New Book Preserves Mineola’s History

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Mineola’s history is going down in print, with the help of two local librarians who are currently writing a book on the area’s rich past.

Mineola library assistant director Cathy Sagevick and children’s librarian Margaret Ann Farmer are compiling a photographic history of Mineola to include in an upcoming book to be published in the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing. The series highlights the histories of local towns, with Glen Cove, Syosset, Port Washington and Floral Park, among the thousands of communities boasting historical books.

“Mineola has always been progressive in its development and we hope with this book, people will have a renewed interest in its history and continue preserving some things,” Sagevick said. “We hope that people will have a little bit of yearning for the way [Mineola] was and they can see through these photos and book that Mineola is built on a very rich history.”

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Mineola basketball team and Coach William Warren Wright, 1916.

The book will be broken into chapters by subject, illustrating the development of Mineola from the mid -1800s to the 1940s through photos. The photos will guide the content of the book, which will be predominately photos with captions, as well as anecdotes of lesser-known Mineola stories, including those about the early transportation system, civic associations and Mineola fair.

According to Sagevick and Farmer, part of the thrill of compiling this type of book is finding interesting tales residents of today might not know about their hometown.

“In doing our research, we get so tied up and we’re so interested in history, we go off on these tangents, researching some of the prominent citizens of the time in relation to where they lived and pictures of them,” Sagevick said. “A number of historical sidenotes all happened in Mineola. We hope to delve into a bunch of those and provide some of the fascinating history Mineola has.”

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The Charles Free home, at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Willis Avenue, in 1914.

While today’s residents may have no knowledge of Dr. Erasmus Skinner, for Mineola residents of the late 1890s, he was a prominent figure, especially after he was the victim of an attempted murder plot. According to Sagevick, the doctor, who lived by what is now Second Street, answered a knock at his door in the middle of the night, where he was greeted by a stranger who told him his assistance was needed at an emergency at a nearby farm.

“When [Skinner] went down to his study where he kept his bag, someone shoots him through the window, striking him along the left side,” Sagevick relates. “There seemed to be no motive. There were two different sightings of two men on a wagon, peeling out of town, but there didn’t seem to be anyone caught for the crime. The doctor recovered, some thought it was revenge because he was the county coroner. It made the front page of all kinds of local and New York City papers.”

Resources from the Mineola Historical Society have been essential in helping direct the research of the two librarians.

“We’re only able to do this because the historical society has been so very accommodating,” said Sagevick. “They’ve opened up their files and knowledge and expertise and photographs for us to paw through and find the perfect things that illustrated Mineola.”

She noted that former Mineola Historical Society president, the late Neil Young, had always wanted to compile a book recording Mineola’s history, but it never got off the ground. Sagevick and Farmer plan to have a dedication to Young in the upcoming book.

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The Simonson Building on Front Street, circa the 1920s

Also of invaluable help to the authors has been a book written about 30 to 40 years ago by Thomas Barrick, a Mineola resident who wrote and researched his own history of Mineola. The historical society had his notes containing many first-hand accounts from former residents who remembered earlier parts of the century and stories passed down from their grandparents.

With all these resources available, the challenge now is to try and fact-check all the information coming across their desks.

“We often have to verify as much as we can,” Sagevick said. “I don’t want to repeat a story that might have a fact wrong. We’re trying our hardest, in the short amount of time, to verify what we’re reporting before we put it down in book form to forever be referred to.”

To supplement Barrick’s notes, Sagevick and Farmer have also been scouring online digital newspaper archives. Newspapers of old were extremely detailed and often sensationalized, and finding the necessary information can often be like “trying to find a needle in a haystack,” according to Farmer.

“We know what we want to find, but depending on how many newspapers have been indexed, we can enter a phrase and thousands of results come up,” Farmer said. “[Newspapers] were the primary way stories were passed around, they had to be incredibly descriptive. You feel like you’re standing right there, every little bit was written up in the paper.”

Sagevick and Farmer are also asking local residents to contribute to the project with their old photos, vintage postcards or any anecdotes of Mineola that date prior to 1940. To share your photographs and stories, contact Farmer or Sagevick at mineolaNYhistory@gmail.com by March 15.

“Many families go back a long way, we’re hoping there might be people who remember or have some box of photographs or programs from the Mineola Theater or memorabilia that’s been handed down in the family,” said Sagevick. “That adds real richness to the book.”

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