anniversary of the museum’s relocation from downtown Wantagh to its present site on Wantagh Avenue with a well-attended, festive event. Today the old railroad station turned museum continues to open its doors to the public, for a view of what Wantagh was like in the past.
Scope of Collection
Photographs, documents and newspaper articles show a 17 year chronological order to the community effort to convert the railroad station into a museum that today holds the village of Wantagh’s past.