History

The Vanderbilt Mansion library is decked out for the holidays.

The holidays have arrived at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport as the halls of the Vanderbilt Mansion are decked in their holiday finery. From the stately library to the dining room to the bedrooms, the grand house is filled with lighted trees, ornaments, wreaths, ribbons, poinsettias, garlands and elegantly wrapped faux gifts. 

These embellishments are the creative work of designers and garden clubs that volunteer their time each year. Their creative touch brings additional charm and magic to the spectacular, 24-room, Spanish Revival house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The garden clubs and decorators have been with us for many years, and this year we welcomed two new designers. Ethan Allen of Huntington created the Enchanted Flight of the Cardinals installation for us in the Memorial Wing lobby, and Felicia Greenberg contributed her magnificent silk floral sculptures. Our visitors will be delighted with the 2019 holiday season decor,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs.

Designers Mary Schlotter (right) and Krishtia McCord decorate the mansion dining room.

Centerport designers Mary Schlotter and her daughter Krishtia McCord – who operate Harbor Homestead & Co. – brought back the festive holiday dresses they created and displayed in the mansion during the past two years. This year, the dresses adorn Rosamond Vanderbilt’s luxurious, mirrored dressing room. The duo also decorated the dining room.

“Our dining room design was inspired by Downton Abbey,” Schlotter said. “The room and furniture are dark, but the window has a beautiful view of Northport Bay and Long Island Sound. We decided to set the table in simple whites and silver – two silver candelabras flanked by compotes arranged with white magnolia, amaryllis, pine cones and magnolia leaves. In the center of the table is a silver pheasant. We folded the napkins in a bishop’s miter form to give the place settings a royal feel. We think [Downtown Abbey butler] Mr. Carson would approve.” 

One sideboard is set for dinner, she said, the other for dessert and spirits.“The sparkling glasses, and the silver and white design touches catch the light and give a sense that Christmas dinner is about to be served.” 

Other participants include the Dix Hills Garden Club, Honey Hills Garden Club, Nathan Hale Garden Club, Asharoken Garden Club, Three Village Garden Club, Centerport Garden Club, volunteers from the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Program of Suffolk County, Felicia Greenberg of Table Art and Event Designs and Vanderbilt staff members Killian Taylor and Maryann Zakshevsky.

Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “We’re grateful each year to these creative and generous volunteers who use their creative skills to bring enchanting holiday grandeur to this grand house.”

Visitors can see the captivating results from now through Dec. 30 by tour on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday (and Thursday to Monday, Dec. 26 to 30) at regular intervals between 11:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Photos courtesy of the Vanderbilt Museum

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Downtown Port Jeff circa 1906. Both original photos by Arthur S. Green. Digitized images from Preservation Long Island.

Time destroys all things. Photos fade, film degrades, buildings crumble. To stop entropy and the inevitable march of time, local historians, both local and regional, have been working to digitize a number of vintage Port Jefferson films and photos for more people to enjoy.

The Port Jefferson Train Station circa 1900. Original photos by Arthur S. Green. Digitized images from Preservation Long Island.

Cold Spring Harbor-based Preservation Long Island purchased a collection of glass slide photographs from renowned late 19th- and early 20th-century photographer Arthur S. Greene, who took photos from all over Brookhaven Town, many of which ended up on postcards and in books promoting Long Island as a tourist destination. 

It wasn’t until 2018 that Preservation LI curator Lauren Brincat said the historical nonprofit was able to place the very delicate glass slides where people could see them. The Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University supplied Preservation with a grant as part of the school’s Digitizing Local History Sources project, funded by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. The grant brought two LIU students to Preservation’s headquarters to digitize the photographs. 

Only one problem, there was no guide or template on how one should scan something as fragile as a glass slide. Brincat said the two LIU students had to start from scratch, creating their own guides and frames for photos of different sizes, 4×6, 5×7, etc. The group covered the flatbed with Mylar and used spacers to prevent the scanner from touching the artifacts. 

It was a “tedious and labor-intensive” job, Brincat said, but the result is worth it. Hundreds of images are now stored online for anybody to peruse. 

The Port Jefferson Train Station circa 1900. Original photos by Arthur S. Green. Digitized images from Preservation Long Island.

“There are great benefits to this,” the curator said. “It prevents having to go back to the original material, which could result in breaking them, emulsion or impact on the negative which are very light sensitive.”

The collection of photographs, Brincat said, captures the Island at a different time, especially how it developed from an agricultural, rural setting into its suburban commercial-based future.

“These pictures show the introduction of electricity and the automobile,” she said. “Many of the streets were dirt roads, which is hard to imagine today.”

Other people closer to home have also set themselves to the task of digitizing Port Jefferson history, items that have helped both village residents and historians understand their roots. 

Chris Ryon, the Port Jefferson Village historian, has been working with Belle Terre historian John Hiz on numerous projects, including getting a number of donated film reels from the Childs family digitized. Ryon said Hiz was instrumental in negotiating that donation to the Port Jeff archive. 

“I just wanted to make sure they were kept in the community,” he said.

A video of Belle Terre includes reels of pergolas, things that Hiz said he’s only seen in print. Without such items, he said, historians don’t have that tangible way to look back on the locals’ past.

“It makes things come to life,” he said. “Having access is the most important thing. There’s probably tons of materials stored in people’s attics or basements, but being able to have access is critical.”

A woman and child burn leaves in a digitized film reel gathered by local historians. Video from Port Jeff Maritime Facebook page

The reels depict numerous scenes from 1928 through 1940, including of a woman in a fur coat burning leaves in Belle Terre, of parades, and even of a picnic in Montauk, among others. One reel even shows flooding in Port Jeff reminiscent of recent events from this year and last.

The reels were sent to a historical group in Chattanooga, which has digitized the reels at $15 a piece. The Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy provided funds. 

“It blew my mind once I first saw it,” Ryon said. “Everyone I showed it to had the same reaction — to see it come alive is another level, another dimension.” 

The PJ historian is still waiting on five more reels to come back, which he expects will be in a few weeks. The videos are all being displayed in the public Facebook group Port Jefferson Maritime, though Ryon said he may look for some video to be posted to the Port Jefferson website. 

“Once it becomes digitized, we can send it all over the world,” Ryon said. “Everyone who wants to can see it.”

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Members and family of the Sound Beach spanish colony visit the Sound Beach civic to talk history. Photo by Bea Ruberto

Twenty members and descendants of the Spanish Colony came to the Sound Beach Civic Association’s monthly meeting Nov. 11 to help share memories of Sound Beach. 

People who emigrated from Spain came  to participate in speaking of the hamlet’s history. Bea Ruberto, the president of the civic, said the gathering was sparked by an article in the Village Beacon Record about civic members looking to consolidate Sound Beach history. 

The colony members all came from the cities of Alhama de Almeria and Tabernas in southeast Spain, which had been a favorite of films and television, having been featured in season six of “Game of Thrones,” “Cleopatra” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Luisa Lopez, the daughter of Vicky Lopez, a Spanish teacher in Miller Place who often shared the rich culture and love of the Spanish culture with the upper level Spanish classes was there. Lopez brought two books, one written in Spanish, the other an English translation, about the colony.

The Manas family recently came from Spain, and for years, Ruberto said, Carlos Manas has maintained the civic website and aided the group in a variety of ways.

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The old steeple is taken down Nov. 15 and replaced with a new one. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Setauket United Methodist Church at the corner of Main Street and Route 25A sits as a beacon and a guide to the historic community around it known as Chicken Hill. This is a place that had its roots in mid-19th century industrial America with first the Nunns & Clark piano factory and its primarily German workforce, followed in the same five-story brick factory by the Long Island Rubber Company which initially hired Irish and African American workers. Later Russian Jews and Eastern European Catholic immigrants flooding into New York City were hired for a workforce that, at its peak, totaled more than 500.

Setauket United Methodist Church steeple being painted in 1925 by Clinton West, left, Herman Aldrich, right, and Ray Tyler, at top. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

Three Village Historical Society president, Steve Healy, said he was approached by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Steven Kim, who knew about the society’s exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time. Kim asked if the society would be interested in the church’s steeple as it was to be taken down and replaced by a new one.

“I thought it would be nice to include a portion of the steeple, with the cross on top, in the exhibit, to show that this church was a focal point of Chicken Hill, right in the middle of these working-class immigrants,” Healy said.

The steeple, weighing about 700 pounds, consisted of the aluminum skin and the interior framing. The exterior skin was separated from the inside structure and moved by trailer to the historical society’s headquarters on North Country Road.

“We decided to take all 32 feet and later decide what will be used in the exhibit,” Healy said. “It’s a historical artifact that people can touch and a fascinating addition to our exhibit in the history center.”

One of the goals of the historical society is to bring the history of the local community to life and to excite and engage people. The society also wants visitors to its exhibits to discover what they want to remember and what they need to remember. The artifacts and documents in the Chicken Hill exhibit illustrate the cooperative community that existed at Chicken Hill as well as the societal problems that existed in and around that area. Bringing people of diverse ethnicity, race and religion here to live and work together provides a wealth of stories.

The Chicken Hill exhibit tells the stories of harmony and conflict together with individual stories of pride, compassion and humor. The addition of the church steeple will help to bring the storytelling full circle.

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.

New York State Archivist Thomas Ruller presents Jo-Ann Raia with Leadership Award.

Jo-Ann Raia (R) was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Leadership in Archives and Records Management in New York State by the New York State Archives Partnership Trust. The award was recently presented to Raia at a ceremony at the Cultural Education Center in Albany. 

“Every year we recognize individuals and organizations that have done outstanding work in managing records and preserving New York’s history,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “This year’s award winners do exemplary work to ensure that our state’s records are efficiently managed and are preserved appropriately for future research and use.”

Throughout her time as the Town of Huntington clerk, Raia has been a champion for archives and records management. One of her greatest contributions to the Town has been the development of a computerized records management program, which manages the holdings of the Records Center and Archives. Because of Raia’s hard work and dedication, the Town’s records center serves as a model for the entire state.

“We applaud the organizations and individuals who work every day to manage records to ensure accountability, efficiency and accessibility,” said Interim State Education Commissioner Beth Berlin. “Their dedication to archives and records management has inspired excellent programs and processes that serve as models for the entire state.”

Raia will retire at the end of the year from her post as Town clerk after 10 consecutive terms that span four decades. She has developed and implemented systems to create what has been regarded as an exemplary archive and record management system.

“We’re proud to recognize excellence in the use and care of New York’s records by individuals and organizations across New York,” said Thomas Ruller, archivist of New York State. “Thanks to the work and dedication of this year’s winners, New York’s documentary resources will be well managed, appropriately preserved and effectively used for generations to come.”

The annual archives awards program takes place every October, during American Archives Month, and recognizes outstanding efforts in archives and records management work in New York State by a broad range of individuals and organizations.

Dennis Sullivan blows a bugle at the 2011 Veterans Day Ceremony at the Centereach VFW post. File photo by Brittany Wait

Veterans Day events across Long Island have inspired children to sing, bands to play, politicians to speak and servicemen to march in parades.

Many Long Islanders came out to exhibit unwavering support for veterans on this national holiday. But with so many veterans facing hardships, such as food insecurities, joblessness, homelessness and health issues — some service-related — more needs to be done each and every day.

There are many ways our readers can help the men and women of the armed forces long after Veterans Day is over. Long Island organizations are always looking for help, year-round, whether it’s donating time, money, clothing or gently used items.

Here are a few groups, where you might lend a hand: 

• Long Island Cares Inc. — The Harry Chapin Food Bank: This Hauppauge-based center has been helping veterans, military personnel and their families since 2010. According to the nonprofit, more than 1,200 veterans per month typically receive support from its regional food bank through many of their programs. Long Island Cares will provide 500 veterans with holiday meals this year. The food bank is able to do this in part thanks to an $11,000 donation expected from Steven Castleton, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army. Long Island Cares also offers the Veterans Mobile Outreach Unit, the VetsWork program and Military Appreciation Tuesdays where all Long Islanders can help by donating food items or money.

• United Veterans Beacon House: Headquartered in Bay Shore, this organization provides housing throughout Long Island for veterans. According to its website, on any given day more than 255 men, women and children throughout the tristate area have received services ranging from help with homelessness to treating PTSD, addiction and more. The organization can always use coats, gently used clothing and furniture.

• Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University: Located on SBU’s west campus, interested people can help out by assisting the home’s residents during their recreation programs and trips, or simply by sitting and talking with the men and women.

• Northport VA Medical Center: The VA presents opportunities where community members can volunteer or donate their time or money. A cash donation can be used by the VA to buy items for patients including hygiene products and refreshment supplies. The hospital also collects items such as magazines, coffee, and new or gently used clothing.

Some veterans are doing well, but sometimes they could use a little company. Many people at the senior centers and retirement homes would welcome a visit, so they can share a story, or have someone even record it for future generations.

Long Island has the highest concentration of vets in New York state. These men and women are our neighbors. Make some time to find a vet in your community.

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Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler on the Picton Castle.

By Beverly C. Tyler

The 19th century was the era of the romance of sail. Full-rigged ships, such as the Flying Cloud, set sail-powered speed records for ships of commerce voyaging to and from ports around the world that would never be eclipsed. These beautiful and awe-inspiring ships were just a fraction of the sailing vessels that transported goods locally, regionally and around the world.

Sailing on board the Stephen Taber in Penobscot Bay, Maine.

On Long Island Sound and up and down the East Coast of America smaller cargo vessels, sloops, schooners, brigs and barks kept residents supplied with many of the products they needed to sustain life. However, today as reported in the Oct. 23 edition of The Guardian, “[Modern vessels] fan out across the seas like a giant maritime dance, a ballet of tens of thousands of vessels delivering the physical stuff that has become indispensable to our way of life: commodities and cars, white goods and gas and grains, timber and technology.

“But shipping — a vast industry that moves trillions of pounds-worth of goods each year — is facing an environmental reckoning. Ships burn the dirtiest oil, known as bunker fuel; a waste product from the refinery process, literally scraping the bottom of the barrel, the crud in crude. It’s so thick that you could walk on it at room temperature. As a result, shipping is a major polluter — responsible for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions.”

A good friend from Auckland, New Zealand, Joan Druett, is an award-winning maritime author, who has written many books about the sea including “Hen Frigates,” the stories of women in the 19th century who went to sea with their ship captain husbands. The book includes a number of Long Island women including two from Setauket. Druett also has a blog “World of the Written World.” It was through her blog that I learned of the article “Winds of change: the sailing ships cleaning up sea transport” by Nicola Cutcher in The Guardian.

There are now a number of sailing ships and maritime companies working to ship products, especially those that cannot be grown locally, to other countries in sailing vessels that have a very low carbon footprint and are environmentally responsible; in other words shipping that does not contribute to the pollution of the oceans and the air.

Companies around the world like Shipped by Sail, Timbercoast, Fairtransport, New Dawn Traders and TransOceanic Wind Transport are working to provide clean, ethical and sustainable transportation of goods.

In April of 2018, I spent a week as a crewman on the Picton Castle, a 150-foot, three-masted bark, a square-rigged sail training ship that has, as of July 2019, made seven circumnavigations of the globe. I first boarded the ship as a visitor in October 2013 in Auckland and found out that Picton Castle was then based in the Cook Islands in the Pacific. Picton Castle crew member Kate “Bob” Addison wrote these observations July 12, 2013.

“Barque Picton Castle is just twenty miles off Atiu, a raised atoll in the southern Cook Islands, the first island call of this cargo and passenger run to the outer Cook Islands. We departed from Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga yesterday morning to start this second inter-island voyage; this time we’re heading up north to Penrhyn, Manihiki and Rakahanga after a short call at Atiu in the Southern Group. And then back to Rarotonga in August for the start of our next long South Pacific Voyage.

“These cargo and passenger operations are a fascinating chapter in the history of our ship. Running a cargo operation under sail is definitely complementary to our core mission of sail training and adventure travel, it adds depth and purpose to our experiences and provides a true hands on training opportunity on board. The ship has always been about being part of something greater than yourself, of doing things that need doing whether you feel like it or not, simply because it needs doing. And now we have pressed our barque into a service that is bigger than the ship.

“At the moment the ship’s hold is about two thirds full of cargo, about fifteen tons of which is building materials that will soon become new water tanks in Atiu. We are carrying a mother, and daughter and their dog back home to Atiu and a commercial diver up to work on the pearl farms of Manihiki. In a small way we are contributing to the workings of the Cook Islands, our home in the South Pacific.”

My week on the Picton Castle in the Gulf of Mexico, as she prepared for her last round-the-world voyage, helped me understand how dedicated the ship and crew are to teaching us, not only how to work on a sailing ship but how to be environmentally aware of our surroundings and how important it is to respect the seas and harbors where we work and live.

In 2008 my wife and I spent a few days on the Stephen Taber, an 1872 Long Island-built schooner in Penobscot Bay in Maine. During the week we had a lobster and clam bake on one of the uninhabited off-shore Islands. We were told not to collect any driftwood. We brought everything we needed to the beach including the wood for the fire and when we left everything we brought was removed as if we had never been there. I am thankful for what these experiences have taught me.

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.

After 50 years of trials and tribulations, the Commack School District is forging ahead with a plan to use the Marion Carll Farm on Commack Road for educational purposes, but some activists are not happy with the decision. 

Since July, the district has been renting its barns to Long Island University. The site is expected to become the region’s first veterinarian school of medicine by September 2020.

“We expect animals to be on the site by February,” said Superintendent Donald James.

But, Cynthia Clark, a concerned citizen, who formed the Marion Carll Preserve Inc. said she has asked the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau to intervene. Her goal, she said, is to acquire, restore and sustainably run the site in perpetuity according to benefactor Marion Carll’s wishes. 

“For 50 years, the district has squandered this gift,” Clark said. “It’s a crime! A cultural and ethical crime.” 

Clark said that she has commitments with Harbor Harvest to buy organic produce grown on the 9-acre site and can secure grants to restore all buildings. But the district unanimously chose the LIU proposal over her application earlier this year. 

LIU’s proposal, according to an LIU spokesperson, met both the wishes of Marion Carll’s Last Will and Testament along with the Commack School District’s standards for financial viability. The district stated the plan will include providing valuable educational programs to the children of the district. James said that the district expects to implement a shadowing program that will provide an opportunity for students to look at career options that they might not otherwise consider. Animals on the premises will include cows, goats and chickens. The district also expects to offer lessons on beekeeping to the students. 

The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has not been adequately maintained.  Carll’s will, granting the property to the district, stipulates maintaining the buildings as historical museums for educational purposes. Clark sounded the alarm this past summer, she said, when the property was being cleared without appropriate permits and as work commenced to replace the barn’s roof. The state Department of Education has since issued a stop work order.

The home on the Marion Carll Farm in its current condition.

In an interview on the Marion Carll Farm, James said that he expects to have all needed permits before the year’s end. LIU’s rent of $15,000, he said, will fund the stabilization of the house and barn and be used to properly catalog and preserve the contents of the building. After that, the district said it will remove the antiques within the farmhouse while restoration occurs.  

The house is not part of the lease with LIU, but the district is counting on the rental income to finance repairs. LIU, James said, has already spent $700,000 repairing the historical red barn and replacing its roof and clearing dead trees and overgrowth. The university will also cover expenses related to installing historically correct fencing, complete repairs to the barn and other buildings and lend labor to restore the historic home. Over the next 10 years, LIU is committed to spend $175,000, James said, and the district is committed to spend $350,000, which is the savings associated with LIU maintaining the entire property. 

Clark, who is a preservation specialist for leather clothing and furniture, estimates that the restoration project will cost $2.5 million plus another $1.5 million to restore the furnishings in the house. The preserve, she said, applied for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status last year, but the application is still pending. She said that she’s already spent thousands of her own money on the project, but expects to be able to secure the funds she needs through grants and said in a telephone interview that she is aligned with a successful grant writer with a “100 percent track record.” She could not provide the name. 

Clark’s plan was one of several options that the district considered earlier this year. The district ultimately chose the Long Island University lease, largely because of its long-term economic viability.  

Long Island University’s College of Veterinary Medicine spokesperson Mary  Studdert stated in an email that it has received a Letter of Reasonable Assurance from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education (AVMA-COE) enabling LIU to immediately begin accepting applications for the fall 2020 semester. At full enrollment, the veterinary school will serve 400 students, with 100 in each graduating class and will be the first College of Veterinary Medicine in the New York Metropolitan area.

The conflict with Clark arises just years after the district was sued by the Carll heirs to revert ownership back to the Carll heirs because of the district’s failure to fulfill the will’s obligations. The district ultimately won the 2012 case in summary judgment on statute of limitation grounds, stating that the heirs were 12 years too late. Restrictions on the district’s obligations were lifted to clear title, according to board member Jarret Behar. James said that the district could now legally sell the site, if it wanted to, but said the board is committed to its preservation and use as a historical museum with educational purposes. 

The house, according to the district, is structurally sound, but part of the building is still taking on rain. The main structure is covered with a rubber membrane to control leaks, but James said in an email that more leaks formed in different places and need to be fixed. The stop work order, he said, is now yet another hurdle that interferes with the district’s efforts to properly maintain the site.

One of many structures on the 9-acre Marion Carll Farm.

Clark said that she can reveal no details about her conversations with the attorney general’s office but said that she is hopeful. 

The Carll family was one of Huntington’s earliest settlers and Marion Carll was Commack’s first teacher. She died in 1968 and willed the site to the district. The site was occupied by a Carll family member until 1993, as stipulated in the will. The district leased part of the site to BOCES from 1990 to 2000 and sought to sell the farm to developers for $750,000 in 2010, but the public referendum failed. 

Over the years, different school boards have had different ideas on how to use the property. James, who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, said that the board is committed to doing what’s best for the district. 

The 25th annual Spirits Cemetery Tour: The Unforgotten will be long remembered as a great success for Three Village Historical Society and a night of spooky merriment for both volunteers and visitors. The event, co-chaired by Frank Turano and Janet McCauley, was sold out days in advance and attracted around 340 visitors.

The actors, dressed in period garb provided by Antique Costumes and Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta, mingled among tombstones and tourgoers at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery and Caroline Church of Brookhaven cemetery. Twelve “spirits” recounted stories of lives that spanned the centuries and crossed the continents, but all connected to Setauket.  

Before embarking on the walk, groups gathered in the Presbyterian Church community room. There they enjoyed complimentary donuts and cider, time period appropriate harpsichord music from Kyle Collins of Three Village Chamber Players, an exhibit curated by archivist Karen Martin of photos and other primary source materials about the people who were depicted on the tour and an interactive photo station. The tour ended at the Caroline Church carriage shed, where guests sampled cookies and apple cider. Food and beverages were provided by Ann Marie’s Farm Stand, Stop & Shop East Setauket and Starbucks East Setauket. 

Preparations are already underway for Spirits Cemetery Tour October 2020, which will feature the Spirits of Chicken Hill! If you are interested in volunteering as an actor or in some other capacity for the next tour, please call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Photos by Anthony White and Beverly C. Tyler