A museum dedicated to the history of Babylon Village that has been renovated and redesigned will have a grand reopening on Saturday after being closed for nearly three years.
The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates from 1911 and was originally a library before being used for government offices, said Babylon Town historian Mary Cascone. A year after the Babylon Village Historical and Preservation Society was established in 1974, the Babylon Historical Society Museum opened.
Over the years, the society amassed a hodgepodge collection of artifacts that were displayed throughout the museum in no order.
“It looked like an antique store,” said Wayne Horsley, a former Suffolk County lawmaker and vice president of the company. “There were some interesting things here and there, but not something you would necessarily go back to.”
In January 2020, the trustees decided to close the museum and, in addition to a renovation of the building, to begin a redesign of the museum to tell the story of the village, which was incorporated in 1893.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We decided to continue,” said Judy Skillen, president of the company. “The pandemic was terrible, but it was also kind of a gift of time to be able to do that.”
Wearing masks and practicing social distancing, administrators and members painstakingly combed through the society’s entire collection, researching and cataloging each piece.
“We will continue to scour the collections and research information in order to have a full representation,” said Cascone, who is also a director of the company.
The museum now features themed exhibits that highlight aspects of the village’s history, such as its former hotels, the Great South Bay, and the South Side Railroad, which became part of the Long Island Rail Road. One of the museum’s centerpieces is a printing press believed to be from the South Side Signal, a weekly newspaper published from 1869 to 1920. Exhibits will change throughout the year, Skillen said.
Using approximately $400,000 in grants and donations, the society recreated wooden pocket doors, painted, and performed other work to restore many of the building’s original features. The 2,500 square foot building was also made ADA compliant.
Many society members volunteered their skills to help with the renovation, while others were hired by local businesses.
“I wanted as many people in this community as possible to be invested in this museum,” Skillen said.
Resident Shawn Uttendorfer, 46, said he spent more than 60 hours meticulously stenciling and restoring gold leaf to a glass sign at a Babylon hotel.
“Having a piece that I was able to help restore and carry on the legacy was really important to me,” Uttendorfer said.
A vault where artifacts began to mold now has an air conditioning system for archive storage. A wall that had sealed off the main room was reopened and an electronic drop-down cinema screen was installed. The new space will become a community hub, allowing the museum to host events and bring in authors and other speakers, trustees said.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve done to tell the story of Babylon,” Skillen said. “It’s our gift to the village.”
BABYLON VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY MUSEUM
Located: 117 Main Street West, Babylon
Grand Dopening: September 24 at 5:30 p.m. with a new dedication on the mast, until 8 p.m. Refreshments will be served and guides will be on hand to answer questions and guide visitors through the museum.
Hours (from Sept. 28): Wednesday and Saturday, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., other hours by appointment. No admission charge, but donations are welcome.