If, as the saying goes, we can’t escape our past, then we might as well not let the
past escape us.
That’s the mentality harbored by the members of the Roslyn Landmark Society, an organization that, since its inception in 1961, has devoted countless hours towards the restoration and preservation of Roslyn’s most historically important buildings and monuments.
According to Landmark Society President Craig Westergard, the organization was founded by Dr. Roger Gerry and his wife Peggy, who had a clear-cut and not-so-simple vision in mind.
“Years ago, they decided to save Roslyn,” Westergard remarked. “It was deteriorating.”
They sought to achieve that goal first by identifying worthwhile homes in Roslyn and then purchasing and restoring them before ultimately selling them and placing covenants on them, which insure that the homes’ owners refrain from making changes that would alter their historic nature. Westergard states that the Landmark Society currently maintains 36 covenants, for which they do inspections once every three years. He also notes that there are five historic districts in Roslyn and around 125 buildings protected by the Landmark Society.
Included among the Landmark Society’s many protected buildings are the Van Nostrand-Starkins House, which dates back to the 17th century; Kirby Cottage, which Westergard notes is rented to a local couple; the Warren Wilkey House on Main Street, which Westergard dubs “the Grand Dam of the village”; the Roslyn Clock Tower; Trinity Church; and the William Cullen Bryant Estate. However, despite all the work the organization has put towards maintaining Roslyn’s historical aura through the years, its work is far from finished. In particular, the restoration of the Grist Mill, a project that has been something of a white whale for the Landmark Society over the past few years, is something Westergard hopes to make progress on by the end of the current year.
“Although, I said the same thing last year,” Westergard laughed. “The problem of course has always been money. It’s also a tricky building to deal with because there’s really no land around the building. We’re going to lift it up, and we’ll have to build a new foundation below it. Being this Dutch-framed building, it’s very unique. The Robeson-Williams Grist Mill is in bad shape, and if we don’t do something about it now, who knows what will happen? We don’t want to lose the essence of a mill building.”
The historic mill’s status isn’t the only challenge faced by the Landmark Society. Westergard, an architect who’s in his fifth year as president of the organization, cites maintaining interest in Roslyn’s history in a 21st-century context—in which social media’s speed and relentlessness seemingly renders anything from more than a few hours ago ancient—as a periodic struggle.
“It’s constantly a battle. We meet once a month. We get involved with these kinds of things and send a representative to meetings to speak up. Often times they’re losing battles and it’s frustrating,” Westergard said, adding that he’s seen cause to be optimistic of late. “There’s been an uptick in young people getting involved. And we want to see more [of that]. Of course, everyone’s busy today following Facebook and Twitter, but we want to keep people aware of these important buildings and how special they are.”
Whatever the difficulties faced, the Landmark Society’s board of trustees, comprised of dedicated volunteers, have maintained a passion for their community that Westergard believes has been an indelible part of the Landmark Society’s success. There’s much value, Westergard stated, in observing the labors of an organization that, from its small, modest-yet-charming headquarters hidden at the edge of Main Street, has kept a watchful eye on some of the North Shore’s most beloved architecture.
“With the Landmark Society, it’s about constant involvement, education and protection of the historic buildings in this community,” Westergard said. “Roslyn is very unique. Most of [Long Island’s towns] are residential in nature. But Roslyn has a very commercial district as well. It’s a destination. And the goal of this organization is to stay on top of that. It’s really a great thing.”