One sunny afternoon in post-World War II Levittown, a little girl put on her ruffled dress, buckled her shoes and headed outside with her tricycle. As she pedaled up and down her block past the identical, mass-produced homes, it never crossed her mind that her face would cover the wall of a museum some day.
These are the everyday moments that the Levittown Historical Museum captures-- the ones that truly define what life was like in Levittown's boom years. Strewn among World War II memorabilia, blueprints of the famous Levitt & Sons cape and ranch homes and transistor radios, these pieces are what transform what was once just a classroom into a time portal.
"The museum emphasizes transition," said Paul Manton, vice president of the Levittown Historical Society and one of the museum's volunteer guides. "Rural to suburban, traditional culture to pop culture. It is really about the evolution of our community within the evolution of America as a whole."
The museum, which has hosted visitors from all over the world, is made possible by a collaboration of locals who know and care about Levittown, where it came from, and where it is headed. Thanks to the knowledgeable guides who volunteer their time and the proud residents who donate their memories for the sake of historical preservation, the Levittown Historical Society has created a lasting legacy.
"It all started in 1989 when Levittown Schools Superintendent Dr. Herman Sirois asked the 50th Anniversary Committee, 'Why can't children of today learn what life was like in the 1950s?'," remembers Polly Dwyer, President of the Historical Society and member at the time.
Dwyer then wrote a letter to the school board asking for a safe place to display the society's collection. By April of that year the museum was up and running.
"About two years ago the school gave us additional space, almost doubling the size and giving us a small theater area, a replica of a ranch living room, and displays of sports and schools," said Dwyer. "We continue to be very grateful to Dr. Sirois and the school board for the room."
Today the museum includes model houses, a replica kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living room containing real pieces of original Levittown homes, life-sized soldiers, old high school yearbooks and more. No detail is spared from Lincoln Logs and original bathroom light fixtures to rusted railroad spikes. A documentary on Levittown's history created by a local high school student is played for guests in the theater area.
The museum's guides regularly give tours to students as young as second grade. Dwyer enjoys the thank you notes sent by the children, who often highlight their favorite part of the museum and express hopes of returning with their parents.
"We do ask that if there are any volunteers who would wish to be trained, we welcome them for this rewarding work," said Dwyer.
The museum is thankful to its current volunteers Geri Raab, Maria DiGuardia, Bob Koenig, Paul and Cathy Manton, Fred and Peg Stein, Don and JoAnn Fink, and Bill and Polly Dwyer, for putting their time and expertise into making the museum what it is today.
The museum, located at 15o Abbey Ln. inside of the Levittown Memorial Education Center, is open to the public Wednesdays from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org.