As we return to work at The Bryant Library, the adjacent Gerry Park is being renovated and renewed. For us at The Local History Collection, this brings to mind a former fixture of the park and its surrounding area: lifelong Roslyn resident George Valentine Washington Jr. This week marks the 86th anniversary of Washington’s service to the town of Roslyn as caretaker of the park, a post which he began on June 10th, 1934.
Born October 12th, 1887, Washington was the son of Fannie Noble and George Washington Sr. His father, George Sr., was born into slavery in the Southern United States and moved to Roslyn after the Civil War. For many years he worked on the Mackay Family’s Harbor Hill estate. The youngest of seven children, Washington lived with his family on Northern Boulevard near the Frick estate, which is now the Nassau County Museum of Art. Facing the discrimination of that time, he attended Roslyn’s segregated “colored” school, fought in the US Army during WWI, and was instrumental in founding the Keystones baseball team as a result of being barred from joining local white-only teams. He and his wife Ruth were married in 1944 and moved to a house on East Street not far from his childhood home. Ruth passed away in 1955.
For 25 years, Washington was the caretaker of the park and was also responsible for winding the Roslyn Clocktower’s clock twice weekly.
When interviewed for the Roslyn News in June of 1959 to mark the occasion of 25 years on the job, Washington’s response to the question of what he would like to say about his work was to not focus on him but rather to “talk about the park.” This humble response clearly conveys Washington’s love for the park’s magnificent “sloping hills” and “three beautiful lakes” as described by William Cullen Bryant. While the park’s current renewal is being handled by a crew of men in large machines, Washington personally constructed improvements to the park during his tenure and made repairs to its damaged grounds after hurricanes in both 1938 and 1955.
On July 29th, 1959, less than two months after this interview, Washington died from a lung tumor for which he was being cared for by two of his siblings and Mary Bannister of the Roslyn Visiting Nurse Association. More than 65 people attended his funeral service and 75 were present when he was laid to rest in Port Washington’s Nassau Knolls Cemetery. Over 60 years later, we celebrate this Roslyn resident’s great dedication to maintaining the beauty of the town’s recreational waterfront.
Information for this post was drawn from documents held within The Bryant Library Local History Collection including the June 17th, 1959 Roslyn article “Washington Cited For Long Service” and Washington’s obituary published August 5th, 1959.