Oakdale residents will soon be greeted with the history of their hamlet when they take the train, visit Islip Town offices or seek solace at a local church.
The Oakdale Historical Society is installing 7-foot-tall kiosks with information about the past lives and significance of at least three historic sites in the hamlet, which has been called Long Island’s original Gold Coast.
The first kiosk was installed Tuesday outside the 253-year-old St. John’s Episcopal Church, the oldest church in Islip Town and the second oldest in Suffolk County, officials said.
Two more kiosks are slated for the Oakdale Long Island Rail Road station house, which was built in the late 1800s, and Ockers House, the former home of a 19th-century “Oyster King” and current office space for two town council members and the Islip Town Housing Authority. These two will be installed by Islip Town and maintained by the society.
Maryann Almes, president of the 6-year-old historical society, said she was inspired to create the kiosks because she realized few people know the significance of the sites they pass regularly. Almes, a reading teacher at Bay Shore Middle School, asked people in her school’s technology department to help her build four kiosks, worth about $750 each, and has stored them in her backyard.
“Unfortunately, history gets lost eventually if it’s not reinforced in people,” Almes said. “We want to make sure people know what it is, so you take a step back and walk down memory lane.”
Almes said she hopes to place the fourth kiosk on the shuttered Dowling College campus, which is the former Idle Hour estate of William K. Vanderbilt, the grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The kiosks were paid for through a $7,500 grant, sponsored by Suffolk County Legis. William J. Lindsay III, that will also cover other historical society events, Almes said.
While some of the sites already have small historic markers, the kiosks will provide detailed information that would not fit onto a placard — from the wedding stories of two Vanderbilts to the ins and outs of the Long Island oyster industry two centuries ago — as well as highlighting community events.
Town historian George Munkenbeck said the kiosks were chosen for sites that “not only have meaning for Oakdale” but are “also places where people gather and can see what’s going on in Oakdale to make it more of a community.”
Denise Conté, the administrator of St. John’s, said she hopes the kiosks will drive people to the church that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The church, which hosts the historical society’s meetings, has such a small congregation that there is no priest.
“People will start taking pride in the history that we are losing fast, very fast,” said Conté, who is also vice president of the historical society.
The kiosks are slated for three sites, according to the Oakdale Historical Society:
- St. John's Episcopal Church: Built by the founding family of Islip Town, around 1765, the church is the third oldest on Long Island. Several members of the Nicholl family are buried in the cemetery. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
- Ockers House: Built in the 1830s, this home and 25 surrounding acres were purchased by "Oyster King" Jacobs Ockers in 1880. The Dutch immigrant's oyster business was considered the most successful in the area, earning about $100,000 annually. It now houses town offices, and there is affordable housing on the property.
- Oakdale LIRR Station House: Built in the late 1800s, this station house replaced an earlier one. It was constructed for guests of wealthy families living in area estates.