History

by -
0 224
Three-quarter size Colonial whaleboat reproductions with a crew of reenactors. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

On Thursday morning, Aug. 17, 1780, fog covered the Connecticut coast and obscured any view of three whaleboats as they slid through the marsh grass and into the shallow water at the northeast corner of Black Rock Harbor. Six of the men in each boat quietly slid their oars into the water and together with each sweep, without a word spoken, the men’s oars began a rhythmic parallel stroke that moved the crafts quickly through the harbor and into Long Island Sound.

In the traditional whaleboat, to get leverage for speed, five oarsmen sat on opposite sides of the boat from their oarlocks, and their long oars propelled the whaleboat at up to 5 or 6 miles an hour. However, on these whaleboats, with as many as six additional soldiers, their arms and equipment, it was not practical to have long oars working across the boat so, especially for long distances, sailing rather than rowing, was the main means of propulsion.

A 1774 map of Long Island and Connecticut copied from “The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island and Connecticut” by Frederic Gregory Mather. 1913.

The three identical whaleboats were each 30 feet long, lapstrake-built and pointed at both ends. They were light, being constructed of a strong oak frame and planked with half-inch cedar, to form a relatively narrow and sleek vessel that was exceptionally seaworthy and highly maneuverable. These open boats, greyhounds of the Sound, were also easy to enter and exit, making them exceptional platforms from which to surprise and successfully attack slower and less maneuverable craft.

As the whaleboats moved away from the shore and headed south for Long Island, ripples and spray off the top of the swells ahead indicated a moderate northwest wind, and the men shipped their oars and raised the mast and sail on each whaleboat. They then sat lower in the boat on the starboard or windward side to add stability. Every soldier and sailor was usually equipped with a musket and/or a pistol, a short sword or saber and often a belt ax, as well as a powder horn, cartridge box and other equipment.

The man in charge of the three whaleboats, Caleb Brewster, sat in the bow of the lead whaleboat peering through his telescope to see what other activity was around him on Long Island Sound. Brewster was a seaman and a courier spy for Gen. George Washington, but he was also an artillery captain in the Continental Army, and his three crews of sailors were partly recruited from the ranks of the men he commanded. Brewster’s crews also contained a number of Long Island friends who were trusted associates such as Lt. George Smith of Smithtown and Capt. Abraham Cooper Woodhull, formerly of Old Mans on Long Island, now a resident of Fairfield, Connecticut, and captain of one of Brewster’s whaleboats.

In addition to the 12 men, each whaleboat had a small swivel gun on the bow powerful enough to put a hole in an enemy boat below the waterline or disable a mast with a lucky shot when close in. These three whaleboats were a potent fighting force, able to attack and capture the sloops, schooners and small British and Tory brigs that patrolled the Sound or the plunderers, both Whigs and Tories, who regularly attacked residents on Long Island and along the Connecticut shoreline.

On this day, Brewster was headed to Long Island to pick up intelligence from his friend and fellow Culper spy Abraham Woodhull. When he arrived, he found that Woodhull was in New York City and would be relaying his messages by way of Austin Roe by 2 p.m. on the following day. Brewster had to wait.

On Friday morning Brewster and his whaleboat crews were attacked by plunderers Glover and Hoyght —possibly Ezekiel Glover and Simon Hoyt, refugees from Long Island — and their crews. In Brewster’s report to Benjamin Tallmadge, Washington’s intelligence chief, he wrote, ”I came from Long Island this afternoon but have got no dispatches. Culper has been down to New York. I waited until this morning and he was to send them by two o’clock but before he sent them I was attacked by Glover and Hoyght and left one man taken and one wounded. We killed one on the spot … Austin told me that Sir Henry Clinton went down to the east end of the Island on the sixteenth. Don’t fail to let me have two crews if you can of Continental soldiers.”

In another letter to Tallmadge written on Monday, Aug. 21, Brewster reported, “I this morning came from the island & got three boats last Saturday night and went over in search of Glover and Hoyght but could hear nothing of them. They never stayed to bury their dead man, they carried another away with them mortally wounded. Setauket is full of troops. It is thought they are going eastward. Austin came to me yesterday and told me I had best not come on to the middle of next week as the troops is so thick in town and marching eastward.”

Brewster continued to patrol Long Island Sound and bring intelligence from Long Island to Fairfield, Connecticut, until Dec. 7, 1782, when he and several of his whaleboats chased and attacked three enemy boats about mid-Sound. They captured two boats but the third escaped. Brewster was wounded when a musket ball went through his chest. He reported that he continued to fight until the enemy was captured and then collapsed. Every man on the enemy’s boats was either killed or wounded as were the men on Brewster’s boats. Brewster spent many months recovering in the hospital in Black Rock.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Above and below, scenes from the film

By Heidi Sutton

Peter Jackson’s latest endeavor has been a labor of love. The award-winning director, best known for the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies was recently enlisted to create a unique documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” featuring many never-before-seen archive footage of the Great War, a four-year conflict that claimed the lives of over 16 million soldiers.

Produced by WingNut Films and released by Warner Brothers, the project, which took five months to complete, was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and BBC, who gave Jackson access to over 100 hours of footage and 600 hours of audio, including interviews with hundreds of veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jackson chose to focus on the daily lives of British foot soldiers who had been sent to the Western Front – from their experience at boot camp to being shipped to France and living in the trenches, to a few days of rest and then off to the front lines where they are told to hand over any personal effects to their officers before heading off into no man’s land.

The documentary reveals many of the soldiers were mere children, volunteering at the age of 15 and 16 out of patriotic duty, and how many were excited to serve. By the end of the film, however, all romantic ideas of war have completely vanished. “History will decide in the end that this war was not worthwhile,” you hear a retired soldier say.

Every scene is accompanied by narration from army veterans who describe their uniforms and complain about their heavy boots; the food they ate; dealing with rats, lice and dysentery problems; coping with trench foot and mustard gas; capturing German soldiers; and the constant smell of death.

The genius that is Peter Jackson then goes two steps further, (revealed about 20 minutes into the film) when suddenly the black and white film comes to life in a myriad of colors and sounds. The soldiers’ personalities are revealed as they speak and laugh and you hear the shells being loaded into the cannons, artillery fire and the tanks rolling along the open fields. The sudden transformation takes one’s breath away.

The stunning effect was achieved using digital technology, researching uniforms and locations, recruiting forensic lip-readers who studied the original film, and actors who then voiced the parts in various dialects. “Smile! You’re in the pictures,” one man tells his mates as he points excitedly to the camera.

For Jackson, who has long been interested in World War I, (the film is dedicated to his paternal grandfather who was wounded in the Battle of the Somme) the spectacular documentary slowly evolved into capturing the human experience of war. 

He described his vision best in a recent interview with BBC-owned HistoryExtra magazine. “We let them tell their story, of what it was like as a soldier,” adding that these experiences would’ve been similar to those of many other troops. “And the men saw a war in color, they certainly didn’t see it in black and white,” Jackson explained. “I wanted to reach through the fog of time and pull these men into the modern world, so they can regain their humanity once more.”

Rated R, “They Shall Not Grow Old” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

Holocaust survivors at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences participate in World Jewish Congress’s 2019 #WeRemember campaign.
Survivors take to social media to ensure the world never forgets

COMMACK: Seven decades have passed since the end of the Holocaust, yet for the survivors, the horrors they witnessed remain vividly clear.  On the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, Holocaust survivors now living at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences assisted living community participated in the third annual WeRemember campaign to ensure the world never forgets the atrocities committed against humanity. 

Tina Kamin fled the Nazis in Poland and lived in the woods for a year.

Organized by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the #WeRemember social media movement was created three years ago to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, genocide and xenophobia. The initiative is considered to be the largest global event ever organized to commemorate the Holocaust.   

Survivors, family and friends, celebrities and world leaders representing a wide range of faiths were among the thousands of people from around the world who posted photos of themselves displaying “#WeRemember” signs on Facebook and Twitter. Photos were shared by WJC and then live-streamed on a jumbotron at the gates of Auschwitz, where more than one million people were murdered by the Nazis.

Sally Birnbaum survived four concentration camps.

Eight Holocaust survivors from Gurwin’s assisted living community as well as members of Gurwin’s administrative staff participated in this year’s social media movement.   Among them were survivors of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Hidden Children and Kindertransport refugees, each with a unique, horrific story to tell.  

Recognizing the campaign’s powerful impact and its global reach through social media outlets, the survivors were eager to participate, holding signs and giving testimony to their own personal experience during the Holocaust, because, according to Kindertransport child Ruth Meador, “the whole world needs to know… and care.”

Photos from Gurwin Jewish

by -
0 342
The Thompson House in Setauket on North Country Road was once the home of Dr. Samuel Thompson who documented the winter of 1800 to 1801. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Our winter weather has been mostly mild so far this year, and we don’t expect any significant snowfall until later in the season. Nowadays we are also protected from the effects of the weather in our homes and in our cars as we travel from place to place.

During the winter of 1800 to 1801, Dr. Samuel Thompson noted the changes in the weather as he ran the operation of his extensive farm in Setauket and cared for the sick. He wrote in his diary, “Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at nine or ten o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by. Some rain — but breaks away and the weather is cool.”

“Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at 9 or 10 o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by.”

— Samuel Thompson

Later in the month the weather changed, and Thompson continued, “Friday, November 21, … [It] begins to snow long before day [light and] continues to snow all day — very cold storm.” On Saturday, the northeast wind continued to blow and on Sunday he wrote that the snow fell all day.

The life of the farmer and other residents of the Three Villages continued to be busy through the winter months. There were no crops to tend, as in the summer, but the animals had to be taken care of and the weather seemed to make little difference in the routine. The weather moderated after that early snow and the remainder of 1800 brought only occasional days of snow and rain.

Heat for the family homes in 1800 consisted of a wood fire in the fireplace. Large amounts of wood were cut and stacked each fall but had to be supplemented by trips into the woods to gather more firewood. Thompson’s house (the restored Thompson House on North Country Road in Setauket) has a great central chimney with four fireplaces that provided the only heat for the large saltbox-style farmhouse. The activity at the Thompson farm continued despite the weather as the doctor wrote Dec. 30, 1800. “… kill my cow and ten sheep. George Davis’ wife came here and bought eight pounds of flax. Mr. Green [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] came here [and] said [that] Mrs. Akerly was better … Snow this night.”

It was a normal part of the farm routine for local residents to come to the Thompson farm to buy flax to spin and weave into cloth or to buy hay for their animals or meat and other farm produce. Thompson and his wife would often have visitors who would spend the night at the farm and leave the next day.

On Dec. 31, 1800, Thompson wrote, “… Robbin and Franklin [his oldest son Benjamin Franklin] cut up the cow and the sheep. Sharper salts them. Salla (Sarah) Smith works here at taloring [sic]. Makes a coat and jacket for Killis [Robbin, Sharper and Killis were black slave farmhands], made a pair of trowsers [sic] for Franklin. Miss Lidda Mount and Miss Sissa Mount come here for a visit, dined here and drank tea here. Mrs Akerly remains much [sick] so I make her the third phial of antimonial solution [a medicine containing antimony].”

The daily routine of life at the Thompson farm continued much the same through the winter. Friends were entertained at tea or dinner, neighbors and relatives arrived to buy farm produce, and Thompson prescribed for the relief of the residents. Life in the wintertime was hard for these early residents, the cold was a constant companion, and the wood fireplaces could not provide the warmth that we consider to be regular part of our lives now.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm.”

— Henry Hudson

Winter weather did not prevent residents from maintaining their regular activities in spite of cold or snow. In 1819, Henry Hudson was teaching school in Stony Brook in the “Upper School” located on Main Street south of the mill pond. On Friday, Feb. 12, he wrote in his journal, “… I tend school [about 40 students] … snow at 4 this afternoon — grows cold — storms hard. I spend the evening at Benah Petty’s with company of young people. Go to Nath. Smith’s to lodge — severe storm. Saturday, February 13th 1819 … Snow storm — cold. I tend school — continues to storm. At 4 [in the] afternoon I go to Joseph Hawkins’ and stay. Sunday, February 14, 1819. Clears off, snow about 10 inches deep — drifted very much. I go to Mr. Green’s meeting [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] — return to Nath. Smith’s then go to Charles Hallock’s. He tends the meeting and [we were] much engaged [talking about the meeting] and time pleasingly spent. Go to Jedidiah Mills’ this evening.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm. I tend school — 42 schollars [sic] — I leave Nath. Smith’s, make 3 days board … I make a beginning to the Wido(w) Mount’s to board on the second quarter. Wedn. 17th … Comes on to snow at 9 this evening — sharp night — some sleighing though poor in the road, considerable snow. Thursday, February 18th … I tend school — 41 schollars [sic]. This cold day. This is the appointment for the bible class. Mr. Green (Zachariah) comes here at 5 O’clock with a missionary priest. I return to Mount’s.”

Hudson taught three of the Mount children, Robert Nelson, William Sidney and Ruth Hawkins. He boarded about three days with each family of his students while he taught in Stony Brook. His travels during the week included going, usually on foot, from the Widow Mount’s, known as the Hawkins-Mount house on Route 25A and Stony Brook Road, to the Setauket Presbyterian Church. As a school teacher on a limited income, Hudson did not have a horse and would often walk great distances. His home at the time, until 1846 when he moved to East Setauket, was at the family’s farm in Long Pond in the Wading River area. After the quarter was over, he walked back to his home and during the following years, he taught school in South Setauket (Nassakeag), Moriches and East Setauket often walking from home to school each week. In some years he would walk to Patchogue or Riverhead and back in the same day.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

'Traitor'

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Last week, we took our first major film, “One Life to Give,” to an out-of-town showing. An audience of more than 100 history lovers and friends in Philadelphia watched the dramatic story of the friendship of Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge and the beginning of the Culper Spy Ring. We were impressed by how interested the Philadelphians were in a tale of George Washington’s intelligence service centered in Setauket, Long Island. This is, of course, an authentic narrative of the Revolutionary War and of the founding of America, so I guess we needn’t have been surprised at its broad appeal.

In addition, we screened for the first time the almost completed sequel, “Traitor.” This story picks up some five years later, in 1780, and tells of the capture of John André, British spymaster, by the Patriots, and his fate at the hands of, ironically, Tallmadge. He is now a major in the Continental Army and has been tortured with guilt during the past four years since his Yale buddy, Hale, was caught and hanged as a spy. It was Tallmadge who so earnestly persuaded Hale to join the war effort, and we know of Hale’s end at the hands of the British.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.

André has been caught with detailed maps of West Point, the fort that the British are lusting to capture so as to have free rein in the Hudson River, dividing New England from the rest of the colonies. The fort is under the command of Patriot general, Benedict Arnold, who is about to become a turncoat, hence his dealings with André. 

The sequel is, if anything, even better than the original film. And mine is not the only such verdict. Here are some comments emailed to us by the members of the audience after the screening of both films in succession:

• “Thank you so much for including me in the extraordinary film screening last night. … I was not expecting to see something so professional and polished on every level: script, acting, photography, sound, production and, yes, gory makeup! It is also wonderful to see what an incredible family [my grandson, Benji, is the director] and community production this has been — pulling in all sorts of expertise, including [Bev Tyler, historian of the Three Village Historical Society, who accompanied us to Philadelphia]. … Congratulations to Benji [Michael Tessler, Andrew Stavis and the rest of the team]. … Please let them know how much I enjoyed it. And we’ll all be able to say, ‘We knew [them] when … .’”

• “Wow, what a great night. The films were great, great turnout.”

• “What a joy to be there, we really learned from the movie.”

• “Wonderful event! You should be proud. The movies were great. I learned a lot. I’m excited to share new stuff with my students.”

• “What a treat to attend the viewing … last night. Thank you for including us.”

• “HUGE congratulations from me! Wow, I really enjoyed the movies.”

• “Thanks for including us in the movie viewing. An impressive undertaking with fantastic results!”

• “Had a great time at the movies. We were really impressed!”

And this from an old friend who has followed Benji’s development: 

• “Thanks for inviting me to witness [this] fabulous work. … [Benji’s] enthusiasm of his early years with a camera is super matched by his gifts of eye, mind and devotion to story and characters. It’s a little humbling to think that simply giving him a theater with a screen in his early years [he directed films as a teenager] encouraged him to continue creating worlds in film.”

• “I was so impressed with the level of sophistication given that [they] are young filmmaker[s].”

As you can tell, it was a successful and fun evening. We look forward to screening the two films, one right after the other, here in late spring. All will be welcome. Please stay tuned.

By Heidi Sutton

The Port Jefferson Conservancy hosted a reception for the Port Jefferson Village Center’s latest exhibit, GRUMMAN ON LONG ISLAND, A Photographic Tribute, on Jan. 10, an event that attracted over 250 visitors. Former Grumman employees, family, friends and the community came out to celebrate a reunion of sorts and to reminisce about the aerospace company that employed over 20,000 people on Long Island over the decades. 

A highlight of the reception was a six-member guest panel that included Grummanites Vinny DeStefano, vice president of manufacturing; Hank Janiesch, vice president (F-14 Program); Rodger Schafer, technical adviser; Joe “Ruggs” Ruggerio, director of electronic warfare; Harold Sheprow, a flight test manager and former mayor of Port Jefferson; Jim Reynolds Sr., an ILS engineer; and Cmdr. Jim Roth, a combat pilot and aviation test pilot who was an instructor for the first Grumman A-6 Intruder squadron.

They took turns speaking about their experience at Grumman and then fielded questions from a standing room only audience. Each guest speaker echoed the same sentiment; that they had loved working for Grumman, were very proud of their career and would do it all over again.

The exhibit, which was curated by Port Jefferson historian Chris Ryon and the Village of Belle Terre historian John Hiz, boasts over 100 photos, several scale models of planes and a special test pilot section.

Mayor Margot Garant kicked off the reception, saying, “I want to recognize the outstanding work, the collaborate effort, of Chris Ryon and John Hiz. They have collectively put in at least 300 man-hours putting this exhibit together.” 

“We had no idea what we were getting into a year ago when we decided to do a Grumman exhibit,’” said Ryon. “People have been coming into our office every day [to drop off photographs] and then we ended up going to the Grumman History Center and filling a 26-foot box truck [with more memorabilia]. It’s been great.”

“This [exhibit] is basically an idea of a  photo tribute to the Grumman Aerospace and Engineering Corporation between 1929 and 1994. That was the year they were acquired by Northrop,” said Hiz. “This evening we would like to reconnect through photographs, artifacts and mainly stories with individuals, families and friends who have contributed in making Grumman a household name on Long Island, a leader in aviation and space exploration and a very important part of our Long Island heritage.”

Visitors were treated to hors d’ouevres, wine and a special cake in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. 

The exhibit runs through February at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A East Main St., Port Jefferson. Admission is free. For further information, call 631-802-2160.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Beverly C. Tyler

by -
0 868
The Christmas party at the Setauket Neighborhood House was held every year through approximately 1957. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Whitman’s chocolates offered exclusively in the Three Villages by Meister’s Pharmacy, East Setauket — The Woodbox, Stony Brook,” was how the advertisement read in December 1957. Preparations for Christmas and the holiday season were much like today in many ways. The traditions and ceremonies have not changed much over the past 61 years, but many of the images are different.

In Stony Brook, Santa arrived at the post office on Saturday morning, Dec. 14, and set up his workshop in the firehouse from Wednesday through the following Monday, Dec. 23. A party was held for the children of the community on Saturday the 21, sponsored by the fire department and the Stony Brook Teenagers Club. Children’s parties were also held at the East Setauket Fire House on Friday, Dec. 20, and at the Setauket Neighborhood House on Monday the 23. For the adults, there was a Home Outside Decorating Contest with the judging on Dec. 30 conducted by members of the Three Village Garden Club.

Christmas shopping in 1957 often included a train trip to New York City to visit Macy’s Department Store or a drive to Garden City to shop in one of the many stores there. A shorter trip might have included shopping in Swezey’s Department Store or the Bee Hive in Patchogue or a drive to Smithtown with its many shops along Main Street.

There were, of course, stores closer to home such as Moffett’s Department Store in Port Jefferson, with branches in Setauket and Stony Brook. The Stony Brook Apothecary and Meister’s in East Setauket included a soda fountain and a variety of gift items and greeting cards.

The Redfern Shop in Port Jefferson was once the place to go for gift giving during the holiday season. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

For gift giving there was the Redfern Shop in Port Jefferson, which had a branch store in the shopping center in Stony Brook, and Woodfields, “For the best in Men’s Wear,” in Port Jefferson. The Redfern Shop, exclusively women’s wear, advertised, “P.S. to men … the Port Jefferson Redfern Shop (only) is setting aside Wednesday and Thursday evenings, December 18 and 19, as stag nights. Open each evening until 9 p.m. Let our sales girls help you in your selections. And everything will be beautifully gift wrapped.”

A purchase of jewelry, silverware, china, or watches could be made at Davis Jewelers in Port Jefferson or a piece of jewelry could be bought at Franz Kauffman and Co. also in Port Jefferson. In Stony Brook John Pastorelli advertised, “Village Barber — watch repairing — ship’s clocks — watches — jewelry.”

For a youngster, no Christmas season was complete without a trip to Port Jefferson to look around Oettinger’s Department Store with its table after table of toys, games, mittens, shoes and every imaginable gift for mother, sister or dad. In Port Jefferson, at the Gem Stores, you could see the Lionel and American Flyer trains and the new bicycles that were so much a part of Christmas. The Gem Stores always had a train set running and a large selection of new freight cars and accessories.

Remote-controlled toys were popular in 1957 as were dolls, stuffed animals, hobby kits and scale model airplanes, boats and cars. Popular children’s books that year included the new book by Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Bed-knob and Broomstick” by Mary Norton. Books on the bestseller list included “By Love Possessed” by James Cozzens, “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute and “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious.

Not everything connected with the holidays required one leaving home to purchase it. Eggnog could be ordered from Randall Farms, Evans Amityville or Branglebrink Dairy and delivered to the doorstep along with milk, eggs, butter and cream. Grocery shopping was not as convenient as today except for “Community Grocer — Charles Wackenheim” and P.W. Smith and Son in Stony Brook, which advertised, “Choice meats of all kinds — Grocers — Fresh and frozen vegetables. Fresh fish on Friday — home-made sausage — orders delivered.” A fresh turkey could be picked up at Rudi Fischer’s Turkey Farm in Port Jefferson Station. To buy from a supermarket, residents had to travel to Port Jefferson for H.C. Bohack and Co. or A & P or to the National Food Market in Port Jefferson Station.

The images of the way we prepared for the holidays fade into the past especially as the landscape changes form. We tend to forget that where a solid area of asphalt now covers the ground alongside Route 25A between Old Town Road and Ridgeway Avenue were once open fields and woods. It seems as if there must always have been a road running past the East Setauket Post Office and down the hill to the west. Is Stony Brook University just another part of the landscape that was always there? Even the southern part of the Stony Brook Village Shopping Center must have always been there. Yet, decades ago none of these existed. Near where the Village Market stands in Stony Brook was a magnificent three-story Victorian home, the Whitford house. Where the state university rises through the trees were only woods and trails.

Some parts of our landscape have existed longer — 50 years, 100, some even over 200 — and they help us to remember our past and especially the traditions and ceremonies that are so important in our lives.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Priya Kapoor. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Priya Kapoor came to the Smithtown Historical Society in 2016 as the director of development and public relations. This January she was made interim executive director and was confirmed as the permanent executive director of the society in March. Her responsibilities include overseeing the 22-acre property and the buildings on the campus, as well as organizing and managing over 100 fundraising and community events held by the society each year. I recently had the opportunity to interview Ms. Kapoor about her new position.

How is Smithtown rich with history? 

Smithtown is one of the oldest towns on Long Island, and we’re very fortunate to have a lot of that history still available to us. 

The founding of Smithtown can be dated back to 1665; Richard Smith, town founder, was said to have made a deal with a local Native-American chief that any land Smith could encircle while riding a bull in one day would be his. By choosing the longest day of the year, Smith acquired the land known today as Smithtown. He was also granted land patents by the English government in 1665 and 1675.

Over 20 buildings throughout the Town of Smithtown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a rare treat to be able to walk down the street and see the same buildings your grandparents and great grandparents grew up with!

What are some things the historical society does?

The historical society puts on 100 events a year — everything from adult education classes (cooking and crafting, for example) to summer camp programs, annual fairs like the Heritage Fair every September, and we host a monthly Historical Book Club as well. Not to mention our Farm Program, maintaining our historical buildings, etc.

What kind of events does the society offer to the community?

Each event is a little different. We host events like the President’s Valentine Brunch and the Holiday Luncheon — opportunities for our members and the community at large to celebrate holidays with us. And, of course, our annual fairs: the Spring Farm Festival, the Heritage Fair and the Heritage Country Christmas Fair. Again, it’s all about bringing our community together in a way that honors our history — we try to have traditional craftspeople like spinners, weavers, blacksmiths, etc. at all our fairs.

What types of programs does the society offer?

Our adult education classes often focus on crafting (we had a felt dryer ball making class, for example) or cooking (I taught two Indian cooking classes) — something educational in nature that our community might not have a lot of experience in. These go hand in hand with our annual lecture series, in March and September/October, and exhibit openings at the Caleb Smith House Museum in March.

What event do you look forward to every year?

I’m fond of the Spring Farm Festival, an annual event that happens in late April-early May. Our sheep get sheared, we have lots of traditional craft demonstrations (wool dying, wood carving, cheese making, etc.), as well as a robust vendor area. It’s really the first sign that spring has come back, and what’s better than that!

What programs have you implemented?

We try to come up with new and exciting events each year. For example, in July 2018 we started the Water Festival, which was attended by over 100 people. The festival included sprinklers and water games for children, and we hope to grow this event in the coming years.

This past year we also hosted the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce’s Project Haunt in our Rockwell Barn Complex. Local high schoolers transformed our space into a spooky museum of horror-themed attractions, as well as gave kids a safe space to trick or treat.

We are currently in the process of restoring the Obadiah Smith House, ca. 1700, which is the oldest of our properties. We have received a grant from the Preservation League of New York State for the initial assessment, and we hope to take this project further in the coming years.

The other newest program implemented is our Patch Partnership with the Girl Scouts — available in both an online format and one where the Scout comes to the historical society. Through this program Girl Scouts learn about life on the farm and women in Long Island’s history.

What is your vision for the future in terms of new events?

We have adult education classes, we have children’s programming — I’d like to see more events that focus on families. We’ve run a few in the past where the parents help their kids build or create something, but those programs are definitely few in number compared to our other programming. In addition to new events, we also hope to come up with new initiatives to help the local community and give back to others.

Do you have a strong support system?

We couldn’t operate without one! Between our dedicated volunteers and staff, the community at large and our local government officials, we’ve got a very strong support system. We are especially thankful to our board members, for their guidance and support.

Are you looking for volunteers?

We are very fortunate to have a dedicated and hardworking volunteer base, and we express utmost gratitude to them for their efforts. But we are always looking for more volunteers to help us with our farms, grounds and events. We’re always on the lookout for volunteers. Our needs vary from mass mailings to grounds work, decorating for the holidays to manning an admissions table at one of our fairs. We’re also in the process of creating a volunteer orientation to help ease interested folks into the society. 

What historic buildings are on the property? 

We have four historic buildings on our main campus: the Roseneath Cottage (ca. 1918), the Judge John Lawrence Smith Homestead (ca. 1750), the Franklin O. Arthur Farm (ca. 1740) and the Epenetus Smith Tavern (ca. 1740). We also have the Caleb Smith House (ca. 1819) and the Obadiah Smith House (ca. 1700) under our care, though they are off-campus. 

The Roseneath Cottage, our youngest building, serves as our main office; this arts and crafts bungalow underwent a complete restoration (and renovation!) when it became our headquarters. The homestead, while originally built by the Blyndenburgh family, became the family home and office of Judge John Lawrence Smith in the 1800s. As his health declined and he got older, court was moved from Riverhead to be tried in his personal chambers. It’s currently set up as it would have been during his life, complete with his study and parlor. 

The farm and the farmhouse have undergone some change throughout their lives; while the oldest part dates from the early 18th century, additions were made throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The complex also includes a 19th-century barn (home to our sheep, pony and chickens!) and carriage house. 

The final historic home on the property would be the tavern; the pre-Revolutionary War structure was originally found on the corner of Middle Country and North Country roads in 1972, after having been moved twice before. It was a popular stop on the Brooklyn to Sag Harbor stagecoach route in the 1770s, and was used often by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Much like the farmhouse, the tavern has undergone some alterations throughout the centuries; the oldest bit dates to the 17th century, the main portion circa 1740; there were additions and alterations in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What is so special about Smithtown?

Smithtown is a town that really cares about its history and celebrates it. We have community members come to our events and say that it’s a tradition in their family to attend; they came as a kid with their parents and are excited to bring their own children today. The support we get from the town government also speaks to this — they’re very aware that one of the most special things about Smithtown is its history, and they go to every length to help preserve that. 

What do you love about your job?

I love that my job allows me to stay connected with the Smithtown community, while being able to add to it in a positive and impactful way.

Why is it so important to preserve our local
history?

Smithtown, up until 50 years or so ago, was pretty rural. It can be hard for today’s kids to imagine the open space, farms, etc. that used to make up their towns, especially when they get a look at Main Street today! Knowing where you come from is important; acknowledging those who came before you adds meaning to where you are now. For us to see clearly where we came from, that’s how we appreciate everything we have today.

by -
0 534
Three Village Historical Society office manager Sandy White helps a customer at the society’s History Center & Gift Shop. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

There are plenty of places in the historic Three Village community and surrounding areas that give a sense of place. The upcoming Christmas and winter holiday are good times to purchase a few of the wonderful gifts and books about the local area and to pay a relaxing visit to a few not-for-profit shops that deserve special support.

Three Village Historical Society History Center & Gift Shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket

The society’s gift shop is expanded to complement the exhibit SPIES! How a Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution. There you will find gifts including many books, booklets and pamphlets on local history. A new children’s book “Kayleigh and Connor Detectives Inc. and King the Spy Dog” is written and illustrated by Dana Lynn Zotter. Two youngsters visiting their grandfather in Stony Brook discover an abandoned gravestone for a dog and learn about the Culper Spy Ring as they search for the black dog they think is a ghost. Another wonderful book for children is “I Survived the American Revolution, 1776” by Lauren Tarshis, illustrated by Scott Dawson and published by Scholastic Inc. This is the best book for youth I’ve ever read on the Battle of Brooklyn. Here we follow a young boy who is caught up in the battle. Both of these books are thoroughly researched, well-written and illustrated. The gift shop is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the gift shop and exhibits are open every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. (Closed from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2.) For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org.

Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket

Gallery North is diagonally across the street from the historical society. It is easy to park at one and walk across the street to the other. The entire gallery is a gift shop with many wonderful paintings and gift pieces by local artists for sale. The current exhibit is Deck the Halls. Local artists and artisans have created beautiful paintings, drawings, handmade jewelry, pottery, glass, decorations and much more. Gallery North also is showcasing a diverse range of Long Island art and has Holiday POP-UP Shopping. On Thursdays, Dec. 13 and 20, from 4 to 7 p.m., join them for a glass of wine and refreshment while you meet the artists and shop. Each Thursday evening a different selection of artists and artisans will be offering their handcrafted gifts, jewelry, art and more.

Gallery North is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Deck the Halls exhibit through Dec 22. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.gallerynorth.org.

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook

The gift shop in the Visitors Center includes books and prints on The Long Island Museum’s exhibits and permanent collections. There are also jewelry, pottery and hand-blown glass items made by local artists as well as hand-turned wood items by local artist Harry Wicks. The Visitors Center includes children’s Revolutionary War era gift items. The current exhibition, Elias Pelletreau: Long Island Silversmith & Entrepreneur, will close Dec. 30, along with the companion exhibition Shaping Silver: Contemporary Metalsmithing. The museum, Visitors Center and gift shop are open Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 pm. (Closed Dec. 24 and 25 and Jan.1.) Visit www. longislandmuseum.org for more information.

Reboli Center, 64 Main St., Stony Brook

The Reboli Center has a large collection of wonderful paintings by Joe Reboli. Around the Reboli Center are four sculptures by Long Island artist/sculptor David Haussler. The current exhibit The Gift of Art celebrates the amazing contribution to civilization that art gives, the wonderful gift to friends and family of a piece of art and the generous donors of this year’s gifts to the Reboli Center art collection. In the Reboli Center, wonderful art and crafts are available for visitors to enjoy; and in the Design Shop, paintings, folk art, craft and sculpture are available for purchase as gifts or to decorate your home for this or any season. The Reboli Center is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. (Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.) For more information, call 631-751-7707, or visit the Reboli website at www.rebolicenter.org.

St. James General Store, 516 Moriches Road, St. James

This “old-fashioned” general store is run by the Suffolk County Parks Department, Division of Historical Services. Here are two floors of 19th- and 20th-century goods and lots of homemade goodies. They have an extensive collection of old-style candies, many brands dating back to the 19th century. Be sure to try one of their delicious molasses pops. On the second floor are books on Long Island covering many local communities, as well as lots of wonderful children’s books. This is now one good, close, independent bookstore. The back room has an extensive collection of ornaments, some of which are reproductions of antique decorations. Back on the first floor, there is a large selection of toys, dolls and games for children that also harken back to the 19th century. The St. James General Store is open every day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 and open until 3 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.) For more information, call 631-854-3740 or visit www.facebook.com/St.JamesGeneralStore.

There are lots of unusual gifts at these five gift shops. If you are buying a gift for someone, you will almost certainly find something to suit every taste. There are many other wonderful local shops in the Stony Brook Village Shopping Center and in Setauket and East Setauket.

In the Village of Port Jefferson, along and around Main Street and East Main Street are many wonderful and unusual shops and restaurants. A special one in Port Jefferson is Secret Garden Tea Room on Main Street. Have a cup of tea, maybe a scone and jam or a delicious lunch and look over their selection of unusual and tea-based gifts. Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. For more information or reservations, call 631-476-8327 or visit www.thesecretgardentearoom.com.

Finding a special or unusual gift is not only a good idea, it also supports our local businesses and brings us closer together as a community. And you never know who you will run into by shopping locally.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

The Three Village Historical Society hosted its annual Candlelight House Tour on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of this annual holiday event, the tour featured six locations, which included five residences, each individually decorated by a talented local interior designer, and a rare look inside the Setauket Grist Mill. Participants also had the option of attending an evening reception at the Old Field Club or breakfast at the Stony Brook Yacht Club,

Decked out in holiday splendor, every location welcomed an unprecedented number of visitors and was staffed by a rotation of dedicated volunteers. Though presented through a fresh vision, tours of yesteryear were acknowledged through the inclusion of certain houses that had been previously featured.

Additionally, Eva Glaser and Liz Tyler Carey, who were inaugural event chairs, returned as decorators for one of the homes, which also featured a pop-up holiday boutique consisting of unique gift items. All proceeds from those sales went to the planned restoration of the Dominic Crawford Barn.

The nearly sold out event raised a significant amount of money for the Three Village Historical Society’s Education Fund. Many people gave of their talents, time and services to create the festive fundraiser.

This beloved seasonal tradition would not exist without the generosity of the event chairs, Patty Cain and Patty Yantz, as well as the food and beverage sponsors, homeowners, Three Village Historical Society administrative staff, house chairs, decorators, volunteers, members, supporters and community at large.

All photos by Pam Botway

Social

9,212FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,137FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe