As the new year continues, I am following the tradition of giving you updates in village government by focusing on different departments.
Last week I devoted the column to the state of the judiciary and this week I would like to share the 2023 workings of a division that may be not as well known to the average Bronxvillian but plays such an integral part in the tapestry of our Village.
I start with the work of our Village Historian Ray Geselbracht whose workplace is a very bright, functional and temperature regulated office on the downstairs level of our village library.
As background, Ray was born on Long Island, but spent his formative years in Southern California eventually graduating with a PhD from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
After retirement, he moved to Bronxville, but prior to that, spent an illustrious 40-year career as an archivist with the National Archives Service in venues such as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library, the Nixon Library and his final posting, the President Truman Library. Ray started volunteering in Bronxville in 2015 under the tutelage of the Village‘s Historian, Eloise Morgan and assumed the post upon her move to the West Coast in 2017.
Suffice to say, the Village probably has the most qualified archivist bar none.
Ray is the consummate volunteer giving over 2100 hours last year, often in increments that brought him to the library six days a week.
Central to Ray’s work is preserving the History Center’s collection organizing of historical materials and making them available to the public either in person at the History Center or by responding to requests made by email or telephone or most recently making digitized historical materials available online.
This work is the highest priority, but in addition, there is collection, organizing, developing aids to research, reformatting material and writing articles for various periodicals, all undertaken towards the goals of highlighting and preserving the Village’s historical collections and making them readily available. Last year Ray began writing monthly articles for the local magazine, Bronxville Living, that were incredibly informative and had great critical reception. Ray’s articles have run the gamut from a Bronco’s undefeated football team to Bronxville’s World War II experiences, the history of our movie theater, the polio epidemic of 1916 and presidential visits to the Village. All of the articles are on the History Center’s website, which is an education in and of itself.
In addition, last year Ray inventoried Concordia College’s collection, which was bequeathed to the Village and even chronicled the Village building department’s blueprint files. Ray is always on the alert for acquisitions that would add to the rich collection of the Village’s treasure trove of historical artifacts.
One of the most important of late was a plaque that was mounted in Bronxville Village Hall on Pondfield Road for its entire existence from 1906 to 1948 memorializing the donation of the Village Hall land, buildings and furnishings from Frank Ross Chambers and William Van Duzer Lawrence in 1906.
Ray is also diligent in adding to the document collection, the photograph collection, and the artifact collection. As a corollary to these endeavors, he is a member of the Bronxville Historical Conservancy Board and the Westchester County Historical Society. Ray’s involvement with the Village’s Historical Conservancy is invaluable as a link to those residents also dedicated to historic preservation and the importance of place. “The Conservancy was established in 1998 to further the understanding and appreciation of the history and current life of the Village.” The Conservancy acquires, restores and curates the work of Village artists, has digitized more than a century of historic local newspapers and provides support for Ray and the History Center.
His work is so appreciated as on average the historical newspaper collection receives over 200,000 visits yearly and just last year , Ray provided reference services to 458 researchers and responded to 91 requests for information via email or telephone.
To be a part of this incredible preservation effort and celebrate our history and conserve it for the future, the Conservancy welcomes new members to further the dual missions of the History Center and the Bronxville Historical Conservancy. Visit their website here: Bronxvillehistoricalconservancy.org