A month from now, Long Islanders can step back in time to the 1850s by walking into a historic Dutch-American barn in Port Washington.
The Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society plans to reopen the nearly 330-year-old barn to the public in late September after years of restoration efforts to bring the structure back to its mid-19th century appearance.
“Our mission is to preserve local history. This barn is extremely historic in nature,” said Chris Bain, president of the historical society. “If we don’t preserve it, who will?”
The barn was built by the earliest settlers on the Port Washington peninsula around 1690, according to Fred Blumlein, a trustee of the historical society who manages the project.
The 25-foot-tall structure stood on a farm in Sands Point for hundreds of years before Dana Backus, owner of the farm, donated it to the society in 1977. The barn was moved and reassembled the following year on the society’s property in Port Washington.
“Years pass. Weather comes. Weather goes. The roof leaked. The siding deteriorated. Squirrels occupied as tenants and so on,” Blumlein explained of the need to restore the structure, one of a few from its era that remain standing on Long Island.
The society received a $100,000 state grant last year and collected about $25,000 worth of donations from foundations and the public for the project. Construction began in late spring, and the barn is expected to open by late September.
But the project doesn’t stop there.
In the next couple of years, the society plans to open an exhibition in the 800-square-foot barn to showcase agricultural and fishing tools used by local families from centuries ago. Some of the tools visitors can expect to see are saws used to cut down trees and harvest ice.
Before the invention of refrigeration, Blumlein said locals sawed ice blocks from frozen ponds, packed them in sawdust, which functioned as an insulator, and stored them in ice houses to help keep meats and dairy items cold.
“Now, everything is so easy,” Blumlein said. “The magic in those days was looking at the earth and seeing it grow your crops or catching your fish. That was your magic. But that magic really disappeared from us.”
By turning the barn into a museum, the historical society wants to remind visitors of that past magic and inspire a sense of perspective.
“I hope it increases their appreciation of the history all around them,” said Bain, of Garden City. “I hope they are less likely to embrace the increasingly disposable society we all live in.”
A few weeks ago, Ava Steiner, of Great Neck Estates, visited the Sands-Willets House, an 18th-century farmhouse that stands next to the barn. She called the society’s historical structures “slices of history in the middle of a neighborhood” that she passed 100 times but hadn’t known existed.
“It’s nice to see your history, and where we’ve come from,” said Steiner, noting she would go back to see the barn once it’s finished. “It’s our history, and now we get to share it.”
A BARN TO REMEMBER
Around 1690: The barn was built by the earliest settlers on the Port Washington peninsula
1977: Dana Backus, owner of the farm, donated the structure to the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society
1978: The barn was reassembled on the society’s property in Port Washington
2018: The historical society received a $100,000 state grant to restore the structure