Preservation of Bronxville's History Is in Good Hands with National Archives Veteran Ray Geselbracht Print


By Susan Miele

Dec. 5, 2018:  The departure of Eloise Morgan in 2017 from her longtime position as Bronxville Village historian left some pretty big shoes to fill. For her years of volunteer service to the community, Morgan was lauded with going-away tributes, news articles, and the establishment of fundraising efforts in her name. Happily for those interested in the preservation of local history, those “big shoes” have been filled quite ably.

No slouch in the field of historical preservation, Raymond Geselbracht retired in 2014 after 40 years of employment with the National Archives. He got his start at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, then worked for ten years on the Nixon papers before settling in for a 26-year stint with the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Missouri. Less than a decade ago, Geselbracht hadn’t even heard of Bronxville. When his daughter announced her move to New York City, Geselbracht and his wife packed up too. They discovered Bronxville through an Internet search and quickly fell in love with the village.

“What I noticed immediately is that people have really cared about the village. This isn’t true everywhere,” Geselbracht remarked. In Bronxville, people have been “careful about what was built here,” beginning with William Van Duzer Lawrence more than a century ago. He saw the Bronxville Public Library and thought, “If I’m going to have a happy retirement, I have to have some association with that library.”

Geselbracht oversees the Bronxville History Center, as it’s now called, located in the lower level of the library. The center houses the Village of Bronxville’s repository of personal papers, organizational records, photographs, newspapers, maps, blueprints, and other artifacts relating to the history of Bronxville.

The availability of early Bronxville newspapers such as the Bronxville Review, which began publication at the turn of the twentieth century, has been a great asset. “In presidential libraries, newspapers are not especially important artifacts,” Geselbracht explained. Conversely, he noted, the archive of historic Bronxville newspapers is critical to the understanding of local life in earlier times. One anecdote he encountered in his reading described a tiff between a Kraft Avenue merchant and a customer during World War I. When the customer expressed sympathy for the German Kaiser, the merchant called the police. The customer was given the option of paying a fine or getting out of town within 24 hours; she chose the latter.

One indicator of conscientious planning and foresight that Geselbracht zeroed in on is that Bronxville was a pioneer in requiring builders of apartment buildings to provide a proportionate number of parking spaces. Given the context of the 1920s, this is especially prescient in light of how few cars were owned at that time.

Also dating to the 1920s is the position of village historian. There were several lapses over subsequent decades, but there has continuously been a village historian since the mid-1960s. Despite this long history, there still remains considerable archiving to be done. Numerous boxes of artifacts exist, but their contents have yet to be catalogued. Geselbracht is working on developing descriptions and “finding aids” that will ultimately be accessible via a forthcoming revamp of the Village of Bronxville’s website.

Geselbracht describes a five-day work week, which includes some evening hours to accommodate the community’s varied schedules. His goal is to make the Bronxville History Center better known to the community and to increase usage of its resources—a goal he acknowledges will take a lot of time to achieve. Some tactics toward this end include developing a partnership with The Bronxville School and other area schools, including having the center help contribute to the school curriculum. On his computer is a draft of a game to stimulate creative writing that he’s developing, with embedded images from the archives designed to spark the imagination of stories that these images might represent. Additionally, Geselbracht is contributing significantly to the village’s new website, working with the webmaster to account for the features he envisions.

For Geselbracht, retirement didn’t have to mean leaving archiving work behind. “I like making finding aids and creating folders. I don’t want to just walk away from it.” He also volunteers for the New York Philharmonic archives.

The Bronxville History Center is accessible by appointment. Ray Geselbracht can be reached at  CLOAKING .

Photo by N. Bower