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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

A house by any other name...

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Back on October 2, 2020, a post went live called "The Leviathan Room", a piece regarding one of the more interesting stories hidden within the walls of the main building. The ship, the Vaterland as it was known, and the incredible story of how part of it first came to be a part of the building, but it is the building itself we now turn our historical attention to.

The main building of the Science Museum of Long Island (SMLI) was originally built as a private residence in 1906 by Theodore Sizer. Sizer and his family lived in the house until his death in 1924. The property's acreage necessitates employing groundkeepers: Mr., and Mrs. Rickert, who lived in one of the other outbuildings on the property. The Sizers used the present lawn as a farm where they had cows and chickens, they even grew vegetables for their family. As the years progressed, the property grew in size to the current 36 acres! Four years after Mr. Sizer's death, a bachelor and marine attorney became interested enough in the property and house to purchase it, and he did just that, buying the estate in 1928.

Original map of first floor in current SMLI location | SMLI archives.

Dedication to the United States ran deep within the Goldman family. The brother of Herman, Albert, would serve as the Postmaster General for the United States for 18 years. Herman Goldman, who was associated with the United State Shipping Board, and also maritime attorney, would live in the building for the next 40 years. He would add to the building, creating the house the museum currently occupies, also creating the Leviathan Room. Herman also converted the defunct chicken coup into a single-lane bowling alley, although somewhat sadly, it was torn down in 1975 when the (visitor's) parking lot was expanded.

It was in 1962 when the idea of SMLI came into being from the creative mind of Ms. Doris Leonard. It was during this time of the Cuban Missile crisis that Ms. Leonard placed an ad in a local newspaper: "Anyone interested in organizing a Hands-On science museum on Long Island is invited to the home of Doris Leonard." A trained social worker and resident of Sands Point, Leonard's idea to create SMLI was born out of the want to have children have activities that were science-based and hands-on, as opposed to what had been taught in classrooms across the Island (and country). A total of 20 people turned up and the group established the North Shore Junior Science Museum (NSJSM), the forerunner of SMLI. It was through these members that money was raised, a charter was obtained. Programs were developed as the community around NSJSM became more aware of what was going on.

Original map of second floor in current SMLI location, courtesy of SMLI archives.

Although the NSJSM didn't have a permanent home during its first decade, that did not stop the more involved of the founding members, like Ruth Nebdor, from teaching and looking for that "forever home for the museum". Classes were held at a variety of places like a vacant bakery, a carpet store and even a real estate office! Christopher Morley Park even served as a temporary home for NSJSM for a while. Five years later upon the death of Herman Goldman, the property was set to be developed into roughly 50 homes. Happily for us, this never happened. In 1970 Nassau County acquired the land and creates the Leeds Pond preserve; named for Warner M. Leeds who owned the pond from 1906 until his passing in 1925. Two years later and special thanks to Nebdor, Nassau County leases exclusive use of the buildings and grounds to the museum and NSJSM finally had its "forever home" and has been here ever since.

From the 28-year tenure of Dr. John Loret as director (starting in 1983) to the current Director, Ms. Kristen Laird, the staff continue to come up with innovative and education programs such as the Children's Garden Workshop and the Community Composting Initiative. From the start of the NSJSM to the present SMLI, over 1,000,000 students have walked through our doors and into a home of STEM learning and for creating a passion for STEM. As SMLI goes boldly into the future, the next 50 years look to be as ingenious, creative, and thought-provoking as the previous 50 years have been.

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