Landmark society honors its founders

The Roslyn Landmark Society held its 50th anniversary celebration March 27 at the Village of Roslyn Village Hall with a presentation on the history of the organization from an author and former volunteer.

The event, which was rescheduled because of Hurricane Sandy, featured a lecture from historian Ellen Fletcher Russell, who spoke about the memory of the organization’s founders, Roger and Peggy Gerry, the subjects of her 2004 book, “Roslyn Restored: The Legacy of Roger & Peggy Gerry.”  

The Gerrys, she said, are responsible for many of the buildings and monuments that were purchased and restored by the Village of Roslyn – particularly along Main Street – during the latter half of the 20th century.

Russell said she first became aware of the Gerrys’ work while she was a student in Columbia University’s Historic Studies program and researcher at the South Street Seaport Museum in the early 1970s.

“People were really talking about them, even at South Street,” she said. “They were really excited about them and I wanted to take a look at their work.”

After a few lunch meetings, Russell said, the Gerrys helped her find a house on Main Street – across from the home Peggy Gerry, unbeknownst to her husband, successfully purchased in the 1950s. 

Peggy Gerry had purchased her home through a series of letters with its previous owner after Roger’s naval career found them living in Guam.

When Russell worked with the Landmark Society, she drafted nominations for three of the Village of Roslyn’s historic districts, did research and conducted house tours.

“There are so many different things that make Roslyn different than the towns around it that captivated me so long ago, and if you think Roslyn is a special place, it’s probably captivated you too,” Russell said.

Russell, who now lives in North Carolina, said the Gerrys first moved to the Village of Roslyn in 1951, and in time Roger served on the library’s board of directors as well as the local historical commission. 

When the Town of North Hempstead announced plans to turn Silver Lake Park into a parking lot in 1955, Russell said, the Gerrys gathered their neighbors and formed the Roslyn Neighborhood Association, which successfully fought to save it.

“That was the first planning and preservation initiative that Roger undertook,” Russell said. “He didn’t want to see it paved.”

The Roslyn Neighborhood Association, Russell said, was “more of a political-oriented organization” for its founder, rather than the Landmark Society, which the Gerrys formed in 1962 as a means of maintaining the historic nature of the village’s architecture.

Over the next few decades, the Landmark Society worked to successfully preserve various properties throughout the village – notably the Van-Nostrand Starkins house, the Roslyn clock tower and many of the buildings along Main Street and Old Northern Boulevard.  

“Roger really is responsible for saving Roslyn and extending to us what we have now,” said Jay Corn, a Roslyn Landmark Society trustee.

Russell’s lecture was followed by a brief word from her husband Sargent, a restorative carpenter, who spoke about the importance of future generations learning the trade so that the Landmark Society’s work could be continued.

He also said that he isn’t sure Roslyn residents have the same level of determination to preserve landmarks that the Gerrys had and instilled in those with whom they worked.

“Roslyn is a beautiful place that looks like it’s lived in by very nice people who want it to be kept that way and who will stand up to keep it that way, people who want to forestall things they don’t want and speak up for things they do. ” Sargent said. “But it just seems the Landmark Society lacks the same kind of spirit and sense of responsibility that it had when Roger and Peggy were around.”

About the author

Bill San Antonio

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