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Museum director: Amityville ‘not a typical suburb’
William T. Lauder, 90, is a lifelong resident of Amityville and is the third generation in his family to live there. From 1963 to 1965, he served as Babylon Town supervisor. He is now the director of the William T. Lauder Museum, which was donated to the Amityville Historical Society in 1973.
What made you decide to stay in Amityville all this time?
I pretty much traveled the Western World courtesy of World War II. I really didn’t find anyplace that was quite as comfortable for me as Long Island. My family was in Amityville and I found no particular reason to move away.
Tell me about your family history here.
My grandfather came here in 1894. He opened a baker’s shop here and retired in 1925.
My father grew up here, he went to school here and entered the insurance business in New York. He also served as village treasurer, village clerk, among other positions.
I spent my childhood here, I graduated from Amityville High School in 1940. I entered Columbia University that September and I was there until 1942, when I was drafted into the United States Army.
What was it like growing up here?
It was always a pleasant place -- rural in nature, actually. I can remember seeing occasionally a horse and wagon heading down Broadway toward the village. Route 110 was a tree-lined road with beautiful Victorian houses on each side. It was a quiet era. The trolley that ran through the street was pretty well-remembered.
The streets were paved in 1927, Merrick Road was paved, most of the streets were dirt. And then when they were paved, it must have been the worst pave job in the history of Suffolk County. Whenever there were cracks, they would fill them in with tar.
I remember walking in the parade as a Boy Scout and it was always so hot out and my shoes would be destroyed from the tar.
What have been the biggest changes?
Changes in Amityville have been many and mostly small.
The widening of Broadway could be characterized as a big change, I guess. It changed the character of the village.
We had been a vacation area for the rich and well-bred from New York City up until World War I. '‘Yorkers,’' as they were called, came here, deposited their families in one of our many hotels and the breadwinner would go back to the city for the week and come back here on the weekends. We had a considerable summer population and many hotels, one of which was four stories tall -- the New Point Hotel. That burned down in the '50s; that was a significant event that would be remembered by all.
What challenges does Amityville face?
In the light of the recent unpleasantness, Hurricane Sandy, I would say preparation for the next one is most pressing now.
How would you characterize Amityville?
It’s a suburban community not far removed from its rural roots. Having the pleasure of the existence of the rural houses that we enjoy, it’s not a typical suburb; rather, a more antique community -- an enclave, a backwater.
In character and view, it’s much more like the East End of Long Island than the surrounding communities that sprung up in the huckleberry fields I remember as a child.
Amityville has retained as best it could the character that has always made this an attractive place.