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Oyster Bay Railroad Museum sets up visitor center in permanent new home

John Ginnochio, 9, of East Rockaway, checks out

John Ginnochio, 9, of East Rockaway, checks out the model trains with his dad Mark, 39, at the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum, on Saturday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The Oyster Bay Railroad Museum has pulled into the station.

The museum’s visitor center has moved from its storefront home around the corner on Audrey Avenue into the rail station where President Theodore Roosevelt disembarked on his sojourns to Sagamore Hill more than a century ago.

On Saturday, the museum plans to hold a grand opening of its new home even as restoration work continues on the historic building. Also on Saturday, the museum will make the public debut of the newly restored turntable — a mechanism that once spun the locomotive around at the terminal for its return journey.

Visitors to the museum will now see a ticket office, expanded exhibits, a gift shop and larger model trains, said museum president John Specce.

"The ticket office existed at the station, and what we did, we made it appear as it would have during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s," Specce said.

Museum officials installed a desk, vintage typewriter, telephone, Morse code key and clocks in the ticket office. "It really will give somebody a sense of what existed at that time," he said.

The museum vacated its storefront in the fall, and since the beginning of the year volunteers have been installing exhibits in the station, which Specce said has about double the space of the old visitor center.

The Long Island Rail Road closed the station in 1999 and sold it to the Town of Oyster Bay in 2005 for $1 and with the stipulation that it be used for a public purpose. The museum is restoring the station under an agreement with the town.

The ongoing multimillion-dollar restoration project has reached two milestones, completing the southern and western facades of the building. The interior restoration is still in its planning stages, however.

John Collins, a historic preservation consultant working on the renovation, said the two finished exterior sides required painstaking research and analysis to determine what materials lay underneath more than 100 years of dust and paint and then months of careful stripping to remove every speck of old paint before restoring it.

"It looks exactly the way it did when it was rebuilt in 1902 after Roosevelt became president," Collins said.

Although many historical photos of the exterior exist, it was only in the past two years that a single photo from the interior in the 1940s was discovered and from which Collins said he’s created architectural drawings for the interior. Old paint will need to be stripped off the ceiling.

"That cathedral ceiling is going to be quite a daunting task," Collins said.

There is no timeline on the interior restoration, which depends on additional fundraising, he said.

The turntable restoration will show visitors the mechanism by which train engines were turned around at the terminal before returning in the opposite direction. Specce said the turntable was originally built in Locust Valley when that was the final stop. When the railroad was extended into Oyster Bay it was disassembled and moved there, he said.

"The turntable was used by the railroad as a means of turning the locomotives around so they'd be heading in the right direction, face forward just like a Lazy Susan," Specce said.

STATION TIMELINE

1889 First built to serve the Long Island Rail Road

1902 Renovated as President Theodore Roosevelt began regular trips to Sagamore Hill

1999 Station went out of service

2005 Added to National Register of Historic Places

2005 Sold to Oyster Bay Town

2006 Oyster Bay Railroad Museum nonprofit formed

Sources: U.S. Parks Service, National Register of Historic Places, Newsday, Oyster Bay Railroad Museum

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