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Westbury Village to install signs marking its inclusive past

The Children's Library at the Robert Bacon Memorial

The Children's Library at the Robert Bacon Memorial Library in Westbury, seen on Wednesday, July 6, 2016, is one of six sites chosen to receive historical markers in the village. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Westbury Village, now focused on building its future with a thriving downtown, hasn’t forgotten its past.

The village of 15,000 is adding informational markers to six historic sites, including one of the nation’s first children’s libraries, a Quaker meeting house and cemetery, and the property where the first Vanderbilt Cup auto races were held in 1904. There are plans to recognize more sites around the village.

“We’re doing a lot to change and revitalize, and it’s also important to preserve some of the recollections and where we’ve been,” Mayor Peter Cavallaro said.

The village in March formed the Westbury Historic Landmarks Committee to study which sites should be honored. The nine-member committee, made up of residents and village officials, is researching historical facts to be inscribed on yellow and green metal signs to be affixed to signposts.

Collectively, the markers promote Westbury as one of Long Island’s oldest and most inclusive communities, committee members said.

Westbury’s origins date to the 1600s when Quakers settled the village. They came from England to escape religious persecution.

The Westbury Quakers owned slaves, but in 1775, freed all 154 of them, according to village historical accounts. Residents housed fugitive slaves as part of the Underground Railroad, and many of the freed slaves in 1834 founded the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which is one of the sites to receive a historical marker.

Committee member Arthur Dobrin, a professor of applied ethics at Hofstra University who has lived in the village since 1969, said he approached the mayor about adding markers to the sites after seeing them in other Long Island communities, including downtown Roslyn and Huntington.

“I hope that it increases the pride that people have in the village because of its long-standing interracial nature,” Dobrin said.

Hicks Nursery, founded in 1803 as Isaac Hicks and Son, will get a marker recognizing it as the source of many of the trees planted at the estates of the Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgan, and horse breeder and owner Ogden Phipps.

The home of F. Ambrose Clark, a horse breeder and heir to the Singer Sewing Machine Co., will also be recognized. It now serves as the village’s community center and war memorial. The village is also placing a sign outside the Children’s Library at the Robert Bacon Memorial Library, named for the secretary of state under President Theodore Roosevelt.

The library, built in 1924, is among a dwindling number of stand-alone children’s libraries in the world. It houses a rare wooden-bird collection, pieces of art and an original letter from Beatrix Potter, the English author.

Emily Farrell, head of the children’s library, said she hopes the designation brings a new set of history buffs to the 102-year-old library.

“It’s exciting to be connected to other areas in the community. I think that people coming to see them would be excited to come here and see this,” Farrell said.

Sites being recognized

  • Westbury Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

Est. 1671

  • Westbury AME Zion Church

Est. 1834

  • Hicks Nurseries

Est. 1853

  • House of F. Ambrose Clark

Est. 1903

  • Site of Vanderbilt Cup Race

Est. 1904

  • Children’s Library, Robert Bacon Memorial Library

Est. 1924

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