The society is a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to preserving the Legacy of Levittown. The museum is closed during all school holidays/breaks.
It is a curious coincidence that, on February 12, 1809, two towering figures of the 19th Century were born - Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. But February 12th is also an important day in Levittown history.
On February 12, 1664, Capt. John Seaman met with Takapausha of the Massapequan Indians whereupon the one-eyed sachem granted Seaman the settlement rights to a wedge-shaped parcel of land, about a thousand acres in all, that would today include parts of southern and easternmost Levittown, part of northern Wantagh, and some of Seaford and would come to be known as "Jerusalem". Essex-born Seaman arrived in the New World on the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, lived throughout New England where he served in the colonial militia during the Pequot War (a military conflict between the Pequots and the Wampanoag and their English allies), and was amongst a group of Englishmen who negotiated the Hempstead Purchase in 1643. He was about 49 years old at the time of the Jerusalem Purchase - an advanced age to be settling down for good (especially in the 17th Century) - and his conversion to Quakerism might have had something to do with it. Whatever the case, two years after meeting with Takapausha, he established a farm called "Cherrywood" where Wantagh Avenue and Southern State Parkway meet and began to promote Jerusalem as a haven for Quaker farmers and herdsmen.
The Jerusalem Purchase marks the beginning of European settlement in the Levittown area and Indian trails that became stagecoach roads linking other English settlements like Hempstead and Jericho have retained the name "Jerusalem" to this day. PM.
FREQUENTLY REQUESTED TALK..........
Here I am at the Island Trees Public Library in October doing my "Levittown Myths & Misconceptions" lecture. I'll be doing the same lecture at the Forest City Community Association on March 3rd.
This is one the most frequently requested lectures I give and it is not too difficult to see why. Imagine being President of the Pearl Harbor Historical Society and meeting people on a weekly basis who know nothing about Pearl Harbor, its history, the Japanese attack, or its subsequent history except that in 1941 the U.S. Navy was a racially segregated branch of the armed services and entertainer Don Ho lived nearby. Every week I meet people who know nothing about Levittown and its history except that the original housing contracts had "whites only" clauses and Billy Joel lived in this neck-of-the-woods. Well, for the record, virtually every housing development in the United States prior to 1949 had "whites only" clauses because banks, mortgage companies, and the Federal Housing Administration would not offer loans or mortgage protections to real estate developers who did not have such clauses. And Billy Joel was born in the Bronx, grew up in Hicksville (in a Levitt-built house), went to Hicksville High School (where my friend Dick Evers was his social studies teacher) and has not lived in this area in more than fifty years. His connection to Levittown is vague at best.
It is just these kind of misconceptions that I address in my lecture and I am glad that it is often requested of me.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020 marks William Levitt's 113th birthday. He was not without his flaws and foibles and perhaps, because of his larger-than-life accomplishments and persona, they appear magnified. But the self-appointed wits, wags, and naysayers that pass for critics had never gazed into the mirror and made that agonizing self-evaluation: The image reflected back is not one of someone whose achievements match Levitt's. Indeed,the magnitude of Levitt's achievements are inversely proportional to the mediocrity of his critics. Levitt was an exceptionally talented and colorful man - he had an impresario's brash exuberance marred to entrepreneurial genius. He was a naval officer, a collector of French Impressionistic paintings,a yachtsman, and a philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to charities involving veterans and refugees. He died in the very hospital he had a role in creating and on whose Board of Directors he sat for many years...........William Levitt was a progressive man in both technical and social matters. He developed revolutionary techniques of mass-production,civil engineering, labor, purchasing, marketing,and business management that have been emulated throughout the world. He toiled tirelessly on behalf of the working classes.He understood the need to dispense with obsolete practices, pioneer new ones, and invest in the state-of-the-art. He hired black people at a time when most white-owned companies would not do so and most labor unions would not even allow black people to become a member. The banks, mortgage companies, and Federal Housing Administration would not offer loans or mortgage protections to builders who did not have "whites only" clauses in their housing contracts. It was a massive stone that Levitt could not lift. But he did flow around it like a gushing stream and the results are one of the reasons half the people in the United States today live in suburban communities rather than overcrowded urban slums.
If Truman, Eisenhower, MacArthur, and America's allies won the War, it was men like William Levitt who won the peace.
Society VP Bob Koenig with ToH Town Clerk Kate Murray! At Winterfest.
Russ and tom at our table
At today's winterfest.
SPRING 2020 PROGRAMS
Levittown Myths & Misconceptions.
Paul Manton, President of the Levittown Historical Society & Museum discusses common myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes about Levittown and its history. March 3, 7pm Forest City Community Association, 3099 Morgan Drive, Wantagh, N.Y.
Levittown Baby Boomer Trivia.
Test your knowledge of Levittown and Baby Boom err trivia at our contest. Prize for highest score. March 16, 7:30pm Levittown Museum.
Neighbor to the North.
A showing of the 2008 film "Hicksville, 11801". The tale of a Ukrainian-American family who settled in Hicksville in 1950 as the area was being enveloped by the suburban building boom. Extensive details about the building of Levittown including newsreels, interviews with local historians, and the music of Bob Koenig. April 20, 7:30pm Levittown Museum.
Levittown on Fire!
Society board member and fireman Russell Curley talks about early firefighting in our community and the historic 1970 St. Bernard's Church fire. May 18,7:30pm. Levittown Museum.
Lest We Forget.
Levittown Historical Society & Museum President Paul Manton shares his collection of World War Two books and memorabilia and discusses the import of preserving the lessons and legacy of this conflict for future generations. June 15,7:30. Levittown Museum.
Half of American adults aren't aware that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, poll finds
"As racist ethnonationalism and white supremacy grows across the world, this study is an urgent and unsettling reminder of how little history is informing our understanding of today," Rabbi Alissa Wise told Newsweek.
AN OBLIGATION TO REMEMBER.
Twenty million Soviet citizens perished during the Great Patriotic War, as World War Two is called in Russia. Entire villages. Whole extended families. Gone. Poland lost 25% of its population between 1939 and 1945. (That is like America in 2020 losing about 80 million people). Nobody forgets. Everybody remembers. Recollection is a civic duty; a moral obligation. No matter how politicized interpretations of the War might be, nobody forgets. Most people in Russia and Poland were born after 1945. But they know. The remember. They preserve the memory.
In America, people are forgetting. Recent surveys indicate that knowledge of World War Two and the Holocaust is in a state of decline. Especially amongst young people.It is easy to call this an educational defect. And it is. But - as unpopular as it is to say so - I believe it's also a cultural defect. We've raised a generation that does not think that anything that happened before it was born is of significance; that celebrities are the same thing as historical personages. Just consider the "claim to fame" phenomenon.
Alexander T. Stewart (1803-1876) invented the department store as we know it, founded Garden City as a model suburb built around a cathedral, and created the Central Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. Elias Hicks (1748-1830) was the Jericho Quaker preacher who established Jericho's Meeting House, traveled the country in the 1810's and 20's preaching against the evils of slavery, and was a significant force in New York State abolishing slavery in 1827. Valentine Hicks (1782-1850) was the Quaker abolitionist, businessman, and landowner who, as President of the LIRR in 1837, oversaw the tracks being laid across the heart of what is now Nassau County. In 1836, he and a group of businessmen established the Hicksville Association to promote settlement in our area. He is the founder of Hicksville. Yet, I have met people -respectively from Garden City, Jericho,and Hicksville - who have never heard of any of these men and if pressed to note their community's "claim to fame" cite, also respectively, soap opera star Susan Lucci, "The Sopranos" actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and self-described psychic medium Theresa Caputo.
If people don't know anything about the history of their own neighborhood, how could we expect them to known anything about World War Two and the Holocaust which took place seventy-five years ago overseas? PM
William Greeve was one of those geniuses who, like Alexander T. Stewart, William Levitt owes a debt of gratitude. Is just unfortunate that the author of this article chose to honor Greeve with a mean-spirited attack on Levitt and Levittown. Levittown and post-WWII suburbia was no "great American tragedy" to the scores of millions of working Americans who had known only the poverty of the Great Depression, the hardships of World War Two, and the post-War housing shortage. It is unfortunate that the urban intelligentsia, who in many cases have never experienced suburban life themselves, nevertheless feel compelled to sneer. It cheapens and squanders their talents.
Meet the little-known developer who pioneered “good and cheap homes for the masses” back in the 1920s.
OUR MOST IMPORTANT TASK.
We are dedicated to preserving the legacy of William J. Levitt, the world-famous suburban town he and his family established for homecoming GI's (and its"sister cities" throughout the globe) and rural communities of Jerusalem and Island Trees that preceded it. We are dedicated to enhancing literacy in the social sciences; to increasing the public's knowledge of history. But our most important task is the next generation. It is the many school children who visit our Museum on field trips every year. This we have done since April of 1997 and continue to do today and will continue to do in the future. For the 2019-2020 academic year we have already had many field trips and have many more scheduled. We have room on our schedule to book yet more. This is our most important task. -PM
This week entailed an interesting juxtaposition.
In addition to my ordinary museum patron tours, I taught two 2nd Grade history classes at the Levittown Museum, four 4th Grade science classes at the Hicksville Gregory Museum, and one senior citizen group tour at the Levittown Museum. Young people exploring times they could never have seen and a natural world that is just unfolding for them and old people fondly recalling erstwhile days. The pursuit of knowledge, be it the epic of human events or the grandeur of the Universe, is something that unites young and old at a single point: That point which is the awe of discovery. Let us not underestimate it. That which is "commensurate with our capacity to wonder" - as F. Scott Fitzgerald styled it - is a uniquely human trait.
Chamber of Commerce Plaque for the Levittown Historical Society.
HISTORY BEGINS WITH HISTORICAL SOCIETIES.
Most people in the year 1520 knew what life was like in 1320. They experienced it first-hand. Few people in 2020 know what life was like in 1820 and fewer still, save the Amish, have experienced it first-hand. This is not simply because life in the Modern Era advances so rapidly that everything is different in just a few decades. The person in 2020 has far more means to read about life in 1820 than the average person in 1520 had to read about life in 1320. Indeed, in the latter case, most people were not even literate. Our growing ignorance of the past in the 21st Century, notwithstanding no dearth of books and documents is owed to the fact that we are moving culturally and intellectually away from the fixed world of the printed word to the instantaneous, ever-updating, ever oversimplifying (yet over complicated) world of the electronic image. We have inflicted upon ourselves a collective cultural amnesia. We have endowed ourselves with habits-of-mind that make actual history, rather than simply nostalgia with its accompanying human lifespan shelf-life, more difficult to appreciate. Today radio, television, telephone, and the Internet allow somebody in New York to know what happened yesterday in Spain, South Africa, Borneo, or western Canada. But that same person may have no idea what happened in their own hometown seventy or a hundred years ago. (Let alone what happened in Spain, South Africa, Borneo, or western Canada seventy or a hundred years ago). It's as though we live in a pastless present. It's as though we have lost one of the defining characteristics of our species: The capacity to benefit from the thoughts, ideas, insights, discoveries, and accomplishments of those who lived before we were born. Aristotle said that a man ignorant of history is a man with the mind of a child.
The problem with nostalgia, as delightful and culturally beneficial as it is- is that it is not history. It is a mirror image of history, a shadow of history, an allusion to history, but not history. It cannot live without history but, unlike history, it also cannot exist without first-hand recollection. In about twenty years, for example, there will be nobody alive who remembers the 1920's. We may have fun throwing Gatsby-themed "Roaring 20's" parties that bring folks together and that's OK. But they will be grounded more in stereotypes and stock images of that era than in any sense of what it was really like to live in "the Jazz Age". Without a true contextual basis - and that comes with preserving books, documents, and artifacts - historical eras, events, and personages can never really be understood. We find ourselves in what Nathan Gardels once called "the never-ending present". It's a pastless present which endeavors to recreate the past only to end up being more about the era of the re-creators than the era whose recreation is being attempted. History becomes a gimmick and stage prop rather than a serious endeavor to comprehend the past in some way that will benefit posterity.
All of this is why historical societies, preservationist groups, and museums ought be deemed more important as time goes by rather than less important. Their relics, artifacts, specimens, and archives are not simply stage props for the present however tractable they may be anent contemporary issues; they are not the means whereupon the present occasions to recreate a past that may or may not have existed. Any real commitment to preserving, commemorating, and celebrating (and learning from) erstwhile generations must begin with the aforesaid institutions. -PM.
Levittown's Civil War
One of your neighbors posted in Kids & Family . Click through to read what they have to say. (The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.)
Williamsville and Island Trees
One of your neighbors posted in Community Corner. Click through to read what they have to say. (The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.)
It has come to my attention that this 2012 episode of "The United Stats of America" is now being used in social studies classes in Island Trees. The segment on Levittown in which I appear is about eighteen minutes into the broadcast. -PM
The Levittown Historical Society & Museum is a proud member of the Levittown Chamber of Commerce and has a number of local businesses as its corporate sponsors. It is important to remember that the business community played a significant role in our area's historical development even before Levitt & Sons came to town.
One of your neighbors posted in Community Corner. Click through to read what they have to say. (The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.)
Memorial Educaton Center 150 Abbey Lane
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2456 Westwood Avenue, Massapequa
1700 Wantagh Ave, Wantagh
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3890 Waverly Ave, Seaford
1 Heitz Pl, Hicksville
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Cradle Of Aviation, Garden City