Retired teacher Peter Cohn visited the Knothole Museum — the writing studio built by author Christopher Morley — as a student. Now, Cohn is the driving force in the effort to reopen the shuttered historical site in Nassau County on Long Island.
Morley built the one-room Knothole in 1934 on the grounds of his home in Roslyn, and he produced more than 50 novels, plays, and books of essays and poems there. In 1966, nine years after his death, friends and admirers formed the Christopher Morley Knothole Association to keep his memory — and the Knothole — alive.
In 1980, Cohn’s interest in Morley motivated him to join the association. “I joined after reading Morley’s book of essays, ‘Pipefuls,’ which I received as a gift,” he said.
Recently, the local newspaper, Roslyn News, headlined an article “The Knothole gang is back” and wrote, “The association is stirring again thanks to Peter Cohn.”
The rustic retreat, with its few pieces of furniture and all the writer’s artifacts, had been moved by flatbed truck in 1966 to the park later named Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn-North Hills, and it was opened to the public. But it has been closed for about a decade.
By the time Cohn retired in 2018, the association had just a few regular dues-paying members. With the free time retirement provided, Cohn started to reactivate the association. He became its president and began to publish regular editions of The Knothole newsletter, featuring stories about the cabin and Morley, who is probably best known for his 1939 novel “Kitty Foyle,” which was made into an Academy Award-winning movie.
Based on his skills planning earth science lessons for 17 years at Manhattan’s Art and Design HS, Cohn planned lectures and events held at the local library to inform readers about the cabin and Morley’s history in the community. His goal was to drum up interest and expand the number of association members, all part of his plan to reopen the Knothole. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the cancellation of a gala that had been planned for May 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of Morley’s move to Roslyn.
Before becoming a teacher, Cohn had worked in finance, and he realized there were practical steps that had to be taken before the association could move forward with the repair, renovation and reopening of the Knothole.
He secured for the museum the tax-exempt status of a 501(c)(3) organization formed for educational purposes. “That status,” he explained, “allows us to raise tax-deductible funds to support the Knothole and makes us eligible to apply for government and foundation grants.” In addition, he said, “we can now be considered for a formal contract with the Nassau County Department of Parks to assist in the programing and preservation of the site.”
Negotiations are underway to reopen the one-room sanctuary as a museum following several meetings between Cohn and park supervisors in Christopher Morley Park. Electricians and carpenters are checking out the building to estimate what it will cost to get it up and running.
As he anxiously awaits word, Cohn is optimistically planning an array of fun, family-friendly activities for the future.
“We look forward to making the Knothole Museum an important and fun destination within Nassau County parks,” he said.