In 1976 the Franklin Square Museum was founded, and in the spring of 2021 its impressive new home opened to the public. It was a dream that took over forty years to realize. It is a magnificent feat and a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the Franklin Square Historical Society and its President, Paul van Wie, Ph.D.
The Molloy community is lucky to call Dr. van Wie one of its own. He has been part of the History and Political Science Department for over a quarter of a century, and currently serves as an associate professor. When one speaks with him it is obvious that history is his passion, particularly the history of his hometown Franklin Square.
The museum was originally housed in room #2 of Franklin Square’s John Street School, and in 1990 it was moved to the lower level of the town’s Washington Street School. Over the course of four decades, funds were collected and plans were made to construct an independent building to house the collection that had grown far beyond the allotted space in the school and into member’s garages and homes.
The community immediately took to grass roots fundraising efforts including: a penny drive, selling raffles for various items, a buy-a-brick campaign, annual dinners, and historical book sales. There were also many discussions regarding the museum’s future location and the best way to obtain land for the project. While planning was in motion, Dr. van Wie continued to grow the museum collection.
The collection includes:
- The first telephone in Franklin Square
- Items from the now defunct Franklin National Bank
- Glassware and other items from the Kalb Hotel
- Appliances from a 1930s kitchen
- The duty coat of Firefighter Thomas Hetzel, who was lost at the World Trade Center on 9/11
- Pews from St. Catherine of Sienna Church
- Antique tools and farm implements
- A 3,000-year-old arrowhead.
The museum, which finally found its home adjacent to Rath Park in Franklin Square, also offers some hands-on activities for the school children that visit. Opportunities include butter churning, sauerkraut making, and doing laundry on washboards.
Dr. van Wie has served as Commissioner of Landmarks for the Town of Hempstead since 1988, is a Trustee of the Nassau County Historical Society, and is the Vice President of the Hempstead Plains Preserve. His passion is clearly the preserving the history of the town he was raised in. He works tirelessly to expand the contents of the museum, record the history of each item, and ensure that items are preserved properly.
“It is important that I write it all down,” said Dr. van Wie as he displayed the expansive catalog of items in the museum. “I am training a new generation by writing history down. If I don’t, it will be lost.”
The museum proved to be invaluable for Molloy students Jack Ryan,’21, and Thomas Robbert. The two History majors were searching for internships during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was seemingly impossible to find the hands-on experiences they sought until Dr. van Wie offered them internships at the museum. They both quickly accepted. The students found the museum to be the perfect environment to accomplish what they needed to.
“I spent over two years working at the museum,” said Ryan. “It was hands-on history. I helped to preserve countless news clippings and labeled items. The experience taught me attention to detail and patience. My time at the museum made me want to become a professor.”
“I am fascinated by history,” said Robbert. “The internship was a great opportunity. I worked independently creating formal identification labels for items, sorted pictures, and created folders to preserve documentation. I was particularly impressed by the items from 9-11 and the photos of the early farming families of Franklin Square.”
“The project is truly community focused,” said Dr. van Wie. “Local Eagle Scouts and Gold Girl Scouts have done work at the museum as part of their scouting projects. It was great that the Molloy students were able to find a way to serve the people of Franklin Square during their internships.”