The Old Bethpage Village Restoration is a recreation of a mid-19th Century village. The 209 acres contains houses, farms, 2 stores, a church, blacksmith shop, hatter, inn, fisherman’s cottage and schoolhouse. One home, the Powell Farm, is on the original property. There are now 51 reconstructed buildings; not all are open to the public. These other buildings were brought in from different Long Island locations. The grounds represent a typical rural Long Island farm village, with roots found in the settlement of the island by the Dutch and English.
Within the historic village is a baseball field where visitors can watch a game as it was played in the 1800’s, with uniforms as they were worn back then and play is by the old rules. The main difference between baseball then and today is that players did not wear gloves. The games are free if you are in the village, and they attract a crowd. If you’d like to learn more about old-time baseball or see a game, the NY Mutuals are the home team for the Restoration and play in a league that travels around the country.
The village features a Civil War encampment at certain times of the year, holds events for July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They sell produce from the on-premises farm during the summer. Several workshops are available during the year, such as beekeeping. There are also craft shows. A new attraction adjacent to the village, the Museum of American Armor, recreates the sights and sounds of American forces during World War II. Vehicles include a Sherman tank, Stuart light tank, LaSalle staff car, weapons carriers, half tracks, 155mm howitzer, reconnaissance vehicles and anti-aircraft guns.
The Restoration also hosts the annual Long Island Fair, which began in 1842. The earliest fairs were held on agricultural society member’s farms and vacant lots around Mineola and Hempstead. The first permanent fairgrounds were acquired in 1866 in Mineola. In the 1950’s the fair moved to Roosevelt Raceway and then in 1970 to the Restoration. The current fairgrounds and exhibition hall building have been reconstructed to mimic the original. I have been to the Restoration hundreds of times and gone to the Fair for years and won a few ribbons for baking (cornbread, marble cake, spice cake) and honorable mention for my photo taken at Laura Plantation near New Orleans of a slave quarters porch.
The Old Bethpage Village Restoration has another interesting thing about it – it’s haunted.
The Restoration began in 1963 when Nassau County acquired the 165-acre Powell Farm. The first structure to be moved to the property was the Manetto Hill Methodist Church, which had been located in Plainview. After the buildings were moved to the village, the lives of former occupants were thoroughly researched and buildings were restored to a specific period in their history. They are furnished authentically, some with originals from the families of the occupants.
The house of inventor Peter Cooper is part of the village. It was built in 1815 in Hempstead. (Read the highlighted page, a timeline of his life – this guy was unbelievable. He was a cabinet maker, hatmaker, brewer, grocer and inventor. Among his inventions is an endless chain, the first lawn mower, and the first steam locomotive in the country. He was part owner in 3 telegraph companies and supervised the laying of the first transatlantic cable. He was active in the anti-slavery movement, became involved in Indian reform, ran for president in 1876 but lost to Hayes, was head of NYC Public School Society, and built Cooper Union College, which granted full scholarships to all students up until last Fall.)
Ghosts at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration
The ghost stories in this article were told to me by a worker named Joanne. Everyone I spoke to and asked if the village was haunted told me, “Go talk to Joanne.” So I did. There were 12 houses open the day I went: Benjamin House, Blacksmith Shop, Conklin House, Kirby House, Layton Store, Luyster Store (check out the safe), Noon Inn, Powell Farm, Ritch House, Schoolhouse, Church and Williams House. The day’s activities were: basket weaving, blacksmithing, candle making, children’s games, leather work, and slateboard writing.
THE HAUNTED HOUSES:
Schenck Dutch Farmhouse
The Schenck House was built around 1730 in Manhasset and is one of the oldest Dutch farmhouses that remain in the country. Mr. Schenck was a gentleman farmer. When visitors take photos in this house, they frequently get orbs. Movement is also heard upstairs. One time a docent went upstairs while the maintenance man was on a ladder (he had to put a rope on the flue). She heard fabric rustle, as if from a dress. The maintenance man said, “I hear that all the time in here.”
This house belonged to a bayman, Joseph Conklin. He was originally in the carriage business, but later took to fishing, clamming, eel spearing, duck hunting and making decoys. The house, from Smithtown, is restored to 1830. Two different woman saw an 8 year old boy sitting on the upstairs steps and another person saw a little girl. A man has also been seen and it is claimed the ghost said that the house belonged to him and they should get out of there. Several people have seen a woman. She mostly appears at night, standing at the top of the stairs. She wears a long dress from the 1800’s and is surrounded by a bluish white haze.
Although I did not get any specific details, there is a spirit in the reception center.
The Hewlett house was built in the Federal style in Woodbury and is now restored to 1840. Volunteers have had an uncomfortable feeling. Young girls especially do not like to be there. A worker’s 15 year old daughter was crossing the threshhold into the kitchen and felt lightheaded. Security and others have seen a lady in white circling the outside of the house. There are initials carved into a rafter in the kitchen. Sometimes they are there, sometimes they are not. This house has been photographed with a coffin in the front room. The coffin is not normally present; it is only brought in for Halloween and Christmas (“A Christmas Carol”).
The inn was built in 1835 and moved from East Meadow. A voice has been recorded that said, “Who are you?”
The Layton store is restored to 1866 and comes from East Norwich. People have heard boots on the floorboards when no one else was there.
Joanne was working in this house when we spoke. It is from New Hyde Park and built in 1820. The original family lived in it until the early 1960’s. The day I visited the docents had baked an apple pie. (A few of the houses cook and visitors sometimes can sample.) The Williams house was owned by a master carpenter who originally had 100 acres of farmland. The house is restored to 1860 and has 8 bedrooms upstairs – he had a large family with a wife and 6 children. Most of the furnishings belonged to the family.
When I met Joanne she told me she had gotten 2 glimpses in the kitchen of a ghost that very day. She was walking to greet visitors and felt someone there. She claims she hears different spirits walking on the floorboards – it sounds like boots sometimes. EVP’s have been recorded and 1 voice in particular is heard the most. However, there appears to be a little boy and a girl in the home. A medium had told her the boy’s name is George and it was confirmed by a family picture that a George lived there.
One time a cleaning lady was in the house and a voice said, “Put my teacup down!” This same woman opened a window to get a breeze and put a stick in it to keep it open, but the window slammed down twice. The stick was then found on the table. The third time it slammed, the stick was outside by the tree.
Another time a woman working with Joanne said she saw a man walking up and down the hallway – the same man that was in a photo in the house. He was not dressed up in the picture, but looked like he had been walking in the fields. Everyone else in the photo was dressed more formally. One day in February she was cleaning and the maintenance man came down from upstairs. She was telling him some stories and showing pictures. A recorder was on at the time. When she held the picture, a voice said, “Oh Johnny, handsome, O John,” in a mocking fashion. Boxes also have moved to different spots upstairs. One time the faucet sounded like it was running and when they went to turn it off, it had already stopped. A different voice has said to girls who volunteer, “Get out!” It is believed a mother’s spirit is Esther and the 2 children are hers.
Note about visiting the Restoration
The Long Island Fair is a fun time to visit the Old Bethpage Village Restoration, but please be aware that not all of the regular buildings will be open to the public during that time.