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Babylon museum's holiday model train exhibit tracks town history

The Town of Babylon History Museum's 5th annual holiday train layout sports six running tracks, three streets, three running railroads, and 240 square feet of buildings and action.  On Nov. 18, 2014, Town Historian Mary Cascone talked about how the exhibit provides an opportunity to see in miniature historic landmarks that are no longer in existence.  (Credit: Randee Daddona)

The electrified Babylon Trolley system used to carry passengers from Amityville to Babylon Village. The 35-minute trip ran every 30 to 45 minutes and cost 10 cents. The trolley is long gone — as are the bargain-basement railroad prices — but the Town of Babylon History Museum has reconnected the past and the present.

The museum first opened its doors to the public at Old Town Hall on West Main Street on June 11, 2010, exactly 100 years after the first train ride from Babylon to Amityville.

Now the museum is turning to trains again, to tell the story of Babylon's history.

For four years, at first a small, and then a mid-size, exhibit brought area residents to the museum during the holiday season. Originally tucked into a room on the first floor, the modest 4-by-8-foot setup brought wonder to children visiting the museum for the first time.

By last year, it had expanded to a 10-by-12-foot showcase at the museum's top level. Families came in droves, filling the room on weekends.

But something was missing, said Mary Cascone, the Town of Babylon's historian.

"I was thinking about this as we were setting everything up last year," said Cascone, 43, who lives in Copiague. "We had a few local items, mostly about Babylon Village, but we didn't have enough about the whole town. I wanted to create a fantasy of the Town of Babylon's history."

So Cascone, joined by a crew of dedicated community volunteers and town employees, went to work on revamping and doubling the exhibit, which is now a 240-square-foot homage to Babylon's rich history. It will be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., through Jan. 4.

 

Generic to specific

The exhibit includes two bygone airports: Zahn's in North Amityville, which was once nestled against the North Lindenhurst border, and the Deer Park Airport, which closed in 1974, giving way to suburban sprawl and condominiums. The airport was located near where Commack Road and Grand Boulevard meet, near what is now a condo complex, strip mall and outlet center.

The Fire Island Lighthouse is also represented, even though it is technically in Islip.

"Ferries used to leave from Babylon to Fire Island, so it's very much part of our history," Cascone said.

To visitors, the lighthouse will certainly look like a close match to the iconic landmark, complete with black and white stripes, and the neighboring building. It wasn't that way out of the box.

Cascone orders generic models that need a makeover to resemble local places. In this case, she turned to her husband, Jason, 43. He painted what had been a red-and-white lighthouse.

"I had to take it apart to paint it and make it look right," he said. "That piece took about eight hours, although a lot of that was just waiting for the paint to dry."

 

Creating the airports

He also brought his artistic touch to the two airports, and to another new local piece — the windmill at Bulk's Nursery on Montauk Highway in West Babylon. The real windmill was already falling to pieces in 1985 when Hurricane Gloria put it out of its misery. Now it's back, in 3-D puzzle form, thanks to Jason Cascone.

The Liggett-Rexall pharmacy chain, Royal Scarlet grocery stores, which were in West Babylon and Deer Park, as well as Lauder's Bakery in Amityville, are also being brought back to life. So is the Red Lion English Pub, a popular watering hole on Main Street in Babylon Village that has been gone since at least the early 1990s.

Remember the Wyandanch Lumberyard? It's part of the display.

Linden Brewery? It too will make its return in miniature form, as will the Highway Diner in Babylon Village and the Bank of Babylon, whose name is carved in stone at its original location on Deer Park Avenue. The restaurant Monsoon now calls the building home.

Mary Cascone said none of this would have been possible without the help of Steve Quigley, 63, of Babylon Village. Quigley is president of the Long Island Sunrise Trail, which is the Long Island chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

It was Quigley's idea to start the exhibit. This year, he helped spread about 600 feet of wire to set up the tracks and the interactive exhibits that come with it.

"We are wiring all the accessories so we can make it interactive," Quigley said. "Here the kids can be involved. Let them play and learn. Instead of 'don't touch,' it's 'let them touch, let them be part of the action.' They should enjoy themselves."

Quigley said the new Babylon angle makes "the exhibit important and identifiable. That makes all the difference in the world."

 

Some modern-day help

Unlike Quigley, Kelly Filippone, 25, of North Babylon, doesn't know much about trains. But Babylon's assistant archivist — she also works at the Deer Park Public Library — recognizes she is helping recreate Babylon's history.

Filippone was building a model Southern State Parkway around the perimeter of the exhibit, and bringing high-tech to the model industry: She needed to traverse the parkway on Google Street View so she could create exit signs.

"It's a lot of detail, but it's all worth it, especially when the kids come and see it," she said. "Including town history has brought so much more customization to this."

And there is more to come, even if Cascone can't get to it all this year. For instance, Charles Murphy, otherwise known as Mile-a-Minute Murphy, isn't in this year's exhibit. Murphy, legend has it, rode his bike behind a train from Farmingdale to Babylon in 1899, keeping up with the locomotive by going a mile in just under 58 seconds.

"He will be at the top of the list for next year," Cascone said.

The famed Argyle Hotel, where baseball's first black professional team, the Cuban Giants, is believed to have played starting in 1885, is also a possible addition in the years to come, as are old Long Island Rail Road stations, including Deer Park's, where remnants of the old platform sit across from the Knights of Columbus building on Long Island Avenue.

That's for 2015 and beyond.

For now Cascone, her husband, their son Benjamin, 11, and her father, Ken Schnepp, 67, visiting from Maryland, as well as Quigley and Filippone, plow away with other volunteers, including the town's historian assistant, Georgia Cava, 52, of West Babylon, capturing the town's history while making their own. "I've only had a chance to see my grandson a couple times a year," said Schnepp. "It's been a great reconnection. It's been a great opportunity to bond. It's wonderful to be a part of this."

 

SEE THE MODEL TRAIN DISPLAY

The miniature train exhibit is on display at the Town of Babylon History Museum, 47 W. Main St., Babylon. Visiting hours are Friday-Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. through Jan. 4. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-587-3750.

 

A CENTURY AGO IN THE TOWN OF BABYLON

A century ago, the West Deer Park Hotel was located not too far from what is now the Wyandanch train station. It was a perfect stopover for business trips. The hotel was on Merritt Avenue, the northwest corner of Straight Path and the railroad.

It was also the tranquil stop just to the west of Deer Park, which made it a popular place for hunters to sleep before going out to shoot deer.

The community of West Deer Park changed its name to Wyandanch in 1899 because city residents riding the Long Island Rail Road would get confused and get off in West Deer Park instead of Deer Park. The Long Island Rail Road changed the name of the station to Wyandance in 1888, thereby changing the identity of the community. The spelling became Wyandanch by 1903.

The hotel was later named the Wyandanch Hotel, and is believed to have remained into the 1920s.

"That area was very popular for hunting and fishing," said Mary Cascone, the Town of Babylon's historian. "Geiger Lake today was a place to fish until the mid-1900s. It was a modest summer lake community."

BOHACK'S

The regional New York City supermarket was a popular place for residents of Babylon Village, Amityville, Lindenhurst, Deer Park and Copiague to bag their groceries until the company faded away in the 1970s.

"When community downtowns were shopping headquarters, markets were modest storefronts," Cascone said. "Even the A&Ps were much smaller than today's supermarkets. But they were instantly recognizable and people remember them."

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