Rockville Centre Historical Society members are painstakingly sorting through thousands of documents spanning decades in the nonprofit's archive to digitize them in an effort to breathe new life into history.
The time-consuming work is spearheaded by member Alene Scoblete, who for the last year has slowly sorted through documents and photos in an effort to unearth the past and transport it to the 21st century via a digitized archive. Scoblete, a former Malverne resident, researches each document and writes an accompanying narrative before posting online at New York Heritage, a website that features collections for state organizations.
“History is not neat, so there’s a lot of digging and figuring things out,” she told Newsday.
So far, Scoblete, who retired last year as a Rockville Centre Public Library librarian and archivist and now lives in Madison, New Jersey, has digitized one growing online collection focused on the village's houses of worship. In the future, she plans to digitize archives related to historic homes, the village’s first families and communities of color.
“I love finding out about people in history and making their stories come alive,” Scoblete said. “So that just gives me such great pleasure to learn about a person and bring that person back to life.”
The archives are housed at the Phillips House, a Victorian home and museum on Hempstead Avenue. The cache of items includes photos, letters, documents, pamphlets and maps stretching back to the 1870s. While everything is well-organized thanks to the work of former members, an air of mystery still cloaks the items, Scoblete said.
Each room of the house is a treasure trove, including an archive room and the attic, where beside a twisted chimney (which builders constructed under the belief that it warded off evil spirits) countless documents sit.
The work to digitize the archive is part of the society’s effort to attract new history buffs and promote an appreciation of the village’s history, said society trustee Matt Cliszis.
“Rockville Centre has such a tremendous amount of history, we want to protect it and really share it for future generations,” he said. “We were really surprised by how extensive the archives were at the Phillips House. No one really knows what is here.”
In addition to the digital archive, efforts include sharing more content on the society’s Instagram, such as “then and now” shots of older black and white photos of businesses and homes paired with recently taken color shots of what the buildings look like today. Cliszis also writes captions packed with information about the building and its history. It tends to be some of the society's most popular work, he said.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Cliszis said. “I think it’s generated a lot of interest in Rockville Centre’s history.”