Museums of Oyster Bay
Oyster Bay is a historical treasure trove, and nowhere is that more evident than in its wealth of museums and historical sites. Spend a weekend day taking in all of Oyster Bay's museums with the kids; you'll find yourselves pleasantly surprised by how much you learn and how much you enjoy the learning. The good news is these museums are rarely crowded, do not require reservations, and are free or nearly free (Raynham Hall has a $5 fee for those over 6).
The Oyster Bay Rail Road Museum Preview Center
102 Audrey Ave
Saturday and Sunday 11am–4pm
All Aboard! The Oyster Bay Rail Road Museum preview center is an ideal place to begin your tour. The center is currently serving as a visitor center for the town and you can find plenty of information about the area. A wooden railway set is on display for children to play on and there is a train whistle kids can't seem to get enough of blowing. Railroad artifacts and an electric train set are on view as well as exhibits showing Long Island's railroad history. A larger and more informative museum is in the works and you can learn more about those plans here.
Raynham Hall Museum
20 W. Main St
Admission: adults $5, students and senior citizens $3, children under 6 and service people free
Earle Whitman House
20 Summit St
Tuesday–Friday 10am–2pm, Saturday 11am–3pm, Sunday 1–4pm. Closed Mondays
Free admission; donations accepted
These museums were a surprising treat for me and my children. While they are primarily attended by schools and other groups, visitors touring on their own are likely to get much more personal attention from museum staff. On each visit we found we had the homes to ourselves. My daughter, who had been once before on a school field trip, was simply thrilled to share with me all she had learned. The Earle Whitman House is set up to be the home of a cobbler living in colonial Oyster Bay. The artifacts in the room provide a wonderful opportunity to envision what life must have been like for this family.
Both houses have rooms from the colonial period as well as the Victorian era, providing ample opportunity to compare and contrast how conveniences and decor change over time. At Raynham Hall, you can learn about the Culper Spy Ring that assisted General Washington during the revolution, and imagine a love story crossing over political and geographical lines. It is believed that Sally Townsend was the recipient of the first American valentine while living at Raynham Hall under British occupation.
The Orchard Museum at Sagamore Hill
12 Sagamore Hill Rd.
Once again, we were pleasantly surprised with our recent visit to the Orchard Museum at Sagamore Hill. We were unable to visit the actual house of our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, because it is currently closed for repairs, but the grounds, museum, and visitor center made the trip well worthwhile. In this case, the “getting there” was almost half the fun as we drove along the bay and saw plenty of winter waterfowl. If you're up for a walk, there's a nice little trail behind the Orchard Museum that will lead you to a footbridge and beach at Cold Spring Harbor. If you're an early bird or visiting during the week, you'll likely find you have the place to yourself, except of course, for the wading egret or hovering osprey.
Inside the museum, we were offered clipboards and a scavenger hunt. Noting the ages of my kids, I was also handed a preschool version, which my 3- and 5-year-old could handle with minimal support. Be sure to ask for this if you have younger kids, as some of the staff weren't aware it existed. We wandered around for about 30 minutes finding clues in the exhibits showcasing Theodore Roosevelt's life. As a reward for completing the scavenger hunt, the children were given junior park ranger badges, which prompted my daughter to squeal, “This is my favorite place in the world!”
The visitor center has items you won't find nearby, such as stamps and passports to our national parks, and adorable junior park ranger attire.
Coming up: we'll show you the best places to see nature and wildlife in Oyster Bay.