Written by John H. Meyer, Editorial@antonnews.com Friday, 07 June 2013 00:00
It all began in 1957, when the parishioners of the Grace Episcopal Church on Merrick Road moved to a new, larger and more modern church across the busy road to the south.
The historic old church was no longer used, except when specially requested by some members. This left the building vulnerable to continuous attacks by vandals. By the end of the 1970s, the church vestry made the decision to remove the six large dedicated stained glass windows and cover the openings with plywood. The religious furnishings and the windows were put in storage for safekeeping.
Once the old church had been stripped of its valuable parts, it sat for about a year seemingly abandoned and in disrepair, thanks to vandals and Father Time. In 1981, rumors swirled the church would soon be razed. The scene of many christenings, funerals, town meetings and weddings since 1844 would soon disappear from the Massapequa landscape.
Father John X. Jobson, the Rector of Grace Church, called a meeting for one last attempt to save the historic site.
Earlier, Anne Mackiewiez, who headed the newly formed Massapequa Historical Society attempted to save the Thorne Estate, now the site of Marjorie R. Post Park bordered by Unqua and Merrick roads.
Those efforts failed because then councilwoman Marjorie Post labeled the beautiful mansion “a cracker box.” It was razed to make room for the modern park facility that bears Post’s name. The society, too, was doomed to disband.
In the spring of 1980, a new group of interested neighbors and community leaders revived the society. The name was changed to the Historical Society of the Massapequas, to encompass all the entire area.
At an early meeting, Mackiewiez was called on to serve again as president, with Ira Cahn, publisher of the Massapequa Post, Lorraine Newman, a Post columnist, and Jacques Benard named as vice presidents.
The new society’s first fundraiser in the fall of 1980 raised $3,000. In August 1981, after many meetings with Grace Church, the Historical Society of the Massapequas bought the Old Church for $10, and negotiated a 25-year lease for the land around the church. That lease was recently renewed for another 25 years.
With its location determined, the society began raising funds, making repairs and launching restoration projects. The wood-shingled roof was stripped and replaced by volunteer carpenters from the local 1722 carpenters’ union, thanks to arrangements made by late state Assemblyman Phil Healey.
Superb metal craftsman Max Dobler, who lived nearby, replaced the cross on the steeple with an exact replica and the chimney was rebuilt using old brick. Trim and sidewalls were cleansed of weathered corrosion and restained or repainted. Interior plaster was repaired, repainted and restenciled. The interior woodwork was cleaned and refinished, and, thanks to a state grant, a bathroom was installed in a former storage closet.
Since 1982, the society has raised funds for restoration work through its yearly strawberry and apple festivals, held on the church grounds. A yearly mid-December open house ushers in the holiday season, with Christmas-themed décor and refreshments, made by society members.
The windows that had been removed and boarded up with plywood kept the old church from being completely restored. But, after a highly successful fundraising campaign in 1986, the society installed a similar set of windows, salvaged from an abandoned church in New Jersey, dating back to 1845. Each of the six windows needed about $2,000 worth of restoration work before it could be installed. Later, the original furnishings were retrieved from storage and are now on display in the spots they had occupied for most of their 165 years. In the 27 years since, Lillian Bryson has explained local history to thousands of school children, on class trips visiting the church.
In 1986, the society also took on the costly project of moving and restoring the Elbert Floyd-Jones servants cottage (circa 1870), that now stands east of the Old Church and north of the Delancey Floyd-Jones Library (circa 1896) and cemetery, creating the town’s first historic complex. The cottage stood on its original foundation on a property behind the Bar Harbor Library, and Massapequa schoolchildren raised more than $6,000 for repairs.
At around the same time, the Kiwanis Club joined efforts with the society to preserve a bit of the town’s theatrical history, moving and restoring the Fred Stone Log Cabin that now stands in John J. Burns Park.
Other accomplishments of the society include placing a granite marker at Jones Beach to indicate the beach was named for Massapequa’s first white settler, Major Thomas Jones. A special marker was also placed in the Jones family cemetery to honor the burial site of Samuel Jones, Esq.—a signatory to the Constitution, who is also known as the father of the New York State Bar Association.
The society has gained strength over the years. The 1990 Centennial Weekend, celebrating the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s last visit to Long Island, began with the longest parade ever to march down Broadway. There are plans to post markers at all of the Massapequa places that made history, beginning in the early 1700s. So far this year, 13 markers have been posted.