Historical society celebrates 50 years

By Kelsey Durham

The Bayside Historical Society will gather with members of the community next month to celebrate its 50th anniversary serving the neighborhood and its landmarks.

Founded in 1964 by Joseph H. Brown, the historical society works to protect historic sites in the Bayside area in order to preserve the charm and character of the neighborhood as times change.

The society partners with lawmakers and other community groups to push for certain sites around the area to be designated as landmarks, a label that promises they cannot be torn down to make way for urban expansion. It is headquartered in the restored Officers’ Club building on Fort Totten.

Since getting its start 50 years ago, the BHS has worked on several projects that have led to landmark designation of sites around Bayside. Some of the biggest, according to BHS President Paul DiBenedetto, have been the landmark designation of Fort Totten, Lawrence Cemetery and the Alley Pond area, which he said offers much more to the community than many people might know.

“History aside, marsh areas have a huge value ecologically in terms of what they do,” DiBenedetto said. “They filter out so much garbage, toxins, you name it.”

Brown’s daughter, John Brown Wettingfeld, wrote a history column for the TimesLedger Newspapers up until recently.

DiBenedetto said he became involved with the BHS about eight years ago after moving to Bayside and realizing he shared the same ideals and values that the historical society’s mission puts forth. After noticing that old houses on several blocks were being replaced by mansions with much less character, he decided to join the group dedicated to making sure changes such as those did not end up taking over the neighborhood.

He said the historical society also oversees dozens of school visits each year where students come and learn about the sites in their neighborhood and get a better feel for the history that took place there.

“We just try to preserve the things that matter so people can learn from it,” DiBenedetto said. “We’re not a bunch of fanatics, we’re just trying to save the things worth saving.”

Last week, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) honored the historical society at a news conference and presented it with a resolution recognizing its success over the last 50 years.

“The society has played an integral role in preserving the wonderful castle which they have called their home for the past 30 years,” Avella said. “They have also played a vital role in preserving and protecting historical landmarks throughout the Bayside area in addition to teaching the general public about the rich history of this area.”

The historical society will host a 50th anniversary celebration May 3 at its offices, at 208 Fort Totten Ave. . The gala-style event will feature dinner, dancing, raffles and a cocktail reception to honor the organization’s history and achievements.

A handful of people will also be honored for their service to the community, including former Sen. Frank Padavan, who represented Bayside for nearly 40 years, and Community Board 11 member Janet McEneaney, who also serves as president of the Queens Quiet Skies activist group fighting airplane noise in northeast Queens.

The community is invited to attend the event and join in to celebrate what DiBenedetto said is a “big deal” for the BHS.

“Fifty years is evidence that there’s a need for what we do,” he said. “It means we’re not going away. It means we care about the place we live in and we care about keeping it special.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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