The fledgling Oyster Bay Railroad Museum has received more than $700,000 in grants for its plan to become a fully functioning historical attraction and make the hamlet a more attractive tourist destination.
Preservationists have been frustrated over the past few years about the lack of progress in converting the former Long Island Rail Road depot -- famously used by President Theodore Roosevelt -- into a museum, along with the restoration of historic LIRR steam locomotive No. 35 to running condition.
Once completed, the museum will join with nearby Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, the Raynham Hall Museum and other similar locations in making Oyster Bay a prime draw for historical tourism, community leaders said. Railroad museum president John Specce said the museum should be open in 2017.
The railroad museum last month was awarded three grants that its leaders say should pay for most of the cost of completely restoring the station's interior and exterior. Two of the grants totaling $650,000 came from two foundations that did not want to be identified, Specce said.
Nassau County Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) obtained a $65,693 county grant for rehabilitation or replacement of doors and windows, as well as exterior masonry work. The project will include replacing a window on the west side removed in 1965.
"The station has major historical value," Jacobs said. With a functioning railroad museum, "the hamlet has the potential to be a wonderful destination."
Museum volunteers will work toward getting the historic turntable for reversing locomotives revolving again this year. The turntable is being restored using $75,000 from a state grant received several years ago. New rails must still be laid on it and electric power connected to its motor.
The museum is also trying to complete plans with the Town of Oyster Bay to have the locomotive restored.
Development director Bill Bell said the museum had previously received a $546,000 grant for restoring the No. 35 locomotive and is awaiting approval from the town to sign a contract with Steam Operations Corp. in Alabama to start the $1 million project.
Oyster Bay acquired the station in 2004, five years after the LIRR vacated the facility.
The nonprofit museum received a provisional charter from the state in 2006 and last month was granted a permanent charter by the New York State Board of Regents, a designation that should make fundraising easier and facilitate field trips by school groups, museum officials said.
The big question for museum officials to address before moving ahead with the station work is what to do, if anything, about a section of the foundation that has settled on the southeast corner and caused a crack to zigzag up through the brick wall.
"Whatever we do is going to be historically correct," Specce said, because the station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Officials are consulting with preservation architects on the best way to handle the station overhaul and whether the foundation needs to be fixed or can be left as is because the settling seems to have stopped, Specce said.
Jacobs said her understanding was that the town would use federal grant money to repair the foundation before the money from her grant could be used to restore the doors and windows.
Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said he would schedule a meeting to resolve any issues with the restoration.
The museum still needs to raise at least $150,000 to complete the building restoration. The second phase of work will create exhibits at a cost estimated at $500,000.
The third phase will be re-creating the canopies that once extended from either side of the station.
"This is not a pipe dream," Specce said of the museum projects. "This is something that's going to come to fruition."