Ritamarie Weigand, historic preservation director for Friends of Connetquot River...

Ritamarie Weigand, historic preservation director for Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve, poses with records the Oakdale nonprofit bought at auction after Dowling College closed in 2016. The nonprofit has been organizing and sharing historic documents with other preservation groups after acquiring 200 boxes of records. Credit: Rick Kopstein

An Oakdale nonprofit has gifted hundreds of historic records it bought at auction after Dowling College closed to fellow preservation groups stretching from the Hamptons to Queens, and as far away as Yale University.

Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve bought around 200 boxes of books and historical documents, which had been in the college's care, sight unseen at an auction after the school closed in 2016, according to Ritamarie Weigand, the nonprofit's historic preservation director.

She said the nonprofit kept records related to the South Side Sportsmen's Club, a hunting and fishing lodge for the rich and powerful, including past U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland. The former recreational club, now part of the preserve, was built starting in 1820. It closed in the 1970s but is open for tours.

The other goal of the nonprofit's archiving effort was to distribute historic materials, which include financial records, photos, newspaper articles and deeds going back more than a century, to other preservation groups with an interest in them.

Saving History

  • Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve obtained hundreds of records at an auction after Dowling College closed in 2016.
  • The nonprofit is gifting some of the archival materials to fellow historical groups across Long Island and beyond.
  • The documents include records related to a former hunting and fishing lodge for the rich and powerful in Suffolk County.

“We find the stuff, we save the stuff and we get it to the people it belongs to,” Weigand said.

Volunteers with the Oakdale nonprofit, which was formed to teach the history and environment of the preserve, sorted through the books and historical documents in the last two years after training from the Long Island Library Resources Council.

Last month, the nonprofit began distributing the archival materials. It's unclear how much the group paid for the boxes at the auction.

Oakdale Historical Society president Maryann Almes, who attended a gifting event Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve hosted in April, said organizers described the gathering this way: “We're holding your family's pictures.”

The signatures of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his...

The signatures of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his wife, Edith Kermit Roosevelt, are pictured in a scrapbook that was included inside boxes an Oakdale nonprofit got at auction after Dowling College closed in 2016. The nonprofit, Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve, has been sorting through the boxes of documents and sharing records with other preservation groups. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Five boxes so far had materials relevant to the preserve, according to Weigand, who said the contents of 11 boxes still need to be sorted. The nonprofit also kept about 25 boxes of books, with a goal to eventually start a library at the preserve. The state also took 15 boxes of books that could be part of such a future project, Weigand said.

The nonprofit has gifted the rest of the records to historical groups across Long Island and beyond, with the largest donation of 43 boxes going to the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport.

One document — a Yale University student's “account of pocket expenses” in the 1780s — went to the Ivy League institution in Connecticut.

Almes took home three boxes of archival materials for the Oakdale Historical Society, the most records it ever has accepted at one time since its founding around 2015.

“Some of it just helps to put the pieces of history together, because unfortunately, a lot of history slips through the cracks,” she said.

Wendy Polhemus-Annibell, head librarian at Suffolk County Historical Society, which received two boxes of records, also said the large size of the records donation was unusual.

“Sometimes we’ll get a handful of documents, or just one document or a published work or something from another historical organization because they're kind of weeding their collection and they find things that aren’t totally relevant to them,” she said.

The Friends of Connetquot were “very diligent in their work,” Polhemus-Annibell added. “They really went through everything document by document and they did the best they could to organize it by topics.”

Almes called the gifted documents a “treasure trove” of material.

“It's going to take me quite a while to go through it all,” she said.

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