The Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead is one of the county’s genuine treasures. The holdings of this 133-year-old institution include furnishings, important paintings and other artwork, and its library is a trove of primary-source documents favored by researchers and historians.
So it was welcome news last week when the society announced the opening of a new wing that is fully compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. Now, thousands more people who were otherwise shut out by the building’s steep stairs and lack of an elevator can visit and enjoy the museum.
The improvements include a ground-level entrance that will allow visitors with disabilities to avoid the very steep stairs that face Main Street. On-site parking has been added, along with accessible restrooms and — best of all — an elevator.
This important rehab cost approximately $1 million, and the project’s major donor, the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, helping get it started. Local architects Gary Jacquemin and Robert Stromski did the design work.
Construction began last May with the hope that the work would be completed by the end of the summer. But higher than expected groundwater greatly slowed the project — the Peconic River runs along the opposite side of West Main Street, perhaps 50 yards from the front of the building. A time-consuming dewatering project commenced, throughout which the museum remained open to the public. Considering the historical society’s popularity, that’s something to be proud of.
A host of local officials attended a ceremony last week to showcase the renovations . Frank Grasso, a board member of one the donors, the John C. Dunphy Private Foundation, said he wanted to be involved in this important project. His words helped sum up why the effort — and the historical society — matter so much.
“We just like the idea of adding value to a community center, and that’s where it started,” Mr. Grasso said. “We learned as we went along, as we’re still learning, what this is all about. The character of the place, the museum … I think it made good sense to support the local community … You can do things that help people individually, or you can do things that help people collectively, so we saw this as an opportunity to help people collectively.”
Amen to that.